Shared Context and Blogging

One interesting aspect of the TED conference [1] is the fact that they only run one stream. There is one lecture hall with one presentation and everyone sees the same thing. This is considerably different to what seems to be the standard practice for Linux conferences (as implemented by LCA, OLS, and Linux Kongress) where there are three or more lecture halls with talks in progress at any time. At a Linux conference you might meet someone for lunch and start a conversation by asking “did you attend the lecture on X“, as there are more than two lecture halls the answer is most likely to be “no“, which then means that you have to describe the talk in question before talking about what you might really want to discuss (such as how a point made in the lecture in question might impact the work of the people you are talking two). In the not uncommon situation where there is an interesting implication of combining the work described in two lectures it might be necessary to summarise both lectures before describing the implication of combining the work.

Now there are very good reasons for running multiple lecture rooms at Linux conferences. The range of topics is quite large and probably very few delegates will be interested in the majority of the talks. Usually the conference organisers attempt to schedule things to minimise the incidence of people missing talks that interest them, one common way of doing so is to have conference “streams”. Of course when you have for example a “networking” stream, a “security” stream, and a “virtualisation” stream then you will have problems when people are interested in the intersection of some of those areas (virtual servers do change things when you are working on network security).

There seem some obvious comparisons between Planet installations (as aggregates of RSS feeds) and conferences (as aggregates of lectures). On Planet Debian [2] there has traditionally been a strong shared context with many blog posts referring to the same topics – where one person’s post has inspired others to write about similar topics. After some discussion (on blogs and by email) it was determined that there would be no policy for Planet Debian and that anyone who doesn’t want to read some of the content should filter the feed. Of course this means that the number of people who read (or at least skim) the entire feed will drop and therefore we lose the shared context.

Planet Linux Australia [3] currently has a discussion about the issue of what types of content to aggregate. Michael Davies has just blogged a survey about what types of content to include [4]. I think it’s unfortunate that he decided to name the post after one blogger who’s feed is aggregated on that Planet as that will encourage votes on the specific posts written by that person rather than the general issue. But I think it’s much better to tailor a Planet to the interests of the people who read it than to include everything and encourage readers to read a sub-set.

When similar issues were in discussion about Planet Debian I wrote about my ideas on the topic [5]. In summary I think that the Gentoo idea of having two Planet installations (one for the content which is most relevant and one for everything that is written by members) is a really good one. It’s also a good thing to have a semi-formal document about the type of content that is expected – this would be useful both for using a limited feed for people who go significantly off-topic and as a guideline for people who want to write posts that will be appreciated by the majority of the readers. Planet Ubuntu has a guideline, but it was not very formal last time I checked.

Finally in regard to short posts, they generally don’t interest me much. If I want to get a list of hot URLs then I could go to any social media site to find some. I write a list post at most once a month, and I generally don’t include a URL in the list unless I have a comment to make about it. I always try to describe each page that I link to in enough detail that if the reader can’t view it then they at least have some idea of what it is about (no “this is cool” or “this sucks” links).

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