What's wrong with blogs (Blogs vs Usenet)

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What's wrong with blogs (Blogs vs Usenet)


So, Blogs. Today many people use blogs and web forums for discussion. Before blogs though, there were Usenet groups and mailing lists. These are now mostly abandoned. As a long time user of Usenet now using blogs, I wanted to comment on the 'progress' made.

Censorship vs moderation

To control spam and flames, some moderation is needed. The problem is that moderation looks similar to censorship, see censorship vs moderation.

If you are going to have one moderator, the best person would be someone completely dispassionate and uninvolved.

It follows the worst possible person to moderate the comments is the post author - every comment is about them, something they wrote, or something they care enough about to post on, and this is exactly who does moderate most blogs.

Most blogs use pre-publish moderation, in this case you don't know what you don't know, and can often wrongly think you are seeing the whole picture. As Mark Twain said: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.", and as Donald Rumsfeld said "as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know".

The fact that comments are moderated leads to people being reluctant to post on blogs. And often you will see a blogger posting a reply to someone else's blog on their own blog. This can even lead to a 'battle of the blogs' where 2 bloggers debate but in their own blog posts instead of comments. Any casual visitor sees only one side.


One useful feature of Usenet was posting one message to different groups - called cross-posting, or x-posting

Blogging doesn't support xposting. If someone has their own blog there is no incentive to post a comment on others, they instead post on their own. If a poster doesn't approve of any replies on other blogs they often hide any links or trackbacks to it on their own blog. This leads to fracturing of the discussion and a bubble effect where people are unaware of things outside their own circle of bloggers and forums.



Control of your comments is entirely up to the blog owner, often the ToC say you are even giving copyright to them. You usually give them permission to use your comments however they want - whether you realise it or not.


You could say one solution to these problems is forums like Yahoo and Google Groups, but these introduce a new problem - namely that you are locked in to a single site. The risk of your content being hijacked is actually worse because a business like Google has more opportunities to do this.


One major difference is that on blogs messages are typically shown in a chronological list, but on usenet they are shown in a threaded tree-view. So on blogs thread drift is intrusive because you read every message, but usenet clients let you collapse or ignore sub-threads. While topic drift is a problem on blogs it's a feature on usenet. This is the main reason threads are longer on usenet - its not unusual for threads to reach 500+ messages (the longest are typically 1000+).

This changes the quality of the discussion: involved, detailed debates are common and, while flame wars occur, they are easier to ignore; leading to a more civilised and slower debate.


There are a few web forums that do allow highly nested threads and let you collapse them - namely Slashdot, Reddit, and Hackernews - and these are among the most popular on the web.

OPs vs replies

On a blog (less so forums) the original post (OP) is more prominent than replies, the first thing seen, and typically much longer than any replies. This is really a product of the ownership issue (see above), compounded with the fact that the blog poster also moderates the replies. If someone wants to post a long rebuttal to an OP there is little reason to post it as a reply. It will be given less prominence than the OP, will bring web traffic to someone else's blog, and may not even be approved. Instead the replier has an incentive to make it an OP on their own blog - worsening the 'battle of the blogs' effect.

On usenet replies are equal to OPs. In fact late comers to a group may not even see the OP, and just see replies. It's common for replies to be longer, better thought out, and receive more direct replies themselves, than OPs.


The solution is a distributed network of blogs and forums where replies to one can be seen on others - if one blogger censors a comment then it might appear on others.

Ideally this should allow xposting to multiple blogs, and have a default set of rules on content (similar to the x-licence).

My proposal for such a network is Communion. These posts discuss the idea of a Distributed Social Network - something which includes distributed discussion. The owner of Pipedot has also suggested the Pipedot code will allow multiple instances of the site to share comments.

Communion will also allow use of a desktop app, similar to a Usenet or feed client.