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Three-step dance

posted by Tim Carmody   May 06, 2011

In my last post for the week, I want to talk a little bit about what Kottke.org means to me: why I’ve loved reading Jason’s blog for years, and why I love writing for the site whenever he asks me to fill in.

Part of it is the content. Liberal arts 2.0, an idea I take seriously enough that my friends and I wrote a whole book about it two years ago.

And a big part of it is the audience and credibility Jason’s built up over the years. I’ve written for a lot of big-name websites, but nothing sends ripples through the blogosphere and Twitter (at least the corners I care about) more than a post on Kottke.org. Jason once wrote a two-sentence post complimenting my writing on Twitter. 48 hours later, I’d gone from 500 followers to 2500.

But really, if I had to pick my favorite thing I love about Kottke.org, it’s the structure.

The structure of a Kottke post is totally elemental:

And that’s it. It’s the five basic units that blogs were built on, distilled to their essence. And titles and comments are important, but Jason’s done without them both. They’re paratext. The real core is link, pull, response.

If you read Andrew Sullivan or Ta-Nehisi Coates, their posts are structured almost exactly the same way. Jason does it with artful minimalism, while I usually wind up pushing two or three of them together like Legos. But it’s really the same idea.

These are also the elements that help establish bloggers’ identity as readers in conversation with other readers: I have seen something that I feel strongly enough to think and write about, and what would make me happiest is if you look at it, then think and write about it too.

It’s one reason I like using enigmatic titles (like the one above) rather than spelling everything out. It’s like, if you’re a Kottke.org reader who’s ready to read, then read. And trust me that I’ll make it worth your while.

Traditional print journalism doesn’t do this — but really, it can’t. Twitter rarely does it, because there just isn’t enough room. (You can usually do exactly one, maybe two, of the big five above.)

The vast majority of professional, corporate-owned blogs have rejected it, too, in favor of SEO-approved heds, totally predictable story lines, strict divorce between news and commentary, and pretending like their competitors — even their colleagues at the same organization — don’t exist.

Instead, we’ve got officially-approved categorial mantras like curation and community engagement — as if what mattered in great blogs was their arty taste, skill at embedding viral videos, or pushing out tweets to their followers. Rather than watching an agile mind at work, one attached to a living, breathing person, and feeling like you were tapped into a discussion that was bringing together the most vital parts of the web.

That’s what you can do with blogs. That’s how they work. That’s what we shouldn’t forget, even as we add more tools and figure out how to use them. And what I think of Kottke.org, that’s what I think about.

Let’s keep this thing moving, citizens.

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