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Writers and editors

Upon my return to civilization last week, Greg Knauss wrote up some thoughts he had after doing the remaindered links here for two weeks. His thoughts, reproduced in full:

Over the past two weeks, David Jacobs, Anil Dash and I have attempted to reproduce (in some halting way) Jason Kottke, while the actual Jason Kottke was in rehab on his honeymoon. The attempt, on my part at least, has been an abject failure. Or haven’t you noticed all the crappy links with “GK” at the end of them? Go-kart magazines? What the hell?

Like most of the disasters I’ve had a hand in, I’ve got a theory that both explains what happened and exonerates me. Ducking responsibility sounds better if you put on academic airs about it.

The theory: There are two kinds of bloggers, referential and experiential. Kottke is one. I, now two weeks too late in realizing this, am another.

The referential blogger uses the link as his fundamental unit of currency, building posts around ideas and experiences spawned elsewhere: Look at this. Referential bloggers are reporters, delivering pointers to and snippets of information, insight or entertainment happening out there, on the Intraweb. They can, and do, add their own information, insight and entertainment to the links they unearth โ€” extrapolations, juxtapositions, even lengthy and personal anecdotes โ€” but the outward direction of their focus remains their distinguishing feature.

The experiential blogger is inwardly directed, drawing entries from personal experience and opinion: How about this. They are storytellers (and/or bores), drawing whatever they have to offer from their own perspective. They can, and do, add links to supporting or explanatory information, even unique and undercited external sources. But their motivation, their impetus, comes from a desire to supply narrative, not reference it.

There’s nothing here to imply that one type of blogger is better than the other. There are literally thousands โ€” OK, hundreds… OK, at least a dozen โ€” of both kinds that are valuable additions to the on-going conversation/food-fight/furry-cuddle that is the Internet. My point is that Jason Kottke is a very, very good referential blogger and I am a very, very bad one. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have trouble finding a link that expresses this sentiment (many, many times over, with varying degrees of vehemence), but I’d rather say it from my own experience:

Welcome back, Jason. You’ve been missed.

After reading Greg’s thoughts, Meg reminded me that Rebecca Blood had made a distinction between filter-style and journal-style bloggers in Weblogs: A History and Perspective. If you want to generalize outside the realm of weblogs, they’re both talking about the difference between writers and editors1.

At a party a couple of years ago, I was talking to Nick Denton and he was puzzled by the number of bloggers who were getting book deals and told me that “the natural upgrade path for bloggers is from blogging to editing, not to writing”. As Greg and Rebecca note, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but it sure describes what I do here. has always been more edited than written. I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a writer (I get by, but I wish I were better), but I do pay a lot of attention to how the writing is presented and contextualized…how the overall package “feels”.

[1] And if you want to go even further out on the metaphorical gangplank here, the writer/editor dichotomy compares well to that of the musician/DJ. โ†ฉ