For an overview of literary conversation on the Internet, Ron Silliman’s blog has been for years an excellent place to start. I like it for its regular content but also for its large, curated list of links to many other literary blogs, or litblogs. For me, Silliman’s Blog is a gateway to large, vibrant  conversation.

Over the years, the blogroll on Ron Silliman’s Blog has grown to such an extent that it is now its own blog, with more than 1,300 links to literary blogs.

How to Follow Lots of Literary Blogs

Even in the midst of some technological turbulence (see also: “blogging is dead,” “Google Reader is gone“) there remains a vibrant and enjoyable literary blogosphere. You can still subscribe to a huge number of blogs and join the conversation. I’ve created a tool to help make it easy to do this, so you can get back to reading and posting.

Using Silliman’s Blogroll as a starting point, I’ve created an OPML file. This file is a big list of all the RSS feeds of all the blogs on Silliman’s list. The file is designed to be imported into your blog reader of choice. Since Google Reader isn’t around anymore, I recommend Feedly (my current favorite) or Digg Reader (also very good).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Download the OPML file or copy its contents into a file named litblogs.opml
  2. Import the OPML file into your reader application.
  3. Enjoy more than 1300 literary blogs.

Credits

I was able to accomplish this small technical victory and to share it with you, thanks to some help from others. First, I’d like to thank Ron Silliman, for amassing the collection of litblogs in the first place and for his permission to publish this. I’d like to thank Kevin Carmody for creating the PHP script that I used to convert the list into OPML. I’d also like to thank Michael Young for his prompt and helpful tips and fixes for Digg Reader.

Updates and Next Steps

In 2014, it’s inaccurate to think that blogs are the end-all-and-be-all of the conversation on the Internet. Once upon a time, you could subscribe to almost any blog’s RSS feed and add it to your reader to follow it. It was that easy. It didn’t matter whether the blog was on Blogger, or WordPress or whatever other system. If it was a blog, you could probably subscribe to it. Now, things are a bit different. You can only subscribe to Facebook via Facebook, Twitter via Twitter and Tumblr via Tumblr. It’s no longer possible to get such an easy overview of the entire conversation.

So, in addition, it’ll help to have a Twitter Group of lots of good Twitter sources, A Facebook list, as well as a list of Tumblr sites and… Google+? What else?

If you have any suggestions, for additions to the list, or other tricks that might help to keep track of the literary blogosphere, please let me know in the comments. Also, for the code-inclined among you, I’ve created a GitHub repository out of the code I used to build this. I call it “LitKit.”

 

A blog is a good place to work out good ideas. Every once in a while, one post on a blog manages to strike a nerve and big things can happen. I’ve seen this kind of thing referred to as a “concept page.” On such a page a concept is defined by its author. (It is similar in some respects to the book companion website.)

Two recent examples of this have caught my eye.

The first one is the page where I first encountered the idea of a “concept page”. It’s a blog entry, with smart illustrations, devoted to explaining a complicated idea: a proposal for a new kind of software. In this case the software is a new blogging platform called “Ghost”. (You may be thinking “we need yet another blogging platform like we need a hole in the head,” but) I do think this one is a very smart idea and I can’t wait to try it. I’m not alone. Following the response to this concept page, its author, John O’Nolan went on to raise almost 200,000 pounds on Kickstarter and from there he was able to start a nonprofit organization, partner with companies like Microsoft and bring his idea to fruition. I applaud you, sir. Very well done. On his concept page, O’Nolan gives due credit to another concept page, once which was published with a creative commons license. It, too, is a noteworthy concept page.

The second one is a page describing a thing called .mail, which is also software, but this application is intended to bring a new design approach to an old idea: e-mail. E-mail’s from the 70s. E-mail needs a major revision. Badly. Google Wave failed. Sparrow was crushed. Maybe .mail will succeed where so many have tried and failed? Its Concept-Page and subsequent development seem to put it in a very good position to give it a shot.

Maybe I’ll try to put together a concept-page as a way to gather my thoughts about word-processing and version control.

I just finished reading an article on Mashable called “A Look Back at the Last 5 Years in Blogging“. For the most part, I think this post  gives a solid overview of these past and very formative years for the Internet. If you’ve just excaped from life under a rock, you might give it a read. Toward the end of the post, you can find the understatement, “tumblelogs have become extremely popular due to their ease of use.” The author  interviewed some guy who is a digital strategist and he said “Blogging tools have made it easier for people to focus on content production rather than the often tedious process of content formatting. If anything is responsible for the popularity of blogging the steady improvement of the tools over the years has to be it,”

It’s that “ease of use” that will probably define the next five years of blogging. Twitter is easy to use. Tumblr is easy to use. Pinterest is easy to use. Facebook is easy to use. (All of these are blog-like, in one way or another.)

In a way, I love it all. There are all these new, fun, easy-to-use ways for pretty much anybody to share what they’ve got. They can share it with their friends, with an audience of millions, and also with the corporations who own these platforms! It’s that last bit that troubles me. Other people’s websites can get crappy or they can die. The aforementioned post about the last five years of blogging history begins with a mention of Technorati, which was once a huge part of blogging, but now Technorati is largely irrelevant to the blogosphere. Will twitter still be here in five years? Probably. Will it be bought out by CNN? God knows, CNN can’t seem to shut the hell up about what’s on Twitter, these days. Whether it’s CNN, Twitter, or not, the question is: will a company buy it and make it crappy? Yahoo bought Delicious and damn near ruined it. Just recently, Twitter bought Posterous. Will the average blogger care which company owns their blogging platform of choice, or whether it dies off? Does it really matter?

Well, I care, not super passionately, but I’m aware of it, anyway. Mostly, I like to have my stuff where I have a larger measure of control over it, which is why I have my own domain. I realize that, in order to have your own domain, you need to have a bit more technical know-how than the average internet user. And that brings me to two more things:

1. tumblr and the others  are easier and more fun to use than wordpress.

2. Shouldn’t my own domain be able to better connect to all that other stuff out there?

These two complaints are mostly based on my own preferences, but I’m sharing them, in case there might be something out there that I’m missing.

First, it just doesn’t seem fair that so many other, closed platforms should be so much faster to innovate and so much more fun/easy to use. Although I have gone to the trouble of hosting my own site, and yes, I can and do spend lots of time tinkering with it, there are times when I want all the fuss to go away and to just rock out some new stuff on the web, you know? Many of the easier, non-hosted options I’m thinking of, they start with a simple question like “what’s on your mind” and/or some very simple buttons that say things like “video” “audio” “link” and so on. WordPress, which is my blogging software of choice, it hasn’t, until recently, offered options like that, and now they’re only half-baked. Can’t I have easy and simple posting options in addition to all the other power that WordPress offers me?

(I should mention that, yes, I am aware of, and I’m excited about, the new post formats for wordpress and I’ve seen the feature begin to creep its way into wordpress and I know about  the WooTumblog plugin (I reluctantly use it despite its faults). These are all things that strive toward something like that simple set of buttons that let you choose things like “audio,” video” or “link” and to quickly and easily post them. I worry a little bit that this functionality will be implemented in much the way that tags were added to wordpress: everybody builds a million ways to do it and eventually the best one wins, which is fine, except that afterwards your data ends us scarred by leftover cruft from previous attempts at getting it right. This is because WordPress plugins are notoriously terrible at uninstalling themselves, in my experience. Remember “ultimate tag warrior” and all its bretheren? Then, there was tagging. Then, nothing had tags. Then, there were hashtags, instead. I digress.)

Second, if there’s so much fun to be had on so many other networks out there, and if there isn’t any sign of that fun stopping any time soon, then shouldn’t I be able to connect my self-hosted website, in an easy and fun manner to all the fun that’s out there? Well, actually, that’s a hell of a lot more easily said than done. At last count, there were something like 35 ways to stream your life, some of which are easier to use than others and some of which are self-hosted. Many of these rely on yet another website to use out there somewhere, which kinda defeats the purpose. Then again, maybe the idea that you can have “all your stuff all in one place” on the internet simply isn’t realistic, even if that “one place” is your very own domain.

In conclusion, I should say, simply, that it has been an incredible five years for blogging and the history of the internet. I only hope that the self-hosted website doesn’t lose out during the next five, and I think that ease-of-use and widespread compatibility are the two best ways to ensure that it doesn’t lose out.