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My Blog, My Outboard Brain

by Cory Doctorow, author of Essential Blogging
05/31/2002

"Take the VCR, for example. Not only can it watch TV for you, it can watch more channels and watch them better than you can. Similarly, the Electric Monk does your believing for you. Instead of having to wade through mountains of propaganda, you'd tell your Electric Monk to pick a few random hopeless causes each week."

- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

I consume, digest, and excrete information for a living. Whether I'm writing science fiction, editorials, columns, or tech books, whether I'm speaking from a podium or yammering down the phone at some poor reporter, my success depends on my ability to cite and connect disparate factoids at just the right moment.

As a committed infovore, I need to eat roughly six times my weight in information every day or my brain starts to starve and atrophy. I gather information from many sources: print, radio, television, conversation, the Web, RSS feeds, email, chance, and serendipity. I used to bookmark this stuff, but I just ended up with a million bookmarks that I never revisited and could never find anything in.

Theoretically, you can annotate your bookmarks, entering free-form reminders to yourself so that you can remember why you bookmarked this page or that one. I don't know about you, but I never actually got around to doing this -- it's one of those get-to-it-later eat-your-vegetables best-practice housekeeping tasks like defragging your hard drive or squeegeeing your windshield that you know you should do but never get around to.

Until I started blogging. Blogging gave my knowledge-grazing direction and reward. Writing a blog entry about a useful and/or interesting subject forces me to extract the salient features of the link into a two- or three-sentence elevator pitch to my readers, whose decision to follow a link is predicated on my ability to convey its interestingness to them. This exercise fixes the subjects in my head the same way that taking notes at a lecture does, putting them in reliable and easily-accessible mentalregisters.

Blogging also provides an incentive to keep blogging. As Boing Boing's hit-counter rises steadily, growing 10-30 percent every month, I get a continuous, low-grade stream of brain-rewards; rewards that are reinforced by admiring email, cross-links from other blogs that show up in my referrer logs, stories that I broke climbing the ranks on Daypop and Blogdex (and getting picked up by major news outlets). The more I blog, the more reward I generate: strangers approach me at conferences and tell me how much they liked some particular entry; people whose sites I've pointed to send me grateful email thanking me for bringing their pet projects to the attention of so many people.

Related Reading

Essential Blogging
Selecting and Using Weblog Tools
By Cory Doctorow, Rael Dornfest, J. Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott, Mena G. Trott

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I'm in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing's message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I've posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

The upshot is that operating Boing Boing has not only given me a central repository of all of the fruits of my labors in the information fields, but it also has increased the volume and quality of the yield. I know more, find more, and understand better than I ever have, all because of Boing Boing.

The nuggets I've mined are at my instant disposal. I can use Blogger's search interface to retrieve the stories I've posted with just a few keywords. While prepping a speech, writing a column, or working on a story, I will usually work with a browser window open to Blogger's "Edit Your Blog" screen, cursor tabbed into the search field. I flip back and forth between my browser and my editor, entering a few keywords and instantly retrieving the details of some salient point -- it's my personal knowledge management system, annotated and augmented by my readers.

Being deprived of my blog right now would be akin to suffering extensive brain-damage. Huge swaths of acquired knowledge would simply vanish. Just as my TiVo frees me from having to watch boring television by watching it for me, my blog frees me up from having to remember the minutae of my life, storing it for me in handy and contextual form.

Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of Boing Boing and the Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


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