Professional services for professional blogs

This morning my web presence intersected on the Information World Review blog with the web presence of Ben Toth. In an IWR interview, Ben describes himself as follows:

Ben Toth, 48, domiciled on a farm in Herefordshire. I trained as a librarian at University College London about 15 years ago. I used to be the director of the NHS National Knowledge Service when it was part of Connecting for Health. The best known service it runs is the National Library for Health (www.library.nhs.uk). Currently, I’m designing the enterprise architecture for the National Institute for Health Research (www.nihr.ac.uk). I’m also writing a book on Health 2.0, which will be published in parts later this year.

Further along in the interview:

Q: How long have you been blogging?
A: Since about 2001. Eighteen months ago I lost all my entries and had to start again.

This is nuts. Never mind the posthumous disposition of the writings of this librarian and enterprise architect. They are not even reliably available here in the present.

Here’s another example. Recently John Halamka, whom I interviewed here, launched a remarkable example of the genre I call the professional blog — by which I do not mean blogging for pay, but rather the purposeful narration of a professional life. At geekdoctor.blogspot.com, Dr. Halamka has opened a window into the life of a dynamic individual whose insights into healthcare IT, and whose stewardship of key initiatives and standards in the area of portable health records, will be historically significant but are also important touchstones here in the present.

And yet…geekdoctor.blogspot.com? That’s the best we can do? Again, I’m not picking on any particular service. None of the present options offer anything close to the levels of service that a professional person investing real effort into the narration of a professional life ought to expect.

For Dave Winer, for me, for Ben Toth, for John Halamka, and for a growing number of professional bloggers in the sense I’m defining the term, there’s got to be a better way. We don’t need services that are free. We need services that are reliable here in the present, and that offer tiered levels of future assurance. If you build it, we will pay.

18 thoughts on “Professional services for professional blogs

  1. Neil

    I just heard a lecture by Robert Kahn of Ethernet fame. He is now working on the Digital Object project (http://www.cnri.reston.va.us/doa.html). Although that system might best be known for the DOI infrastructure, his vision sounds much bigger than that. He characterized it as starting with the assumption that one’s data is private and closed, whereas the Web starts with the assumption that data/information are open and accessible.

    The type of long-term versioning and storage you talk about in this post are a big part of his project (since publishers like Elsevier have the same concerns).

    I’m not convinced we need an entirely new architecture to do it, and I’m concerned that the closed-world of publishing might translate into less accessible information in the long-term. I like your blog, but it isn’t very useful if I have to pay, or if I can’t access old versions, etc… and I’m pretty sure you feel the same way.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Professional services for professional blogs « turnings

  3. hugh

    amen, except that i think the entry-level needs to be free… often blogs such as the ones you describe start on something of a whim. Putting up a barrier such as cost may stop many from launching the projects in the first place. (it stopped me for years untill i found blogspot, then blogsome, and then finally, two years in bought my own domainspace).

    Reply
  4. Ian Bicking

    Sometimes free services are the most reliable. In order to create a free service (that’s not just an obvious temporary loss-leader) you have create a system where the per-instance maintenance is extremely low. While it’s no guarantee that the service will stay around indefinitely, I’d feel much more confident about Blogger staying around than any commercial service. Commercial services have more economic vulnerability.

    Of course, Blogger is backed by Google, and at the moment that seems safe. But I’d feel pretty much the same about wordpress.com; the company that backs wordpress.com might fail, but I think the service will probably live on even then because their infrastructure is solid enough that the maintenance is small compared to the value of the asset.

    This all feels industrial to me in a way. For instance, after a certain point you can’t really pay more money to get a more reliable car. It actually seems to go backwards (though this was more true in the past), where really expensive cars were more unreliable. The way things scale, it’s only by scaling bigger that you can get decent return on reliability (when that reliability doesn’t require human intervention). Rich people have mechanics and assistants to take their car to the mechanic and whatnot. Big companies have IT people futzing with their systems. There’s a lot of overhead though; you need HR people for the IT people, or someone to keep track of your cars’ maintenance schedule. It’s not just expensive, it’s painful and demotivating and a headache. You can’t always pay to remove that kind of overhead.

    Reply
  5. Jon Udell Post author

    “I like your blog, but it isn’t very useful if I have to pay, or if I can’t access old versions, etc… and I’m pretty sure you feel the same way.”

    Agreed. I don’t want you to pay for it. Rather, /I/ want to pay to assure that you will have reliable long-term access to it, that things you remember reading can be found later, that things you point to will resolve, etc.

    Reply
  6. Jon Udell Post author

    “amen, except that i think the entry-level needs to be free”

    Sure. Of course you’d like it to be the case that that, as and when you realize you’ve begun to accrue value in the thing, it’s straightforward to migrate it to a more robust setting.

    Reply
  7. Jon Udell Post author

    “Commercial services have more economic vulnerability.”

    True. There are also, however, business arrangements whereby commercial services federate and cover for one another. Insurance, for example.

    Reply
  8. Deepak

    As per your definition, I suppose I am a professional blogger as well. One of my constant fears, having gone through this in the early days is losing all my writing. Sure I have database backups and the like, and it is a reason I would never use a hosted service like blogger, but still. The cloud, however real, is not quite there until we have a way secure our data reliably.

    Reply
  9. Michal

    Hello Jon. I’m a long time lurker of your blog writing, and break my silence as I believe that – without derogating of the point you make, and considering it is nuts losing years of blog-work (especially of the pro-blogger kind) – a reminder of the good old WaybackMachine, is due in this context.

    As far as I can tell from a glimpse, at least a large portion of Ben Toth’s old blog content, is alive and well over there, which means it can be retrieved and reconstructed. A dedicated assurance service like you suggest might be the preferred solution to the problem in general, but until then and none the less, one can make use of the available tools before “starting over”. Surprisingly enough, quite often I find even veteran netizens seems to neglect checking and using that option. Hence the reminder.

    Here is the earliest entry of nelh.blogspot.com, as archived at the Internet Archive (26/08/2002-28/09/2002) -

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2uz74g

    and here is the complete list of its archived entries over there -

    http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://nelh.blogspot.com/

    __

    Thanks for all the excellent writing.

    Reply
  10. Shelley

    As per your definition, I suppose I am a professional blogger as well. One of my constant fears, having gone through this in the early days is losing all my writing. Sure I have database backups and the like, and it is a reason I would never use a hosted service like blogger, but still.

    Still, what? You have everything you need to recover your site in five minutes or less. Would it help to have the backups notarized?

    Don’t like a blogspot weblog address? Buy a domain, host your site where you can use it.

    Want to make sure your pages stay online until the end of time? Leave a lot of money when you die.

    Want to make sure your writing lasts forever? Write something worth preserving.

    Reply
  11. Deepak

    Shelley,

    Not sure about the “worth preserving” part, but the rest has been happening for a while, but that still does not address the concern/question Jon raises, unless I am missing something.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: A professional blogging engine « Impressions Scholarcast

  13. Bob Walsh

    When I was researching my book last year, I came across numerous instances of professionals blogging for strategic advantage. Blogging is the new “old boys network” among early adopter lawyers, the new resume among programmers.

    As of right now, the best platform for a professional blogging is IMO TypePad: minimal cost, technical knowledge needed + maximum value and impact. But I do take your point re waking up one fine day to find a huge part of your professional output gone, or unavailable.

    I’d bet sometime in 2008 an enterprising microISV will take Moveable Type (now open source) + Amazon Web Services + a good AdWords targeted campaign and build something to address this new “digital lifestyle” need. At least I hope so!

    Reply
  14. Mr. Gunn

    Jon, I know you’ve talked about preserving web-based material before, so I have to point out a relevant conversation I had with the guy who runs WebCite, which is a TinyURL-like service for academic papers.

    Let me say first that I really like the idea of WebCite, as it does allow preservation of content, but I just disagree with the particular way the project is going about it. He proposes that all citations of URLs go through WebCite, which would be a fine idea, except there’s no guarantee that WebCite, or any other site, will remain accessible. It seems like a much better idea to me to have that content archived multiple places and accessible via lookup of a unique identifier or something, so you’re not dead in the water if the one site goes down.

    Of course, it’s easy to be a critic, and a centralized archive is better than no archive, at least for the immediate future.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: This ain’t yo mama’s e-portfolio, part 3 at bavatuesdays

  16. RaiulBaztepo

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

    Reply
  17. PiterKokoniz

    Hi !!!! ^_^
    I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that I’v found your blog very interesting
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you:)
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

    Reply

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