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No Blog is an Island
Going through the process of turning over 750 blog posts on GAMESbrief into three volumes of edited thoughts has taught me a lot about the difference between the printed word and the online word. Anyone thinking about the transition from physical to digital would do well to understand the differences.
1. No blog is an island
Books are discrete pieces of content, unconnected with anything else; a blog is woven tightly into the world wide web. This is most visible in hyperlinks. The ability to connect directly to the stories on which you are commenting, to link to Wikipedia to explain a concept, to press releases and comments, is incredibly powerful. None of this exists in a book.
2. You need to explain a lot more in a book
In a book, the writer can only assume that the reader has basic knowledge. If, in a book, I am commenting on someone else’s thesis, I should explain that thesis first, to ensure that my reader is informed of the argument I am attempting to demolish. In a blog, I just link to the original post.
3. A book is more biased
When I link to a blog post, the interested reader who follows that link gets the original story, uncontaminated by me. In contrast, in a book, I have to rehearse the arguments I plan to demolish before I refute them. The likelihood of bias and miscommunication creeping in at this point is high.
4. You learn less from writing a blog post
If I have to explain someone else’s arguments, I learn a lot more about them. Nothing cements your understanding of an issue as well as being forced to explain it to someone else.
5. The value of comments is lost
A blog is an ongoing dialogue between the blogger and his audience. The quality of the comments can add enormous value to the blog as a whole. I have even taken some comments and reposted them (with permission) as guest posts because I think they add a lot of value to my readers. With a book, everyone experiences it in isolation. A book doesn’t seek to initiate debate – or rather, if it it does, it has no forum in which to conduct that debate. A blog, on the other hand, is all about the interaction.
A book and a blog do different things
I do think books are better for writing long-form arguments. Blogs are better for stimulating a debate which actually happens. Visibly, for all to see. I don’t think that one is inherently better than the other (although, like Steven Johnson, I believe that we will eventually find the idea of books without hyperlinks very quaint). If you are a writer, a publisher or a blogger trying to work out which medium will win, I recommend you experiment with converting one format to another. The experience will be eye-opening. The best of GAMESbrief was turned into a series of books entitled GAMESbrief Unplugged, Volume 2, on traditional games, transition and the power of free.