Is the Blogosphere Like a Railway Network?

Evelyn Rodriguez at Crossroads Dispatches, a blog on innovation and marketing, recently asked Who (not what) is a blog for? Perhaps I was influenced by the name of her blog, but it immediately occurred to me that asking Who a blog is for is like asking Who a railway station is for. To me, the blogosphere is like a railway network, and each of us can set up and maintain our own station and provide a one-way link to other blogs, other stations. Trackback (railway track, get it?) provides a rudimentary way of also connecting to other stations that have connected to us, but for the most part, just like a real railway station, we only sell outgoing tickets and maps to go elsewhere. The ‘back’ arrow gives us a way to get back to the previous station when we inadvertently make a ‘wrong connection’. The search engines are like worm-holes in the system, allowing us to jump the track into hyperspace and land somewhere else in the network far away from where we entered it. Blogrings are like the colour codes that join all the stations on a common route, or in a community.

As the owners of stations, we provide amenities to the passengers to attract them, and make their stay worthwhile and memorable, but recall that the average visitor to a blog stays ninety seconds, a little longer than a subway train lingers at each station but a little shorter than the milk train’s stops. Our visitors arrive because of our ‘advertising’ elsewhere in the system, or more often they’re just passing through on their way to some unknown (to us) ultimate destination, or on their way home (their home page, where they’ll write up the story of their journey). While they’re visiting, they may stop to refuel, pick up something to read, maybe snap a picture or two. They may stop to talk with us about the news of the day, or about the architecture of our station, or they may scribble hateful graffiti in the restrooms and then flee, anonymous. Some will pass by regularly, on their daily or weekly commute, but most will be here by accident, impatient to get where they really want to go, and hurriedly depart, never to return.

Sometimes the station-owner goes away, and closes the station for awhile, or forever. Passengers are forced to reroute around the broken link, and soon new links are made, new maps of how to navigate around the abandoned section of track.

I know it’s possible to stretch an analogy too far, but this one intrigues me. The blogosphere and the railway system are both networks, both global, both peopled mostly by transients on their way someplace else. What can we learn from the analogy? How can we create blogs that are like the greatest railway stations in the world, not just waypaths but destinations, terminals, adventures in their own right? What would the Schipol of blogs look like?

Enjoy your stay at How to Save the World, part of the Green Line, with connections to the Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Progressive Economics and Story Lines. Mind the Gap!

This entry was posted in Using Weblogs and Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is the Blogosphere Like a Railway Network?

  1. Justin Kitzes says:

    I’m a long time reader and first time commenter. I want to first express to you Dave how much I appreciate your writing and the depth of your thought – it’s something that I’ve rarely found elsewhere.It seems that the train station analogy above breaks down for blogs like yours. Train stations are means to ends, places that you pass through on the way to somewhere else that holds meaning. Blogs like yours are more terminal destinations in my mind, like a classroom, conference hall, or museum – somewhere that I take the train to get to, not the train line itself.While the vast majority of blogs are certainly link hubs that provide commentary and summaries and new directions, I think places that provide substantial original thoughts and analysis fall outside this analogy. The most valuable part of the blogosphere to me is its function as a free, open, peer-recommended library, not necessarily as an organization scheme in and of itself.Keep em coming Dave.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Justin. Delighted to meet another regular reader.

  3. A more flexible analogy would probably be to compare the internet to a city, with the roads being the actual ISP pipes, the buildings being the websites: some are bus stops, from which you can go to many other places, some are pubs where you sit down and chat, others are libraries and museums, movie theaters or malls, etc.btw Dave, I’ve only been reading your blog for a short amount of time, but I’m already impressed and plan to visit the archives in my free time. I’ve also just posted an entry with an homage to your blog on mine. Hope you don’t mind :D

  4. Jon Husband says:

    And what is the turntable, in the train yard, that re-directs towards new and different destinations ?

  5. ron thomson says:

    I always just thought blogs were just there somewhere where people could write what they thought and hope to start some others thinking. Your article certainly made me think about their purpose and can see he comparison about train stations. problem is that stations are where people get on and get off sometimes at the end of hte journey sometimes in ht middle of life. Need to keep thinking about this. but thanks anyway

Comments are closed.