Gelernter likes blogs, but doesn’t know it
Monday, June 23rd, 2003
Yale comsci prof David Gelernter gives a nice philosophical overview of print and online newspapers. Along the way, he offers a brilliant brief for blogging, although he appears not to know the word. On print papers:
A newsprint paper is a slab of space (even a closed tabloid is larger than most computer screens) that is browsable and transparent. Browsability is what a newspaper is for: to offer readers a smorgasbord of stories, pictures, ads and let them choose what looks good. “Transparent” means you can always tell from a distance what you’re getting into (Are there lots of pages here or not many? Important news today or nothing much?)–and you always know (as you read) where you are, how far you’ve come, and how much is left. The newsprint paper is an easy, comfortable, unfussy object. You can turn to the editorials, flip to the back page, or pull out the sports section without thinking. It’s light and simple and cheap: Spread it on the breakfast table and spill coffee on it, read it standing in a subway or flat on your back on sofa or lawn, on the beach or in bed. You can write on it, cut it up, pull it apart, fold it open to an interesting story, and stick it (folded) in your pocket to show to someone later. These small details add up to brilliant design.
On “online newspapers:”
The web-papers of tomorrow should be “objects in time,” and here is the picture. Imagine a parade of jumbo index cards standing like set-up dominoes. On your computer display, the parade of index cards stretches into the simulated depths of your screen, from the middle-bottom (where the front-most card stands, looking big) to the farthest-away card in the upper left corner (looking small). Now, something happens: Tony Blair makes a speech. A new card materializes in front (a report on the speech) and everyone else takes a step back–and the farthest-away card falls off the screen and (temporarily) disappears. So the parade is in constant motion. New stories keep popping up in front, and the parade streams backwards to the rear. Each card is a “news item”–text or photo, or (sometimes) audio or video. “Text” could mean an entire conventional news story or speech or interview. But the pressure in this medium is away from the long set-piece story, towards the continuing series of lapidary paragraphs. There’s room on a “news card” for a headline, a paragraph and a small photo. (If the news item is a long story or transcript, only the opening fits on the card–but you can read the whole thing if you want to, by clicking the proper mouse-buttons.) So: a moving parade (or flowing stream) of news items–new ones constantly arriving in front, older ones moving back.
In a footnote, Gelernter admits that the online newspaper (blog) sounds a lot like his company’s attempt to revamp the basic OS, Scopeware.