Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A treatise on 'Why Blog?' and Python Fun

Since I started monitoring the IPs of the people who visit my blog (via statcounter's free service), I've had 452 recorded unique hits. I quickly started thinking about the purpose of a blog and here are some insightful remarks (feel free to comment if you agree/disagree with any of these views):

The Diary-Blog
A blog can be be used to keep track of one's daily life. One can reconstruct significant events in their own life from reading their old blog entries. This is the 'my blog is for me' view. The only reason why this portrayal isn't perfectly aligned with the traditional notion of diary is that a blog is inherently public. Anybody can read anybody else's blog. The next few categories revolve around this very important depiction of a blog as a non-private collection of entries.

The News-About-Me-Blog
Since a blog is public and can be read by anybody with an internet connection, it is a way for the world to obtain information about the blogger without direct communication. In this view, the blog is the interface between the blogger and the rest of the world. A {stranger,friend,foe} doesn't have to bother the blogger by calling them to find out what they are up to and they don't even have to check their IM away message in the middle of the night. The Blog is always up since it is posted on the internet. However, in this view the outside world which reads the blog is nameless; it is a faceless corpus of readers.

The Philosophy-Blog (where comments are key)
By keeping the blog interesting the blogger can keep customers coming back. Here I use the word customer to denote a blog reader. Generally the satisfied customers are people who are interested in some of the topics that are conveyed throughout the blog. This allows the blogger to gear certain blog entries for that particular crowd. For example, throughout my blog a recurring theme is the philosophical questions "What is the world made of?" and how it relates to my current life as a researcher in the fields of computational vision and learning. By entertaining the customers who are also related in such deeper questions and interacting with them via comments, a blog can help exchange ideas with such a broad audience.

The I-am-talking-to-You-Blog
With tools such as Statcounter, a blogger who is competent in statistics can make many insightful inferences about the blog-viewing habits of his/her customers. Now, allow me (the blogger) to present you (the customer) with a rather intriguing use of the Blog. While the Philosophy-Blog was geared toward a large audience of people who share similar interests, the I-am-talking-to-you-Blog portrayal is centered around the key observation that one particular person will read the blog entry with an exceptionally high probability. Under this model, a particular blog entry is geared for one person, and one person only. However, due to the non-private nature of a blog, it is usually not obvious whether a blog entry was written for one person and whom that target person migh be. Surely the blogger could explicitly state who the blog entry was for and why, but that would defeat the whole purpose of person-targeting on a public blog! If a blogger wanted to say something directly, then they would use {phone,email,IM} as opposed to posting something on their blog! The genious behind the I-am-talking-to-you-Blog paradigm is that one can gear a blog entry for a particular customer and never state so directly; therefore, the blogger can always deny that the blog entry was geared towards any particular person! Clearly, a customer can only infer the true intentions/target of a blog entry when the blogger uses sophisticated obfuscatory techniques. By discussing content that is general enough for a broad audience to classify as random-talk yet specific enough that the target customer can transcend the seemingly random arrangement of words, the blogger can steer his voice in the proper direction.

In conclusion, I have written some Python code that automatically downloads people's blogs (their entire archive actually) in an attempt to mine the internet. The internet and well-formatted blogging is an ideal interface between people's most intimate thoughts and machines.