The importance of publish-subscribe

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that my reading has become more and more heterogeneous and spread out; there has been a perceptible shift away from an A-list approach to a Long Tail, avoiding the “hit culture” implied by A-list approaches.

During that same period, there have been a number of articles about the death of Facebook and, for that matter, the death of blogging. [An aside: When you’re in a position to select the metrics you can “prove” almost anything. I have seen so many business cases that beggar belief, so many presentations written ostensibly by Messrs Andersen and Grimm].

I think the exact opposite is happening, that blogging is becoming mainstream rather than dying. And the same with Facebook.

I have some views on the why, and would love to know what you think about it. So here goes:

There was a time when the barriers to entry to the world of publishing were high, very high. That led to a situation where people who wrote (and were published) belonged to an exclusive class. Then along came the web and the blogosphere, and the barriers began to come down. But not that much. Let’s say this was around 1999. Blogging was still something done by a small group of people with good connectivity and the skills to use relatively technical tools. Readership was based on word of mouse, and so things remained relatively cliquey.

As the barriers came down further, as tools became easier to use, there was a level of democratisation. By this time, let’s say it was around 2003, better tools were emerging, Technorati had a job to do, blogs were mushrooming. Access was still not that great, and people used to say that the blogosphere was an echo chamber. Terms like A-lister flew around; a small number of people even acted like A-listers.

And then we come to now. A blogosphere that is becoming mainstream and therefore getting written off, apparently. Wrong. Because what is happening is this.

First was word of mouse. Then we had the blogroll. That was followed by OPML files. Which in turn were succeeded by sharing feeds via aggregator/readers like Netvibes.

Access to the world of the participative blogger became easier every step of the way. The way I discovered new writers changed, the way I tended my list of people to read changed. Cliques and echo chambers were replaced by the Long Tail.

The word of mouse was by definition cliquey. When it was the blogroll you had to know about it before you used it. OPML was also a barrier to entry. Netvibes and its competitors made things easier.

But what really changed things was Facebook. And then Twitter. And now FriendFeed. Communities with very low barriers to entry that allowed people to share what they wrote.

Share, but not on a broadcast basis.

Share, on a publish-subscribe basis.

That power now runs through many things we do, and I don’t think we really understand what we have. It is powerful, it enriches, it enlivens, it democratises.

People will discover Twitter and Friendfeed and their successors in the same way as they discovered blogging. And when they do, when they see the power of pub-sub, the blogosphere will become even more mainstream. Because barriers to entry and access will continue to fall, the risk of cliquism will reduce, the cost of discovering who and what you like will become negligible, the tools to manage your reading will keep getting better. All enhanced by the power of pub-sub.

Choosing what you want on a granular basis. Selecting the capillaries you like and discarding the rest. Weeding your river of reading.

6 thoughts on “The importance of publish-subscribe”

  1. Some great thoughts here — thanks for sharing them. I would add something that I believe makes blogging today radically different than in the past, especially following the introduction of social tools like Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed.

    Today, blogging is about much more than just publishing your thoughts online — it’s about starting and engaging in conversations. So I would argue that not only has blogging eliminated barriers to entry to publishing and become more accessible through the proliferation of feed readers, etc, but more importantly, it has gone from one-way communication to two-way. Social tools allow conversations to fragment very rapidly and efficiently — to find the most appropriate venue(s) to take place. Additionally, these tools have allowed the conversation to take place in real-time. That’s what’s most exciting to me about services like Twitter and FriendFeed.

  2. Share, but not on a broadcast basis.

    Share, on a publish-subscribe basis.

    Thank you for the link to the definition of pub-sub. How about a definition of broadcast, in order to identify the material differences for the less quick-witted amond us (i.e. me)?

    The principal difference I can see is that in pub-sub there is an act of subscription (implying the subscriber is identified) rather than just “tuning in” to a broadcast.

    The immediate beneficiary of this difference is the publisher, since he or she then knows their audience.

    I don’t think I have this right, since by this definition a blog is an act of broadcast. Help!

  3. Dom, I think the primary beneficiary of publish-subscribe is the subscriber, who gets to tune out stuff she doesn’t want to see or hear or read or whatever. That act of tuning in or out is closely coupled with two things: one, a feedback loop that then allows the publisher to tailor that which is published; and two, much more importantly, a mechanism for the subscriber to augment or enrich that which is published.

  4. Don’t forget the very large factor of SMS gateways, which have essentially put microblogging terminals in everyone’s pocket. It radically lowers the technical bar when everyone is able to post low-preparation, low-stakes messages from anywhere to Twitter or Facebook. The result is microblogging as ambient status updates rather than messages per se — a very different function.

  5. There is also a people angle to why blogging has become mainstream. Till recently, blogging was considered as either a “hobby” or something meant for geeks. The brand image of a blogger was at best someone “cool”. Today blogging has become essential to success in an increasingly networked world, especially in knowledge industries. It opens up new avenues, increases visibility, professional brand and in some case the money you make. Twitter and Facebook are catalysts that have fuelled the process.

  6. The concept of Publish/ subscribe is too good. Taking the example of this Blog itself, anything written with the Tag of Four Pillars interests me and anything about golf or Bologna cheese makes me feel out of place ( No offence meant, i mean i cannot relate to what you are saying). So for me alone, this concept would save a lot of time since this is the case with other blogs also.

    Secondly If Blogging had brought down the barriers for Authors to get their work published, in the same vein it has also reduced the barriers for audience who either had to buy over the top priced books or be part of the Elite to listen to the Elite. Blogosphere shall be in the mainstream as it gives/allows us the most democratic learning experience ever which is price less.

Let me know what you think

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