You, gentle reader, probably did not notice my most recent experience of nanofame, a weekend flirting with the top of the weblog charts on the strength of a weak little song parody I call Blogistan Pie.
Now, I’m already conflicted about Radio Free Blogistan. It’s a good outlet for my writing, memoir, and publishing interests and you can’t argue with success (it gets ten times more traffic than any other project), or can you? The smart money on weblogging in the long run says it will be a great medium for certain things, but that blogging-about-blogging is a dead end. There aren’t many TV shows about TiVo.
So for now I keep doing what I’m doing and wait for the great refactoring in the future (was just talking to my semantic web guru and I can envision a unified web spanning No Bird, Enterzone, X-POLLEN, Blogistan, and more – maybe that’s what Telegraph will be…).
I finished my slideshow-handout for the weblogs seminar I’m teaching at the Seybold conference in San Francisco this September, so I guess I should be promoting that now too. I’m such a content guy. All my slides, or 90% of them anyway, are plain black text on a white background.
Anyway, a few weeks ago in a fit of obsession with obscure technical politics in the world of content syndication standards (for, among other things, weblogs) and anxiety related to that evening’s meeting of a number of the heavyweights in this microcosm, I played off my moods by writing. I think the word Pie somehow stirred up the American Pie lyrics I memorized as a teenager, awakening their slumber like a balrog beneath Moria, and I dashed off
A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that blogging used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
I could make the people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
It was amusing, but not great. The next line in the real song is “February made me shiver,” and I connected the old USENET sayings about Septembers on the Internet (when college freshman got their email accounts and Internet acccess in early ’90s) and how AOL brought a “permanent September” with the horrific events of 9/11 and how webloggers’ response to it and communal coverage of the event had shaped the culture and perception of blogging ever since.
So the next part came easy
September always made me shiver
My aggregator would deliver
Bad news in my newsfeed
I couldn’t take one more read
Eh, not great but OK. A recent pregnancy announcement made me want to play the next few lines for positive emotions instead of the negative in the original
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his pregnant bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the blogging died
I meant tears of joy, but the lines worried me. A little too intimate and, if read as negative, potentially creepy. (In fact the first person to link to and trackback to the song when I posted it, immediately asked if someone had died. As if a latter-day Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Big Bopper had all succumbed to a small-plane crash. No, I reassured the reader: it was a mood, a bit of writing.)
I needed a chorus. Well the upstart project in the syndication standards competition was codenamed Pie and then Echo and the (briefly) nEcho, and then Atom, and each name was subsequently rejected, usually because of intellectual property conflcits (a bottomless pit). Tired of referring to the project by a different name each week (and worried that people researching it later might find my entires on Atom but not on nEcho, or whatever), I decided to use Pie until a new name emerged. So I came up with the somewhat syncopated
Bye bye wiki necho atom pie
And followed with snippets of collective blog “wisdom” (standards bodies sit on things for too long while actual running code determines the standards, some bloggers are overhyping the importance of blogging, mutual accusations of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, aka FUD, campaigns)
Took my standard to a body
But the body had died
And good ol’ boys drinking kool-aid and lies
Singing this is the day blogging died.
There are always good ol’ boys in every space (and, more insidiously, old boys – learn the difference). The imminent death of blogging has been predicted year in and year out for the last six or more years. Film at 11.
OK, I’m not going to narrate the writing of the whole thing, but needless to say, many revision ensued of just that first verse and chorus before I posted it. The first improvement (which probably caught Hylton’s eye at Corante) was to change the first verse to say “I knew if I had my chance, I could make the Googledance/And maybe Technorati for awhile.” The Googledance is a name for Google’s monthly rejiggering of its page rankings. Technorati is a trendspotting, link-tracking service for webloggers and other consumers of syndicated feeds. It’s fundamentally about egosurfing.
Much later, I changed the “if I cried/” part to “when he cut me from his blogroll side” since de-listing is such a big deal to some people, especially in the warblog world. It’s a political act. Ho hum. Greater minds than yours have cut me from their blogrolls. We don’t all need to read each other every day. I don’t need to be read by everyone ever day. That’s crazy!
By the way, you know what the secret of blogging is? You just put a stake in the sand and the next thing you know you’ve got a tent there. People come by. Few return but some keep coming back. By now you have created a coherent place in the swirl of life. Even the people who don’t read you daily find it reassuring to check in with you again the way you might watch the occasional soap opera and quickly get swept up in the quickly paced plotting. It almost doesn’t matter what accumulated around that first planting. It’s all you, baby, and you’re beautiful! Oh, plus the endorphins.
OK, so that first verse and chorus went out there and this Aussie blogspotting publication, The Blog Herald started a contest offering $20 American to the best sung and web-distributed version of my lyrics. Wow. How funny. I had invited people to contribute more verses, but no one did, and I became obsessed. I looked up the original lyrics to remind myself of the cadences and the narratives and all the silly supposed subtexts (was the Jester Bob Dylan?). Quickly I started writing another verse. It’s all very geeky and insidery (“Do you believe in XML?/And do you have faith in Jon Udell?” was one early version.
I posted the second verse and felt more enthused. By now I had copied the original lyrics off the web and had them open in BB Edit all the time so I could tinker and try things out. I tried to get the syllables and emphases to fit or I echoed sounds (“Pyra” for “fire,” “Lessig” for “Lennon,” and so on). And sure, sometimes I just went silly and crammed in words that didn’t really fit, but I think that the craftiness paid off, because near the end of last week when a lot of people started posting links to the song, I noticed that each person seemed to pull out and quote a different segment of the song. It was tickling a lot of funny bones (and rubbing a few people the wrong apparently, but the record there is murky).
Eventually I had it all ready but I spaced out the posting of new verses and kept tinkering. (I kept a dated changelog at the bottom of the file for people who were playing along at home.) After it was all there for a few days (maybe even a week), I added the final ingredient: I found good links for most of the references, obscure or not. Anyone who followed the links would have some idea of what the word referred or what concept I was evoking. This lead to people saying you could actually learn about blogs or the syndication kerfluffle from studying the song, which is funny, but kind of true because I poured a lot into it and sometimes art (even doggerel) says more than dry reportage.
OK, now here’s the really cool part. People have been entering the contest. Pete Hoskins recorded the first version. TDavid has a good chunk of the song done. Shannon “Pet Rock Star” Campbell says she’s totally doing it.
When I listened to Pete’s version there were times when I laughed with glee. Eventually I had tears in my eyes. His rendition is very good, I think, warts and all. There was something magical and delightful about hearing the voice of a person I’ve corresponded with but never met, singing a song I wrote just a few weeks ago. It’s that collaborative thing where something happens that you could not have done all by yourself.
I wonder if the $20 prize, token and funny as it is in its smallness (I consider a twenty-dollar bill to be the one dollar bill of today), actually spurred people to take the contest seriously and expend the effort (it’s a long freaking song!) required, not to mention the breath, to record it? Especially when considering that, when all is said and done, it’s a nerd in-joke that your parents probably won’t get. I doubt most of my friends would get enough of the references to make the song worth spending much time on. But a nanocosm within the blog microcosm has been so obsessed with these issues and stories lately as have I been that when they read this song it was like a gloss on a shared experience.
So, new principle? What else can we get people to do for $20?