I brought this conundrum to a recent conversation with the estimable JP Rangaswami, and after we parted it became clearer to me. We know about blogging; we know about micro-blogging. But is it time to start thinking about macro-blogging, and after that, meso-blogging?
Macro-blogging for me is a grand(iose) term for how my own blogging, done through a standard publishing platform (Typepad), has evolved. It's become a place where my research, journalism and presentations are "publicly" stored - all the better to enhance my intellectual brand. But it's also become a place where I can "essay", travel forth, into subjects, in a way that satisfies my own editorial sensibility (like now), rather than that of a client, publication or broadcaster. As JP said, micro-blogging - which for both of us meaning sending the same message to Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc - "takes the static out of one's blog writing".
For us both, our blog - or macro-blog - has now become a very Enlightenment-style space, a place for extended publication (and for me, sometimes, textual restitution - saving newspaper pieces from the tender mercies of subeditors). I'm planning my entry into the world of ideas podcasting at the moment: and I would certainly put my 50-minute audio or video discussions in the "macro" category, in more senses than just byte-size. I want people to dwell with this material, to have it operate as the stimulating background to their commute, or housecleaning, or Sunday glass of wine, in the way that traditional media does.
So like slow food, you could call the content of macro-blogging slow media: the long-read, the long-listen or the long-watch, dwelling with a voice or approach over some duration. I note from JP's blog that Cory Doctorow is putting his new book Makers on his blog, chapter by chapter - which adds "Dickensian" to "Enlightenment" as descriptors for the macro-blogging space. Many authors are using their blogs in this way - as a kind of open rumination and development of their books (Kevin Kelly's The Technium is the most magnificent example of this I know).
If I want to be aphoristic, or be immediately useful with a one link-reference (which can, of course, be to my macro-blog entry), I go to the land of the Fat Wee Bird. The Moses of the Net, John Perry Barlow, recently described Twitter as a place where "genius last ten minutes... Twitter is casting pearls before mayflies". Funny, but only half-true: tweet a link from a macro-level blog, and it can operate as a gear changer, moving people down a few speeds from their skittery cybernetic loop. (I attempted a map of some of these subtleties at my keynote at the Media 140 conference in London a few months ago, relating real-time media to old-time media).
But if we posit the poles of micro- and macro-blogging, there must perforce be many gradations in between - what we could call "meso-blogging". 140 characters is indeed valuable for the concision it imposes, and the haiku-like or newspaper-headling-like editing it compels. It's also a kind of input that, with the right device, can easily happen in the tiniest interstices of a busy day. But what happens when what you have to say spills over that long-lost telco engineer's arbitrary text limit? When you have a small story to tell, or a sequence of sound or movement to bear witness to? How do we gently ease out from the limits of 140, yet still retain our spontaneity, our responsiveness to our environment, our thrill of instant publishing?
Meso-blogging already has its obvious phenomena - eg, rich media clips generated from a mobile device by the man or woman on their feet (Qik, Audioboo). I've used Audioboo on the iPhone reasonably successfully in the past - but one or two deeply frustrating failed uploads, as the content squeezes and sputters its way through a toiling 3G connection, make me think that the bandwidth isn't really ubiquitous enough for that, nor are the devices (or their apps) properly configured.
Posterous is clearly intended to fill the meso-blogging gap. It simplifies its input mechanism to the basics (an e-mail - manageable by almost every device these days, static or mobile), but it receives every form and size of file, from photos to MP3's to documents to video. (I've never used Tumblr, though JP made a strong recommendation). Posterous also narrows the gap between creation, utility and publicity by giving all audio its immediate iTunes link - a very seductive integration (though I'll be using Typepad-via-Feedburner).
One can easily imagine another modality of blogging coming through this kind of platform - one that's more experience-and-affect based. Capturing epiphanies at arts, sporting events or family gatherings; enabling a richer record of holiday, tourism, expeditions; presenting rich, personal and multimedia records of practice or craft. All of this is scattered across various services at the moment, from YouTube to Flickr to SlideShare - which of course the diligent macro-blogger harvests and embeds to garnish her deep-dives into topics and interests (see my Micheal Jackson essay with the opening You Tube clip, and for a supreme master at macro-blogging, Momus's Click Opera). But the idea of creating a service which presents all modes of capturing experience and thought, easily and tidily, seems right on the button to me. As I say: not quite macro, not quite micro, but meso-blogging.
Yet I still think we're pretty far from a web interface that could adequately express this 'dream-catcher' element of meso-blogging. I've had a great experience over the last 18 months with the Ning social network platform, and particularly with its ability to let you quickly shift blocks of rich media around its front page. In terms of interaction design, mainstream blog platforms need to think more expansively - breaking out of the essentially "one-column-with-fringes" format, and re-conceiving the norm as three, maybe four contiguous columns of rich multimedia content. (I know that there are open-source content-management systems like Joomla and Drupal that could do this for me - but as the King of Pop didn't exactly once sing, "I'm a user, not a coder").
The diverse input that's coming from our smartphones, netbooks and (probably) tablets needs a more polyphonic (or perhaps better, polymorphic) kind of display mechanism on the web. Facebook's endless tinkerings with its interface - still far from right for me - are evidence of how much pressure is building up from the tsunami of user-generated content that's coming from the populace now.
As our devices become smarter and more mobile, and bathe in an ever-richer soup of Hertzian frequencies, we will each have the chance to become 'mini media-moguls' - writers, dialogists, broadcasters, retailers, folksonomists, community and friendship network managers. I'm also wondering whether meso-blogging might also interleave with the long, tottering fall of mainstream journalism. Is the hyper-local, super-specialised media that Jeff Jarvis keeps imagining actually awaiting richer blog platforms and smarter devices - where localities narrate themselves across a range of media streams, and journalists modularise and editorialise these flows (seeking, as ever, the elusive ad dollar...difficult to do with socialist infrastructure, I know...)
Meso-blogging might sound like setting up your laptop over the starters at a Japanese noodle bar...But there's certainly (ahem) a soup of possibilities between where we are with Twitter, and what dignified middle-aged men like me and JP are starting to do textually with their Wordpresses and Typepads. These might not be exactly the polarities you want to measure this field by. But please, choose your own. And when you do, meso-blog me about it.