Sunday, April 27, 2008

Belshaw sans words

In Recent Belshaw blog posts as at 25 April 2008 I mentioned that I had been reviewing my blogs. The first outcome may seem a retrograde step, the establishment of a new blog!

I have always been inspired by Gordon Smith's lookANDsee, a wonderful photo blog focused on the New England Tablelands. Then that perfidious chap Neil Whitfield established Floating Life Sans Words. I say perfidious advisedly because of the influence he sometimes has on me! While Neil's blog had only a short life before being rolled into Ninglun's Specials, I liked the idea.

All this led me to think about establishing a blog focused on some of the visual material I have found that is now spread over many places, accompanied by short explanations. So I established Belshaw sans words, a direct pinch from Neil of course.

I started with two very different photos from two recent stories, and then started a post on a completely different topic again. At that point I said to myself, hang on a bit. Sure this might show my varied interests, but what (to use management jargon) is the real value added?

Most of the photos I use come from other sources, although I do hope to post more of my own. I do do some research and add words to set a context, that's additional value because it gives the photo greater meaning, but the value would be far greater still to me and others if the posts built to a more integrated story over time.

As you might expect given my interests, I am using the broader New England as one core integrating theme. However, I then decided that it might be sensible to do posts in series so that someone looking at the front page would see a changing coherence. This would also help those searching on labels by creating content more quickly. I suppose that what I really have mind is the hope that themed posts might become a visual essay.

To try to illustrate, take the story of the Chinese in New England. Their story is a subset of New England history, of the broader story of the Chinese in Australia and indeed of the overall story of the Chinese diaspora. I haven't added them up, but I must have written at least half a dozen stories linked in some ways to the Chinese in New England.

The story of New England's Chinese community is not well known, squeezed as it between the very local and the broader state or national stuff with its metro focus. So a series there might be of interest.

In saying this, I am not saying that Belshaw sans words should become another history blog, nor that it should duplicate my existing blogs. Rather, that it provides an opportunity to present and integrate material drawn from my other work in new ways.

One problem that I have become very conscious of in reviewing past material is the ephemeral nature of so much web material. Like most serious bloggers, I try to give attribution and to provide links to sources and supporting material. Far too often, links go dead because people have died or simply lost interest. Also far too often, the search engine algorithms do not allow exact replication of past searches, making it hard to re-find material.

The Australian National Library's Pandora Project is part of an international project to create a web archive. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the web means that the NL has to select.

My problem is that many of the things that I am especially interested in such as individual stories do not make it through through the selection process. This holds even in our immediate blogging world, where most of us exist on Pandora as patchy snapshots derived from references or links on other sites followed through by Pandora robots.

In the short term, I have begun the practice (as I did with some of Neil's mother's material) of replicating more material on my sites as a second record. In the longer term, I hope that at least some of the more active sites I know will finally get selected by Pandora. As an example, it would be a tragedy from my perspective if some of Neil's material were to be lost for any reason.

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