Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blogging as a Thinking Tool

I started blogging with a fuzzy purpose of wanting to express myself, but without a strong desire to have an audience.  The experiment is still in its early phase, but I'm finding that blogging is helping me to clarify and crystallize my thoughts.  All of this confirms my belief that writing is an important form of thinking--a way of thinking through.  In writing I discover what I think (because I don't know what I think until I see what I say) , clarify my thoughts, and evolve them.  As with conversation.

Each form of writing or writing media has a different effect on the thinking of the writer.  You can blog, tweet, write documents in word processors, participate in online discussions, post answers on Q&A sites, etc.  You can also use various software tools to accomplish specialized thinking tasks like financial anaysis or decision analysis.

Tweets are pre-thoughts, associations, observations, or just very small units of thought, micro-thoughts.  Tweets seem to me like announcements or advertisements for ideas.  Like this tweet by Tim Hurson:

Wonderful, but what does that really  mean?  It's a thought ad.

Documents.  We can also write documents in the form of articles, essays, or books  All of these are more formal and more organized. 

Blog posts.  The blog post is a happy medium between thought ads and highly organized bodies of thought.  I start with an idea that strikes me as important in some way and I write to clarify and express it.  It is a separate autonomous entity but it is free from the violence of a rigid organizational framework.

Another thing I like about blogging is the interface.  It hard for me to descibe what I like, but let me attempt it.  The blog interface is a stream of recent posts in a 2/1 layout.  This interface places the stream of content front and center.  I write something and then I see how it looks.  I like to look at the formatted text.  Is that narcissistic? 

I like the limitation of the blog post.  All I have to worry about is getting this one thought right.  If I need to say more later, I can update my post or create a new post.  All the other thoughts are put on hold while I work on this one. 
All of this suggests certain requirements for a thinking tool which the blog partly fulfills:  support for creating and editing thought-size texts (hereafter Thoughts), support for searching and browsing Thoughts, organizing Thoughts and even evaluation of Thoughts.

Writing Thoughts.  Blogging provides good support for creating and editing (writing down) Thoughts--autosave, simple editor.  This is slightly less true of word processors because of all the unrelated features which are distractions for simple writing.  Word processors have an additional problem.  They encourage you to create bigger documents rather than lots of small documents.  They're not good at managing a plethora of Thoughts. Just imagine word processors as an interface for Tweets and every 140 characters, you have to create a new document.  Word processors are optimized for larger units of text.  They are word processors--not thought processors.

Searching Thoughts.  With the exception of Google docs, word processors (Microsoft) don't have usable search features.

Browsing Thoughts.  Blogs allow you to browse the stream of thoughts sorted by time and as well as by tag.  It would be also nice to browse based on a search vs. simply get a list of search results and then have to click on the like to get the Thought.  Word processors don't provide any kind of browsing.

Viewing Thoughts.  Blogs allow you to browse your Thoughts in a pretty interface that you set up.  Word processors don't have anything like this.  The closest thing is "print preview".

Organizing Thoughts.  Blogs allow you to use tags or categories.  As a thinking tool, this organization scheme is pretty simple.  Google docs also support tagging documents.  Our thoughts serve our goals.  They relate to various contexts and objectives and neither blogs nor word processors support any other organizational schemes.

Collaborating on Thoughts.  Blogs allow multiple author to post and comment on posts.  This of course, is huge.  Word processors don't support this very well.

Evaluating Thoughts.  Neither blogs nor word processors support the evaluation of thoughts.  Some blogs probably have evaluation features, but I have never seen them used.

Thoughts at some point need to be integrated into larger wholes.  So thoughts should be chunked so that they can be plugged into some organization, organized and re-organized.  One way to do that is through tagging which is a good loose organization.  In this respect word processors are the worst because they encourage you to write a long document where the thoughts are embedded into the structure.

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