Blogs are blogs and wikis are wikis and never the twain….

Mike Caulfield, whose latest project, Wikity, brings to WordPress some features of federated wiki, asks whether an architecture that would allow data to flow seamlessly between blogs and wikis is a desirable thing.  In a comment, Kartik Agaram suggests that tagging makes blogs behave in a more wiki-like way.

To unpack this, I found it helpful to think all the way back to physical libraries. The whole notion of card catalogs and call numbers is a system designed to make physical objects findable. No matter how many cards referred to an item, the call number (a primary key, as it were) pointed to one spot on a shelf.  There has been a tendency to think of tagging as being fundamentally different because the artifacts are digital, but as Mike points out, the web is still location based, even if the locations are virtual.  Tagging merely allows, to extend the card catalog analogy, there to be a theoretically infinite number of “subject” cards for any given entity or entities under any given subject.

Given that the blog is clearly one person’s writing and thought, it makes more sense for it to have a single canonical address.  Wiki is more reference like and seems to lend itself better to Mike’s notion of connected copies, since the question of authorship is less important.

Now on to Mike’s actual question.  How valuable is it to be able to seamlessly move data across this divide?  I think the answer depends on how important you think the attribution chain is.  If it’s not important at all, just cut and paste.  If it is important, is it equally important in both contexts?

For the blog, some sort of attribution clarifies what is the author’s own thought versus what came from somewhere else.  However, when that somewhere else is a wiki, you deal with a source that is designed not to be static.  All of the web does that, in fact, which is why we have accessed on fields in web citations and everyone should love the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.  The vary malleability of a wiki page may lessen its value as a source. Would a wiki to blog bridge, like a fedwiki fork, pull the entire history of a wiki document up to the point of citation?  It’s with connected copies that this sort of link makes more sense. Even if the copy you originally cited has disappeared, you might find another.

Going the other direction, one expects a blog post, with it’s time and date stamp, to be a fixed oeuvre, so it makes more sense as a source or reference for a wiki document. It’s usually static nature also makes this process easier.

Having thought “aloud” through the use cases, I’m not in desperate need of a bridge. If reference by content grows in importance, it might make more sense.

Musical Theater and Transculturation

Well, I finally did it. I broke down and started listening to the Hamilton cast album. Hamilton is, for those who don’t know, the (now grammy winning) hottest thing on Broadway, a biographical musical about the founding father, duel victim and face of the ten dollar bill, which stars show creator and MacArthur Fellow Lin-Manuel Miranda.

From the very opening line, it’s clear that this is not a period piece. Hip-hop and rap influences are immediately apparent, and I found that just a bit off putting at first hearing.  Then I thought about why I found it off putting.

Douglas Hofstadter uses the word transculturation to refer to the process of replacing cultural references when translating a text to a new language.  That’s sort of what’s happening here.  I’m sure that the founding fathers didn’t rap.  If you watched the performance of the show’s opening number on the recent Grammy telecast, there was an interesting juxtaposition.  Although the musical style is contemporary, the costumes are period, so you see the eighteenth century and hear something much more modern.

Of course Hamilton is far from the first show to do such a thing.  In West Side Story, Bernstein completely transculturated Romeo and Juliet in Verona to Tony and Maria in New York City.  Shows like Candide and A Little Night Music juxtapose modern music with older settings.  There’s (so far, I’m only a few songs in) one moment in Hamilton that evokes actual 18th century musical style, Samuel Seabury’s1 half of  “Farmer Refuted”.  I wonder if Miranda is contrasting Loyalists and Patriots by having the former sing music that sounds eighteenth century and European, while the latter sound hip, modern, and American.

This sort of approach has some benefits. A noticeable spike in Google search volume for the term “Alexander Hamilton” followed the Grammy performance. On the other hand, it doesn’t exactly encourage one to consider an event in its own historical and cultural context. What do we gain and lose when we retell an historical story through a modern cultural lens?


1Students of religious history will recognize the name. Seabury was later the first Anglican bishop in the United States.