editing in blogs versus wikis

I get the feeling sometimes that editing is bad form in a blog, as compared with a wiki. The blog is supposed to stand as a record for all time of the writer’s thoughts and/or feelings at a particular moment. You should have edited your thoughts before you published them!

I see this in the way that folks correct themselves — not by actually editing their work and rewriting it so it’s more accurate, but by striking through the old text and inserting new text, along with careful editorial notes: [edited on 2004-07-10 at 07:10 a.m.]. See, e.g., LibraryLaw blog, carefully noting “UPDATE: the introductory paragraph was expanded to describe the law on 9/15/2004” on a post from the 14th.

My first guess is that this is an instinctive attempt to be academically correct. The notion being that you have published something, and now if you change it “after the fact” without noting that you have changed it, you are misrepresenting yourself in some fashion. Misrepresenting how well you wrote initially, what you wrote initially, trying to make yourself not look so stupid & ill-informed, etc.

But it’s not just in academic blogs that people have this habit — they do so even in their personal blogs.

By contrast, people expect wikis to be rewritten and edited. It would be annoying to have to read, in wikipedia, an entry, and then, following after, chronologically, each of the corrections and edits. In fact in many if not most instances the entry would rapidly become unreadable.

And in terms of the writer’s experience, doesn’t it suck some of the joy out of it, to have to regulate and track it to such an extent? To not be able to spontaneously put something out there in the heat of the moment? That later, maybe, you don’t necessarily want to conceal, but that you’ve refined & improved? I want to interact with a thought or a piece of writing, to play with it, to write it down, and come back a few days later, and see that it is good, or more likely that it is not good, and edit that first Adam into an Eve.

So what am I doing with this blog? I’m not treating it like that kind of exercise. In semi-accordance with the apparent norm in the blogosphere, I’m announcing my edits. But I’m doing it in advance, and globally.

Basically, what I want, and what I’m using this blog for, is as a roughly chronological (journalistic) collection of brief semi-essays and annotations. I’m processing my thoughts in it.

I have the opportunity to turn each of these entries into a little experiment. Some of them will be frozen at the moment. Others will be edited to fix typos. Others will be edited to fix misstatements. Some entries will even be edited to reflect changes of view, new facts, etc. I’m going to have a “modifed on” tag in the entry but I’m not tracking each & every modification, because frankly they’re not that significant.

I “publish” something when it’s in some kind of a half-way-ready state to be out there. A state at which I’m not completely embarrassed if someone sees it. But it’s not what I would consider finished work because this is a blog, not a journal paper. This is more casual writing, more off-the-cuff. It’s real but it’s a different format, and I cannot see why I should have to stick to the old rules in the new format, when they impede my ability to fully utilize the new format.

Often in the first few hours or days after I “publish” something I go back and tweak it, adding sometimes a lot more content. Over the days and weeks that follow the changes to that entry get less & less frequent. Some kinds of entries stay hotter longer — for instance the Bush TANG memos covered by CBS — and accordingly are edited more frequently over a longer period of time.

The ideal, I think, would incorporate more wiki-like features, so you could go back & read the original versions, and see a version-tracked history.

Right now, the blog is my sandbox. If at some point I have a group blog, or publicize this blog & try to get comments & dialog started, then that will change the dynamic; maybe then it will be more sensible to publish once and denote specific retractions / corrections.