I’ve been writing ribbonfarm as a solo act for over five years now. Blogging can get to be a pretty lonely activity, so I figured I could use some company for a change. I didn’t quite like any of the existing models of collaboration in blogging, so I invented my own: the blogging residency. Think of it as something of a cross between a sabbatical and a writer-in-residence program.
We’ll start our little experiment with Mike Travers of Omniorthogonal, Kevin Simler of Melting Asphalt and Drew Austin of Kneeling Bus, all of whom contributed guest posts last year. For me at least, their posts were like breaths of fresh air in this increasingly insular little refactoring shop, which has gotten a little too full of my own in-a-rut ideas over the years.
Each of them will be contributing between 4 to 6 posts here through the year. Check out the Blogging Residencies page to learn more about the “refactored perception” themes they plan to explore. Thanks to your ongoing support since I began accepting sponsorships, I can afford to actually pay these guys small honorariums for their contributions. So there is hope yet for the future of publishing.
To kick things off, I asked all three of them to articulate their understanding of “refactoring,” the umbrella theme here at ribbonfarm. So here you go (and for once, I can grab the popcorn and let somebody else defend their ideas).
Three Perspectives on “Refactoring”
Refactoring as a writing technique, in its most obvious interpretation at least, means the willingness and ability to slice, dice, and recombine existing conceptual structures in the hopes of coming up with new and more powerful ways of thinking about the world. This is not that new — this is what philosophers and scientists have been doing since abstract thought was invented. But putting a new label on it, and considering it in light of the software engineering practice from which the word derives, takes it to a meta level. Can we actual refactor thinking itself?
To refactor something is to recode the familiar version of it–to effect change by moving information around rather than by changing properties of the thing itself. Reorienting one’s own perception of reality is a principal means of refactoring and an ability that writing and technology share. In a civilization that has refined its ability to detach information from concrete objects and freely manipulate that information, refactoring becomes more powerful, more unstable, and more frequent (see Taleb’s “Extremistan” metaphor) which is why it is an ever more compelling lens through which to view the world we currently inhabit.
In one word: reconceptualizing.
In one phrase: finding new structures for existing ideas. (Analogous to the concept in programming — finding new structures for existing code.)
Goal: producing insight — seeing things differently, and hopefully more clearly and powerfully (which allows you to build out further ideas and conceptual structures more easily).
Contrasts (but is not in conflict) with the following:
- original research
- summarization of existing ideas
Examples of conceptual refactoring: perspective shifts, perspective inversions, metaphors (how X and Y are related), generalizations, reframing (or creating a new framework), distinctions (splitting a formerly atomic concept into two related concepts, by introducing a new dimension). There are probably more examples here, which would be interesting to try to catalogue, a la code refactorings.
Why Blogging Residencies?
Despite the place of the medium in “social” media, blogging doesn’t really have good social models that actually allow for interesting collaborations.
- Blogrolls are basically an exercise in mutual back-linking transactions. They don’t generate new value, just mutual admiration and SEO-juice.
- Team blogs are difficult to pull off except under special circumstances, given the highly individual voices of different writers. Most team blogs are effectively either aggregators, or magazines in the old sense of the word, rather than a true expression of the unique characteristics of blogging.
- The culture of guest posting is the ephemeral: drive-by blogging that misses more often than it hits. Most bloggers use it more as an expedient way to have somebody “cover” their posting schedule. Sort of like substitute teaching. It works for some types of writing, but is too limited for other types.
I like the idea of an extended “residency” because it fosters more serious collaboration. Last year’s guest posts from Mike, Kevin and Drew felt like a breath of fresh air to me (and to many long-time readers). I am hoping to not just play off themes introduced by them this year, but I hope they are able to play off each other’s themes as well, in a way that enriches their home blogs.
We’ll see how this experiment goes. In the meantime, please welcome our new blogging residents. Starting in February, one in every three or four posts should be a resident post. Should keep me on my toes.