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Memetrackers need a better memory

Discourse isn't just about what's being said today. Memetrackers, such as Techmeme, TailRank and Megite, to name a few, provide a solid view of what's being said today, but we need more perspective on conversations if we're going to use all this extra communication to accomplish better thinking.

Discourse isn't just about what's being said today. Memetrackers, such as Techmeme, TailRank and Megite, to name a few, provide a solid view of what's being said today, but we need more perspective on conversations if we're going to use all this extra communication to accomplish better thinking.

The problem with blogs, which treat postings as daily doses and not parts of a continuous topical discussion, and the memetrackers that aggregate topics by the day is that conflicts or fads of the moment must not overwhelm a longer view that lends Memetrackers, by focusing on the latest news and postings, produce a profoundly shallow perspective. itself to considered thinking about a topic. A blog posting written after a couple days' consideration is hardly ever going to find a purchase on the front page of the memetrackers, because the anchor postings they refer to are already "stale."

"Write first, think later" is a fine motto for getting the facts, but society could use a hell of a lot more thinking, too. 

Memetrackers are like librarians who can only tell you what's going on today. What's also needed is a longitudinal approach to information, so that the evolution of ideas can be examined and participated in without having to fire a mental shot without first taking aim because the topic is about to slip into the memetic archives.

A world of news built on an editorial approach that emphasizes the "hottest topics" is exactly what was wrong with the mainstream media. Short institutional attention spans allowed difficult problems to quickly fade from the public discourse, so, for instance, we got a war with no end in sight because the"hot" topic has always been whom to blame, whether for providing a causus belli or going to war or refusing to adjust tactics or whatever. The bigger questions, like whether war was the right approach given the rise sectarian fundamentalism in the Middle East, are never organized by topic.

For example, let's use Gabe Rivera's  BallBug, a memetracker for baseball news, as a critical subject. Today's hot topics include Manny Ramirez's potential departure from Boston, the Hall of Fame credentials of Mark McGwire and so forth. The Blue Jays' deal with Royce Clayton, a once-phenom shortstop who has never delivered is probably worth just a day's mention, but it does change the team's fortunes and budget so we need access to that for future consideration. Why not organize news by position, or team or player, as well as just today's date, so that the record of the topic is exposed and can be read—and linked to—for discussion's sake? 

Why not have a McGwire tracker within BallBug that assembled not just the stories about Big Mac's disastrous appearance before Congress, but also a record of his career using news stories by day or reporting on his performance against Hall of Fame pitchers? What if next week a thoughtful posting by a blogger who isn't in the BallBug watchlist delivers a damning deconstruction of St. Louis Manager Tony LaRussa's support for McGwire in the Hall? We're not going to see it, because LaRussa today's story that won't be "hot" next week.

My point isn't that BallBug or the memetrackers generally are broken, only that memetrackers, by focusing on the latest news, produce a profoundly shallow perspective.