I posted last week about a distributed, tool-agnostic, tag-based framework for online discourse. It’s a key component for one of my looming grant applications — in terms of dollars requested it likely won’t be too big, but in terms of implementing open networked learning it’s a big step. And in this case I don’t even need to convince the instructor to experiment, it’s Jon Beasley-Murray’s idea.
When Jon started using Technorati Tags (a key component in the working plan), they totally jammed up — prompting an unseemly freakout on my part, and paradoxically jump-starting one of the best comments-field discussions ever to grace this blog. At the time, it prompted action from Technorati, and it seemed like things were somewhat resolved (although with a hard lesson learned).
So I’m scheduled to meet with Jon today, to firm up plans for an application that is due imminently. In the run-up to the meeting, I was monitoring how his tagging was going, and noticed some troubling gaps. Today Jon provides the full story:
Technorati have again, it seems, given up a) on indexing this blog and b) on responding to customer support queries.
Regarding the lack of customer support response, I’m prepared to give them a bit of slack given that it’s been Thanksgiving weekend in the US.
But the erratic indexing itself remains something of a pain. One would like to have a little more faith in the reliability of tagging.
… this semester I’ve been writing up some notes on readings connected to a class I’ve been teaching. I’d like to be able to point students to the appropriate Technorati tag so that they can access the relevant entries without having to wade through my disquisitions on Agamben or cultural studies or whatever. Their exam is coming up, so they might especially appreciate this in the next week or so.
But if we can’t trust Technorati (or can’t trust them to fix problems in good time), all this rather goes down the tubes.
…it’s not at all obvious why this happens (there’s nothing on Technorati’s help pages that deals with the issue), nor therefore what can be done to prevent it. And if customer response time remains so slow, then it’s not as though it can be rectified unproblematically.
The point here (at least in my case) is not to diss Technorati. As Tim Bray notes, “Nobody who hasn’t been behind the firewall at Technorati or one of their competitors can grasp how pathologically hard it’s been to keep a service like that up and running in the face of the continuing insane growth of the blogosphere.” Updates to Jon’s post indicate some progress is being made, and it’s clear that Dave Sifry pays close personal attention to his tags for clues how the service is performing.
But all the good will in the world is meaningless if nothing is delivered. I have to ask, is the emergent approach really ready for prime time? Because it’s easy to talk trash about BlackWeb and other corporate behemoths, but at the end of the day reliability matters. If we promote a new approach, then instructors and students should have reason to feel confident in it.
I’ve given a lot of thought to some techniques to provide redundancies, but can’t think of anything that doesn’t put burdens on users. We plan some improvements to aggRSSive that might work, but doubt very much they will be ready for January, when we plan the first iteration.
If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to see them.
Update: Stephen responds with a gentle poke, and a very constructive suggestion. Hmmm…