I've been thinking recently about the way that my interest in writing and publishing blog posts has waned, and while there are a lot of factors that have contributed to this, I think there's a big part of me that questions what the purpose of writing is or should be, and because I mostly write about the things I'm learning or thinking about, my posts end up being off-the-cuff explanations of things I've learned or musings on a theoretical point which aren't particularly well referenced, and while they're fun to write and useful for my own process they're not particularly useful to anyone else. Realizing this puts me at something of a crossroads with my own writing, and has me thinking a lot about the practice of citation. [1]

Mechanically, citation anchors text in relationship to other work, [2] but it also allows discussion to happen in and between texts. Also, the convention for citation in the context of informal writing is a link or an informal reference, so it's difficult to track over time, and hard to be systemtic in the way that one text interacts with its sources.

Blogs bring out confessional writing with ambling [3] structure and the freedom to say just about anything, which I have found liberating and generally instructive, but it's also limiting. For writing that comes out of personal experience, it's difficult to extrapolate and contextualize your argument, or even to form an argument, particularly in the context of a blog where you're writing a larger number of shorter pieces. It's also probably true that by framing discussions in personal experience its hard for people with different experiences to relate to the content, and more importantly the concepts within.

I'm not arguing against journaling: journals are greatgreat, but sometimes, I think journals might be best unpublished. I'm also not arguing against the personal essay as a form: there are many topics that are well served by that genre of writing. I do want to think about what else is possible [4] and how to write things that are stronger, more grounded, and easier to relate to and interact with. I think more citations and references are the key, but I'm left with two problems:

  1. Style. There aren't great conventions for referencing things in informal writing. Throwing a link in the right context works, and is clear, but it might not be enough as it's hard to know what's a citation-typed-reference and other kinds of links. Also links don't hold up well over time. The more formal approaches are rooted in out of date technologies and tactics. Citations often reference page numbers, footnotes don't often make sense in informal situations, [5] and bibliography conventions are mostly non-existant.
  2. Tooling. I'm pretty sure that well cited texts are well-cited, because their authors have great memories for things they've read, but because researchers often have tooling that supports managing a database of references, notes and bibliographic information. If you have a record of the resources you've read (or otherwise consumed), it becomes easier to pull out citations as you write and edit. [6]

Neither of these are insurmountable, but I think would require a good deal of work both on figuring out better citation formats and patterns, as well as developing better tooling. I don't have answers yet, but I do want to think more about it, and probably play with writing some tools.

[1]My initial intent was to sort of discuss the personal conflict, and reflect on the corpus of this site and consider my own growth as a writer, which might have been a fine way to tell this story, but it felt much more self indulgent, and I think probably makes my point by example better than I am here.
[2]Admittedly this should be cited.
[3]Limited, of course, by size.
[4]The problem is that I think there aren't a lot of great examples or models to follow. I've been thinking about other kinds of writing (e.g. journalism, academic writing, and fiction,) for potential models. The academic writing and journalism are clearly the starting points for this post.
[5]My attempts to the contrary aside. Having said that I expect that
[6]Zotero is probably the most popular one. There are tools that allow you to maintain BibTeX files, with similar effects. The space is probably underdeveloped, and most tooling is targeted at researchers in specific fields. It's unfortunately a difficult space to develop a compelling tool in because the technology is easy (so it's easy to overengineer,) and there are just enough users (and different kinds of users) to make the interface/interaction design problems non trivial.