TITLE: The Patterns, They Are A-Changin'
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: February 13, 2012 4:13 PM
Seth Godin's recent
blog entry at the Domino Project
talks about how changes in the book are changing the
publishing industry. He doesn't use the word 'pattern' in his
discussion, in the sense of an
but that's how I see his discussion. The forces at play in our
world are changing, which leads to changes in the forms that
find equilibrium. In particular, Godin mentions:
Godin looks mostly at the forward implications of changes in the
patterns of self-sufficiency, but I've been thinking about the
backward implications of print publications having to stand on
their own. As noted in
a recent entry,
I have begun to adapt a couple of my blog entries into articles
for print media, such as newspaper and magazine opinion pieces.
My blog entries link generously and regularly to my earlier
writings, because much of what I write is part of an ongoing
process of thinking out loud. I also link wherever I can to
other peoples' works, whether blogs, journal articles, code, or
other forms. That works reasonably well in a blog, because
readers can see and following the context in which the current
piece is written. It also means that I don't have to re-explain
every idea that a given entry deals with; if it's been handled
well in a previous entry, I link to it.
As I try to adapt individual blog entries, I find that they are
missing so much context when we strip the links out. In some
places, I can replace the link with a few sentences of summary.
But how much should I explain? It's easy to find myself turning
one- or two-page blog entry into four pages, or ten. The result
is that the process of "converting an entry into an article" may
become more like writing a new piece than like modifying an
existing piece. That's okay, of course, but it's a different
task and requires a different mindset.
For someone steeped in Alexander's patterns and the software
patterns community, this sentence by Godin signals a shift in
the writing and publishing patterns we are all used to:
- Patterns of length. There are tradeoffs involving
the cost of binding and the minimum viable selling price
for publishers versus the technology of binding and
a maximum viable purchase price for consumers. These have
favored certain sizes in print.
- Patterns of self-sufficiency. "Electronic forms
link." Print forms must stand on their own.
- Patterns of consumption. These are are driven even
more economic forces than the other two types, not technical
forces. Consuming e-books is, he says, "more like browsing
As soon as paper goes away, so do the chokepoints that created
Now, the force of abundance begins to dominate scarcity, and
the forces of bits and links begin to dominate paper and
bindings and the bookshelves of the neighborhood store.
It turns out that the world has for the last hundreds of years
been operating within a small portion of the pattern language
of writing and publishing books. As technology and people
change, the equilibrium points in the publishing space have
changed... and so we need to adopt a new set of patterns
elsewhere in the pattern language. At first blush, this seems
like unexplored territory, but in fact it is more. This part
of the pattern language is, for the most part, unwritten.
We have to discover these patterns for ourselves.
Thus, we have the Domino Project and others like it.
The same shifting of patterns is
happening in my line of work,
too. A lot of folks are beginning to explore the undiscovered
country of university education in the age of the internet.
This is an even greater challenge, I think, because people and
how they learn are even more dominant factors in the education
pattern language than in the publishing game.