Still Blogging, And Everything Else

Dave recently returned from a year-long blog hiatus, the natural consequence of completing a doctoral program, to ask Does Anyone Still Blog?. My first response was to say, of course. There are plenty of us still working in this structure called blogging, even if the term has been largely drained of it’s original meaning.

However, after more thought and a wonderfully thought provoking talk by Jim Groom, Dave’s question becomes more complex and undeserving of a simple yes or no answer.

Jim discussed A Domain of One’s Own and DS106, two projects out of the University of Mary Washington with the goal of empowering students, faculty, and pretty much anyone else in their community, to be a web publisher and, more importantly, to control their digital identity.

It’s not about writing personal posts that are displayed in reverse chronological order. At least not ONLY about that. People Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Tube, pin, and publish their content in a variety of formats, including text-based blogs, using an ever expanding collection of tools.

Jim, and his colleagues, caution that when we add our work to those other sites, we are contributing to their content and thus ceding control of our work to those companies. Instead of, or maybe in addition to, everyone needs their own place on the web to present their digital presence in exactly the way they want the world to see them. And it needs to start before students arrive at college.

Here in the overly-large school district we’ve talked for years about the idea of student portfolios, a place for kids to keep their work from year to year, built as they progress from the elementary years to graduation. The discussion always comes back to the how: what storage system could we use that is both flexible enough to handle any format and is not dependent on location? And never forget security!

Maybe we need to start A Domain of One’s Own far earlier than freshman year of college. What if every child got their own domain when they entered Kindergarten?1 What if we started in elementary school to help kids build their digital presence in responsible ways that reflected their personalities. To learn what it means to publish to a larger audience?

As soon as I typed that last paragraph I could already hear some of my colleagues reciting the usual COPPA this and FERPA that lines. I know there are problems to be worked out but it’s a concept that needs to be addressed. Many, if not most, of our kids are already publishing in the real world, while we still live under the illusion that we can “protect” them without actually teaching them anything meaningful about the process of working in that world.

Anyway, getting back to the original question, yes Dave, people still blog. But blogging is just one part of the larger mosaic of tools for expressing yourself on the web.

Oh, Dave also asks if anyone still uses RSS. Again the answer is yes (I wouldn’t have found his post without the feed being in my aggregator), but just as many people are publishing their thoughts, creative works, and opinions to the web without calling it “blogging”, they are also using RSS without that specific acronym.

All part of the wonderfully flexible and malleable structure that goes into publishing on the web.


  1. pre-school? birth?

The Blog is (Not) Dead

Jason Kotte, who has been blogging almost since the day the term was created, ended the year by declaring that the blog died in 2013. I can’t argue with his reasoning.

Tombstone

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

I’m not sure the tools that large numbers of teens are using on the web should necessarily be the determining factor of what’s important. But Kotte is right that the functionality of what has been thought of as blogging, “is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs”.

He also admits to being somewhat provocative in his thesis, written as part of a collection of predictions for journalism in 2014. Blogs are not going away (Kotte plans to quit in 2073 when he turns 100). Personal publishing has simply evolved to offer a wide variety of options for sharing images, audio, video, and yes, even text.

However, in the end I have closer agreement with the thoughts of Om Malik: “Blogging was and still is, an act of sharing; it is about having a point of view and most importantly, having a connection”.

For better or worse, my connections beyond this blog can be found on my AssortedStuff | Tech site (soon-to-be-rennovated), on Twitter, and on Flickr. With more channels coming soon.

Choose Your Own Spam

Despite the fact that this is hardly a high traffic site (and probably doesn’t rise to the level of low traffic), I still get my share of comment spam. While almost all of it is caught by Akismet, the wonderful WordPress anti-spam plugin, a few pieces a week arrive in my mailbox for moderation.Trackback spam

With very few exceptions, the messages are very transparent attempts at flattering an administrator into clicking the Approve link and look very similar. Almost as if the comment was created from a template.

Today one spammer didn’t even bother with rudimentary edits and sent the templates for me to choose my own crap.

{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. {It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.| I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.

I feel much better about my writing now.

They included about thirty other examples. If you’re interesting in going into the comment spam business, let me know. I’d be glad to forward the whole DIY package.

Jumping Back in the Stream

I'm writing this from somewhere over the Atlantic as we return from a week or so on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.1 Mostly pleasure for me, partially work for the musical wife.

More about that later, after I've recovered from the jet lag and eight hectic days, along with a few pictures. Or maybe a whole lot of pictures, depending on what's on the memory cards.

Between the trip and a somewhat chaotic month of July prior to getting out of town, this space has been rather silent for quite a while. It's not often I go this long without ranting about something in public, here or on Twitter, not to mention that I've also been ignoring the stream of information and ideas that comes from my learning network.2

But one fact of traveling with a group as we've been doing, is that it often takes a little longer to get forty people heading in the right direction, not to mention arriving at a destination3. But the process does allow for time to catch up on both reading (thanks in large part to Instapaper) and thinking.

So consider this a toe in the water as I prepare dive head first into the stream that is my normal life. Fair warning however. I may not be totally coherent tomorrow, at work or anywhere else.


1 It will be posed after we get home since United doesn't offer wifi, free or otherwise.

2 While I was gone, did Mitt Romney really dis the entire British Government during his visit to the UK? And I tried so very hard not to be the ugly American on our trip. :-)

3 Especially considering the narrow twisty roads we've been traveling on in a 48 passenger bus.

 

A Space of Your Own

Some interesting thoughts on blogging from an interview with Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress:

We both know that blogging has been declared dead at least five times. But that’s like saying creativity is dead, or like personal expression is dead. Ultimately some percentage of the people who get a taste of it through a Facebook or a Twitter or a Tumblr, start reblogging, start interacting with creating on the web, some of them will graduate, some of them will feel like they want to have more of their own space, their own voice. And blogs thus far, have been the best medium for that.

I don’t believe that everyone needs a “blog”. However, everyone needs control over their online persona and that’s something we should be teaching our students.

Most of the discussion is a little geeky and very business insider. But as a long time WordPress user, I was intrigued with Mullenweg’s statement of dissatisfaction with the current state of his creation.

I’m still unhappy with WordPress to this day. I don’t think it’s feature complete because there are still 5.99 billion or 6.99 billion people in the world not publishing, who don’t have a voice online, who are digital sharecroppers on someone else’s domain. And I want them to have a tool. I want them to use open source software, whether it’s WordPress or something else. [emphasis mine]

“digital sharecroppers”. Interesting terminology, a phrase to stick in my mental shoe box.

Anyway, he goes on to say that he’s working on a “radical simplification” of the WordPress interface, noting that the current version has controls similar in complexity to those of a digital SLR, something that just doesn’t work on a mobile phone.

It will be fun to see what comes from Mullenweg’s thinking.

There’s a Smart Way to Blog… and a Stupid Way

Here we go with yet another high profile story of a teacher posting information about her job in the open space of the web and getting suspended when the bosses hear about it.

The Central Bucks School District has suspended a high school English teacher after parents complained to administrators about her blog in which she railed on her students for more than a year.

Since the original site has been pulled down, I have no way of knowing exactly what she wrote, but based on the news reports, I’m not sure I can muster much sympathy.

And her current posts about the aftermath do little to clarify or improve anything in this situation despite her writing about the “lack of respect for teachers as professionals”.

Certainly there’s always been a certain lack of respect for the teaching profession in this country. But insulting your students by name in multiple entries on a site archived by every available search engine over a year or more is not professional.

Or particularly smart.

However, this is thankfully an aberration. I can point you to many blogs by educators who regularly write about their classrooms, schools, and students, including the stupid mistakes that kids inevitably make.

What sets them apart from the few teachers who wind up on the evening news for their posts is the smart, creative, sympathetic, and positive way they present their students and classrooms, errors and all.

But beyond a negative impact on the profession, I also worry that stories like this dissuade other teachers and principals from blogging as well as from using the many wonderful tools for publishing on the web, both for themselves and their students.

And make administrators and school boards more likely to reflexively punish employees who create material with which they disagree.

If we really want to improve the image of the teaching profession, it can only be done with more transparency about what goes on in schools and greater connections to the public.

However, at it’s core, the issues involved in this and similar cases are not legal. This is an educational matter.

I’ve written a lot about the need to teach kids about the responsible way to represent themselves on the web but maybe it’s time we did the same for teachers.

Blog Must Die

According to yet another study by the folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project (do they ever sleep?), blogging has “peaked”, at least when it comes to the “millennial” generation.

However, the researchers note that “while the act formally known as blogging seems to have peaked, internet users are doing blog-like things in other online spaces as they post updates about their lives, musings about the world, jokes, and links on social networking sites and micro-blogging sites”.

So, maybe this is a good time to just dump the term “blog”, which Wired calls an “ugly-duckling word that’s never had a real definition”, and instead work with the larger concept of how people communicate their ideas online through a growing number of multiple channels.

It’s also way past time that we in education began helping kids (and not a few teachers) understand how and why to intelligently craft their online personalities, whatever you call the process.

Blogging For My License

Here in Virginia, and probably in every other state, those of us with a teaching license must file for a renewal on a regular basis.

Mine expires this summer but our overly-large school district wants the paperwork by April and this weekend I’m going against my usual procrastinating nature to get it done early.

The process involves presenting to my boss evidence that I’ve completed a certain number of hours of professional development activities that will, according to the state manual, “update [my] professional knowledge and skills”.

Among the activities specifically listed in the state manual, as you might expect, are taking formal classes, attending and presenting at professional conferences, getting published, and other examples of the usual academic undertakings.

3971420076_7be92fdc2b_m.jpg

Although I’ve accumulated more than enough of that traditional stuff over the past five years, I thought this time around it might be fun to push things a little and see just how committed the folks running our educational system are to all their talk about “21st century skills”.

I plan to submit the time I’ve spent writing this blog for credit as one of my professional development activities.

While some of the stuff posted here didn’t require a lot of work (much less thought), many of the entries have incorporated plenty of reading and research, discussions with colleagues, reflections on my own ideas and those of others, and lots of writing and rewriting.

The same kinds of activities expected in a formal academic setting.

More importantly for me, however, are the many, many connections I’ve made as a direct consequence of this blog being out on the open web.

A PLN that updates my knowledge and skills (professional and otherwise) every day and which is larger than any that could be created through the traditional activities outlined by the state.

Ok, so maybe this rantfest isn’t what someone in the Virginia Department of Education was thinking of when they created the rules for our license renewal process.

Or when they wrote “One of the most vital qualities of all professionals is the commitment to continuous learning and growth in knowledge and skill.” for the opening line of the Virginia License Renewal Manual.

But that concept of “continuous learning and growth” is exactly one major reason why I write this blog and why it will be included in my paperwork along with an assortment of normal, expected, point-generating activities.

And, just so our state Secretary of Education has plenty of advanced notice, next time my license comes up for renewal, I’ll be submitting my Twitter feed. :-)


Photograph by woody1778, used under a Creative Commons license.

And One More Thing

Right about now this rantfest has begun it’s seventh year of existence.

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Since I had no clue what I was doing in those early days, my first couple of months of posts have been lost (although that’s not really much of a loss :-), so I can’t nail it down to an exact anniversary date.

But I do know it was sometime during winter break, just after the start of the new year 2003.

I know that, in the larger history of the internet, this is really nothing of any importance.

However, since I’m running things in this little corner of the web, I get to make note of the occasion, right?

Thanks for indulging my annual ego post.


Image: 7 by Leo Reynolds and used under a Creative Commons license.

A Snapshot of Your Online Identity… Maybe

I’m not sure what to think of this.

personas_smallThe graphic (click to see a full size version) was created by Personas, a project of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media lab and which according to their web site, creates a “data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity.  In short Personas shows you how the Internet sees you”.

Interesting, since in almost seven years of ranting in this space, I don’t remember writing much if anything about sports, fashion, or religion.  (Of course, there’s always the possibility that my name isn’t as unique as I’m assuming it is. :-)

Another factor that gives me doubts about the accuracy of this particular portrait is that in repeating the process, the sports stayed but the fashion and religion vanished, even though it seemed to be analyzing the same sources each time.

Anyway, it’s still fascinating to watch the visualization being built and, as the developers refine the underlying algorithm, this could be a wonderful tool to use with students (or adults) to get a snapshot of themselves online.

And as a starting point for a discussion of how it got there.

[Thanks to Karen for the link.]

Imperfect is What You Want

The Blog Herald has some advice for bloggers: How to Make Sure Your Blog Post is Ready for Publication.

Stuff like check for broken links and “have someone else review your draft” are certainly all good suggestions.

However, blogging really isn’t the same thing as “publication” and few of us have editors, much less time for rewrites.

So suggestion number 3 on their list for me encapsulates the concept of the read/write web.

Make sure the post is imperfect. This one may strike you as odd, but let me explain. There is always something you can improve about a blog post. Always. Add a paragraph, go with a different image, change a word choice, tweak the headline … the list goes on and on. But if you actually consciously take a moment to consider the fact that your about-to-be-broadcast post is not practically perfect in every way, and if you take an additional moment to choose to be okay with that fact, you’ll conquer that perennial stumbling block that so many bloggers trip over – the double-edged sword of perfectionism/procrastination.

This is a point I’ve been trying to get across to one of our principals here in the overly-large school district.

He started back in September and I had high hopes for his blog since he is a very smart guy who I thought had a good understanding of the fundamentals.

It turns out he’s also the type who needs to make sure everything is perfect before pushing the publish button. To him, every post must be a fully-formed essay, with themes of high importance.

But that’s not the point and it probably reflects, at least in part, his conception of publications that come from an age (quickly disappearing) of limited media.

When you assemble a newspaper or educational journal (or even a school newsletter) that is scheduled to be distributed on a regular schedule, the inclination is to make everything as close to perfect as possible before you commit it to paper.

When you control an instantaneous publishing system that is available 24/7, perfection is not only unnecessary, it’s also detrimental.

Please don’t assume I’m saying bloggers don’t need to think before they post. A good entry is far more than just a random collection of subconscious ramblings.

However, the power of these tools means that we have the freedom to toss out incomplete thoughts and less than perfect prose, since tomorrow (or even an hour from now) we have another chance to rethink an idea or even completely reverse ourselves, ideally based on feedback from the original post.

Creating content for a web audience is as much a process as it is a product, possibly even more so.

And that’s a lesson that teachers and their students need to be learning as much as my friend the principal.

Image: Hall of Imperfect Pixels by Juria Yoshikawa.

The Feds Are Monitoring Your Blog

Among other things, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for monitoring advertising to check for fraudulent or misleading claims. They also investigate suspicious endorsements by supposedly neutral parties.

Should they do the same for blogs? Like it or not, it will be happening soon.

New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers – as well as the companies that compensate them – for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

It would be the first time the FTC tries to patrol systematically what bloggers say and do online. The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer – and getting commissions for any sales from it – would be enough to trigger oversight.

If the guidelines are approved, bloggers would have to back up claims and disclose if they’re being compensated – the FTC doesn’t currently plan to specify how. The FTC could order violators to stop and pay restitution to customers, and it could ask the Justice Department to sue for civil penalties.

I have mixed feelings about all of this.

On one hand, it’s hard enough to tell the difference between “experts” and just plain old talking heads in the regular media, much less on the growing millions of sites claiming some kind of authority on the web.

So, it would be nice to have someone who’s trying to keep track of the frauds.

However, the naive, faith-in-the-self-regulated-web part of my mind doesn’t see a large US government office as the best way to accomplish the job, especially since people need to learn to validate for themselves everything delivered by all media.

Whatever happens, I doubt the new rules will affect this little rantfest since I’m too lazy to bother with ads and don’t often recommend stuff anyway (as if that would carry much influence :-).

But does this really end with blogs? Should the FTC also be monitoring traffic on Twitter, Facebook and the dozens of other social networking tools where authority is left to the mind of the reader?