April 2003 Archives

music appreciation

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Sitting at home grading web projects this morning. Gerald's got the digital cable radio playing, and this is the first time we've (well, I've) listened to the "Party Favorites" channel. Too fun. From R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World As We Know It to The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian to Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire , it's an unending, commercial-free stream of upbeat music that's ideal to hum along to while doing unpleasant tasks.

This is the kind of thing that makes me really like the new Apple Music Store. If I hear a song that piques my interest, I can hop online and buy it for .99. Instant gratification. I like instant gratification. Patience has never been my forté. And in my life these days, time is at a premium. I don't have time to go to the store and find the album I want. I don't have time to launch Limewire and search for a downloadable version of the song. Apple's made it fast, easy, and reliable.

I understand Joi's concerns about "giving in" to DRM. On the other hand, after spending a good bit of time (a) testing out the the impact of the DRM scheme, and (b) reading about it, I don't find Apple's implementation unreasonable or intrusive. At the end of the day, I can still do everything I would have done with a "non-protected" MP3--burn it to a disc, make a disc from a playlist, share it with a friend, play it on my iPod.

The music selection hasn't been a big issue for me...probably because my tastes aren't really cutting edge. My first test was to look for Little Feat, and I found lots of their stuff, which made me happy. (I don't need it, since we own all of their albums...my husband is buddies with the band. And yes, they're still touring. Still one of the best live bands in the world. And coming to Rochester next month. Woohoo!) Then I went looking for the song I'd heard at the drag show the night before. Bingo! Less than five minutes later Apple had my credit card number, and I had Bette Midler singing "I'm beautiful, dammit!" on my computer.

Like many others writing about this, I'd like to see the price drop a little, but for now, the convenience and novelty make it worth the .99.

living in the real world

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Lately, I've felt a little too much like a denizen of the Matrix...jacked into a virtual world via my laptop, while the rest of me floats along, disengaged from the physical world.

That's not good.

Not that I don't enjoy and get tangible benefits from my online interactions. From the new colleagues I'm finding in the world of social software, to the friends and family I'm seldom co-located with, it gives me valuable connections and conversations. As long as there's balance, it's good. But lately there hasn't been.

This weekend, I got embroiled in two simultaneous group negative energy exchanges via e-mail. One I've already talked about; the other is pretty boring work-related stuff. But by Sunday afternoon, I felt as though the computer was sucking all the positive energy out of me.

bette.jpgHappily, I do have a life not on the screen. So Sunday at 6pm I closed my laptop, and headed off to the RIT gym to meet Elouise. After a brief workout, we spent several hours coloring our hair (we had better experiences with L'Oreal Couleur Experte than Meg did, I think; I went with Butterscotch Crème, while Elouise opted for Caramel Glaze) and painting our nails. (A poor woman's spa experience, to be sure, but it was fun.) Then we headed off to an AIDS benefit at a local club, where we were treated to a wonderful drag show. The performance I enjoyed most was to the sounds of Bette Midler's wonderful "I'm Beautiful (Dammit)," from her classic Bathhouse Betty album. (I bought it last night from the Apple Music Store...pretty cool. More on that later.)

One of the things about drag shows is how they make you really think about what constitutes femininity. There was a drag queen on the dance floor--but not in the show--who was one of the most stunning creatures I've ever seen. S/he was graceful, elegant, captivating. It's a little depressing to look at someone and think to yourself "that man is a more beautiful woman than I'll ever be!"

But it was an excellent break from virtuality. The next morning, over coffee, a colleague asked me if I was okay. "Fine," I said. "But...why do you ask?" "You dropped out of the discussion on xxxxx pretty abruptly last night...I thought something might be wrong."

No, I thought. Something was right. Taking a break, knowing when to break the connection, that's important. "Step away from the keyboard. Now. Nobody has to get hurt."

ridiculously easy group-unforming

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The flip side of how easy it is for groups to form using (relatively) new social software technologies is how easy it is for them to unform--and not always in a way that the group wants.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail invitation to join a Yahoo! Group called "blogrollers." The invitation was from Dave Winer, and it was based on the fact that I'm on a small distribution list that RageBoy occasionally uses to tell friends that he's escaped his private demons for long enough to write something on his blog. Dave thought it would be fun to turn that ad-hoc group into a mailing list. I agreed, and accepted the invitation (as did about 15-20 other people whose ideas and writing I enjoy). Ridiculously easy. Straightforward merging of e-mail and web interfaces. One address in the to: field now instead of dozens. It's all good.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning the new M2M blog I was involved with on Corante--and got slapped down pretty fast by Dave--on the list and on his blog. (Don't think it counts towards my Winer number, though, since it wasn't a personal attack.)

I responded on the list (gently, I thought), and left it at that. I did so thinking it was a small group environment, and that it was part of a discussion among friends. Silly me. I forgot that Yahoo! Groups archives are available publicly (unless the moderator deliberately turns them off.) Dave posted a link to my message on his blog, effectively turning it into a public rather than private response. Ugh. Good reminder of the shifting boundaries between public and private in electronic communication. I was more upset with myself, really, for not thinking about the public nature of those archives.

A series of messages followed, with a lot of support for the value of the SSA and the new blog, and some resistance from Dave. Not an ugly debate, I thought. But there wasn't a lot of agreement from the group with Dave's position.

This morning I woke up to a list message from Dave entitled "Taking a Break":
I envisioned this list as basically a friendly place to exchange ideas among adults, away from the rudeness of XML lists. Unfortunately some of that is bound to creep in. When it does I'm going to smash it hard. I'm so tired of kid stuff. Looking to learn and share ideas. So I turned on moderation for the list, and won't approve messages for a few days, to let things quiet down.

Wow. It's the online equivalent of "I'm taking my marbles and going home." But in this case, by taking the marbles, he takes the playground right along with him. I can understand wanting to take a break...I've needed to do that plenty of times in online communities. One of the things I like about Yahoo! Groups, in fact, is that you can so easily go to "No Mail" mode when you don't want to read the messages, leaving yourself the option of reading them on the web site later if you change your mind.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm struck by the ease with which this technology allowed him to shut down everyone in the group. Enforced "break taking" for everyone. So I've taken a permanent break from that group by removing myself as a member. I'm not comfortable in an environment where the sole power can (and will) silence me--and the people I'm interested in listening to--so quickly. And I'll go back to the lengthy cc: list approach--which, though inelegant, has the power of decentralization and individual control going for it.

new social software blog

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Blogging has been a little light over the past week because I've been working with Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield, Sébastien Paquet, and Jessica Hammer on a brand-new Corante blog on "social software" called "Many-to-Many" (which I'll refer to from now on as M2M, since that's a lot shorter and easier to type).

I'm really excited about this--it's an amazing and talented group of people with a wide range of views. I know Clay's taken some flak lately as being somewhat exclusionary, but that's not been my experience in the development of this new blog. This is not a list of A-list bloggers, nor is it the "in-crowd" at O'Reilly (three of us aren't at etcon, in fact). But it is a group of people with a variety of perspectives and experiences. Much to my delight, it's 40% women. And if we count Clay as a part-time academic (he teaches at NYU), it's split right down the middle academic vs practicioner.

I think the new blog will be an interesting space. I hope you'll stop by and visit.

keep the bird burning

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One of the most articulate, interesting, and enjoyable voices in my corner of blogaria--Shelley Powers, aka Burningbird--is at risk of being silenced due to financial constraints.

Happily, Jonathon Delacour has organized a "Keep the Bird Burning" fund. I've contributed. I hope you will, too.
Contribute via PayPal to keep Burningbird online!

Update, 27 April
The campaign was a success. Thanks, everyone! I've disabled the paypal button above.

blogs 101

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This is a collection of links I've put together for our department's industrial advisory board, which is meeting here tonight and tomorrow. Rather than creating a separate web page for them, I thought I'd put them here in the blog itself, so that the starting point for my demo is this entry.

This is by no means a comprehensive list...just a starting point of resources I think are useful. And I expect I'll be editing it throughout the day, so don't expect it to stay static. :-)

duty vs pleasure?

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What to do, what to do...

Just found out that a panel presentation I volunteered to be on has been accepted for the 2003 Association of Internet Researchers conference. The problem? It's the exact same dates as this year's Pop!Tech.

As an academic, I should go to AoIR, since a juried panel presentation is a very nice line on the vita, plus it's a chance to talk to other people in the field who don't see research as an unnecessary distraction from coding.

But I love Pop!Tech. It makes me think in new ways. It gives me a chance to talk to people who are excited about the same ideas that I am.

I really don't want to have to pick one, but I guess I'm going to have to. Blech.

nothing gold can stay

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(I meant to post this yesterday, but the time got away from me. And so did the color.)

On my drive home from work, I thought to myself--"It's today." Every year I wait for this day. The day that Robert Frost's words float through my head, helping me to recognize the importance of living in the moment.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
 
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

etcon trackbacks?

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Hmmmm. Was just surfing through the O'Reilly ETCON presentations that I won't be able to attend (she said, self-pityingly), when I noticed a brand-new, nifty-looking Trackback Link. Wonder what happens when I ping it? Let's find out...

Update
My activity log reports an "internal server error" from O'Reilly's trackback server, alas. Maybe tomorrow?

Time for bed now. Too many B papers that will never be As for one night.

passover reporting, cnn style?

Via Allison Kaplan Sommer, this gem of a spoof on how CNN might have reported the Passover story:

The cycle of violence between the Jews and the Egyptians continues with no end in sight in Egypt. After eight previous plagues that have destroyed the Egyptian infrastructure and disrupted the lives of ordinary Egyptian citizens, the Jews launched a new offensive this week in the form of the plague of darkness. read more...

It's part of a post entitled "The IDF Does Not Get a Passover Vacation," in which Allison points out one of the many aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict that go unreported in American media.

honesty of a different nature

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I've found myself drawn inexorably into the discussion on and around Jonathon Delacour's blog on the topic of weblogs and "truth." The thread started with Jonathon's post "Alibis and consistent lies," and travelled from blog to blog to blog. Jonathon ties the threads together nicely in his follow-up entries, particularly today's "Art's emotional charge" (in which he "outs" my lengthy comment to a previous post). He caps it off with the artful "Ceci n'est pas une blogue."

Then today, Jill Walker wrote about a novel she'd just read:
Yes, it can be read as a very thinly disguised account of the author's relationship to the professor, but its factual accuracy (or lack of such) is irrelevant because the honesty here is of an altogether different nature. It is in the emotions portrayed: merciless love that shoves aside all normality, all sense, all expectations as to how we (women? mothers? people?) are supposed to behave. The extremity of it is terrifying and recognisable. I see it in myself and in my friends (calm, married women turn thirty and explode), though we pull back before we lose ourselves, only glimpsing the destructive potential of such obsession. The debate about this book has been symmetrically opposite to some of the recent complaints about truthfulness and blogs. The novel that is too close to reality is ridiculed and condemned. The blogger, on the other hand, is expected to adhere strictly to what actually happened.

I'm envious of the neatness with which she sums up what I more clumsily tried to say in my comment on Jonathon's blog: "[I]ts factual accuracy (or lack of such) is irrelevant because the honesty here is of an altogether different nature." Yes!

And like Jill, I have to wonder why it is that so many are so eager to hold blogging to a vastly different (and oh-so-literal) standard of honesty.

Where, really, do we begin to draw the line about what is honest and what is not? Is it a matter of degree? (For example, if I write that Gerald called here at 1:30pm, when in fact I know it was probably more like 1:25pm, is that dishonest?) Do lies of omission count? (For example, if one "blogging pioneer" fails to tell the world that she's started a relationship with another "blogging pioneer," is that dishonest?)

My husband has a long history of creating multiple personas in virtual communities (mailing lists, generally), specifically for the purpose of engaging himself in (often heated) debate over topics he feels are important. When we first "met" online, he was being attacked by a number of participants on a FidoNet echo for this practice (he wasn't "caught"--he simply asked the group what they'd think if he'd been doing it) because of its dishonesty. At the time, I was surprised by the uproar--it really hadn't occurred to me to take people's online personas as absolute representations of their real-world selves.

There was a time in my life when I had a friend whom I trusted completely. But I didn't believe everything he told me. I always sensed that the factual details of the things he was telling me were "off"--that he wasn't exactly what he presented himself to be. But I still would have trusted him with my life. I didn't need to know the "truth" about the details of his life to know the "truth" about the depth of his friendship and commitment.

Similarly, I don't need to know the "truth" about Ikuko to know the "truth" about Jonathon.

spring is in the air

The last couple of weeks have been rough. My grandfather passed away, my aunt has had problems recovering from gastric bypass surgery, my younger son was diagnosed with pneumonia only hours after I got on a plane for California, and I've been hopelessly behind in grading, grant revisions, and other responsibilities. The weather in southern California was gray, rainy, and cold while we were there, and the clouds followed us home.

But things seem to be turning around this weekend. Spring is here in all its glory--blooming forsythia, kids racing along the sidewalk, neighbors appearing in their yards after months of hibernation. Alex is healthy again. I'm slowly but surely catching up on my work. I'm even finding time to delight in the wonders of blogaria's writing again.

Today Gerald took the boys to a Rochester Red Wings' baseball game. He called at 1:00pm from the stadium, saying that as they approached the box office, someone offered them three premium box seats. He called again at 1:25, to tell me that Alex had found the winning egg in the easter egg hunt, and would be throwing out the first pitch; they were calling me from the field. Wish I could be there to see his face right now.

Haven't been doing much "professional" blogging recently, but that will be changing soon, I promise. Interesting things brewing on the social software front, some of which is already public, but some of which I'm sworn to (temporary) secrecy on. And while I won't be at ETCON, I'm hoping that blogs and other tools will let me participate vicariously.

Now it's off to the back deck, where the wonders of WiFi will keep me connected while I enjoy the warm breezes and try to get caught up with grading.

"let's do some data mining"

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My sister is getting married on June 1st, and she's just started a registry on target.com (at my suggestion, since our family is spread out, and I thought that would make it easier for folks to find things for her).

So tonight Gerald and I logged onto target.com to see what she'd picked out. My father had said he'd had trouble finding her in the registry, so I tried searching on her name. We realized pretty quickly that he'd probably searched on "Jenny" rather than "Jennifer," and the system doesn't seem smart enough to match those up.

But in the process, we noticed how many Jennys and Jennifers there were with her last name. And even more interestingly, we found someone on the list with a variation on her last name...who was getting married to a man with the same last name. (We'll leave out their exact names in a feeble attempt to protect their privacy. Resourceful readers, I suspect, will be able to track them down.)

"They must be from Alabama," said Gerald. "But that's not what it says on the screen," I pointed out. "Bullshit. They've got to be from Alabama." (Disclaimer: He's from Alabama. Born and bred, with most of his family there. So he can get away with remarks like that when I can't.) "Click on their registry. Let's see what they asked for."

So I did. Four pages of stuff. The first page included Scooby Doo dishes. "So they're a brother and sister who already have a kid," he said. (I will admit that at this point I was pretty much consumed with giggles.) "Keep going...let's do some data mining."

The next page had both a Scooby Doo bed quilt and Barbie twin bed linens. Two kids? Or just one slightly odd child? Hard to tell. Until we got to the third page, with three alarm clocks. Definitely two kids.

But it was the last page where we really lost it. Right there on the wedding registry, there it was: PEPP FARM 38OZ CHEDDAR GOLDFISH. Even better, it was marked "fulfilled." They had asked for--and received--a giant package of goldfish crackers as a wedding gift.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if all this technology has really improved our lives, think of Jenny and Jim and their goldfish. Could life really get any better?

scenes from my life

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Here's how my evening went:

5:00pm
My department chair stops by my office, and hands me my contract letter for next year. She's smiling--a good sign. I open the letter. I discover why she's smiling. I pick up a bottle of good champagne (Mo�t & Chandon) to accompany the takeout Indian food on my way home.

6:10pm
Gerald and the boys arrive home from the movie Holes, in excellent spirits. I show Gerald the letter. Much rejoicing and champagne consumption.

6:30pm
Gerald recounts the following conversation with Lane, our eight-year-old:
Gerald: What are you working on in your room?
Lane: I can't tell you.
Gerald: Well, if it's a nuclear weapon, I need to know right now.
Lane: No, it's not. It's not a weapon of mass destruction of any kind.

7:00pm
Gerald discovers the vibrating foot bath in the back of a closet, and sets it up for me. After he returns from the kitchen, we have this conversation:
Gerald: Don't most people's kids get thirsty?
Me (puzzled): Yes. Why?
Gerald: Apparently our kids just get "parched."

7:50
We surf the digital cable music channels. End up on the "today's country" station. (So sue me. I spent five years living in Alabama, and there are lasting effects.) Travis Tritt is singing "It's a Great Day to Be Alive." I agree.

So yes, I'm a lucky woman. And feeling extremely grateful tonight for a lot of things. My husband and kids, obviously. My job, where they pay me to do what I love. My grandfather, who lived to be 3 weeks shy of 95, who shared with me and my children his wealth of knowledge and humor, and who died at home in the arms of a woman who loved him dearly. My friends, near and far, old and new, virtual and real-life.

to think, perchance to write?

So many interesting topics swirling around out there in my ever-expanding world of blogs. Voice and authenticity, truth and lies, hegemony and domination, boys and toys, games and guilt.

But no time to think, let alone to write. Midterm grades due back, grant revisions overdue, husband and kids who had to give me up for nearly a week, seders to attend and easter baskets to shop for (there's the real problem with being a multicultural household).

I'll be back. Soon. But not now. Not until the real-world demands are met.

social software alliance

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Social Software Alliance logoIt's always gratifying when meetings and discussions turn into actions and forward progress (and it happens far less often than most of us would wish).

The just-announced Social Software Alliance is an excellent example of exactly that. This group grew out of of the "Emergent Democracy" discussions that Joi Ito started a back in February, and that have grown a bit in terms of scope and focus.

The idea is to start bringing together the people who are interested in and knowledgable about social software, to start developing standards and tools in a collaborative way. There's a lot of working at cross-purposes and duplication of effort right now, I think, and this may be one answer to how to create a community of developers and researchers.

stories i won't tell

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There are not many times when the fact that this is a very public journal leads me to censor myself--generally, I don't have a lot to hide.

But last night as my mother and I were flying back from LA, she said "you'll probably have a lot of stories to tell on your blog about this trip." And I suddenly realized that while I had in fact been instinctively blogging in my head all week, that I didn't want to share those stories in a public forum.

I think it's because the stories aren't really about me. They're about my family, and those stories are not mine to share.

So yes, I have lots of stories. Stories about why it's so important to hold your family close while you can. Stories about why it's a bad thing when your family is spread out across thousands of miles. Stories about the way people can surprise you with their warmth and generosity--or with their incredible lack of sensitivity to others. But I'm not going to share them. Sorry.

light blogging ahead

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Faye and Jim Faber
I found out this morning that my maternal grandfather passed away last night. I suppose when someone is in their mid-90s you can't ever say their death is "unexpected"--but it still feels that way. (He was actually my step-grandfather, but he and my grandmother have been together so long that he's been easily as much a part of my life as my mother's father was.)

Jim was a wonderful man. Smart, funny, and a walking history of the socialist and labor movements in this country. I took my kids to see him and my grandmother this past summer, and when I spoke to my grandmother today she told me that of all of the family, it was my boys that Jim missed the most on a day-to-day basis. I'm glad Jim got to know them...and even more glad that they got to know him.

I'll be flying out to Camarillo tomorrow with my mom, to be with my grandmother, so blogging will be light for a few days. If you're so inclined, remember Jim--and my grandmother--in your prayers this week. Thanks.

my secret life

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Yes, it's true. There's a side to me that nobody suspects, except a few of my closest friends.

By day, I'm a mild-mannered professor. (Okay, maybe not that mild-mannered. But still.) By night, however, I'm a... (wait for it...) Tupperware lady. (Or, as one of the women at the party last night suggested as an alternate moniker, a TupperB*tch. I like that, but I suspect that corporate hq won't approve.)

Yes, it's true. Following the excellent advice provided in The Graduate, I have invested in plastics. Well, invested probably isn't the right word. I just happen to love Tupperware. And when my best friend invited me to a Tupperware party last year--the first one I'd attended in easily 15 years--I found that I love the new products as much as the old ones.

So I did what any sensible person with a stay-at-home-spouse would do...I went home and tried to convince him to become a Tupperware consultant. "The woman running the party has a &*^% company car," I told him. "This is easy money." Plus (and here's the real incentive) we get a discount on all our purchases. A pack rat's dream--all the Tupperware we can fit in our cupboards! Updated versions of all my old favorites, like the serving center and the cake taker. Brand new space-age Lexan-based rock-n-serves for all my leftovers. Modular Mates to organize the pantry (ha! who am I kidding?). Woohoo!

Amazingly, he bought it. For a couple of months, anyhow. Then he (and I) realized that it was not a good fit for an introvert. :-) (I know, I know. Duh.) But I just couldn't bear to give up the discount. Their stuff is just too much fun.

So every now and again I actually throw a Tupperware party. Or take an order for a friend because a big sale is running. Or direct people who love Tupperware but hate Tupperware people to my Tupperware web site, where they can order without ever having to talk to me.

Now that the truth is out, I can stop living a lie. No more excuses--"Gee, I'd love to attend your seminar on digital identity tonight, but I have a...um...a book group tonight." Say it loud...I'm a TupperB*tch and I'm proud!

So the next time you find yourself craving one of those handy-dandy plastic items (with a lifetime guarantee, no less)...stop by the web site and pick something up. And know that by doing so, you may well be funding my summer trip to Gnomedex. What could be a better cause?

living on the edge(s)

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A few months ago, I posted about what felt to me like my lack of "original thought" in my blogging. Sébastien Paquet posted a lovely response that cheered me immensely:
This is a core problem of being an "eyes-wide-open librarian". You have such a wide view of things that you inevitable become aware of others' ideas that are similar to yours.

Most people focus more narrowly on what they do; as a result they aren't aware that they are reinventing the wheel. Fortunately for them, it often turns out that the people who review their work aren't either.

Truth be told, there aren't that many good, original ideas around, but many people would rather believe it were so.

Good ideas need amplification, explanation, and new angles from other people. How I wish that one could get credit for such creative work.

I thought of this again last night as I was mulling over an e-mail exchange I'd had with Kevin Werbach. I'd sent him mail after posting my extended rant, and he'd sent back a very nice reply in which he asked me to tell him what I might bring to the table.

Now, this is where all the interesting defensive mechanisms in my brain start to kick in. If I put everything into that response, talk about my passions and interests and why I think what I have to say matters, there's far more risk. Because then if the answer is "thanks, but no thanks," it's a rejection of true self. Much easier, then, to toss off a quick laundry list of experience and interest, and try to feel nonchalant about it. That way if it doesn't fly, I can always say "well, it's not like I really tried." I know this is one of my most problematic personality traits (and, alas, it's one I see echoed in my oldest son, who is more like me than I ever imagined a person could be). You miss out on a lot if you're not willing to take those kinds of risks--risks that you might not be the best at something, might not get picked, might not get praised.

So last night, I started thinking more about why, exactly, I think I have something to offer to the public discourse on new technologies. I mentally dredged through my postings from the past six months, looking for themes, for core ideas, for things that resonated. What finally made it all click was the title of Meg Hourihan's upcoming talk at ETCON: "From the Margins of the Writeable Web."

The margins. The edges. The boundaries. The outlines. After reading about last year's Supernova, where outlines seemed to be quite a theme, I wrote a bit about outlines and boundaries, but didn't go nearly as far with that in writing as I'd wanted to. Later, after the Columbia tragedy, I wrote a bit more on the topic:
I thought a lot more about outlines, edges, boundaries, and how the most interesting things seem to happen at the edges. The edge to edge linking of blogs...the interdisciplinary ideas that emerge at the boundaries of traditional thought...and the excitement of crossing boundaries--whether they be physical, intellectual, or emotional. (3 February 2003)

That's it. Right there. The core of what I've been saying to my colleagues, to my friends, to myself. The most interesting things seem to happen at the edges. That's where the connections happen. That's where the borders and boundaries are still permeable, where change happens, where innovation thrives.

The problem is, when you're in the center, it's hard to see the edges. Joi blogged about this a bit in February, after he and I chatted online for a bit about power and control and the difficulty of effecting change from within the power structure:
Inspired by Clay's claims about the power law distribution of blogs, I've been thinking and writing (with many others) about emergent democracy in the hopes that blogs will not create an elite ruling class, but will allow direct democracy to emerge from the chaos. The irony of my technorati and daypop rankings increasing because of this does not escape me. It feels good to get attention, and this feeling is the lust that drives people to stare at power law curve. Liz and I were chatting in IM about this today and she quoted: "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." So, who is the Frodo Baggins of the Internet? Are bloggers hobbits? Who can resist the power law distribution and try to create a more democratic process. It is not just the Net that suffers from this. In my attempts to change Japan, Oki Matsumoto and I have been plotting the overthrow of the ruling elite. The problem is, to change anything in Japan, you have to be powerful and elite. Once you are powerful and elite, it is almost impossible by definition to overthrow yourself. (24 February 2003)

So you have a conundrum. The people on the edges are "marginal." And because they're marginal, their voices are not central and are harder to hear. And so many of the structures--organizational and technical--that are emerging now tend to reinforce those strata rather than leveling them.

I think about the conferences we've been discussing...it makes all kinds of sense to have the people who are at the center of this technical tsunami speaking--people who have founded companies, shaped government policy, written influential tomes. Hey, I wouldn't be so excited about attending them if I didn't think that the things being said had value. I'd like nothing more than to be in the audience listening to Meg later this month. But at the same time, I wonder if it doesn't make sense to have some voices from the edge, as well.

One of the things academics tend to be good at is living on the edges. We're marginal, almost by definition. We like to watch. I suppose the up side of being in an ivory tower is the view. Ernest Boyer, whose book Scholarship Reconsidered has been much-discussed here at RIT, outlines four different types of scholarship. The most traditional form he identifies is "scholarship of discovery." But the form that resonates most with me is his "scholarship of integration":

By connecting knowledge and discovery into larger patterns and contexts, creating new perspectives, the scholarship of integration may transcend disciplinary boundaries [emphasis added] to give meaning to isolated facts. Integration includes, for example, cross-disciplinary activities and the connection of technology with teaching or research.

Which brings me to what I finally realized I'm so very good at--which Seb apparently saw before I did. I'm one of Gladwell's "mavens." But I don't just collect information. I evaluate it, I synthesize it, I integrate it.

If you've ever attended Pop!Tech, you've probably heard Bob Metcalfe's infamous wrap-up sessions. He does a one-hour "Summing Up" in which he encapsulates the key points of the conference in a nutshell. It's entertaining and interesting and a wonderful way to end things. That's what I'm good at, too. I'm the consummate summarizer. I instinctively know what the important (and the weak) parts of what I'm hearing are. I can view things from the margins, and write the annotations.

And at the end of the day, even if that's not, as Seb says, a creative endeavour for which one gets "credit"...well, that's okay. It's enough to know that I can do it--and to know that people like Seb...and Joi...and Shelley...and Jill (and a host of other people whose ideas I value and respect) appreciate it. The rest...well, as my husband pointed out, "if you're so happy flitting around the edges, why even try to burn yourself by flying into the flame in the center?"

women and social software

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I was mostly kidding when I posted about playing the gender card to get on some conference programs. Mostly.

But the more I've thought about it this weekend, the more troubled I've become.

Here's some background. The grant that it looks like I'll be working on for the next two years is part of NSF's Information Technology Workforce (ITWF) solicitation. In the fall, when I was putting the grant proposal together, I gathered some pretty depressing statistics about women and computing. I also gave a talk about it as part of SUNY Buffalo's Gender Week series. The talk was entitled "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?: Women in IT Education."

What did I say?

I started with these slides, to illustrate the scope of the problem (yes, I know they're hard to read at this size; you can view the full-size presentation on the web, or download the original Powerpoint if you prefer):

Gender Breakdown for CS Grads, 1998-2001 Gender Breakdown for IT Workers with College Degrees, 1990-2001

What does this tell us? First, it tells us that while the raw number of women graduating with CS degrees is rising, it is rising more slowly than the total number of graduates...meaning the (already low) percentage is shrinking. Second, it tells us that within the population of IT workers with college degrees (of any kind), the percentage of women has been dropping over the past ten years--at the same time that the industry has seen staggering growth.

Why do I think this is such a bad thing? Well, if for no other reason than that if we want to develop products that serve the needs of a diverse population, it helps a lot to have diversity in the groups developing those products. Russ Beattie had an interesting post on this not too long ago. One of the commenters on the post said:
The problem is that because men don't understand women, any attempt to market specifically to women by men tends to go laughably wrong: in the same way as kids can spot from a mile off when adults are trying to "connect with youth culture", even (or perhaps especially) when the whole thing has been carefully prepared with focus groups.

In his response to my post yesterday, Anil suggested that perhaps the reason blogging has caught on so quickly among both men and women is the significant role that women (like Meg Hourihan and Mena Trott) have played in developing and deploying the technology. Sounds plausible to me.

But when I look at the industry conferences related to social software, I see a distressingly small number of female faces. This month's O'Reilly ETCON sports 58 speakers, of whom 6 are women. Just over 10%. And the much-hyped SuperNova 2003 lists 2 women among the 15 confirmed speakers. I suspect that SXSW Interactive was better, but there's not a comprehensive speaker list to make it easy to determine that (there is a PDF program grid, and a quick glance shows what looks like a slightly higher percentage of women).

I know, I know--these conferences have open calls for presentations, and if women didn't apply...well, shame on us. (And yes, I've now shamed myself into at least submitting a proposal for Supernova, though I won't hold my breath.) But I suspect that many of the speakers on the list didn't come knocking--they were invited. And I also think that it's in the best interest of this burgeoning field if those in positions to affect the direction of future development do make the extra effort to broaden the range of participants in their programs.

This topic has come up for discussion on blogs before, with a lot of the debate occurring on Shelley Powers' blog, in response to Clay Shirky's "social software summit". There were active threads here, and here, and here.

The threads included plenty of rhetorical finger-pointing, including the predictable "gender/race/etc is irrelevant, this is a meritocracy," and, of course, "stop picking on the poor white men." <sigh> I was particularly disheartened by Tim O'Reilly's comment:
I also find the fundamental premise of this thread, that "social software" has to be written and thought about by a socially diverse group, rather parochial. The diversity Clay was trying to encourage was between people working on different types of social software - blogging software, massive multiplayer games, cell phones, enterprise collaboration. Not to mention the dripping irony that, with three women out of twenty-odd participants, this group was more sexually diverse than the typical computer geek gathering, and had participants from five different countries.

It's hard for me to understand how the premise that we should seek and value diversity in the development of social software could be considered "parochial." And I'm not sure Tim was aware of the irony in his own post--that a gathering with a 15% female rate of participation was significantly more diverse than the typical gathering.

But I was encouraged by Clay's response in the same thread:
Gender balance was more complicated. I talked about this with some of the other folks I was asking for advice on attendees, and we made a concerted effort to invite more women than is the norm at these events. However, a higher percentage of women than men couldn't attend (perhaps because a higher proportion of women were in academic careers, and couldn't travel during the semester, though with such a small N, its hard to identify root causes.)

While Clay had perhaps the most reason to be defensive about the thread's point, he was in fact one of the most receptive respondents to the main point Shelley was raising--and I was really, really encouraged by that.

Before the greek chorus makes its way from Shelley's blog to mine, let me say as clearly as possible that this isn't about bashing the power structure, or denigrating the men in it. Hey, I like men, really. Even white men. I'm married to one, I'm the mother to two, and I'm the teacher to literally hundreds of them every year.

What this is about is my wish that more women wanted to be a part of this process, and that's a chicken-and-egg issue. If we want young women to become a part of this new world of tool development and deployment, we need visible role models. They need to see that there are real women in real jobs with real lives doing these things. The stereotypes of the industry are incredibly damaging in this regard.

What do we do? Well, I do what I can every day. I teach, I speak, I write, I try to create an environment that encourages other women to follow my lead. And every now and then, I do something like this, where I publicly ask my male colleagues to think about how they can be proactive in changing the mix.

academic humor

More link-and-comment.

How sad is it that I found this post by Kieran Healy laugh-out-loud funny?

He wonders aloud at how Baudrillard or Lacan would describe his recent experience of laboriously removing layers of wrapping on a brand-new DVD only to find that the disc itself was missing from inside the case.

In the empty DVD, we see the externalization of the negation of the desire for wholeness. The desired-for fusion with the world that consumption represents is here inverted and its reality is brutally reversed as the hole in the self becomes the emptiness in the box. Jouissance is directly rather than subliminally denied as desire is focused on its tangible absence and not simply, as it always is, on its intangible presence. The chain of signifiers is broken at its strongest link.

Lovely.

great presentation explaining blogs

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Taking a break from the relentless flow of words from my fingers to provide a brief link-and-comment post.

Meg Hourihan has posted an excellent presentation on "what is a blog." Thanks, Meg!

(Via Tom Coates.)

note to self...

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...must become widely-sought-after speaker RSN, so as to garner invitations (read: waived registration fees) to events like ETCON, SuperNova, and Pop!Tech.

An assistant professor's salary doesn't cover these kinds of events, alas.

Our department has been wonderfully generous on travel, which is how I've managed to get to Pop!Tech for the past two years. But budgets are shrinking--not just at home, but also at work--and I suspect the glory days where we could send seven faculty members to Camden are already over.

Do you suppose I could play the gender card to get myself in some of these doors? (She said, reading through yet another description of an all-male panel at a cool conference...) Nah, probably not. Meg's on enough of the marquees to negate that approach. :-)

Damn. Guess I'll have to keep using real-time conference blogs for vicarious attendance.

falling in with the wrong crowd?

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Tom Coates writes about "social software":

I love working in it but I'm scared of the way people are talking it up and I wish people would build more brilliant things rather than talking about it. [...] It's not like it was with my other baby. Weblogging grew gradually and properly and organically through the interactions of real people. This one's being increasingly owned by the wrong people.

I suspect (well, I hope) that Tom didn't mean that last bit about the "wrong people" as a circling of the wagons among the early adopters. Who are the "right" people to be talking about all this? (I'm not sure anybody should be "owning" it, really.)

I do understand Tom's fears about the way the current discussions on "social software" (I keep using quotes because it still feels like too amorphous a concept to be a solid term just yet) reflect the pre-bubble hype about the web.

On the other hand, most of the hype I see right now is not about social software, but about weblogs. And just as the recent Pew survey shows what a small percentage of internet users currently use (or as Clay pointed out on a list I'm on, recognize that they're using) weblogs, a far smaller number of people are actually talking about social software these days. It was pretty easy to build my neighborhood list, because the arena's far from saturated with meaningful voices right now. Perhaps it's that "echo chamber" effect that makes it seem to Tom like the volume's been turned up on the discussion. But I'm not convinced.

In his earlier essay on The Excesses of Social Software, Tom wrote that "There seems to be a bizarre lack of history to the whole enterprise - a desire to claim a territory as unexplored when it's patently not."

I guess I'm not seeing the blindness to history that's worrying him. Instead, I'm seeing the opportunity for those of with knowledge of the history of (and, I might add, the research into--which is not nonexistent) CMC ("computer mediated communication") and social contexts. This is a field that I've been watching since the late 1980s. It's still a pretty small niche, but there are a reasonable number of smart people who think, write, and teach about CMC (which, "back in the day," was the term used for what's now being called social software).

The people I see most involved in the discussions right now are adding a lot to the conversations. The folks in my earlier "neighborhood" post are all having an impact on my curriculum development, for example. And the end goal of that curriculum is to turn out people who can build the "brilliant things" that Tom wants.

What we shouldn't have, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a lot of product development happening in a vacuum. Many of my students have the technical skills to build amazingly cool things. But they don't understand the context in which those things need to operate. I want them to read these conversations, I want them to participate in them. I want them to ask questions, and see the questions other people are asking. I want them to learn the history, see the mistakes and successes that have already happened. And then I want them to build the brilliant things that answer questions and solve problems.

So I hope Tom does write his promised "huge tract about social software - about the good things and the bad things." And I hope he doesn't let the fact that these conversations are becoming more visible and more participatory scare him away from the process. His voice is worth a lot.

beginner's guide to movable type?

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The Invisible Adjunct has asked for a beginner's guide to Movable Type.

I'm tempted to take this on...either by myself, or with a grad student looking for a good project. But if there's already something underway, I'll back off--or offer to help with it.

I'm not thinking so much of an installation manual (I think the instructions are pretty good for that already, and many non-techie sorts will probably go to someone else for the install). More of something that would help with blog design and management. Pointers to CSS examples and tutorials that are specifically relevant to blog templates. Guide to how to accomplish specific effects in templates. Perhaps a selection of "cut and paste" code to use in templates. More information on things like categories, archives, etc.

In the meantime, here are some of my template files, for anyone to use or study as they'd like. The zip file includes the following:

  • index-template.txt
  • ind-archive-template.txt
  • cat-archive.txt
  • date-archive.txt
  • styles-site.css

The index template in particular contains a lot of stuff that's specific to me--my blogrolls, my ecosystem info, my picture, etc. But it at least shows a 3-column format implemented (in conjunction with the css file). The archive templates all are based on my having implemented SimpleComments, so that comments and trackbacks are combined into the comments section for each entry.

The only problem with SimpleComments is that when you get a new trackback ping, the individual archive is not automatically rebuilt (as it is with a new comment). There are reasons for this, but I ended up following the instructions over on Phil Ringnalda's blog in order to change that. (_N.B._: Those instructions assume you're somewhat comfortable hacking around in the MT program files!)

Other tweaks I've made to the blog include installing Brad Choate's very useful MT-Textile formatting (based on Dean Allen's most-excellent Textile "humane web text generator"), and SmartyPants, which adds typographical niceties like smart quotes, real em dashes, real ellipsis, etc.

One of the things I like most about MT is that it lets me customize it to my hearts' content. To me, it's the geek equivalent of getting to do the interior design in my house. For those of you who feel the same way, there's a directory of Movable Type plug-ins that's pretty good--it includes everything mentioned above, and much more. Most of them don't require hacking skills, and are safe for even relatively new/non-techie users of the software.

the people in my (social software) neighborhood

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In my earlier post, I accidentally attributed Matt Webb's posts on social software to Matt Jones. My bad, and I've fixed it. (Thanks, Stewart, for catching that...) It wasn't a completely ridiculous error to make, however, since both Matts are from London, and often write about social software.

So who are the people in my social software neighborhood? I recently told a colleague that I'd collect some key links for him and post them to my blog, so that's what I'm doing here. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, and I'm sure I'll leave someone out and offend them in the process. C'ést la vie. Use the comments to supplement my list if you feel the need. But if you do, I'd appreciate it if you'd also provide a brief explanation of why you think that person belongs, so that this can become a living annotated resource for those interested in the topic, okay?

Here are some of the people whose blogs and other writings I read regularly, and who have given me serious "food for thought" as I mull over the whole concept of social software and where it would fit into our graduate program.

Sébastien Paquet
Séb's blog is one of the most-linked-to sites on this topic, and for good reason. Like me, he's one of Gladwell's "mavens," someone who can be counted on to find the interesting and useful things being discussed and developed across the 'net. His focus is not just social software--he also spends a lot of time on the larger topic of "knowledge management." Interestingly, we have some faculty here in our department working on a knowledge management degree, but there haven't been many conversations with them in terms of how what they're doing relates to and could share components with the the emerging social software direction. Maybe that will start to change soon. :-)

Tom Coates
I'll be damned if I know what Tom's day job is...he doesn't say much about it in his writings. But he writes regularly on topics related to web design and online community. He wrote a great essay recently entitled "The Excesses of Social Software," in which he says "but the innovation must come with the realisation of how to fulfil a need - and to do that we have to look at how those needs have been met to date and where there's scope to bring our insights to bear."

Matt Jones
Matt's a web developer in London. Most of my web design students from last quarter know this, too, because Matt was gracious enough to share a wonderful document describing the BBC web site redesign process, which I in turn had my students read. Matt also writes about social software ideas in the context of the web. He has a great post up right now where he expands on someone else's line from a recent IA presentation: "We talk about navigating when we mean understanding." Now that's a line that will quickly make its way into my teaching!

Matt Webb
The "other" Matt is the one who is currently pulling together many of the threads and writings on social software (and, I think, adding a great deal to them himself). I like his content, though his site drives me nuts in terms of navigation.

the socialtext crowd
It's probably not fair to lump all these folks together just based on their connection to socialtext (a new company focused on the development and implementation of social software tools), but I'm doing it anyways. Let's start with Ross Mayfield. Like Séb, Ross collects and points to a wide variety of ideas and writings on social software. He also writes a good bit himself. In the post cited above, Matt Webb points specifically to this post by Ross on social networking models. Another socialtext principal, Jon Lebkowsky, provides some comments on and "deconstruction" of Ross' post. Another socialtext player weighing in on the conversation is Adina Levin. And one more name from the same crowd is Pete Kaminski, who wrote a lovely post a couple of months ago on weblogs as front porches.

Update: section added 5:11pm
the "emergent democracy" crowd
Clearly I need to put Stewart Butterfield on retainer as my fact-checker, since he's once again spotted an embarassing error. Jon Lebkowsky is not a socialtext principal, although he does provide some comments on and "deconstruction" of Ross' post. Jon is a member of the emergent democracy working group that Joi Ito put together, though, which is also how I got to know the socialtext folks...thus the confusion. :-) Good thing I'm not getting paid for this, huh? (Or am I? Hard to tell sometimes...) Several of the folks on this list have been participating in that discussion, actually. And there are a few others from that group whom I should add to this "social software" list--like George Por, Flemming Funch, and Kevin Marks.

Stewart Butterfield
Stewart--whose company, Ludicorp, is developing the MMORPG Game Neverending--is based in Vancouver. His recent post on social software was another one pointed to by Matt Webb. In it, he provides some comments on other writings on the topic, and proposes an interesting working definition of what social software is.

Andy Phelps
This is perhaps unnecessary to point out to the colleague I'm writing this for, but for the rest of you, it's worth noting that my colleague Andy Phelps has done an excellent job of pointing out the overlap between "social software" and "game development" in his new Corante blog Got Game. (A nice segue from Stewart to Andy, no? ;-)

Jill Walker
Jill's dissertation (almost done now) is on "interactive narratives," but she also writes regularly on topics related to social software. She's one of the few academics I know of who's actually published a conference paper on weblogs, and her comments are always well-written and insightful.

Alex Halavais
My "partner in crime" on the blogging/microcontent grant proposal, Alex is a professor just around the corner at SUNY Buffalo's School of Informatics. Like me, he's both a participant in social software contexts and a professor who uses social software in classes and teaches his students about it.

grumpygirl
My super-librarian alter ego has discovered grumpygirl's real name, but I will not reveal it here. Suffice it to say that she's a very talented (and very funny) grad student in Australia who regularly provides insight into weblogs and their uses using comic-strip style conversations between herself and her friend "the questioning ant." See, for example, this, and this, and this. While not a broad look at "social software," her thoughtful commentary on the uses of weblogs are valuable to anyone looking at weblogs as an example of the genre.

Jon Udell
InfoWorld columnist Jon Udell maintains a weblog in which he talks about things like how tools like weblogs can/will change corporate cultures.

I know I'm missing people, but grading calls, and I need to answer. As I said, feel free to supplement this list in the comments section.

Update
Damn. How could I forget the godfather of P2P and social software, Clay Shirky? In particularly, his influential essays like "Social Software and the Politics of Groups," and "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality"?

ice, ice baby

It took me 20 minutes to crack and scrape the ice off my car in the parking lot last night. Below-freezing temps and a thunderstorm last night added more glaze to everything--our window screens this morning looked like frosted glass. The kids' school closed (the roads are well-salted, but the buses were coated with ice).

Ice storms aren't frequent here, but they aren't unheard of. There are few things that are so simultaneously beautiful and destructive. The ice makes the trees and plants extraordinary to look at--but at the same time, it breaks branches, uproots trees, and can cause even the most cautious explorer to go head-over-heels if they risk a walk through the wondrous winter lanscape.

My colleague Mike Axelrod has posted some great photos on his blog.

Update, 4/5
Mike has posted more photos, in an entry entitled "Falling Tree Fells Local Gnome." We lost most of the crown of the big maple in our front yard, alas. But the ice has finally melted, and we didn't lose power. Small blessings.

social software - escape velocity?

Discussions about social software seem to be taking wing right now in the blogging world. From Andy's discussion of gaming and CSCW to Matt Jones' Webb's wonderful collection and summary of current ideas and posts on social software, things are buzzing.

Matt follows up today with "More Social Software Rambling," in which he says:

I like it when people say "I'm a tool guy". That means we (equals me. I'm a paradigm person myself) can take what they do, extract the attributes that made it successful, and reuse elsewhere. Some people can just create social software without thinking about it, like some people are great interior designers, or great orators, great at articulating themselves. Leaving these qualities in the hands of the people who were born with them isn't enough: that's why we teach people how to structure an argument, how to make use of rhetoric, why people go on courses for presentation skills ("What do I do with my hands?").

This relates nicely to a conversation I had today with a colleague about my social software graduate program ideas. He asked me if I envisioned the program as one that would turn out "researchers," or one that would turn out "practitioners." A reasonable question, given that my background is in information science and communications research. But my answer was unequivocal--practitioners. I want to turn out toolmakers. Our students are so well positioned to be the "tool guys" (and gals, I might add) that Matt wants to work with. But to be toolmakers in the world of social software will require that they understand the people and the contexts for which the tools will be developed. Just as the "paradigm guys" need to understand enough about the technology to be able to help architect solutions, the "tool guys" need to understand enough about the architectural context to build the right solution.

Last week, the day I heard from NSF, my co-PI walked into my office, grabbed my shoulders, and said "Can you feel it?" "What?" "This is it. This is one of those moments where everything changes." She was right. But I'm feeling it more and more these days...the networked world is changing, and it's going to have an impact on all of us. We're right at the tipping point. Heading towards escape velocity. Can you feel it?

echo chambers

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Peter Merholz is back on the blogging scene, which I'm happy about...I like his writing. He returns with a bit of a lament about the "echo chamber," "meme replication" effect in blogs.

I've got mixed feelings on that. If the replication and repetition is primarily in the form of what are beginning to be known as "link and comment" blogs, as opposed to thoughtful commentary and building upon ideas, I agree that it can be tiresome. But most of the blogs that I read regularly go well beyond link-and-comment. If they link to an "idea du jour," the do so because they have something to add, a new direction to explore. As a result, it's not so much an echo effect as it is an opportunity to watch an idea emerge, grow, diverge, expand, be refuted, etc.

This enjoyment of the triangulation of views is something I've talked about before. The interlinking of ideas and content on weblogs, particularly given the linear time-based nature of the form, provides a fascinating window into the evolution of an idea. Ideas have always evolved through discussion and debate. And while e-mail and mailing lists provide some of that context for speedy computer-mediated discussion and debate, they are less permeable, and more ephemeral, then weblogs.

Weblogs facilitate this process of evolving concepts in several ways. First, by making the process of linking to--and becoming aware of links from--other sites so seamless. (From trackback to technorati, some of the most interesting new technologies facilitate exactly this aspect of blogging.) Second, by opening up these cross-blog discussions to people you might not have thought to "invite" through comments, search engines, blogrolls, and the like. Third, by providing more permanent archives of content, allowing links and trackbacks to span over time in a way that mailing lists don't do effectively. (Yes, I know many mailing lists have archives. But honestly, how many people do you think really read them regularly? And when have you ever seen somebody point back to an archived mailing list as part of a current discussion? Not often, I suspect.)

In my next post (I've been saving this stuff up for a couple of days, with no time to sit down and write), I'm going to link to a bunch of stuff that other people have been saying recently. But I suspect that the way in which I organize and comment on them will add value for some of my readers. It's not just a "me, too" process.

As to the semantic noise becoming "deafening" as you read through multiple takes on a topic...I think that's something that as a reader, I have a lot of control over. It's a self-limiting process. When I've had enough, I stop reading. When I've processed that, I go back. There are times, even on the blogs I read the most, that I find myself skimming over content because I'm not convinced there's much more that I need to add to my understanding. But that's true in almost every information-gathering context, I think. I tell my grad students that learning to skim their readings is the most important skill for them to master. I tell my undergrads that they need to learn how to extract just what they need from a technical reference, rather than reading it cover to cover. I tune out in faculty meetings when I'm oversaturated on a given debate. I don't see weblogs as all that different...

blurring the work/play boundaries

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A few months ago, I was at a cub scout meeting with my kids, sitting in the back of the room reading Emergence. The mother next to me, who had failed to bring entertainment of her own, asked me if I was reading the book "for work, or for fun?"

For a moment, I honestly couldn't answer. And in that moment, I realized how very lucky I was. That it is so difficult for me to differentiate between things done "for work" and things done "for fun" is a pretty amazing gift.

It's been more and more true lately. I'm beginning to feel a sense of being "in the groove" that I can't remember having felt in a long time. The various threads of my interests, experience, knowledge, and professional responsibilities are converging into something that seems to really matter. I'm not sure if I have a name yet for that "something." Some people are calling it "social software," which comes pretty close.

Last night, I gave a talk to our IT student organization entitled "Social Software, XML, and the Semantic Web." I talked about the relationship among those concepts, and the fact that we're still really in "primordial ooze" mode with the tools. We're in the middle of this bubbling sea of technology and communication, watching as things like weblogs and wikis and MMORPGs and emergent democracy emerge from the mix.

I looked at the room full of students I was talking to, and realized--they are the future. They are the toolmakers that we need to make the amorphous ideas real and solid. They know how to use the tools...my job isn't to teach them to code, it's to teach them why to code, to point them to the problems that need to be solved, to make sure they understand the social context in which they are working.

Over the past few days, I've been caught up in home and office responsibilities, and haven't been blogging--or reading the blogs that I usually follow. And I realized today how much I miss it. Every day my ideas and thinking are informed and enriched by the things I read online. Reading blogs isn't a luxury for me any more...it's a necessity. It's where these ideas are emerging, where they're being shaped and discussed.

And if it also happens to be something that delights me...well, every now and then I guess the stars do align properly.

Update
Apparently the talk was a hit with at least one student...

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