Recently in on blogging Category

thinking out loud

Years ago, when this blog was very young, I wrote a post entitled "an extrovert speaks (quelle surprise!)" The things I wrote then still ring true, and I've found myself having the same conversation recently with a host of other people, primarily in the context of understanding use of social media.

These conversations tend to start not with the question "why do people feel the need to talk incessantly," but rather with the question "why do people feel the need to share every detail of their lives on Facebook?" And as someone who does indeed share a lot on Facebook...from Foursquare checkins at the gym to photos of my dog to commentary on social and political issues...I find myself trying to explain it.

A friend asked me recently, in jest, "if a tree falls on a house and no one posts it to facebook,did it happen?" In return, I posted a photo to Facebook of a house crushed by a tree, which kicked off an interesting discussion in the comments, including this from me:

This isn't really about social media, it's about extroverted vs introverted methods of sense-making. I once told my off-the-charts introvert friend Elouise that I often didn't know what I was thinking until I heard myself saying it, which she found truly baffling. For someone like me, Facebook and Twitter and email provide an outlet for that "thinking out loud" that I need to do in order to process ideas. Conversation with real live people is far better, of course, but the nature of my life is such that I'm not able to always have the people I want to talk to physically present. It takes a village to support an extrovert, I suppose, and my village is by necessity virtual rather than physical.

As usual, the process of crafting the words helped me to understand what I was thinking. But I also realized, with some dismay, that I'm now doing most of that thinking out loud on Facebook instead of on this blog. Facebook is quasi-public space for me, but it's not truly public. And more important, it's not truly mine. I don't own my data there, and while "timeline" has made it easier for me to find past posts, nobody's likely to stumble on my discussion of trees and houses through a serendipitous search or link.

I'm not one for new year's resolutions overall, but I do want to start shifting my "thinking out loud" back here to a more public space, rather than sequestering in Facebook's walled garden. I can always share the blog posts to my Facebook feed, but I'll retain ownership of them here, where there's more of a chance for them to reach a more diverse audience, and I know I'll always have access to the archive of my thoughts. And where Facebook's interface encourages short-form sharing, blogging has always been more of a long-form medium for me. I've missed that.

google punishes me for not blogging...

For years I've sat squarely in the top ten results in Google for "Liz", due entirely to this blog.

But I've neglected the blog over the past year...status updates on Twitter and Facebook sucked up the "let me tell you about what I'm doing" urges that used to fuel my blogging. And as a result, it appears that I've almost completely dropped off of Google's radar now. Very sad :(

Will that be enough to push me back into a semblance of regular blogging? I don't know. It's hard to find the time for longer-form writing these days, and when I can carve out that time it typically has to be devoted to grant proposals and project writeups rather than thoughtful meanderings here.

On the other hand, part of me suspects that my intellectual productivity has been diminished by my reduced output here; perhaps I need to start putting more of what's percolating in my head into the blog, in hopes that it will jumpstart the longer-form writing that I need to be doing.

radio silence

There's a wonderful song by my favorite folk singer Christine Lavin called "Please Don't Make Me Too Happy," that begins with this passage:

please don't make me too happy
because if you do
my songwriting will suffer
from the bliss you put me through

I think perhaps that's at the root of my drop-off in blogging. I'm just too damn happy. Life is good, and I spend a lot of time just savoring it. Which makes me...well...boring. I don't go out a lot, because I prefer being at home. I don't blog a lot, because I'm not dealing with many problems or challenges that I feel I need to work out publicly or get input on.

I know, that's a lousy excuse. And it hasn't stopped me from twittering, or posting to Facebook. But both of those are really just about lighthearted, newsy updates. What am I thinking right this minute, what did I just read that's worth sharing with others?

I think I'd like to try to find a way to get my blogging mojo back without the angst that originally fueled it. I'll be working on that over the next couple of months, so perhaps you'll see an increase in posts (if you're even bothering to follow the blog any more!).

happy blogiversary to me...

Seven years.

Hard to believe.

Tonight I'm exhausted and crabby and overwhelmed with work. But that doesn't change the fact that this is the seventh anniversary of the creation of my blog--something that changed my life, personally and professionally, in ways beyond cataloging.

Many, many thanks to those of you who still read my occasional meanderings on personal and professional topics. And many more thanks to those of you who read my early writings and saw in them enough potential to boost me into the rich and rewarding professional life I currently lead. (Joi Ito, Kevin Werbach, Robert Scoble, and Clay Shirky, I'm looking at you :)

automated delicious link posting

Now that the blog's all shiny and brand-new again, I feel bad that I'm not regularly providing content. To help a little, I've decided to start having my delicious bookmarks get posted daily to the blog--that will happen automatically at midnight every night (if I set it up correctly).

Automated links aren't as good as thoughtful posts, I know, and I'll try to provide those more regularly as well. I promise!

new templates! functional comments! oh my! has been sporting the same template for a very long time now. Longer than I'd really like to admit, in fact. I've upgraded the underlying Movable Type engine multiple times, but haven't tweaked the templates in forever.

However, the old templates were showing their age. Commenting was basically non-functional, and even when it worked, the typepad registration requirement I'd implemented to cut back on spam meant very few people bothered to post comments.

This weekend I finally upgraded my MovableType to 4.x, which (as I suspected) broke some of the custom elements of my templates. Rather than trying to fix them, I ditched them entirely, and started from scratch with one of the default template sets included. I haven't modified the graphic design aspects of the template yet, but I have tweaked the sidebars a bit to provide the drop-down menu functionality, flickr widget, and "about" information that I had before.

Functionally, the most important part is that you can now comment without registering! Yay! I've used MT's built-in captcha technology to help in reducing spam, and if you don't want to deal with the captcha you can also log in using OpenID, Google, or Yahoo! credentials.

If you read this via an aggregator, you shouldn't see any changes whatsoever; it should all be the same as it was.

Let me know if something isn't working for you.

i'm back!

It's hard for me to believe it's been nearly a month since I posted here. I'm hoping that with summer about to start, and my schedule being less hectic, that I'll be able to get back into a regular schedule of blogging.

The biggest reason for the length of this hiatus wasn't work, though, it was personal. Two weeks ago, my husband suffered a severe vertigo attack that turned out to be a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or "mini-stroke." He suffered no permanent damage, but it was a scary few days in the hospital. Then, the morning after he got back, an electrical surge fried more than half of our appliances and electronics and set a surge suppressor in my study on fire. We got the fire out before it damaged anything other than the carpet, but since then we've been dealing with cleanup and insurance replacement issues. (We have a great insurance company, Amica, so it's not a battle...just a lot of work to document and replace everything.)

Add to the normal pressure of end-of-quarter teaching and grading, and the ongoing design work related to the ARG I'm working on with the local paper, and it didn't leave much mental energy for blogging.

I'm not feeling sorry for myself, not at all. I'm beyond grateful that Gerald is 100% recovered, and that no real damage occurred from our electrical mini-disaster. And I'm hoping that we've gotten the worst of our luck out of the way for a few months so we can relax and enjoy the summer.

once an overachiever, always an overachiever...

Kidding aside, this is actually a nicely done analysis of what makes a website "work" from a commercial standpoint, and I'll probably start pointing students towards it (since I often get questions from them about basic SEO kinds of issues).

happy blogiversary to me!

Today was my sixth blogiversary, and it seems fitting that I would celebrate it by listening to danah boyd give a wonderful talk, having a delightful lunch with her, and then giving the closing keynote at Internet Librarian--one of my favorite conferences, in one of my favorite cities. All in all, a lovely day, capping off a long and activity-filled west coast trip.

I'm in the San Jose airport now, and I'll be flying the redeye home (via JFK). I'm looking forward to seeing my family and being back home--even though I've been told that it's already started snowing there!

Many thanks to all of you who've been with me from the start of this wild blogging ride. I may not spend as much time blogging as I used to, but I still think of as my "home" on the net, and I'm glad you're here to share it with me.

accidental blog vacation

Whoops! Has it really been over a month since I posted? Sorry about that...

For those of you who were worried (several of whom emailed me), I'm fine. I spent most of July alternating between frantic work and complete relaxation, and somehow along the way I just forgot to blog. I was updating Twitter on a regular basis, but that reaches a much smaller audience (intentionally; Twitter is one of the few social sites that I've actively restricted to keep it intimate).

I've starting drafting a couple of new blog posts, however, and since I won't be traveling at all in August (w00t!) I'll probably have a chance to write a bit more.

you go, girlfriend


[S]ome people will one day try to convince you that what I've done here is some sort of sickening betrayal of your childhood, and what those people fail to recognize is that I am doing the exact opposite. This is the glorification of your childhood, and even more than that this is a community of women coming together to make each other feel less alone. You are a part of this movement, you and all of the other kids whose mothers are sitting at home right now writing tirelessly about their experiences as mothers, the love and frustration and madness of it all. And I think one day you will look at all of this and pump your fist in the air.

Read the whole thing.

oh noes! i missed my blogiversary!

Monday was my five-year blogiversary. Hard to believe it's been five years. Harder to believe how much my life has changed in those five years.

My blogging output has slowed a lot lately. I think in large part that's because my offline life is fuller and happier than it's been at other times. Also, my professional social network now has other ways to maintain and strengthen ties--not the least of which is Twitter, which I find provides me with much of the "what's happening with me and others" that I used to depend on blogs for.

I do want to start focusing on writing more thoughtful pieces, though. I've gotten intellectually lazy in some ways over the past year or two, and I miss engaging in discussion and debate of technology topics. I've completely neglected all of the group blogs I'm nominally a part of, too, and those are excellent spaces for that kind of engagement.

Over the next week I should have a reasonable amount of time to spend on thinking and writing, and I'll make it a priority to have some of that spill over into my blogspaces, in hopes that the next five years of blogging will be as productive personally and professionally as the first five years have been.

i'm better off today...

..than I was four years ago.

Four years ago this week, I was in Camden, Maine, for the PopTech conference. It's there that I discovered the then relatively new phenomenon of "blogging," and downloaded MovableType (after following a link to it from Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs site). Upon my return to Rochester--on October 22nd, 2002--I created mamamusings and wrote my first post.

Since then, this blog has brought me so much, personally and professionally.

It's taken me to Joi Ito's house in Tokyo, and to a conference podium at the Burj-Al-Arab Hotel in Dubai. It's helped me find long-lost relatives in Brazil, and provided a living, lasting memorial to my late ex-husband.

It's allowed me to write about issues that matter deeply to me--like depression and recovery--in a way that I know has helped others.

I've made more new friends than I could begin to name here, and made more professional connections in the past four years than in my entire career before the blog.

So happy birthday, mamamusings. And here's to four more years (at least) of personal and professional growth through blogging.

spam kills (sites)

Saturday morning, I received an email from my hosting company telling me that they had shut down due to "excessive load" issues, and that I needed to contact the abuse department to get things running again.

The culprit? Comment and trackback spam.

I have it all set to be moderated here, which means you seldom see it, but it's been increasing at a depressing rate, and it takes a lot of time to clean out the trash sitting in the "unapproved" list every day.

For the time being, they've disabled the mt-trackback and mt-comment scripts, so that at least the content of the site is accessible. And I'll start working on a solution. The easiest option would be to simply restrict commenting to users with TypeKey accounts. I hate to do that, but it may be my best option.

What I may try for the short term is a two-fold approach--renaming the script (so that it's a little more work for the spambots to find it), and adding a CAPTCHA. Until I get that done, however, you won't be able to comment here. :(

what was i thinking?

It's not like I don't have enough on my plate these days. Despite that, I've been made an offer I couldn't refuse--to join the august list of contributors on TerraNova, the world-class blog on virtual worlds and gaming.

When my colleague Andy Phelps started working on a game design and development program at RIT several years ago, I said I had no interest in being involved. "Games really aren't my thing," I said. And from a professional standpoint, that was mostly true. From a personal standpoint, it wasn't true at all. I've always loved computer and video games--from Hunt the Wumpus and Zork in high school through Pikmin and Katmari and World of Warcraft today.

As games have become more social and less solitary, however, they've forced my personal and professional interests into a point of intersection. And I can't pretend any longer that I'm not interested in studying the social aspects of gaming and game development. So the invitation from TerraNova came at a perfect time.

I can't begin to say how honored and delighted I am that they're willing to welcome me--a relative neophyte in this field of study--into their ranks. And I'll do what I can to carve out the time to post there on at least an occasional basis. I'm rather hoping that this will help me to get my blogging groove back, since I've not been posting much lately to any of the group blogs I'm associated with.

At any rate, my introduction and inaugural post are up and ready for your perusal.

1001 weblog entries

(This one is actually number 1002!)

I don't know that I'd quite call myself a modern-day Scheherazade, but it is a lovely image.

Schherazade probably didn't have to deal with hundreds of comment spams on a daily basis, though, which is what I'm encountering these days. It's likely I'll be turning on TypeKey authentication this week, much as I hate to do it. The built-in spam filtering capability of MT can't keep up with the onslaught from the spammers, and I'm tired of what's starting to feel like an hourly cleanup job.

research blogging ftw!

Lately it seems hard for me to find the time to blog, or the topics that seem bloggable. But I'm re-inspired by Jill's announcement of her award for research dissemination via blogging--how exciting! And it reminded me of how valuable this blog has been for me as an academic.

In her post, Jill notes that she wouldn't have won that award if she'd been blogging pseudonymously, like so many of the women writing great academic blogs. Like Jill, if I couldn't write about the specifics of my life--the conferences I participate in, the research areas I'm exploring, the people around me--it wouldn't really feel like my blog. While I recognize the risks inherent in blogging, my experience has been that the rewards greatly outweigh those risks. I wouldn't be sitting in this office in Redmond if it weren't for my blog. I wouldn't be speaking at SXSW, or have travelled to Dubai. I wouldn't have the worldwide network of friends and colleagues that I've acquired over the past 3.5 years. So yeah, it was worth any risks. And I need to remember that, and not neglect this fertile space that--when properly tended--has yielded such a bountiful harvest.

(The "ftw" is short for "for the win," an expression I've acquired since starting to play World of Warcraft.)

yet another thing i owe to my blog...

I'm always a little bit amused by people who still wonder aloud how and why I find the time to blog. I find time the same way most people find time to watch their favorite television shows, or go to movies (neither of which I do very often at all). And I do it because I've had extraordinarily personal and professional rewards accrue to me as a direct result of the effort I put into blogging--not the least of which is the visiting researcher position I currently hold here at Microsoft.

blog bootyBut today's mail brought an unexpected bonus from my blogging, in the form of five copies of the second edition of Edward Tufte's wonderful essay on Powerpoint. It's new enough that it doesn't even seem to be advertised on his site yet. Since the only time I met Dr. Tufte was as a student in one of his workshops more than ten years ago, I can only assume that the "with the compliments of Edward Tufte" card attached to the essays was entirely a result of the posts I've made here about Powerpoint, many of which reference the original essay.

A nice bright spot in an otherwise gray day. And a good reminder of the blessings this blog has brought.

switching to dynamic publishing

Ever since I upgraded to Movable Type 3.2, rebuilding has been much slower on my current host. That's caused two problems, one just annoying and the other more serious. The annoying part is that marking comments as junk (an all-too-frequent need) forces a rebuild, which is painfully slow and often times out on the intranet at work. The serious part is that most incoming trackbacks are failing, probably due to timeout issues.

So tonight I'm going to try switching from static to dynamic publishing--for the non-geek readers out there, it means that most pages on the site won't be saved as individual static documents, but instead will be generated on-the-fly when you request them.

If the site breaks in the process, don't panic--it's all backed up. Worst case I'll revert back to original settings and live with the problems. Best case it'll be working perfectly in a few minutes, and trackbacks will start working as they should again.


Update: It worked. Only two real problems, which were relatively easy to fix. The first problem was that I use mt-textile and smartypants for text formatting on the blog (the former lets me use things like underscores to create italicized text, or asterixes to generated bulleted ists; the latter handles typographic niceties like em dashes, curly quotes, and true ellipses). Those text processors don't work properly with dynamic publishing, but I found this post on Movalog with information on how to fix that. The second problem involved the fact that I had some custom PHP code in my templates that used movable type tag variables--apparently since the dynamic templates are PHP based, this causes some problems. There are apparently ways to call the variables, but I didn't feel like mucking with them, so I just changed the few instances to non-variable code (using rather than the BlogURL variable, etc). Not the most elegant fix, but it was expedient, and now it all works. And since I'm planning on a site redesign over the holidays, it wasn't worth spending too long on the template code.

The good news is that the trackback problem does appear to be fixed--a number of new trackbacks have appeared over the past few days, after a long dry spell that I suspect was technological (especially since I saw several inbound links on other sites that hadn't registered here). Mission accomplished!

i missed my blogiversary this year...

mamamusings turned three years old on October 23rd. Thanks to Jim McGee (who shares the date, but not the year) for reminding me!

Has it really only been three years? How is that possible?

Starting a blog has been the most influential professional act I've ever taken. Because of my blog I'm here at Microsoft, enjoying a dream sabbatical. I'm giving keynotes at conferences like Internet Librarian. I've built a professional network that literally spans the globe. I've built a network of new friends, also spanning the globe. I've been able to leverage this online presence into so many real-world opportunities and connections that I'm embarrassed to list them all here.

Thank you so much to all of you who've read this blog, commented on it, linked to it, challenged me on it. You've helped to change my life, and my gratitude is boundless.

(And with that, I'm hereby declaring a brief moratorium on meta-blogging posts. When your "on blogging" category is the largest one in your archives, you're probably doing way too much navel-gazing.)

on being a corporate research blogger

I got an email this morning from a friend who was critical of my recent posts related to Microsoft and Google. The friend said that since starting my sabbatical I've seemed to be unfailingly critical of Google and positive about Microsoft in my posts, and that I needed to be more aware of my online voice. There was more, particularly on the issue of whether I was somehow damaging my objectivity as an academic by allowing myself to become so publicly supportive of a company.

Lovely way to start a weekend. But after I got over the hurt feelings, I started thinking about the larger issues underlying my new role as a corporate pawn. (Should my blog have a big caveat at the top that says "I've been pwnz0rzed!"?...) While I don't agree completely with this friend, I can't dismiss these criticisms out of hand, nor can I assume that view of me isn't shared by others.

I started out by combing through my blog to find and point out the times when I've criticized Microsoft's products and practices, and acknowledged the ability of companies like Google and Apple to delight consumers in a way that Microsoft consistently fails to do. (In fact, during my keynote speech at Internet Librarian I explicitly told the audience that I thought many--if not most--of Microsoft's products sucked--and did so while proudly sporting my 17" powerbook.) But that's not really the point, is it? It's perception that's at issue here, and perhaps I need to more be aware of that perception.

There are a lot of great researchers who work for research labs--Microsoft Research and Google Labs and Yahoo Research are full of them, as are the labs at HP and PARC and IBM. Very few of those researchers have blogs, though. Perhaps it's because it's so very hard to strike a balance between bias and objectivity when you're in this in-between world, and talking too much about your day to day life in the belly of the beast exposes more of that tension?

Where I may be erring on the side of transparency, it's been primarily an attempt to avoid erring on the side of opacity. Once you take a job working for a company--rather than doing grant-funded collaborative research--you change your relationship to that company. Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that I should be up front about my experiences and reactions to working here...but I'd like to think that there's more good than bad to be gained from my transparency.

My critic felt that my blog posts here undermined my validity as an "objective" academic, but I'm not sure that I agree. If I were presenting my blog as unbiased research, that would be one thing. But research has to stand on its own in terms of methodology and conclusions--and besides that, is there really such thing as an "unbiased" researcher? For me, knowing the biases of the researchers makes the research more credible rather than less, because I don't feel as though I need to look for hidden motives. Also, my identity as an academic has always been tied up far more in my teaching than in my research (a function of being a professor at a teaching-focused institution)--and I suspect that my students are far more influenced by the Powerbook I carry, my intense dislike for Microsoft products Powerpoint and Windows, and my use of GMail than they are by any blog posts describing how much I like the people I'm working with at Microsoft.

One of my goals for this sabbatical was to give people a sense of what it's like to be inside a corporation that's often thought of as "faceless," and that's what I've been trying to do. The alternative is to be more opaque, to only write about "big ideas," but that's never been the way I approached my personal blog.

In terms of my recent negativity about Google--there's definitely a mix of things going on there. My basic concern about Google's domination of the search market (particularly in the hearts and minds of kids) predates my employment with Microsoft, and is a concern shared by a number of people in the library profession (as I pointed out in my Internet Librarian notes). In many ways, Google is the new Microsoft--when you get to be the 10,000-pound-gorilla, people start to mistrust your motives. They're not a scrappy startup anymore, and they shouldn't continue to be thought of as such. (But even saying that is to acknowledge how negatively Microsoft is perceived, and for good reason--from its market practices to its often-awful products, MS has gotten its bad reputation the old-fashioned way--they've earned it.) Google's not making the same mistakes as Microsoft, but it's making plenty of its own. Their secrecy surrounding all of their work is to me antithetical to both academic and library approaches. And in the case of book digitization, I though Roy Tennant's criticisms were spot-on. Microsoft may have made--and be making still--a lot of bad, ham-handed, bad-for-the-consumer moves...but joining the OCA was not one of those, and I would have praised that even if I hadn't been an employee.

I don't really want to work someplace that I can't be passionate about. And I don't want to pretend that I'm not engaged in and excited about an environment if I'm not. As a researcher, to what extent should the "rules" (oh, geez, i really hate blogging rules) be different for me than they are for a non-research corporate blogger? At the end of the day, however, I do have to wonder if perhaps I've been sucked a little too far into the "us against them" mentality that's so common inside of corporations (universities, of course, suffer from none of that competitiveness [cough, cough]).

The problem for me right now is that I have only two perspectives on this--mine, and the friend who was brave enough to share a critical view with me. That's not enough to really triangulate with. So...where do you think the balance lies? (I'm going to work really hard to keep from being defensive in the comments, so if you post something and I don't respond, I assure you it doesn't mean I didn't read it; I just want to absorb right now rather than reacting.)

internet librarian 05: karen schneider on blogging ethics

I've know Karen Schneider for more years than I'm willing to admit in public, and I've never been disappointed in one of her presentations...

She shows off the newly-revamped Librarians' Internet Index, which looks great. "Websites you can trust."

After attending the Berkman symposium on web credibility, she started thinking a lot about blogging ethics. Why do ethics matter?

On a "micro" level, your blog represents you and everything you're connected with, including librarianship. Great quote: "For most readers, you are the last stop between the reader and the truth." From a utilitarian standpoint, being ethical is a strategic approach. Information has a long half-life. Being ethical is a form of self-preservation..."the blogosphere can be cruel. the biblioblogosphere can be crueler."

On a "macro" level, "The harder we work to make the world a moral place, the better it is for everyone." She points out that librarianship is a profession defined by its concern for others--witness librarians' willingness to go to jail rather than provide information about patrons.

She flashes some "rules of blogging," but they're gone before I can look up from my screen. :)

Five things not to say about your blog

  1. It's only a blog
  2. So-and-so does it
  3. Everyone understood what I meant
  4. They can always look up
  5. Nobody trusts the web anyway

Key Rules

Be transparent

Talks about the importance of transparency, quotes wikipedia ("An activity is transparent if all information about it is open and freely available.") and David Weinberger ("For most blogs, we want to know what the writer's starting point is."

Lack of transparency can be dangerous... Talks about Jeff Gannon, a "one-man-astoturf" White House correspondent. Turned out to be, among other things, a male hustler. ($1200 a weekend?! wow...) Being transparent is pre-emptive--you take the wind out of the sails of people wanting to dish dirt on you. (Shows a photo of the real Robert Fisk, namesake of the verb "fisking.")

Cite it (and check your facts!)

Talks about Gorman's infamous "revenge of the blog people" article. (Aside: the best swag I'm bringing home from this conference is my "One of the Blog People" button.) She notes that he complained about blogs, but never cited the ones he talked about. Link to and name your sources and documentation. Avoid anonymous sources. Always check a secondary source (well, I'd argue that this is true only if you're asserting that it's factually true).

"There is nothing more pathetic than a librarian who gets the facts wrong." (She says that's worse than a NYT reporter that does the same, and I agree.)

Lots of good tips for how to ensure accuracy, which I'm not going to repeat here.

Be Fair

WHO has defined fairness as "The attitude of being just to all."

Some good tips: Let a source know when s/he is "on the record." Don't present opinions as fact. If you claim be objective, you really have to present opposing sides of an issue. Let your readers comment (within reason). [I don't know if I agree with the last one...but that debate's been held in enough places that I see no reason to rehash it here.]

Admit Mistakes
(tuned out for a few minutes here...sorry...mostly about how to acknowledge )

Shows Justinland site, "brother of bridezilla" posts. Why? The unreliable narrator can be interesting and fun. April fool's is an exception.

All in all a very good, very clear, very useful presentation for library bloggers. Brava!

small successes

During the ten days I spent in Seattle, I was surrounded mostly by people who qualify for the label "technical elite." And too many of them, I fear, are beginning to forget that their worldview is not exactly representative.

This was particularly obvious when someone (Rael Dornfest?) asked the teen panel at the Social Computing Symposium whether they ever listened to podcasts. Their response? "Huh?" That didn't surprise me at all, because it's been clear to me for a while that podcasting has a pretty narrow band of followers and enthusiasts (almost all of whom, so far as I can tell, have lengthy commutes).

But what would probably surprise this group even more is how many people still don't see blogs as anything more than a fringe phenomenon. I teach in an IT department at a technical university, and most of my students still don't recognize the potential professional value of blogs.

This quarter I'm trying to change all that by really teaching about blogs and their uses in technical contexts. And based on the midterms I'm finishing grading today (yes, very very very late), I'm making some progress. Take this excerpt, for example, which I found particularly gratifying:

As I mentioned earlier, I am seeing the importance of blogs in the work place. A co-worker and I want to start a blog to make others in our group aware of available upgrades for the software tools we commonly use or any new functions or ideas that one of us may be working on. We may also use it to keep our common procedures in one place. A good example of how this would be of benefit is by providing annotated instructions on how to install or upgrade a piece of software. And, as of [this Monday], a blog will prove especially important for our group; our pointy-haired boss will be splitting us up along application lines (our web apps, client/server apps and mainframe apps) as opposed to what function we provide as a group. So we'll be working for different mangers, depending on which applications we're working on. (I will continue to refer to us as a 'group' in this paper.)

A weblog will then be a great way for us to communicate because of its interactive nature. It will also be a great tool to "advertise" what our group does. Others will surely want to check out our blog simply from a curiosity standpoint. Then perhaps other groups will have blogs of their own and the proliferation of information flowing between groups will be mind-numbing (right!).

Or this one:

This class for example has exposed me to the opinions and insights of a community of learners, where we all take turns at being lectures and listeners, all from the comfort of my home. Even as I search the web for the answers to the weekly questions I find that many times the freshest perspectives on the subject matter to be in weblogs. Unfortunately it seems like I spend more time sifting through the weblog to find the gem I was looking for. Since working full time and raising a family, it has been difficult for me to travel to campus at least three times a week taking traditional classes. The weblog has been an excellent way for me to learn, while at the same time putting a little extra time back in my day for my family. I was a bit apprehensive about taking a distance-learning course, but I find that I have learned as much from the format of this class as I have from the content on the on-line chats and reading assignments. This class has exposed me to a new method of study I would have never considered.

Maybe they're just trying to tell me what I want to hear--or maybe I'm actually making some progress. I prefer to believe it's the latter.

the blogroll is coming back

A couple people have noticed that the Bloglines link now goes to a list of my students' blogs, and were unhappy about that.

Not to worry; later this week the blogroll is coming back, in an expandable box on the sidebar so that it doesn't take over the page for people not that interested in the links.

slacker tracking

A former student of mine, now part of the tech corps in SF, has a funny post on his site. He constructed Google and Technorati queries to find all the people who've posted something along the lines of "sorry I haven't been posting more lately". Heh.

J. D. Lasica has written an interesting article for USC's Online Journalism Review entitled "The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere."

My trust in the piece was somewhat marred by JD's poor fact-checking--I'm a professor, not a lecturer (there's a big difference...sort of like calling someone a copy editor vs a reporter, or a reporter vs an editor), and more importantly I teach at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) not RPI.

I would have commented on the site with a correction, but commenting on OJR requires not only your name and email, but also your date of birth, which I found a bit intrusive.

Nonetheless, I think JD does a decent job of outlining the issues in the debate.

I have to say that I take Stowe Boyd's criticism of the Marqui program with a grain of salt. I founded Corante's Many-to-Many blog on social software, and have been writing for it for nearly two years. I have yet to receive one penny of compensation from Corante for that work. This week, however, I cashed a hefty check from Marqui for the four clearly-marked sponsored posts that I wrote in January.

All in all, I don't feel at all bad about participating in Marqui's program. I don't think it has had any impact on my writing in other areas, nor have I felt that I've misled my readers in any way. So it's hard for me to see where Stowe's outrage comes from.

It will be interesting to watch where this all goes...

why do academics blog?

I keep getting asked this question by colleagues here at RIT and elsewhere, and I find myself sending them the same links over and over again. So here's what I give people who ask me this, in an attempt to clarify the value of blogging to those of us in academia. It's not all about personal confessionals. Really.

My Posts
you may ask yourself "how did i get here?"
blogging risks and benefits

Anders Jacobsen
Why I blog

Crooked Timber
The Academic Contributions of Blogging?
Academics and Blogging (see the comments)
Academic Blogging and Literary Studies
Lit Studies Blogging, Part II: Better breathing through blogging

Seb Paquet
Personal Knowledge Publishing and Its Uses in Research

Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen
Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool (PDF)

Collin Brooke
Blogging @ MEA (Collin's notes from the panel that I did with Seb Paquet, Alex Halavais, Clay Shirky and Jill Walker)


University of Minnesota's edited collection of essays, "Into the Blogosphere"

Feel free to add other favorite links to the wiki page I've set up.

"there's something big happening"

I'm taking a break from grading my students' web pages to read David Weinberger's ongoing coverage of the Harvard "Votes, Bits, and Bytes" conference. Wish I'd been at the session he wrote about this morning, organized by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon.

Ethan says that we're here today to talk about blogs as bridges, borrowing Hoder's metaphor from yesterday (blogs as windows that give you insight into someone's world, blogs as cafes where people can talk together, and blogs as bridges). There's something big happening, Ethan says.

Indeed there is.

Omar from Iraq talks about the importance of blogging as a way of routing around propaganda. Then he talks about how the open comments from around the world on his blog helped his nephew "If I visited America a year and a half ago, I would have felt llike a stranger. This time I feel like I'm with friends, and that is the greatest gift I can think of."

This is how I feel, as well. From Norway to Australia, France to Japan, Brazil to South Africa...I have friends around the world now that I would never have had without this blog to facilitate connections. I can say without a flicker of doubt that my blog is the one technological tool that has most fundamentally changed my professional life.

happy 2nd blogiversary to me!

It seems appropriate that on the 2nd anniversary of my starting my blog I'm moderating a workshop on social software in academic contexts.

I'm in the middle of dinner at a wonderful workshop at USC, but I wanted to take a moment to wish myself a happy 2nd blogiversary, and to reflect back on two years that have brought astonishing changes in both my personal and my professional lives.

Thank you so much for being a part of this change in my life.

archive changes

I've made a minor change in my monthly archive templates, in order to display monthly pages in chronological (rather than the default reverse chronological) order. I'm doing that because I've often found myself frustrated when finding a new blog that there's not a way to easily get caught up on past entries. Sometimes I'd like to be able to read the blog as a forward-moving narrative.

So now when you select my monthly archives, they'll run from the beginning of the month to the end, rather than the end to the beginning.

If you want to make the same change to your MT templates, go to the Date-Based Archive template and change the <MTEntries> tag to <MTEntries sort_order="ascend">

best weblog redesign ever

Anil, you rock.

construction notice

Upgrading from MT 2.65 to MT 3.01D today...there may be temporary wonkiness. Be patient.

Update: I think it's about done. Two big changes--one is that trackbacks and comments are no longer intertwingled, since SimpleComments doesn't work with MT3. The other is that commenters must now register with a TypeKey ID. I really hate to do that, but there's no blacklist tool available for MT3 (yet), and I need a way to halt (or at least slow) the barrage of spam. If/when a version of MT-Blacklist for MT3 is released, I'll probably remove the registration requirement.

Update 2: Per Karen's suggestion in the comments, I've changed the setup so that anyone can comment. Comments from people who've logged in to TypeKey will appear immediately, and comments from those who haven't will go into a moderation queue for approval. We'll see if it works.

blog research

I've posted a lengthy piece on blog research issues over on Many-to-Many. Y'all read it now, y'hear?

new revisions to movable type licensing

Late Tuesday night, Six Apart announced yet another revision to the pricing structure for Movable Type 3.0 licenses. The prices are lower, the licenses are less restrictive, and the range of options is far less confusing.

There are now four types of licenses--personal, commercial, education, and not-for-profit. Personal users have three options: free for 1 author and 3 weblogs, a basic supported version for $69.95 that supports 5 authors and unlimited weblogs, and an unlimited personal version for $99.95. This ought to address a lot of the concerns that people raised about the pricing structure (though, of course, it won't change the minds of people who've decided that free-as-in-speech software is a better option for them).

As an educator, I'm particularly happy to see that the educational licenses are spelled out clearly, and that an affordable option for a single professor is included in the mix ($39.95 for unlimited use by one teacher). That will make it much easier for me to continue developing and maintaining my MT Courseware package.

What I'd really like to see for educational use is a TypePad-style interface that allows easy blog creation by users at an educational institution. That would make a big difference in terms of institutional adoption.

what happened to the blogroll?

My husband said to me this morning "Your blogroll's down."

Well, actually, I removed it. I've been using Bloglines recently (although I may switch to NetNewsWire when 2.0 comes out), and I haven't been maintaining the blogroll. So I removed the lengthy list of sites, and replaced it with a link to my bloglines subscriptions up in the top left corner of the page.

I know that means I'm no longer giving "Google juice" to the sites I read, so I may reconsider when I redesign. In the meantime, if you want to see what I'm reading, you can follow the Bloglines link.

closing comments on older entries

Until I get MT_Blacklist to work again, I'm continuing to close comments on entries older than 21 days. I haven't found a good way to do this automatically, so I'm using this command in phpMyAdmin to close the comments once a month or so.

UPDATE mt_entry SET entry_allow_comments=2 WHERE entry_allow_comments=1 
AND TO_DAYS(NOW()) - TO_DAYS(entry_created_on) >= 21;

Since I keep losing track of the syntax, I'm putting it here where I can find it again.

how i'm using movable type

Brava to Mena for starting a conversation by asking how people are currently using MovableType. Here's my answer.

Here on mamamusings, I actually have one blog, with one author, which you're looking at right now. This site would continue to qualify for a free license. currently runs on TypePad, but we'd been considering a move off of it to a full MT installation because the spam problem has gotten out of control, and because the management of multiple authors there still leaves a lot to be desired--I'd like to be able to let other people in the group have the ability to manage the site without yielding control for all of my TypePad account, for example. We have ten authors on one blog, so that one would probably fall into the personal edition 10/10 category--except for the Google Ads, which bring in all of about $10/month. So right now, it would cost $120. If all the authors kicked in $12, that would probably work out about right. And at $10/head for new authors, we wouldn't break anybody's bank.

On, there are two blogs, with two authors; one for my son Lane, and one for his best friend Jackson. My hope was to have a few more family members blogging there. Right now it would fall under personal edition, but I'm not sure it's worth it to me to pay $70 for a tool that the kids use only occasionally.

On a domain that I set up for my kids' elementary school, I had planned to set up blogs for any teacher who wanted one, so that they could use the blogs as tools for communicating with parents, students, each other, and teachers elsewhere. That plan is on hold pending more information about educational pricing. (And that one's complicated because the blogs are strictly for teachers at a K-12 school, but I own the server and am not an employee of the school.) In that scenario, I expect we'd have a handful of teachers to begin, with a few more added each month as they saw what their colleagues were doing. I don't want to have to continually monitor compliance with the license--"do we need another seat today?"--so I really hope there'll be some kind of flat-rate unlimited use license for organizational contexts. If all the teachers (~30) decided to blog, we'd eventually be looking at ~$850 for the site (before discounts), which would probably be paid out of my pocket. I like my kids' school, but I don't have that kind of money to set something up for them.

And finally, on my RIT server, I've got eight weblogs. Five of them are from past classes, and they range from a one-author site (with just me as author) to a two-author site (me and a TA), to a 36-author site (with students having authoring privileges. One of them is the class I'm teaching this quarter. One is a research grant blog that has two authors (myself and Alex Halavais). And one is a blog for my current research project that has four authors (myself, my co-PI, and two student employees). I don't even want to try to figure out what the cost would be under the current licensing, because it's just too confusing.

Also, on all of those sites I regularly set up "test blogs" when I'm doing redesigns, so that I can test the new templates without messing up the production site. I'm going to assume (yes, I know what happens when you assume) that test blogs like that wouldn't be included in any counts. But that I have to even think about that is vexing.

market research mistakes

In SixApart's response to the MT 3.0 feedback fiasco, Mena says:

One of the most valid comments we heard is that the personal licenses do not work well for many people who are currently using Movable Type. This surprised us because in a survey of 2500 people, a whopping 85% of respondents had 5 of fewer weblogs or authors. This help educate our final decisions about the weblog and author limits.

Who was it that thought that surveying 2500 random users of MT would be the best way to gauge user reaction?

You don't just need to know what the random(user) thinks, you need to know what the opinion makers and change agents think--because since Movable Type users are all publishers, with audiences, those people will have an immediate impact on other users with their public reactions. More importantly, they made the mistake of thinking all blogs are the same. They're not. My son's one-author personal blog is qualitatively (not just quantitatively) different from Crooked Timber, which runs on the same software but has fifteen authors. Blogs based on my courseware templates are nothing like journalistic blogs. You need to know the different segments of your audience, and how their response to your ideas varies.

The fact that the response to the new licenses surprised them so much says volumes about how little they understood their users. And what's astonishing about that to me is that in this industry, there's really no excuse for not having ongoing conversations with your market, about all aspects of your product or service. There should be no big surprises in a weblog-enabled company.

What I hate about all of this is that I know the people involved, and I know this wasn't motivated by greed or malice or contempt for their users. I know that. But the whole thing is clearly a consequence of poor communication with users, something that SixApart has been criticized about in the past. (While writing this, I received a trackback ping to my M2M post on the subject from Chuq Von Rospach, who makes some similar points on the communication issue.)

While they may have learned from this (and their quick response yesterday would indicate that they have), it doesn't really matter much at this point. I've been following the ripples from the initial outrage, and the major impact has been for people to be shaken out of the inertia of not wanting to change software packages. The response isn't "I'll never pay a cent for software," it's "if I'm going to pay for software, I'd better shop around a bit and make sure I'm getting the best bang for my buck." Or "I don't like surprises, and I'd rather have a tool where things won't change so unexpectedly."

As a result, people who would never have thought seriously about changing programs (myself included) are now downloading and playing around with alternatives. And with people like Shelley Powers and Mark Pilgrim not only leading the way but also providing tips and tutorials on how to follow them, that genie can't ever be stuffed back into the bottle.

Am I willing to pay for a high-quality software package that does exactly what I want? Of course. But like Jennifer over at ScriptyGoddess, I'm a lot less likely to pay for one that's still going to require me to do a lot of tweaking to get it to do what I want. And in order to get me to feel good about paying for a new version of something when the older version was free, you've really got to make it more, not less attractive. They might have had less backlash if they'd changed the pricing without adding restrictions. Or if they'd added restrictions on commercial licenses and not personal licenses. As it is, they gambled big based on poor research, and lost not only customers, but also good will.

And while I'm grateful for the promise of significant educational discounts, I think the decision not to publish that information publicly is a mistake. If you force people to come after you for the information, you'll lose some of them--particularly when there are other tools that they can explore instead. The most important users for them to target in education right now aren't the institutional purchasers--for them, hundreds of dollars (or even thousands, if the software is important) is not an issue. It's the individual teachers and students who serve as change agents in their organizations. If you put barriers in front of those early adopters, they'll simply go elsewhere. And the timing of the change was awful in that regard, given that so many competitors are emerging right now with viable alternatives.

I really don't want to switch away from MovableType--I've got a huge amount of time and energy invested in learning its ins and outs. But I'm nervous now, and far more aware of the precarious position that dependence on commercial software puts me in. So while I won't jump ship just yet, I'm preparing some lifeboats, and testing the waters in them. I don't want to surprised like this again.


Update: Christina Wodtke has an eloquent piece about why she'll probably move her site off MT. I'm collecting a lot of the "why I'm considering a switch" posts over on, as well. It's interesting to me to see how people are thinking out loud about their options.

movable type changes

It's not easy to find much "hard" information on what just happened with MT licensing (SixApart's web site is far from a masterpiece of information architecture), so I've mostly been reading commentary on various blog posts. (I found out about it because of a trackback from scribblingwoman to my MT courseware post.)

It's not clear to me if the new charges will apply to users of pre 3.0 versions of MT. If so, that means everyone using my courseware for more than one class--including me--is pretty much screwed. And since I'm not willing to pay a licensing fee of $150 to use MT for the handful of family members on, this probably will result in my migrating both my personal and my professional weblogs to another platform. (Let me add that I am willing to pay for MT; I'm just not willing to pay that much.)

From what I can see, regardless of how it all shakes out in terms of licenses and wording, this was a major screwup by SixApart in terms of communication and respect for their users. I'm deeply disappointed. And since I genuinely like and respect the Six Apart team--especially Anil and Joi, who I know well and think of as friends--I'm doubly surprised by the clumsiness of this move. As Simon Phipps points out, the response to Mena's post announcing the changes is a sobering demonstration of the power of trackback to make unhappy customers' voices heard. I imagine that a lot of companies will take this as a cautionary lesson about the negative impact of corporate blogs and the conversations they foster. I'm also disappointed by the company's failure to quickly respond to the outcry from their user community--the longer they stay silent on this, the more likely it is that they'll lose formerly committed users to competitive products.

Meanwhile, however, courseware users need not panic...I'll probably spend some time next month looking at WordPress and TextPattern (which seem to come highly recommended by bloggers whose viewpoints I trust) to see if I can create one or more new versions of my courseware on those platforms (I can't imagine it would be that difficult to migrate the courseware).

I'll also add a Creative Commons license to the courseware templates and documentation, so that if anyone else wants to shift them elsewhere, they can.


Update: I've heard from Anil that there will be a very reasonable educational license provided, and that details will be announced soon. Once that happens, I'll write more about the future of MT courseware and my educational use of the product. I know Six Apart is committed to encouraging educational uses of their products, so I'm hoping that the educational license(s) they announce will be fair and appropriate.

you may ask yourself "how did i get here?"

One of the questions I've been asked a lot lately, mostly by full-time academics, was how/why I started blogging. It's not a quick and easy answer, but I've been asked it enough now that it's probably worth having it here in a public and somewhat permanent form.

books and bully pulpits

Lane's had his blog for a few months now, but he didn't use it for much until we came on this trip to Asia. It's become a powerful tool for him to communicate with his class back in the US; he writes about his experiences on the trip, they read about it in school, and then the teacher has them do research so that they can ask him questions about his experiences. (Major props to his teacher, who's enthusiastically embraced this process and incorporated it into the classroom.) Lane has found he enjoys writing for an audience (who among us doesn't?), and it's wonderful to be able to see the dialog unfolding.

It appears, however, that now that he's started, Lane has really begun to grasp the power of personal online publishing. He's been pondering some political issues lately--specifically, the motivation behind book banning and censorship. He's got at least one friend whose parents have forbidden Harry Potter books, and this frustrates him.

A few days ago, he asked: "How much does it cost to write a letter to the newspaper and have them publish it?"

"You can't buy that," I replied. "They have to like what you wrote enough to publish it."

He thought for a bit. "But I could publish it for free on my blog, right?" I stifled a grin. "Why, yes. You could. But be careful how you write it, since I know that the people you're talking about are probably reading your blog. Before you post it, let me look it over."

So he wrote. And I read. And I didn't change a thing, aside from a few typos. I'm awfully proud of him, for both his ideas and his writing.

outside in

There have been a lot of transitions for me during the past 18 months. When I started blogging, I had no connections to any of the "names" in this medium. I was an isolated academic in Rochester, NY. Any 'fame' I'd accrued professionally was limited to the library field. I was headed down a professional dead-end, not having published or presented in far too long, teaching one web design class after another without a larger context into which to place the material.

When I discovered blogging, it was an amazing, exciting thing for me. It pulled together my grad school interests in what was then called CMC, my teaching interests in web technologies, and my love of writing. It provided me with a never-ending stream of new and interesting ideas from people who wrote daily about the topics I was most interested in.

I had no idea when I started blogging that there was a "who's who" of blogging...or, more to the point, I probably knew it was likely (what field--academic or technical--doesn't have its stars, its big names?), but I didn't care. I was interested in reading and writing and discussing, not in reputation or rank or buzz.

pity the poor sidekick user

So I'm stuck here at O'Hare--my 11:30am flight was cancelled, and I'm hoping the 1:30 will still go out. (The first one was a mechanical problem, but Gerald says the weather is getting worse in Rochester, so a later flight is a bit of a gamble.)

Can't find a wifi hotspot here, so I'm using my handy Sidekick phone. Figured I'd read some blogs, get caught up with online goings-on.

I'd forgotten, however, how sidekick-unfriendly many blogs are. Some ways you can help us hapless mobile readers:

1) Don't use margin-left to position your blog content. The sidekick honors this (unlike positioning) and your blog ends up being a one-word-wide column of words. Many MT and typepad default templates do this. Dorothea's site does, too.

2) Don't put the div with your sidebar content above the div with your contnent...this forces us to scrollllllllll forever, which is a PITA using this tiny scoll wheel. Major offenders on my blogroll include Halley Suitt and Joey DeVilla.

3) don't put your comment in a javascript popup, if possible. Link the comments to the comments section of your permanent entry, and then use a named anchor to jump to that part of the page. (Shelley Powers and Joey DeVilla both link to the entry page, but neither one has a comments anchor, so I have to do that long scroll again.)

Of course, you're under no obligation to do any of those things...but it sure would be appreciated if you did.

the inimitable wisdom of ogden nash

This morning on the treadmill in the gym, where I was trying to burn off some negative energy in a positive way, I was reading a recent issue of Time magazine on love and marriage.

The article included the following short poem from one of my all-time favorite poets, Ogden Nash:

To keep a marriage brimming, with love in your loving cup.
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.

There's something to be said for that approach in a lot of settings. It's excellent advice, which I'll endeavour to take more to heart--here and elsewhere.

Let me start with an apology to Shelley I didn't mean to imply that she was cause of my frustration with things over at It wasn't her comments, or even that one thread, that resulted in my frustrated post here. It's the overall tone that seems to have taken over on that site.

One of the things I learned the hard way as a teacher is that when I'm grading an assignment, it always helps for me to find something in the work that I can praise. Even if overall I think there are serious flaws, nothing kills enthusiasm and interest quite like an overdose of criticism. So I try to provide balance, I try to offer encouragement, I try to offer suggestions on how to correct problems.

It has felt to me (and this is my perception, which is all I'm qualified to offer) as though the comments offered on misbehaving have been primarily criticism, and that there's been precious little encouragement to balance that. And without that balance, there's little incentive to stick with it.

I wonder if the fact that misbehaving is a group weblog isn't a part of it...on a personal site, maybe there's a clearer sense that when you criticize, there's a real person that you're dealing with.

unsheathed claws

There hasn't been a lot of posting lately on I suspect that the unrelenting negative tone of the comments have a lot to do with that. It's discouraging for those of us writing there. And what's most discouraging is that the most negative and meanspirited comments on the site seem to come consistently from other women.

Take, for example, danah's recent post on defining and categorizing weblogs. We posted about it in three places--danah's and my personal sites, and We got comments in all three places, as well on other sites. Many of the people who commented felt that the underlying idea was problematic. But contrast the tone of Clay's comments on Many-to-Many, or jeremy's here with Jeneane's on

The comments on misbehaving led danah to write about her sense that blogs aren't a safe space. And they've led me to seriously consider shutting comments down on Trackbacks would allow people to comment remotely from their own bully pulpits. The point of the site was to celebrate and highlight women in technology, not create a online catfight club. The original purpose is becoming obscured by negativity, and at the moment it just doesn't seem worth it.

This is not about unwillingness to hear criticism. I have no problem with disagreement. It's about unwillingness to tolerate meanspirited personal attacks. And if people can't tell the difference between the two...well, I think that says a lot about them.

server migration snafus


After 20+ back-and-forth messages with WebIntellects, my hosting provider, the problems seem to have subsided.

They finally set the permissions so I could access my database, and I was able to restore the lost month of data from my backups, and get things back to where they were yesterday afternoon.

Except...I suddenly ran out of disk space. Which didn't make any sense, because the only thing on this server is the blog, which isn't that big. I increased the disk allocation from 100MB to 300MB in my reseller panel (I manage multiple domains from one account), noting to my surprise that I was using 175MB of that space, and tried again to update the database...only to get another space-related error. A check of the control panel showed I was now using all 300MB! Clearly a process had run amok. But I have no access to processes, so I couldn't list them, let alone kill the responsible party.

After a few messages back and forth with tech support (through an annoying trouble-ticket system), I determined that the file that was growing so quickly was the error log. When I peeked at it, I found that it was the module from MT-Blacklist that was cycling, adding hundreds of lines per second to the log.

I deleted all the MT-Blacklist files, and then had the tech guy kill the process and delete the log. Once I was sure comments worked again, I went in and tried to reinstall MT-Blacklist, but I got errors about undefined arrays. I've got a query in to the host about whether they've changed somethign about the perl install on the new server. In the meantime, I'm keeping comments closed on posts more than 30 days old, and hoping not to get hit too badly with spam between now and when I can get things running again.

ick ick ick

I got hit with a flood of comment spam tonight, starting at about 7:30pm EST. I discovered it at 9:30, after I was done teaching, and spent 30 minutes entering URLs into MT-Blacklist and rebuilding. There were well over 100 spams already there.

Looking at my log, it appears they're still trying--I show a bunch of blacklist-denied comments over the past ten minutes. I'm going to hope I got the bulk of their URLs, and am going home and going to bed. I'll assess any new damage in the morning.


Update: PZ Myers pointed out in the comments that Theresa Nielsen Hayden had gotten the same flood of spam, and had posted her blacklist. She also posted a link to Kip Manley's blacklist. Both are here

I've imported both of their blacklists, so mine includes everything they had. Mine's here.

As Kip says in Theresa's comments--add these now if you have MT-Blacklist running, or you'll end up having to despam by hand later, which is a serious pain.


Update 2: Just checked my MT activity log. During the twelve hours since I finished updating my blacklist last night (around 10:30pmEST), there were 510 rejected comments, from 142 different IP addresses. The storm seems to have subsided for now.

Jay Allen, you're my hero!

happy blogiversary to me

One year.

Four hundred and thirty-nine entries.

One thousand, five hundred and forty-six comments. (Thanks for being the first, Joi!)

Over fourteen thousand page views per month.

An entire world of new friends and colleagues.

A changed life.

freedom to blog

I'm sitting on the couch of my 21st floor suite in Toronto's Cambridge Suites hotel. I chose this hotel because the "Cityscape" suites had free broadband access--and happily, everything works as advertised. The ethernet cable is a little short, but that's easily remedied tomorrow. (In retrospect, I should have brough my Airport with me...)

I'll spend the next few hours (a) enjoying the peace and quiet, and (b) putting the finishing touches on my paper--which I'll post tomorrow, after I present. The blog panels are at 8:30 and 10 tomorrow morning (I'm in the second, happily, but will attend the first as well).

Once that's out of the way, all the blog posts that have been pent up for the past week or two may finally have a chance to work their way out. I'm here 'til Sunday, with no co-workers and no family along--so except for the night out on the town that Accordion Guy and his Boss Ross promised me, I'm free to blog into the night!

jay allen's comment spam solution

Three cheers for the LazyWeb!

In his comment on my comment spam post, Jay Allen points to his solution for dealing with comment spam--and it's a far more elegant approach than anything else I've seen.

Thanks, Jay!

(Thanks also for pointing to David Raynes' new SubCategories plug-in for MT, which I'll be making good use of soon!)

fall frenzy

This is a crazy quarter in terms of traveling. Normally I don't travel much, if at all, during the academic year (except during breaks). But this quarter, I have three back-to-back trips in October and November. So today has been travel arrangement day. :P

October 16-19 I'll be at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) annual conference in Toronto, where I'll be on a blog-related panel that Alex Halavais put together. Minor detail...I need to write the paper. Ack. (It's based on some earlier work I did related to Usenet, so I'm not at ground zero. But I'm still a little panicked.)

October 26-28 I'll be at a workshop in Albuquerque, NM, for PIs (principal investigators) in NSF's ITWF program. Everyone who's gotten research money over the past few years from that program will be there to talk about their research and share ideas, results, etc. I'm excited about this, because it's a great opportunity to get to know other researchers in the area of women and computing. However, because of the spam filtering problem I mentioned yesterday, I didn't know I had to prepare a 5 page summary paper--which is due Monday.

November 2-4 I'll be at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA, where I'll be on a keynote panel on blogging "Top Tech Trends for Libraries" (sort of a 'do-over' of the ALA panel I was on, but sharing the podium with new people), and then doing a separate presentation on "Beyond Blogging." I'm way behind on getting the paperwork done for that, too. (If y'all are reading this, I am coming. Really. I promise I'll have everything filled out and sent back by the end of this weekend!)

All that has to be balanced with MW afternoon teaching schedule. I really don't feel good about missing more than two classes a quarter (it's only a ten-week quarter, so there are only 20 class meetings). So that means rushing home on Tuesday the 28th and Tuesday the 4th (including a red-eye flight home for the latter), so that I can make it to my Wednesday 2pm class.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying don't be surprised if blogging falters a little during the next couple of weeks. That's a lot of stuff to prepare for.

comment spam

Got several spam comments from "vig-rx" today on various blogs I maintain. A quick look around the blogosphere indicates that the person or 'bot responsible has been busy-busy-busy today.

Mine all came from the same IP address,, which I've added to the banned list in my blog. If you've gotten some of the same comments spam, but from a different IP address, I'd appreciate knowing where yours came from so I can add it to my banned list.

Update, 1 September, 11:52am
I followed the trackback from Shelleys' blog, and from there found her excellent information on blocking comment spam from a post she wrote last October (only a week after I'd started blogging, which is probably why I didn't see it then). Thanks, Shelley. Much better solution than the IP banning approach.

rules? i don't need no stinkin' rules!

Everywhere you look these days, bloggers are writing policies and rulebooks. For themselves, for others, for everyone. With calls for accountability, integrity, consistency, appropriateness, and ethical behavior, it seems that every blogger I know is publishing their own set of guidelines for blogging.

Feh. A pox on all their rules, that's what I say.

How many of us have published rules to govern how we talk to our friends? I'd be horrified if a friend had to consult his or her published personal policy statement before saying something to me (or correcting a misstatement, for that matter).

In his wonderful essay "A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy," Clay Shirky talks about persistent patterns in online groups:

In the political realm, we would call these kinds of crises a constitutional crisis. It's what happens when the tension between the individual and the group, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups, gets so serious that something has to be done. And the worst crisis is the first crisis, because it's not just "We need to have some rules." It's also "We need to have some rules for making some rules." And this is what we see over and over again in large and long-lived social software systems. Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogenous groups.

I buy Clay's argument. Except for one thing--I'm not sure I think of (or want to think of) webloggers as a "group," any more than I want to think of "writers" or "poets" or "programmers" as a group. My weblog is simply a tool that allows me to publish thoughts, questions, and ideas online. It's not an application for citizenship in "Blogaria" or "Blogistan" or any of the other geographic metaphors people use to describe the diverse collection of self-published websites that blogs have enabled.

I don't want a rulebook. I have my own sense of right and wrong in my head, and I use it to guide my writing. I pulled a post--once. It was something I wrote about my personal life, and though it was oblique in its references, it hurt someone I care very much about. Leaving it online would have compounded that hurt by extending the number of people who read it. So I pulled it a few hours after it went online. Expunged it from my archives entirely. Asked the one person who'd linked to it to remove the link. It never made it into any republished versions of my RSS feed, so for all intents and purposes it's been "disappeared."

Was that unethical? According to most of "ethical blogging guidelines" I've seen out there, it would be considered as such. But I know I did the right thing, and that's really all that matters to me. I'm rather glad I hadn't written public rules for myself that would have caused me to rethink or regret (or worse, not take) that action.

David Weinberger has written about the concept of "leeway," and it's that concept that I see missing from most of what I see. He also spoke at Supernova this year about the problem with making social relationships explicit. He said "When I make trust explicit, I kill trust." (When was the last time you said to someone "I trust you explicitly"?)

Jonathon Delacour writes that "I've never set out to 'deceive' anyone, though in retrospect it would have been infinitely better to have made it explicit much earlier that my interests (and my writing) were shifting from writing conventional weblog entries to telling stories. I regret that I didn't. Take this, then, as a belated announcement."

I rather wish he hadn't done that. The explicitness of his "ethical guidelines" and his announced direction for his writing somehow diminish for me the experience of reading his blog. That makes me sad.

I don't know whether the current flurry of calls for accountability will snowball, or simply die away. I hope for the latter, but I'm braced for the former. Don't be looking for any published guidelines here, though. You'll have to trust me implicitly, or not trust me at all.

(For more reading on this topic, I suggest taking a look at what Jonathon Delacour, Jill Walker, Mark Pilgrim, Chuck Tryon, Shelley Powers, and Dave Winer have to say on the topic. I know I've missed some--feel free to add your own "ethical guidelines" or "personal posting policy" link to the comments here.)

we have met the enemy and he is us

(That's one of my favorite Pogo quotes of all time. So glad I've found a way to use it as a post title.)

Sam Ruby points to a wonderful post by Phil Ringnalda entitled "There is No They."

What Phil describes--the "small town" feel of weblogging where change is effected by "us" rather than "them"--is a big part of why I like using weblogs in classes. I'm often asked by colleagues why I don't just use the conferencing tools already available to me--the Prometheus-based courseware, the FirstClass conferencing system, etc. The reason is that when I use weblogs in a class, we become a part of the big small town that is the technical weblogging world. The example I like to use is how Shelley Powers, author of the new O'Reilly book Practical RDF, stopped by our XML class weblog to comment on students' posts when we talked about RDF and metadata.

When you know that the author of the book you're discussing may be reading your posts, and may stop by to debate with you, it has a significant impact on the tone and content of the discussion--and that influence is primarily positive.

(As I was writing this post, Anil Dash [of Six Apart] commented on my last post about TypePad. An excellent example of exactly what I'm talking about! Knowing that Anil and others in the technical development community read this blog keeps me honest in my comments and criticisms, because I know I'll be called on it if I'm out of line!)

integrating blogrolling

I'm a big fan of Jason DeFillippo's Blogrolling service--a paying member since way back in November of '02, in fact.

It's an excellent service, and one that's useful to both neophyte and experienced bloggers. So I have to agree with him that pings to the service really ought to be integrated into the MT (and TypePad) engine. Sure, MT users can add the blogrolling RPC address into their MT configuration manually (Weblog Config-->Preferences-->Publicity, add to the "Others" box.). But that assumes that they know to do it--which most will not.

On a related note, one sour note in MT's new TypePad is that I can't find any way to integrate my blogrolls (yes, I have big advantage of being a paying member is that I can maintain separate topical blogrolls--not just the ones that appear on the sidebar here, but also short-term blogrolls for classes). The TypeList feature is nifty, but I've already built my lists of people, and I want to be able to update them in one central location. As a Pro user, I can add the code to my templates, but I'd really like to see it incorporated into the interface directly.

typepad goes live!

For the past several weeks, I've been participating in the beta test of the new Movable Type-based hosted blogging service, TypePad. The service will be going live on Monday, and it's now fair game to blog about it. So here's my take.

I love MT (it's what powers this blog), and its range of features. But there's no question that it takes a fairly high level of technical sophistication to install and configure it. When people who want to start a blog ask me how to go about it, I end up either installing MT for them, or (reluctantly) pointing them to Blogger's Blogspot hosting service. (It's not that Blogger isn't a good tool. It's just that MT is...well...better. It has integrated comments, trackback functionality, customizable archives, and other things that just make it work in a way that's more elegant and functional.)

TypePad takes the power and flexibility of the MT engine, and puts it into a user-friendly hosted service. At the basic level, it is truly point-and-click. No writing HTML, no tweaking CSS templates. Drag-and-drop layouts, menu-based component addition, and automated content generation take much of the stress out of blog setup and maintenance.

Beyond that, TypePad adds a lot of nifty features that aren't available (yet, at least) in MT. One of those is an excellent photo blogging tool. It alone is worth signing up for, I think. Easier to use and configure than the iPhoto/.mac combination I used to use. As easy as Ofoto. (Hmmm. Would be even more perfect if Six Apart cut a deal with Kodak to provide prints from TypePad photoblogs...)

The big problem with hosted services, of course, is the dependence on that service for your URL. If you decide to switch from Blogspot to TypePad, for example, you can't keep your address. The idea that you should keep content you value on a domain that you control has recently been termed Robb's Law, based on John Robb's experience moving his blog from a hosted service. That's why this blog now lives at, rather than, too.

TypePad, however, will be offering domain mapping on Plus and Pro accounts, which means you'll be able to have your own domain point to your TypePad site. That's a big, big deal. And it means I can recommend TypePad to new bloggers with a clear conscience.

The only downside of TypePad vs Blogspot, so far as I can tell, is that Blogspot offers a free option (which includes banner ads), while TypePad's basic service starts at $4.95/month. A small price to pay, I think, for an ad-free, feature-rich service...but there will still be people drawn to Blogspot for free service. On the other hand, TypePad is wisely offering a 30-day free trial option for new users, which means it's easy to try it first and see if you like it enough to pay.

I'll be signing up for a TypePad site, even though I still plan to run mamamusings here on a full MT engine on its own server. I'll probably move to TypePad once domain forwarding is enabled, and use it to set up blogs for family members.

Meanwhile, if you count yourself among my friends, I might be able to help cut you a good deal on a brand-new TypePad account of your very own. Drop me an email (not a comment here, please) if you're interested.


If you're reading this with a browser, you've probably noticed that I've reskinned the site. Many thanks to those who took the time to comment here and on the test blog as I tweaked the design.

If you run into a problem with the new design, please let me know!

redesign in progress

I'm working on a redesign for mamamusings. This first attempt is based on my work page, which Elouise helped me create. Don't know yet if it works for the blog. Still playing.

Comments/feedback/suggestions welcome.

Update, 9:06pm
I've switched the redesign font to Lucida Grande. Is that a common font on Windows machines?

new foaf file

Ooops. Forgot about the FOAF file until Sam Ruby pointed it out to me.

I've created a new FOAF file at, and linked to it in the header of this blog. Will update my technorati profile, as well.

Is it possible to use .htaccess to redirect from the old foaf file to the new one, as well? Seems like it ought to be. Will try it.

What about the RSS feeds? Can those be redirected as well?

<sigh> Will be glad when this is all done.

welcome to my new home

Okay, it's official. The blog has moved. If you're reading this, you're at the new home of mamamusings:

(Alternate URLs that will work include,, and

While I've set up automatic redirection from the main page and the individual archives, I'd appreciate it if you'd update your blogrolls--and your RSS readers/aggregators--to reflect my new home. (I'm about to add a final entry on the old site so that those of you reading only via RSS will be able to find me here.)

I had planned to reskin along with moving, but moving turned out to be a serious hassle, so the redesign will have to wait 'til I've gotten some sleep.

redirection solution

Took my relocation/redirection problem over to #joiito, where I tossed around some possible solutions (meta refresh tags, .htaccess files, sql queries, etc). Then I saw server guru Mark Pilgrim lurking in the channel, and asked his advice.

Ever the gentleman, Mark not only advised me to take the .htaccess route, he even whipped up a quick MT template for me to generate the .htaccess file with redirects.

The one he created would be run on the new server, and so assumes that the post IDs are the same (they are, since I did a mySQL export/import rather than using MT). Then the file would be placed on the old server. The archive template looks like this:
<MTEntries lastn=”999999”>

Redirect permanent /archives/<$MTEntryID$>.html <$MTEntryLink$>

If I hadn’t preserved the post IDs through mySQL, however, I think an alternative would be to create the .htaccess on the old server, using this template:
<MTEntries lastn=”999999”>

Redirect permanent /archives/<$MTEntryID$>.html<$MTArchiveDate format=�%Y/%m/%d�$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify=�1�$>.php”

Either way, I’d end up with a lengthy .htaccess file that I could then place in the archives directory of the old server (after creating all the files on the new server, natch).

I think that ends up being the most elegant solution. Thanks, Mark! (Thanks also for publishing your blog templates; those were also extremely helpful.)

rainy day and blog relocation blues

Seems like it's been raining forever, though it's probably been less than a week. Forecast shows no sign of it letting up. Sitting at home today, sipping tea, wishing I could snap my fingers and have elves or djinn clean my house.

I should be reading research, writing the grant questionnaire, organizing materials for courses in the fall, building any of a number of websites that I foolishly said I'd work on this summer, finishing the cropping and enhancing of my sister's wedding pictures.

Instead, I'm working on strategies for migrating this blog to After reading through a relevant entry on Jonathon Delacour's (now inactive) blog, I think the way to handle permalinks will be to use a meta refresh tag in the old files here, redirecting to new archive locations on the new site. The meta tag makes more sense than .htaccess, because I can use MT tags to create highly customized redirects. Each individual entry can be redirected to a new URL with the new site base, as well as the date path and post title. If I'm understanding this properly, I can add the following tag to my individual archive entries on the old server:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="2; url=<$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d"$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>.php">

As a result, pages with addresses like this:

can be automatically redirected to pages with addresses like this:

The more technically inclined amongst you are cordially invited--nay, beseeched--to point out errors in my approach before I do anything stupid.

I have read through the comments in the above-cited post regarding pros and cons of title-based archive file names vs entry number file names. While the title-based names are a problem if you change a title, the entry-number-based names are a problem if you change a server. Since I've not yet changed a post title (that I can think of), and could always handle that with a simple redirect if necessary, the server-switching problem strikes me as a bigger deal.

Weez asked me yesterday why the server switching causes problems, which probably isn't obvious to anyone who hasn't worked with databases enough to understand primary keys et al. So, for those of you wondering why moving servers would cause problems with entry numbers, here's the short version.

When you add a post in Movable Type, it turns the post into a record in a database table, and the database software automatically assigns that record a unique (auto-numbered) ID. That happens whether it's a draft or a published post. If you later delete a post--draft or published--that ID number does not get "freed up"--the database software will autonumber from where it left off, without filling in the holes.

Similarly, if you're maintaining more than one MT blog on your server--for example, I have mamamusings, some class blogs, and some special-purpose blogs--all blog entries go into the same database table. So if I post an entry here that's numbered 225, and a student then posts to a class blog, the student's post will be numbered 226.

As a result, many (if not most) MT blogs have entries that are not all consecutively numbered. (Look at your own MT blog if you have one. Are the entries all consecutively numbered? Probably not.)

If you want to move your blog to another server, MT provides an export function that dumps out all your entries. But that export doesn't include record numbers. When you then import the entries at their new home, they'll be assigned unique ID numbers by the database software again--and those numbers will probably be different. So simple automatic redirects -- from to -- won't work. You'd have to figure out exactly what the new number was for each entry, then hand-code the redirection. Blah.

Shelley offered me a good solution for preserving the numbers--which I tested today, and it worked. She suggested that instead of using MT's export and import functionality, I export and then import directly using the mySQL database that stores my posts. Doing that does preserve the record numbers. However, it also presumes a fairly sophisticated level of understanding of databases. While I could do it, I wouldn't recommend it for most folks.

Because I was able to preserve my entry numbers, I could conceivably do a simple redirect from oldserver/entry.html to newserver/entry.html. But I like the idea of switching now to name-based entries so that any future moves (say, to a new hosting provider) are less stressful.

If I stick with numbered entry archives, and decide to switch to a new provider, I've got to go through the more laborious procedure of moving the database in toto from the old server to the new. If I go with named entry archives, I can use the MT export/import without risk of broken links.

And now, I think, it's nap time.

fear of flying

They're right, of course. Shelley, AKMA, John. All of them. I should be running this blog on a domain that I control. And it's not that I don't have any--I've got and I've registered and I've got my business domain, (registered in the dark ages of the 'net, before there was even a charge for it...though Network Solutions seems to have messed up the history on the account and doesn't reflect that).

I've dragged my heels on this because of the exact issues that Shelley raises regarding weblog portability. As a neophyte blogger, I naively chose the default individual archive templates in MT, which use an entry number that's not hard-coded to the content. If I export the entries here and import them elsewhere, those ID numbers will change, making redirection extremely difficult. When I switch servers, I'll switch to name-based individual archive pages (like what Joi uses). But before I can get to that point, I have a couple of things to figure out.

Bottom line, I'm afraid that if I move, nobody will find me. Sure, I can leave lots of forwarding address markers here. But will that be enough? What will happen to my Technorati Cosmos, for example? To incoming links? ( that Dave's providing a way for people to claim their blogs on Technorati, ∑ la Blogshares, that may be centrally correctable. Jason, would there be any way to do something similar at

But first things first...which domain to use? I'm not the one who has to remember it, of course, so I'm particularly interested in knowing what my readers would prefer. My top three choices for domains for this blog are,, and Then there's the issue of subdomain, which complicates it further.

Some possibilities...


What do you think? One of those? Something else?

on comments

One of the things I love about Movable Type is its comments management. Unlike Blogger, MT incorporates comments into the blog engine itself. It's fast, efficient, customizable. And comments allow blogs to blur the boundaries between publishing and dialogues.

I've had comments on my blog since it started, and value the way they allow anyone reading to join in the conversations. My first ventures into the blogosphere were through comments on other people's blogs--which were warmly received, and made me feel like I had a voice that could be heard. (Thanks, Joi. :-)

So my decision today to turn off comments on a post was not made lightly. I posted in haste, and have time to repent at leisure. I shifted between deleting the post entirely, and simply turning off the comments...and decided on the latter.

Why? I just don't have the energy to debate the gender issue right now. The first few comments were so *(^$ familiar. And I know it's not malice that spurs them. But at the moment I just don't want to go there.

So what's the difference between a mailing list and a blog? Why is my turning off comments different from Dave Winer announcing he won't approve mailing list posts?

That's easy for me to answer. This blog is not a public space, it's a private one. It has never been presented as anything else. In many ways, it feels like my online home. I welcome visitors, and enjoy discussions with them. I've had plenty of people disagree with me in comments, and that's fine, too. But there are times when I just don't want to have another discussion on the same divisive topic in my living room. I don't want to stop others from having that discussion--I just don't want them to have it here.

Trackbacks are still enabled, so people with trackback-enabled blogs can write about any of my posts to their hearts' content, and--through the magic of trackback technology--a pointer will appear back to their sites.

And because I'm drunk with the power of it all, I'm not even turning comments on for this post. :)

i knew it, i knew it, i knew it!

From Scripting News, today:
From a trusted correspondent, talking with a contact who works at the Netscape part of AOL/Time Warner. "He said they had decided that weblogs are the next killer app, and that most of the work at the Mountain View office was going into building a weblog component for AOL. He also mentioned that about 400 people are working on that software. This is in constrast to about 20 who are working on Mozilla."
From me, in October, just after starting my blog:
So I'm talking with one of my colleagues about blogs, and explaining how only twice in my life have I had this sense that a technology was about to become really important. We're both reminiscing about the early days of post-BITNET e-mail, and the first wave of web sites (remember O'Reilly's Network Navigator?). And then the conversation turns to "what happened to all that promise"? I remind him of the day the AOL floodgates opened and usenet and e-mail were never the same. What's going to be the effect on blogging when/if the exponential curve takes its sharp turn upwards?
Update, 9 May 03
A article on the topic disputes Dave's numbers:
Could Winer's trust be misplaced? After news of AOL's plans broke on the site Good Experience, AOL confirmed it did have some kind of blogging application up its sleeve. AOL told Random Access that it would say more about it in June or July, but not before then. But those familiar with AOL's plans called the head count reported on Winer's blog implausible at best. "La-la land" is where one AOL insider placed the 400 number, pointing out that AOL has long had tools that let people post content of their own and making the leap from those tools to blogging software would not require anywhere near that amount of staff.

wealthy friends

shareholder.gifSo, all my favorite blogs seem to be top earners in the blogshares market. Hopefully, Shelley's still willing to give me some shares. (Though the "official logo" I'm authorized to show off here on the blog now is probably worth more to me...and the fact that she's still burning is worth even more!)

Jonathon Delacour's quite valuable these days, too, though he's not yet claimed his stock. And my blogeny/prodigy Andy Phelps is quite successful. (Should have bought more shares yesterday, before he was snapped up, and his value rose!)

Still, it's fun to look at my bloshares portfolio and see the people whom I personally value most in the blogosphere. So, if you're on my blogroll, and want to trade some shares, let me know...I'll give you some of mine if you'll give me some of yours. (And that's not an offer I make often!)

I'd love to claim Many-to-Many (and, of course, distribute the shares among the five authors), but since the content management system it uses doesn't ping, and I forgot to do so when we launched, it doesn't know we exist. I tried to post to it last night, but the CMS choked on an HTML entity--é, to be exact--which is a bit of problem since it was part of four of the words in the post. Even that would be okay, if it hadn't then stopped letting me post anything to the blog. *()^%. Made me really, really appreciate MovableType, and how seldom it has ever caused me any problems in trying to publish the information that I want.

blogs 101

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. :-)

honesty of a different nature

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.

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.

great presentation explaining blogs

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.)

beginner's guide to movable type?

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.

echo chambers

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...

trackback example (for students)

My colleague Steve Jacobs is having his students in the "Writing for Interactive Multimedia" course use blogs this quarter. Several of them seem to be struggling with trackback, so I'm using this post to (a) point them to Ben & Mena's new trackback tutorial, and (b) link to their posts so that they see a trackback in action.

So, Lauree, Kunal, Keith--here's a ping in your direction. If you've got "allow pings" turned on in your blog preferences, this should result in a trackback to your entries.

If you want to test the process in reverse, you've got two options. First, you can make sure autodiscovery is turned on in your blog config, and simply link to the permalink for this post ( MT should automatically determine the trackback URL. Alternatively, if you didn't want to link to the post, but did want it to register a trackback, you could put the trackback URL ( into the "URLs to ping" box at the bottom of your entry screen.

new blogs

I feel a bit like a proud parent announcing the new Corante blog "Got Game?"

Written by my friend and colleague Andy Phelps, it's an insightful, entertaining, well-written look at the gaming industry.

Andy has been working with another friend and colleague, Steve Jacobs (happy birthday, dude!), on a new gaming development degree program here at RIT. And Steve has also launched a new blog this week, with the delightful name of "Memeweaver."

So welcome to the blogosphere, guys. Link long and prosper.

movable gripe

Far too many hours of my day yesterday were eaten up by trying to turn Movable Type into not only a general purpose content management tool (using category restrictions), but also a pseudo-discussion board (using MTThreadedComments). (My own fault, I know. I'm not griping about the software so much as I am my own foolishness at attempting to make MT do so much in one place!) None of this was for my site--it was to help a friend.

If you've been wondering why so few people use ThreadedComments (I think the only person I read regularly that does is Phil Ringnalda)...stop wondering. The functionality is very cool, but it's a b*tch to install, especially if you're trying to implement it in a non-standard (i.e. you've modified the index and archive templates) environment.

I was trying to think about how to blog this technology-wrestling experience I just had, when I stumbled across AKMA's post this morning regarding the Trotts' visit to Seabury, and his request to them for a "trackback for dummies" page (as well as other "dummified" docs for MT). He's right, of course. Those of us who grok the power of trackback try so hard to evangelize it. But for some reason, the concept is really hard to convey to the rest of the world. So the geeks merrily trackback each other's posts, and build TopicExchange ping aggregators, and wonder all the while why nobody else seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.

This is always the problem, isn't it? The best toys start out as the hardest to use, and that ends up stratifying users. For me as a technologist, MT is like a giant tinkertoy set. Or maybe Lego is a better metaphor. Blogging as Lego construction. You can go for the Duplo blocks version, the basic blocks set, or splurge on the gears and motors and even the robotics. Movable Type is clearly the geek tool of choice--bells and whistles galore in the basic package, and a plethora of plugins to take it even further. Someone trying to...oh, avoid hearing about the fast-approaching war...could spend hours and hours tweaking templates, adding functionality, playing with features.

But I know that those of us who take pleasure in that kind of tinkering are the exception, not the rule. I sat down yesterday with two friends--both sophisticated users of technology, but new to the world of blogging software. After a couple of hours with them, it was obvious to me how difficult it still is to explain how a tool like MT works, and get them up to speed on it.

Is the problem with the tool? I don't think so. But there are definitely still things that need to be improved before MT can go "mainstream." The installation, for example. It's very well documented--but it's daunting nonetheless. The customizing of interfaces for entry. The customizing of templates for display.

So, to follow up on my "blessed are the toolmakers..." entry from a few days ago, here are the kinds of things I'd love to see in Movable Type (and, by extension, other sophisticated social software tools). I'm not asking Ben & Mena to do this--lord knows, I'm grateful enough for the software they've provided, and I'm certainly not trying to be churlish. But when people ask "what's left to do?", or e-mail me asking for ideas for their graduate projects, these are the kinds of things that come to mind.

  • An installer package--all I should need to know to install it in basic mode is the existing directory structure of the server it's going to. The installer should modify the files based on user inputs to prompts, create the necessary directories on the server, upload files, change permissions, set the user id and password, and configure the initial blog.
  • A plug-in installation engine. Make adding new functionality as close to drag-and-drop as possible. Don't make me use FTP--give me a web-based interface that lets me select a plug-in and install it.
  • Easier ways to change the look and feel. For most users, the style sheet is intimidating. A web-based interface that let you specify aspects of the style sheet and then rewrote the .css for you would help a lot.
  • A wysiwyg template building engine. How about an application (doesn't have to be web-based, but that would be nice) that lets you drag and drop template tags from a list into a page, and see what the result would look like?

I know there's more, but I'm tired and grumpy and sore (pulled an abdominal oblique muscle yesterday in the gym), so I'm going to take a hot bath and then drag myself into the office.

real-time war reporting via blog

So I'm probably the last to know that CNN war correspondent Kevin Sites has a blog. But just in case, I'm mentioning it anyway.

Funny how the "audblog" post that he called in from the Iran/Kurdistan border strikes me as so much more compelling than a comparable report on CNN itself would be.

The personal nature of blogging, I think, fundamentally changes our relationship to the content. It's all about voice, of course. In his blog, it feels like Kevin is talking to me. I don't feel that way about mass media journalism.

weblog tool projects

Today I had two different graduate students come to me with ideas for blog-related graduate capstone projects (an alternative to theses for our students). How cool is that?

It looks like the first one is going to work on multiple authoring issues associated with Movable Type. Ideally, I'd like a way to create an MT blog that has almost Wiki-like "add yourself as an author" capability. I'd also like a way to easily select among "simple" and "advanced" editing/authoring interfaces. Anybody know of things already happening in this arena?

The second is going to work on a kids' interface to MT blogging. My 8yo, Lane, has expressed interest in blogging--but the standard MT entry environment is not particularly kid-friendly. I'd like a kid-focused interface that keeps things really simple, preferably integrating some of the functionality that plug-ins like MT-Textile offer, but also giving a UI that's really kid-friendly (and kid-tested).

After too many years of supervising yet-another-ecommerce-project, it is incredibly exciting to have students who want to work on the things I really care about. And because our students take classes in everything from programming to database to HCI, we have an incredible opportunity to turn them loose on the LazyWeb and have what they do help the larger social software community.

I've waited a long, long time to get to a point where my personal and professional interests intersected so well, and in a way that has long-term professional potential. I have to keep pinching myself these days. :-)

On the not-quite-such-good-news front, my cholesterol test results came back, and it looks like it's a very good thing that I've made myself publicly accountable on the exercise front. Need to change the diet, too, it seems. <sigh>

a visual oasis

After a day of non-stop grading, I needed to clear my mind of student web sites before going to sleep. A strange trail of links (too strange to explain or list) led me to the photos of Emese Gaal, whose blog has been added to my daily list.

It's also a wonderful example of why I don't buy Jenny Levine's argument that using RSS feeds is simply a choice of "substance over style." In some cases--and this is surely one--the substance is inextricably bound up with the style.

points of intersection

Too much time on my hands's the calm before the grading storm, with final web class projects due at midnight tonight. Outside, it's cold and gray, with rain turning to snow, so there's no temptation to head out. So instead, I'm blogsurfing. Most of my blogly neighborhood has been pretty quiet today, which meant I was tempted to venture further out, using technorati's interesting newcomers list as my starting point.

That led me to sociology professor Kieran Healy's blog, which appears to have made the list in large part because of its wonderful parody of And Kieran, in turn, pointed me to Swarthmore history professor Timothy Burke, whose blog is worth looking at just for its title and tagline (and worth putting on your blogroll for its interesting content). Burke has a link from his blog to a piece he wrote called How to Read in College, which I intend to make required reading the next time I teach a theory-focused grad class. (Very sad that most of our grad students need this as much as--if not more than--our undergrads, but it's true.)

So my "academics" blogroll is expanding, which is a good thing (for the richness of ideas I'm finding), and a not-so-good-thing (for the time it will inevitably take to read and reflect on their writing). But particularly interesting to me right now is where the points of intersection--if any--are in these circles of blogs. While these are people writing and thinking about issues that I'm seeing in the blogs of many of my current "blog circle," they're names that I've not encountered before. And their blogrolls have almost no names in common with mine.

I the blogs that tend toward the upper boundary of Shirky's power law distribution serve as the "connectors" that Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point? Or are the connectors found more in the middle of the curve. Those are the kinds of questions I'd really like to find a way to answer.

synchronicity and collaboration

A few months ago, I wrote about the way blogs allow us to see ideas emerge simultaneously in more than one place. At first, I found this somewhat threatening and/or disheartening. My ideas seemed so much less original when I saw them echoed in multiple places--especially when the other people saying those things seemed to be saying them in a way that was so much more thoughtful and articulate than what I'd managed. But Jill Walker and Seb Paquet made comments to that post that I found cheering, and I started to see that process of parallel idea emergence in blogs as an exciting thing.

Normally, academics work so much in isolation--guarding their work until it's ready for peer-reviewed publication, trying to "scoop" each other in the process. But the culture of blogs seems to be enabling a change in that approach. Recently, Alex Halavais wrote about the initial "gut-wrenching" that he felt when he saw that concepts he's been thinking about were already being researched and written about elsewhere. But Alex also wrote that his initial unhappiness (fueled by a "senior colleague" who warned he'd have a hard time getting published now--more on that later) gave way to guarded enthusiasm over the fact that this gave some legitimacy to his research agenda, rather than torpedoing it.

Today, two blogs I read got me thinking more about these topics. The first was Anne Galloway's purselipsquarejaw, where she said "I'm feeling discouraged and disinterested. I don't want to maintain a blog. I don't want to finish my PhD. I don't want to be a consultant. I've got nothing interesting to say. My perspective is not unique. My voice is weak." Gosh, that sounded familiar. :-) But for me, at least, that was temporary feeling. While other people are, indeed, talking and blogging about topics that I at first thought were my unique ideas, I still feel as though what I bring is a unique perspective. Much of my perspective is based in what Seb called my "eyes-wide-open librarian" approach--I read a lot, and I like putting pieces together.

That's connects to my other blog-related discovery today. David Weinberger pointed me to a new blog (actually, a new category-based page generated from an existing blog, which is an excellent way to use tools like Movable Type) by the Happy Tutor, on the topic of "Philanthropy, Democracy, and Weblogs." It apparently emerged independent of what's been going on with the Emergent Democracy discussions initiated recently by Joi Ito.

What's so cool about this is that without weblogs, the simultaneous exploration of this topic by two really interesting people would probably have happened without direct connections being made. Joi and the Tutor move in separate blogcircles--but here is where the permeability of those circles comes into play. Joi and I are in each other's circles, and the Tutor is in circles that I'm connected to. So it took very little time for me to find and connect the two discussions.

And the synchronicity continues with what the Tutor is proposing, because it's so very close to what's in my NSF grant proposal...and the research agenda that I'm talking about pursuing in the short term. Need to spend some time over the upcoming quarter break connecting these dots ("threading the needle," as Shelley Powers would probably put it), and seeing what kinds of collaborative, synergistic activities could emerge from the synchronicity of these simultaneous ideas.


Steven Johnson weighs in today on the ongoing power law debate:

The most interesting thing to me about Clay's essay -- and the subsequent response -- is that the active participants in the power law system are having a conversation about the distribution and what it means, and whether they want their little ecosystem to look like that.

Most systems that display this kind of behavior 1) don't have component parts with that level of self-awareness, and 2) don't have the opportunity to change the dynamics of the system if they choose.

Many moons ago, I wrote a paper called Discourse and Distortion in Computer-Mediated Communication, in which I talked about this reflexive quality of CMC environments.

Here's a relevant quote from that paper:

The idea of a reflexive nature of social life--referring to the way in which the structure of activity is created and recreated by the very activities constituting it--was put forth by Giddens (1984) in his discussions of social theory. This image has particular applicability in the context of CMC. We cannot study the effects of CMC upon the participants without at the same time studying the role of the participants in shaping and reshaping the context. Because the actors in this process are self-aware, theories developed and disseminated through the study of the medium can result in the use of that theory by the participants to further modify their communicative environment. As Giddens says, "Reflections on social processes (theories, and observations about them) continually enter into, become disentangled with and re-enter the universe of events they describe."

It's interesting to me to see the research ideas that were just beginning to emerge in the early 1990s--as e-mail was taking off, and the web was poised to change our world--coming back again with the emergence of blogs as a communicative phenomenon. I do so wish I'd followed up on those threads at the time, but the reality of needing to finish and get a job with a salary sufficient to feed my kids outweighed following my nose. And in the hustle and bustle of every day life, I lost the threads. Time to pick them back up again, I think. Now that the grant proposal has kick started my thinking and writing processes, I should spin that article into a weblog version, and shop it around...

.: added at 12:40am :.
How could I have posted about Giddens and not included this link?!? Or this one? Shame on me.

blogging risks and benefits

I was thinking about whether I wanted to blog the high point of my day today, when I came across Mark Pilgrim's post about his boss reading his blog regularly. Seems that after Mark posted about how his job was driving him insane, his boss suggested that he take a few days off and completely "unplug." Cool.

I'm pretty sure my boss doesn't read my blog. But I always assume that she--and a variety of other people--might be, and I write with that in mind. Last week, when I posted about my disillusionment with some co-workers, I did so cautiously, not naming names or specific situations, aware that the entry could end up being read in unexpected places. That's the risk of blogging. My mother--who does read my blog--expressed some concern about those risks after I wrote that entry. But at the end of the day, I have to believe the risks of blogging the difficult passages in my life are outweighed by the benefits.

And today I had affirmation of those benefits. A student that I'm quite fond of stopped by my office, and asked if it it was okay to close the door. Uh-oh, I thought. A tale of woe is sure to follow, and I'll go home for the weekend bummed out about this person's unhappy experience. But I'm glad my students trust me enough to share their concerns, so I said "sure," and braced myself.

"I was reading your blog this week," the student continued, "and I read a post that left me a little worried about you. Is everything okay?" Wow. I know a lot of my students read my blog, but somehow that always seems kind of remote. I certainly don't expect them to show up in my office to discuss them! "No," I replied, "I'm fine...really." I reassured the student that my tenure process seems to be proceeding in a positive way (knocking on the faux wood surface of my desk as I did so), and that the post had been a normal expression of frustration with the ever-present machinations of academic politics. (And last week's disappointment was nothing compared to the outrageous slings and arrows I suffered this week. Definitely not a bloggable story.) Still solicitous, the student said that if I felt I were being treated unfairly, that the issue could be raised in student government, because students felt strongly about good professors being appreciated by the university.


It's worth every bit of trouble and pain that this job brings--from departmental politics to grading--to have even one encounter like that. It's the kind of reaffirming experience that tells you that when push comes to shove (which it all too often seems to do these days), you're doing the right thing at the core aspects of your job. That's why I'm here--I love to teach. I left the corporate training gig because in part because there was no extended contact with students--I didn't get to see them through a process, and watch the results. What I love most about my job is the fact that it lets me build relationships with my students, to help them learn not only about web development, but also about how to navigate the world.

And when they turn around and repay the favor--well, it's a lot like the feeling I have when my kids turn around and give me an extra hug because I look sad, or crawl into bed with me when I'm sick and rub my back. That realization that the connection isn't one way--that's a powerful thing.

So despite the political ups and downs of my week, I'm sitting here on my couch this evening feeling like one of the luckiest people in town.

best line of the day

From Joi Ito's Web:

if you took all of the drunken businessmen in the 75,000 bars and restaurants in Tokyo (I saw this figure many years ago in Time Magazine.) and made them go home and blog, the revolution in Japan might happen much more quickly.

I love this. "Make them go home and blog." Maybe I should suggest this as a solution to internecine academic politics.

local blog infamy

My two best friends in Rochester (Elouise and Steve) are currently doing a technology/gadget focused radio show called "What The Tech!" (think Gizmodo meets BoingBoing, without visuals) for our local PBS station.

Last Saturday they focused on weblogs, and ran a 15-minute interview with me. The archives include both a streaming QT and a downloadable MPEG version of the show--the downloadable is much better quality, if you've got the bandwidth for a 49MB download. (If your browser, like mine, plays the MPEG directly, you can right-click on the downloadable link to save it locally.)

If you want to skip ahead to blog segments, they start at about the 11-minute mark. My "bleeding edge" interview starts at the 14:50 mark. I didn't particularly enjoy listening to it, but a number of folks locally have told me how helpful they found it. Go figure.

velvet ropes and meaningless chatter

In his posting entitled "Influences," Mark Pilgrim writes:

Sure, once in a blue moon I offer some exclusive content--"30 days to a more accessible weblog", the occasional Python script--but day to day, the quality of my chatter is not any higher than the quality of a thousand other people's chatter.

Piffle. I'd post this in his comments, but there aren't any. So with luck, his Python script will pick this up and he'll see it.

Mark writes better than 90% of the bloggers whose sites I've seen (and I've only bothered with a small percentage of the blogosphere to begin with). He's high on Technorati's list because once people find his site, they go back. Not because his technical content is so unique or exclusive, but because his writing is musical. So I have to wonder--is he really unaware of how well he writes, or is this false modesty? I don't "know" Mark, so I can only guess. But the voice that comes through in his blog leads me to believe the modesty is real.

I don't read Mark's site because it's on Daypop. I don't even look at Daypop. I read his site because it's beautifully written, often surprising (you never know when he's going to drop an post on addiction in there amongst the accessibility discussions), always thoughtful. And yeah, the technical stuff is useful. But it's not what brings me back.

Mark points to an essay by Joe Clark, "Deconstructing You've Got Blog," in which Clark argued that the velvet ropes surrounding the "A-List" of bloggers constituted an unbreachable barrier. I think it's pretty clear that the past couple of years haven't supported that. There are plenty of interesting new blogs that have sprung up since then, and quickly gained readership--not all of them rocketing to the height that Mark's blog has reached, but many of them nestling comfortably into a community of readers and writers.

Is there similarity within these clusters? Sure. Why not? But the interesting things happen in the borders, in the connectors, the people who bridge between clusters. The borders are remarkably permeable, and I see no evidence of that changing--at least not yet.

Maybe when Microsoft and AOL launch their blogging juggernauts, the bloggers will circle their wagons, and the lines will become more rigid. But we're not there yet. And in the meantime, I can only hope to keep finding people who write as well as Mark, since there's no better way that I can think of to hone my skills as a "Grand Master at Using Computers To Avoid Doing Any Real Work."

blogging census?

How many blogs are there, anyhow? Sébastien Paquet has been collecting information on the topic: Weblogs By The Numbers.

Interesting topic...and perhaps an interesting graduate project topic for one of my students, too.

There are really two is how many bloggers, the other is how many blogs. People like Joi Ito are using multiple tools...he uses Movable Type, Radio Userland, and LiveJournal, along FotoLog and other tools. So he counts as one blogger, but with four or five blogs.

The "how many bloggers" almost has to be done with survey research. The how many blogs may well be doable technically, but it will need a lot of work. (If it were easy, TechnoRati wouldn't keep showing all of my archive pages as separate blogs pointing to me...)

Updated, 12/17

Interview with Cameron Marlow, creator of Blogdex and researcher at MIT Media Lab.

Right now Blogdex is crawling about 16,500 weblogs. This number has been as high as 22,000 and as low as 12,000 (when the index started). While there may have been 1.6 million weblogs created in the past 3 years, only a small percentage of those are still active, and an even smaller number are updated frequently.

blogging perceptions

Baldur comments on my students' definitions of blogs...

What most of the comments and views have in common is that weblogging seems to be a group process. It is always a part of a community, group topics, a gathering of ideas.

I suspect that this would not have been the common thread if I'd asked them the same question without first having had a discussion with them about the value of blogs as a conversational medium, and the importance of comments and trackbacks in facilitating those conversations.

Speaking of which, Baldur, you really need a comments function on your blog. :-) I got quite dizzy going back and forth between your blog and Dorothea's this morning...the comments and responses were fascinating, but the bouncing back and forth between blogs was disorienting.

In fact, the choice between reciprocal/trackbacked postings and comments is an interesting one. It reminds me a bit of the discussions we're having in my XML class about the choice of attribute vs element in an XML schema...

students' thoughts on blogging

I asked my web design students to tell me what they thought a blog was.

Their answers are on the class blog.

Siemens on Blogging

George Siemens has a two part article on blogging online, the first part of which is a nice summary of many other bloggers-on-blogging, along with useful discussion of blogging in educational context. The second part addresses "how to" aspects of blogging.

The Art of Blogging - Part 1, and The Art of Blogging - Part 2.

blogresearch update

I've posted a lengthy entry in blogresearch with my thoughts on the upcoming NSF grant opportunity, and possible directions for that research.

brouhaha in blogaria

The recent brouhaha in blogaria has left me with quite a feeling of d�ja vu. [drat...can't figure out how to generate the accent grave for the a...]

Why? For nearly seven years, I've been a member of a mailing list of women who had children in September/October of '96. Every couple of years, somebody posts something that sets off a similar firestorm. From bottle vs breast to responses to 9/11. And each time there have been harsh words, real hurt, and people who've left the community. Most of the time, they come back. Not always. The process is almost always accompanied by non-combatants wringing their virtual hands and expressing fears that the community has finally self-destructed, that it will never the same again. But then the rhetoric calms, the participants retreat to lick their wounds. Off the radar, apologies are often exchanged. Sometimes it takes a while. But the community endures, and even strengthens. Those who left are welcomed back. And we move on.

Perhaps things will be different in blogaria. But I suspect not. It's populated by the same kinds of people as the mailing list I'm on. Caring, articulate, passionate people who can hurt themselves as well as each other, but who gain so much from their participation that they're willing to work through the conflicts.

virtual gentrification?

I was digging around for articles on client-side transformation of XML documents, and stumbled across Molly Holzschlag's article "There Goes the Neighborhood" from the June 2000 issue of Web Technique. The first two paragraphs really caught my eye...

I'm so tired of the terms "venture capital" and "angel investors." What happened to the Web I loved�that strange, diverse place where human expression, information, and global community were as important as commerce?

Once a place for information exchange and personal expression, the Web is now driven by commercial endeavors. While this has been great for technological innovation, which is exciting, human issues have been relegated to the Web's alleys and back roads in the rush to develop Web "properties." In essence, the Web is undergoing gentrification�a virtual urban renewal.
For home-page enthusiasts and small businesses, attraction to the Web's resources is being tempered by a raised bar of access. Technologists must develop sites based on commercial rather than personal values. In our rush to embrace and define technology that ultimately belongs to us, we must examine how we're developing our properties�philosophically and technologically.

What a difference a couple of years--and a few blogs can make, eh?

missionary position

So, how many US-based bloggers found themselves evangelizing this medium at the dinner table last night? And of those, how many realized that the people listening to them just weren't getting it...yet?

Yeah, I thought so.

Last month, I posted about how blogs were making me feel the way the web had when I first saw O'Reilly's Global Network Navigator site back at Internet World in December of '93. (Sure wish I could find the old web sites for the first GNN and the IW'93 conference...but they're long gone, it seems. Even the GNN capture is from several years after its launch, only days before it was acquired by AOL.)

I spent a lot of time evangelizing in those days, trying to find a way to explain the power and potential I saw in the web to people who saw it as a second-class, poorly-controlled, inefficient publishing mechanism. Back then, quality control was a huge problem on the web, the visuals were painful, and the tools were challenging (remember trying to install winsock, or get MacPPP working?). But the potential was there, and it didn't take very long before the rest of the world saw it. At the end of dinner last night, I recognized my feelings of enthusiasm and frustration as exactly what I'd felt ten years ago when having conversations with friends and family about the internet.

I do wonder how much effect the evangelizing of the early adopters had to do with the mainstreaming of the 'net. Would it have happened even if we hadn't spoken at conferences, written books, and told everyone we knew how cool it all was? In retrospect, did it do anything except provide "I told you so" rights in the end? I can't help but think it mattered, though. That we planted seeds, and that eventually we contributed to the critical mass, to the reaching of a tipping point (that book is sitting next to me right now, begging to be read!).

So I held forth on blogs at dinner last night. Apparently I was convincing, since my stepfather created his own blog after I left! It's a pretty topic-specific blog (on learning Portuguese), but it's a start. Meanwhile, my mother is reading poetry blogs and occasionally surfing my blogroll. The one who I think would make a great blogger is my sister, who used to write for an ezine called Booklover's Review.

storytelling at its best

If you haven't read Dervala Hanley's blog yet, don't wait. Go there now. She's an Irish woman who's travelling in southeast asia, and her stories of her travels are beyond compare.


On the phone this morning, talking about blogs (what else? well, plenty, actually), Halley said "it's all about voice."

Still working on my voice, I think. Personal, professional, exuberant, cautious, wide-ranging, focused...where's the right balance? What's a not-yet-tenured professor to do? ;-)

the walls can speak

Over on AKMA's blog last week, I posted a comment about how comments were more than just "graffiti"--how they resulted in a conversation with the walls, in a way, since comments can cause the decor itself to change when you're dealing with "the living web."

A wonderful example of exactly that is at grumpygirl's site today, where she's got a new comic strip featuring a brand new character. Read down to the bottom to see the connection.

pattern languages for ICTs

From Seb's site, a link to an interesting article called Academics on the Web: finding each other /ourselves.

There has been a recurring problem in academia concerning how people find each other rather than just the officially published work and how people find themselves or position themselves as part of a wider /global community. The Web and Internet technologies now provide opportunities to create presence 'out-there' of self and work but collectively we could also try to find ways to critically re-evaluate our work and debate and question the moral basis for what we find ourselves doing.

It's from a CPSR program called Shaping the Network Society: Patterns for Participation, Action and Change. As a part of that, they've created a system to store and share "pattern languages for living communication."

A related article on the site, Uncovering and Understanding Our Common Language by Doug Schuler, includes several of those patterns.

Guess I need to read up more on the whole concept of pattern languages. I understand it in a broad sense, but it's cropping up everywhere these days, and I think I need a better/deeper understanding of exactly what it is.

hall on mo' better moblogging

Justin Hall has a great article about "mobile blogging" called TheFeature :: It's All About The Mobile Internet. Talks about conferencing blogging, as well as the impact that mobile devices like iMode phones will have (are having?) on blogging and communication. A lot of Smart Mobs-type stuff here.

(Found the link on Joi Ito's Web. Joi's quoted in the article, too!)

okay, i'll play

Mike says: " I need to be rich and/or famous."

(via Seb.)

conference blogging

Yesterday, Yale Law School held their "Revenge of the Blog" conference. LawMeme has put together alist of bloggers who reported on the conference.

According to Denise Howell's coverage of the conference, Mickey Kaus described blogs as "wormholes to disparate viewpoints." That's reinforced by reading the various descriptions of the conference itself.

At Pop!Tech, I enjoyed being able to read real-time blog coverage from David Weinberger, Ernie Svenson, and Dan Gillmor, all while watching the speakers live in the Opera House. Why? Because it gave me some "triangulation" of views. They'd think of angles on the speaker I hadn't thought of, and I could read that and factor it into the experience. It was not unlike the kind of whispered conversation I might have with a friend sitting next to me, but I had the "whispered" comments of some pretty smart folks. It enriches the experience.

In fact, this kind of conference blogging is exactly why I want to encourage my students to blog my class next quarter while I'm teaching. I know they want to be typing (I teach in a studio lab), so why not give them the opportunity to have their interactions with the computer fold back into the class, rather than pulling them away from it?

Of course, the conference blogs work because people are there by choice, and want to hear, read, and think about the speakers. I don't know how well that enthusiasm will transfer to the classroom. But I'm hopeful, since I'm teaching electives rather than required courses next quarter. We'll see.

blog research opportunity?

After I raised the issue of bloggers doing collaborative research at Jill's talk, I've been thinking about how to legitimize such an activity. Of course, in technology fields, one of the holy grails of research respectability is NSF funding, so I took a look at upcoming program solications solicitations to see what might fit.

Found myself at the Information Technology Research (NSF 02-168) solicitation, which is written so broadly that it can be used to support a great variety of activities. And I think there's a lot of room here for potential impact of weblog publishing on scholarly activity and dissemination of information. So, how to put together a workable proposal?

Unfortunately, the deadline for "small" proposals is December 12 (small means no more than $500K for 3-5 years). But the deadline for "medium" proposals (up to $4 million!) isn't 'til February.

I suppose I could spend the break working on this, and try to get someting in next month. But I'm more intrigued by the idea of trying to do something larger and collaborative, and shooting for the medium version. Anybody want to play? (Alas, since it's NSF funding, we all have to be US citizens, I think.)

Ideas floating in my head involved designing new curricula, creating new professional publication models, sponsoring a conference, developing a new online resource center for microcontent publishing, etc, etc. Need to think more on the topic.

grumpygirl redux

A new conversation between grumpgirl and her friend the ant, continuing the thread of "what is a blog." Lovely.

risk and delight

Today I had a parent-teacher conference with Lane's third-grade teacher. No big surprises there. She knows he's smart, she doesn't know why he won't demonstrate that in his work. Why doesn't he put forth his best effort, she wonders. The nice thing about having a kid who is so very much like me is those questions are easy to answer.

Putting forth your best effort is scary. Criticism of half-hearted work is easy to take. Criticism of work that you believe is the best you can do is much more difficult to handle. Like me, Lane doesn't want to put forth effort on anything that he doesn't believe he can do well. Not just well, actually, but better than those around him.

It's taken me 40 years to be honest about that particular character trait, and it saddens me a bit to see it manifesting itself in him. It's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can push you towards excellence. On the other hand, it can prevent you from enjoying the delights of dabbling. definition of dilettante

I was thinking today, as I read through many blog entries written with grace and style, how much like a dilettante I feel in this world right now, and how hard that is for me. But my discomfort with the term was eased greatly as I looked at its etymology. Delight. That's the goal, isn't it? To find delight in what we do, at whatever level of accomplishment we reach. How did the word shift from such a positive origin to such a negative context in today's usage? Superficial and amateurish are not what most of us aspire to. Delighted (and delightful)...that's another story.

grumpygirl rocks

Grumpygirl (she must have a name, but I can't find it on her site. :-\ ) regularly posts cartoon dialogs between herself and an ant, in which she gives us a wondeful view into her own internal dialogs on interesting questions. Today she has one on "what is a blog?", which I particularly liked.

a little off the top...

Trying to pare down the blogroll. There's no way I can survive grading week with as many blogs as I'm trying to follow right now. Dropped most of the "name" bloggers. My bottom line seems to be whether I can imagine myself actually enjoying a conversation with the writer, based on what they've posted publicly. If they feel too foreign in interests or tone, and the potential for interaction seems unlikely, I'm just saying no.

Was perusing kottke's archives, since it seemed unfair to make a keep or toss decision based on vacation postings, and found this most excellent illusion, which my kids will probably like as much as I do.

Must go home now. To bed, perchance to sleep. Back at 8am to watch freshman suffer through a lab practical. Ugh.


Tom Coates posted about the new iBlog tool.

Have to agree with him on several counts. First, I'd much prefer a tool that allows you to work on the desktop with whatever server-based tool you'd like. Second, it ought to integrate better with existing "i" apps, like iPhoto and iTunes. (Love the link Tom provided to Kung Tunes, which puts your iTunes info on your web page...) And I think I'm with him, too, on the discomforting usurpation of Apple's "brushed metal" interface (and the tabbed web site interface).

Done better, something like iBlog would be fabulous. I'd particularly like one that could be easily configured for kidblogging. I think my boys would love to blog, if I had a simple, kid-friendly interface that they could run on their (ancient) iMac. Maybe I'll find a talented student who wants to do an independent study with me next quarter and have them build a kid-friendly web interface to MT...

circle game

I'm increasingly convinced that the natural affinity principle I mused about earlier this week will be a major force in helping people manage the infoglut associated with the expanding "blogosphere."

Today's example. Jill Walker linked to an interesting blog called texturl. Read through a few entries, and found that the author, Brandon Barr, (a) lives here in Rochester, and (b) attended a symposium on 'language and encoding' today in Buffalo that my mother also attended (and that I wanted to attend). [added later: can't trackback without a link to a specific post, it seems. here it is.]

So yeah, texturl's on my blogroll now. Was probably only a matter of time before I circled around to it.

For no particular reason, I've settled on 25 as about the limit for what I can put on the list. Am finding it not too difficult to jettison some to accomplish this, however. At least not yet.

<addition time="a few minutes later" context="while surfing links that seem to interconnect the nodes I'm interested in">

My first sense of blog interconnections and "circles" was that they were likely to be relatively static and impermeable. My initial experiences seem to indicate more permeability than I had suspected...I ended up linking to, and then being linked from, many of the people whose writing I most enjoyed. Hrmmm. What to think? Open? Closed? Permeable? Impermeable? Unpredictable? Inevitable? Still too early to say, I think.


blog genealogy

Another interesting one, though it's more dependent on user input.

Blogtree tracks the process by which blog authors inspire and encourage new blogs. When I registered, I was able to specify which blogs I considered to be my "parent" blogs--those which inspired me to create my own blog. (Different from those that I read regularly, though there's obviously some overlap.)

Based on that input, it generates a family tree for me, which includes a list of "siblings"--other blogs with similar genealogy. If my blog inspires a friend or reader to create his or her own, it would then become one of my "child" blogs. Hmmm. Not as awe-inspiring to me as things like allconsuming or waypath, but fun and informative nonetheless.

more ecosystem tools

Stumbled upon Waypath today, which goes beyond the link analyzing that most of the other blogging ecosystem tools offer.

The Waypath Project's Related Weblog Navigation engine analyzes weblog entries to determine their core conceptual makeups, compares them with one another to find out how related they are, and presents you with its best guess as to what's related to your original input. This is done all automatically, using available technology.

Very cool. Plugged in my blog address, and got back an interesting list that included some sites I'd not encountered before, and liked very much.

did foucault foreshadow blogs?

From a post to the poetics mailing list, by Jeffrey Jullich, responding to recent announcements of list members starting blogs.

it reminded me of Foucault's ~Technologies of Self,~

as if that book had predicted this. In short, what ~Technologies~ says is that the two main forms by which the West built up (the illusion of) Self and the subject, how the West invented subjectivity, was through letter-writing and diary-keeping. Having been through a letter-writing phase (for a short seven years ---since March 1994? The new List interface no longer sub-divides into Archives and Early Archives), for mysterious reasons the List atrophies and "bloggers" begin to spawn off of it. Is it that the preliminary exercise of having practiced Self through a communal letter-writing mode has nurtured a sufficient basis of Self for them to individuate off (as though "blogging" paralleled the maturational phase away from family)?

Intriguing thoughts.

doc searls to world: "start a blog!"

Doc Searls has a great post today, entitled "Cause your own effects," in which he discusses giving advice to someone with career woes. What does he say they should do? Start a blog, of course.

Anyway, I was responding to this guy's request by email when I decided to cut the last line and paste it over here. � You can be the pinball or you can be the pinball machine. With a blog you can create your own machine.

Yes, yes, yes! That's exactly why I want to change the way I (we?) teach web design. I want to stop teaching them how to be pinballs in the corporate web machine, and start teaching them how to create their own machines.

blogging as a research tool

The only good thing about being sick is that it gives me carte blanche to lie on the couch and blogsurf.

Was playing around on Allconsuming, which led me to Jill Walker's blog. She's working on her doctorate at the University of Bergen (Norway), and has some great papers on her site related to blogging. Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool is good. Even better is a paper she presented at the June 2002 ACM Hypertext conference, called Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web. The abstract for the latter is short and sweet:

Search engines like Google interpret links to a web page as objective, peer-endorsed and machine-readable signs of value. Links have become the currency of the Web. With this economic value they also have power, affecting accessibility and knowledge on the Web.

Jill also has a link to a post on "nomadic writing" written by her friend (and "blog cluster" neighbor) Adrian Miles.

My blogroll is taking over my life.

social software

Clay Shirky is "guestblogging" on the side bar of boing boing this week, and starts out with this great line:

I'm obsessed with social software these days. In the Before Time (<=1994), the standard internet tools like usenet and mailing lists were inherently social, but on most of the Web, the height of interaction was one-click ordering. So I'm thrilled whenever I see anything actually making real conversation possible. Particularly interesting is the way the blogosphere is becoming an inside-out usenet, with the content centralized and the namespace distributed, instead of the other way around.


round and round and round she goes

Speaking of links going round-and-round...

I followed a few links on the Tara Grubb political weblog trail after reading about her candidacy on Joi Ito's blog, and somehow ended up at an interesting piece on Lots of heated discussion there about the significance (or lack thereof) of a relatively peripheral congressional candidate using a blog as a key communication tool. My favorite line from that debate:

Weblogs are a means of politics as usual. They have, as the Firesign Theater liked to say, "A power so great that it can only be used for good or evil." And you can quote me on that.

But what was really interesting was that when I backed up to the root level of, I found an article about RSS, which in turn led me to Paul Ford's really excellent piece on "the Semantic Web," (which was also a topic on Joi's blog today).

So, it may be a big web, but it seems to keep circling around the same relatively small set of ideas. Or maybe it's just me going in circles. (Very possible, given the large doses of benadryl I'm taking tonight...) Tomorrow I might start building a "map" of my own personal view of blogspace.

get it? got it? good!

My colleague's blogs are sprouting up all over. Jeff Sonstein has several, and Mike Axelrod has one now. Mike's started his with a discussion of whether blogs are, indeed, the "next big thing."

So now I'm looking about and I see signs of convergence again. The trackback, the ping, the post and counter post and the centralization and searchability of personal writing. We exist as individual authors, yet we live in a community. A community that does not want walls and boundaries. A community however can not exist with them. So perhaps the new walls and boundaries of writing on the internet have been redefined as "linkages" and response.

librarians lead the way

Once again, it appears that librarians are leading the way in analyzing and explaining a key information distribution technology. Greg Notess, a columnist fo the library magazine Online, has an excellent article entitled The Blog Realm: RSS, Aggregators, and Reading the Blog Fantastic. He also wrote a column on blogs last month, called "The Blog Realm:�
News Sources, Searching with Daypop, and Content Management"

But for every blogger out there, there are probably a dozen or more others who prefer reading to writing. With the explosion of Weblogs come new ways of reading them.

The solutions used to keep up with blogs are often called news aggregators. Much of the current software is still buggy and imperfect. It is in some ways like the early days of the Web when many issues were still being resolved, but these approaches may well become more integrated into e-mail, Web browsing, and stand-alone software in the next few years.

Makes me proud to be a librarian, it does.

(Thanks to Corante on Blogging for the reference.)

so it'll be microsoft, not aol...

Looks like the possible "aoling" of blogspace that I discussed earlier might come from Microsoft, not AOL. Anil Dash has an article about Microsoft's easy-to-install-and-use "Sharepoint" software, which is basically a blog tool. But, of course, they don't call it that (shades of the conversation on Joi Ito's blog about whether this will be called "blogging" when it goes mainstream). They call it "lists." (Cue "Jaws" music here...)


Wow. Just discovered All Consuming, an amazing site that tracks what books are being mentioned in blogs. Started out looking at the page for Smart Mobs, because it mentioned me mentioning the book. (Getting confused yet? Wait, it gets better.) Decided to follow the link on that page that promised more information about my site. This was the one that made my head spin. Somehow they'd (a) found my blog (which has only been up for about a week), (b) extracted the title of every book I mentioned (not all of which linked to "obvious" sites like Amazon), and (c) created a list of what it called "Google Friends". It was that last one I found most remarkable, since it included my business site, my family site, my 8-year-old son's site, and even Little Feat's site (my husband is tight with the band). I don't know if I love the knowledge management/data mining that this represents, or if I'm terrified by it.

blog sightings

More evidence that we're on the cusp. E-mail today from a colleague on the academic senate--pointing me to a blog entry from a professor at UPenn. I didn't much like it (anyone who loves Andrew Sullivan is somewhat suspect in my book...). But the fact that I got the message at all was interesting. First time I've gotten mail from someone at RIT specifically mentioning (and explaining the context of) a blog post. I hear the not-so-distant rumble of change.

Of course, my failure to link here to the post in question raises an issue that Tom Coates has been discussing lately, having to do with "the power of the incoming link." Interesting stuff.

the aoling of blogspace

So I'm talking with one of my colleagues about blogs, and explaining how only twice in my life have I had this sense that a technology was about to become really important. We're both reminiscing about the early days of post-BITNET e-mail, and the first wave of web sites (remember O'Reilly's Network Navigator?). And then the conversation turns to "what happened to all that promise"? I remind him of the day the AOL floodgates opened and usenet and e-mail were never the same. What's going to be the effect on blogging when/if the exponential curve takes its sharp turn upwards? This LA Times article suggests some possibilities. Looks like "reaching critical mass" is becoming synonymous with "succumbing to the great unwashed masses."

evangelism overload

I am totally convinced that blogging is the next "big thing" in technology--one of Kurzweil's exponential curves, just like e-mail, and the the web. So as a recent convert, I'm trying to tap my new enthusiasm to evangelize. I think we'll be reworking the undergraduate web design course to use Movable Type as a tool for learning CSS (to customize), design (to compare and contrast), and CGI (to install). I think they'll learn better if it's "computing in context" (what our department really is--or should be--all about).

Thinking about making David Weinberger's book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, part of the required reading for the course.

advice well taken

In his comment on my "balancing acts" post, Joi Ito suggested that I read Ten Tips on Writing the Living Web, so I did.


I love the term "the living web." I remember back in '93 when the web was being born, and it felt so new and changeable and full of promise. Commercialization and professionalization of the web has changed that...but blogs seem to be bringing that sense of wonder back.

Clearly, I need to find a way to begin integrating the concept of the living web into my teaching. I'm tired of teaching web development as a mechanical task, rather than a creative endeavour. And perhaps the key to getting them to write better is in fact to get them to write more often, and more quickly, with less riding on each word that they provide.

balancing acts

How do the active bloggers do it? How do they fit the time to shape their words and post their entries in between all of the other things that life demands. While I'm delighted and intrigued by this medium, and filled with ideas about the research potential lurking within the communities and communication channels of bloggers and blogs, it's hard to find the time to think clearly enough to articulate those thoughts in a way that I'd want the rest of the world to read.

The best of the blogs seem to be very plugged into the feedback loop--referencing each other, building on each other's post. So it's not just the writing that consumes time (that may be the easy part, actually). It's the reading, the linking, the responding, the connection-building.

For me, at least, there's also a sense of vulnerability in posting my words to a public place. The very thing that makes this process so interesting--the interlinking and cross-reading--also makes it feel risky. You have to strike a balance between the immediacy of stream-of-consciousness writing, and the careful phrasing of public words that can come back to haunt you.

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