Blogging vs. Social Networking

I've been posting to my blog far less frequently than ever before, in the entire history of this blog. Why is that? I'm still busy doing stuff. I'm still active in all the same places. The only shift lately is that I've also been much more active in social networking sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are essentially social networking systems. They are about forming and building connections between people, rather than publishing content. So, that shouldn't have an impact on my posts here.

The only thing I can think of is some kind of defusing effect that activity on social networking sites may have – I post there, and it satisfies the social component of posting here. Posting here doesn't affect posting there.

So, I'm starting to think about the relationship between social networking and blogging. They're definitely related, partially overlapping activities, but they also have their own subtle difference. Blogging is (for me) about personal knowledge management. Capturing the content and context of what I'm doing. Social networking is about context more than anything. Which looks at first blush to be purely banality. And yet, it affects me on a deeper level.

I was in Vancouver for an "eCOP" pathfinding meeting, and found that I flipped open the MacBookPro during breaks. What did I check first? It wasn't email. It wasn't my blog (or blog stats, or blog referrals). It was Twitter. I felt more connected to my distributed community of edubloggers (and others) because they're always there with me, no matter where I am. That's powerful stuff. Now, how to better make sense of that? Or does making sense of it suck the soul out of it?

Open, Connected, Social – the movie!

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a session with Brian, Alan and Jim for the MacLearningEnvironments.org group. We wound up breathing some new life into Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and building some demo sites and background wiki pages. Here’s the video for the session:

Open, Connected & Social

The video is available in iPod format, and original lossless QuickTime format. Brian is also offering up an audio-only MP3 version of the jam session.

BarCamp/DemoCamp Calgary!

I didn’t think Calgary was ready for this, but apparently I was wrong. Thanks to an email from Sami, I see that the first ever BarCamp Calgary is scheduled to take place on May 26, 2007, at the University of Calgary main campus. This is a type of event I’ve REALLY wanted to have here in Calgary, and it’s great to see there are a whole bunch of people interested in making it happen. Looking at the list of Campers on the event page, I only recognize a couple of the names. Maybe the Calgary blogosphere is more robust than Ive been guessing?

BarCamp Calgary

I’m unsure if I’ll be able to attend (between family work schedules involving Saturdays, and Evan’s soccer games) but I’ll try to at least drop in to see what’s going on.

Very cool stuff.

DemoCamp There’s also a DemoCamp planned as well – TONIGHT, no less. I’m less sure about how cool/uncool that event might be – sounds like a Vendor Fair mixed with The Gong Show… I won’t be able to check this one out, but hopefully someone blogs it.

It’s great to see this kind of unconference stuff starting to happen in Cowtown. Maybe there’s hope for this burg yet…

Sitemeter spyware removed

Apparently Sitemeter, one of the services I use to track stats about visitors and activity here, recently started inserting cookies for an advertising company. These cookies are essentially spyware, used to track visitors across the internet by matching up that cookie on each site that is visited.

I've disabled Sitemeter, and won't be going back. I've been very happy with them for the last few years, but sneaking spyware onto visitors is not cool. StatCounter has pledged to not do that, so I'll be using them, alongside Google Analytics. (it could be argued that Google could be tracking visitors in a similar pattern of spyware cookies – not sure how I feel about that, but at least they're relatively up front about it, being an online ad company. Sitemeter just silently changed the rules…)

If you want to clean up your browser after Sitemeter, delete any cookies you might have from "specificclick.com" (I had 4 cookies from that domain, but I'm not sure if they were a result of Sitemeter tracking code from my blog, or from elsewhere…)

References to the spyware cookie include:

I'm sorry for any inconvenience. Hopefully that's the end of it…

Upcoming presentation – (Many, Too Many?) Small Technologies Loosely Joined: Open, Connected, and Social

I was asked a while back if I was interested in giving a presentation to the MacLearningEnvironments.org group. At first, my reaction was “sure, but what on earth would I talk about?” After some thought, an initial plan was to do an updated version of the Small Pieces Loosely Joined presentation I had the pleasure of doing way back in 2004 (with Brian and Alan). What would that have looked like if it was done in 2007? How would the changes in those long 3 years have affected things?

After hanging out with Jim at Northern Voice, it was obvious that the “3 amigos” (as someone else has called us, but the name somehow stuck) is now the “4 amigos” (and hopefully more). Jim is a kindred spirit, and so I had to include him in the mix. I’d also wanted to bring in Gardo (a 5th amigo?) but alas his schedule is already full on the day of the presentation.

Long story short, the 4 of us will be attempting another “jazz ensemble” presentation/panel, as an online session initiated by MacLearningEnvironments.org (but open to everyone).

From the session blurb:

In 2004 three of us presented a concept of decentralized connecting web content with RSS — “Small Technologies Loosely Joined” (http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/smallpieces), playing off of the book title by David Weinberger. Looking back at what we might call “Web 1.5″, using RSS to interconnect blogs, wikis, and chat seem rather simple. At that time, flickr and del.icio.us were still truly unknown betas, Google was just a search engine, folksonomy might not even had been coined as a term, podcasting did not exist, online videos were relegated to basic downloading to view– what a long way the web has come since then. However, underneath the shiny hood of the new tools, RSS remains a key integration factor Now we sit in 2007 with an explosion and continued expansion, of “small tools” leaving many educators overwhelmed and excited at the same time. In this session, like a loose jazz quartet, four presenters will “jam” on the potential for teaching and learning as well as the state of web technology in four general areas * bliki : can we genetically recombine blogs and wikis? * mashups – bending the internet to do your bidding * connecting people and information – RSS, Pipes, aggregators… * insanely social software – putting the “we” in “web 2.0″ And more broadly look at the influence of open-content, connectedness, and social networking aspects.

So, if you feel like jamming with the band, book some time in your calendar on Wednesday, April 25, 11:00am Mountain (10:00am Pacific, 1:00pm Eastern, etc…) and tune in. It’s going to be as free-form as we can get away with, so please feel free/encouraged to join in. It’s happening as an Elluminate meeting, so we can share the microphone and screens etc… to keep things pretty dynamic in order to respond to questions and contributions on the fly.

Really, though, I was just looking for an excuse to bash some ideas around with Brian, Alan and Jim again. We’ve got some (hopefully) cool and useful stuff planned, and I’m hoping it takes on a life outside of the presentation.

Update: of course, I didn’t mean to leave anyone out of the “amigos” – Scott is definitely in there, as is Stephen. And a bunch of others. Not meaning to sound like a boorish elitist…�

Quickie Screencast: eXe for ePortfolio authoring

I’ve been using eXe for some project work lately, and thought it might be handy to do a quick and dirty screencast of what it’s like to author content using eXe. It’s an open source, cross platform website authoring tool that uses some of the same patterns that Pachyderm does – structured content with pedagogical templates. Except it generates plain vanilla html (and SCORM, and IMS CP, etc…)

The screencast is just over 19 minutes (sorry for going on so long) and weighs in as a 27MB file.

Sounds like I left the microphone level too low. Oops. Might have to crank up the volume if you want to hear me. Next screencast, I’ll make sure to properly adjust mic levels first…

Update: I published the lame ePortfolio demo as a static website to show what the output looks like.�

BlogBridge FeedLibrary as EduGlu?

I’ve been forcing myself to keep thinking about (and rethinking) the concept of EduGlu – a set of tools and/or practices that would more effectively support distributed online publishing while maintaining the sense of group and community needed to make this stuff more meaningful in an educational context. I waver back and forth, between building The One True �berapp To Aggregate Them All, and a more freeform, organic, barebones directory.

I think the lightweight directory is winning. What if EduGlu was nothing more than an organic directory, where people (faculty, students, general public, etc…) are able to create folders and place links to their various locations of their own online publishing. People can create multiple groups/folders for various contexts, and add whatever relevant links they want to in each one. The directory takes care of listing the groups/folders, displaying their contents, and generating OPML containing machine-readable versions of these lists so people can then subscribe to them in their own aggregator(s). Import the OPML into Google Reader. Subscribe to it as a Reading List in BlogBridge. Import it into Bloglines, NetNewsWire, Sage, FeedOnFeeds, etc… Wherever you’re happiest. EduGlu isn’t about aggregating the ITEMS into one place, it’s about individuals sharing their content easily. Which is done more effectively as a directory, rather than an aggregator.

I installed the BlogBridge FeedLibrary application yesterday to start teasing out parts of the idea. It’s a pretty nice app (the install process could use some love, but it wasn’t hard). It runs nicely on LAMP (or MAMP in my case), and it’s free for academic use (not Open Source, but at least it doesn’t cost anything for what I need). And it absolutely rocks at doing exactly what I just described.

The idea I’m working on is that a class creates a folder, and interested individuals (prof/teacher, students, others) create subfolders for themselves. Into these subfolders, they add entries for whatever things they publish that are relevant to this class. Could be blogs, Flickr tag(s), del.icio.us tag(s), wiki changes, or anything that they do that generates RSS.�

I’ll be playing some more with it, but here’s a screenshot of an early stage of the experiment:

The little icons give you access to the RSS for each feed, and to the OPML containing feeds at any level of the directory you are interested in. Just want to subscribe to Dr. Speed’s feeds? Grab his OPML. Want the whole class in one shot? Grab the class OPML. Want the entire department/faculty/institution? Sure! Want to just read the items directly on the directory site? BBFL will display the RSS feeds inline, so you don’t need an aggregator of your own if you don’t want one. Want to archive the activities of a class? Subscribe an aggregator to the class OPML, and save all items that come through. There’s your academic archive.

It makes MUCH more sense to put the effort into helping make BlogBridge FeedLibrary a better tool all around, as well as for an academic context, than to build a new tool from scratch. Especially when FeedLibrary is so close to what is needed (there are some workflow issues that may need some work if unleashing it on dozens/hundreds/thousands of students, but nothing that can’t be worked out).�

iNTJ

You Are An INTJ
The Scientist

You have a head for ideas – and you are good at improving systems.
Logical and strategic, you prefer for everything in your life to be organized.
You tend to be a bit skeptical. You're both critical of yourself and of others.
Independent and stubborn, you tend to only befriend those who are a lot like you.

You would make an excellent scientist, engineer, or programmer.

Well, THAT explains a lot…

Rethinking EduGlu

This morning, while riding toward campus on a nicely packed bus, with Arcade Fire cranked up and my notebook open in front of me, I had a thought about EduGlu. I was thinking about something completely unrelated, when it just popped into my head, crystal clear.

The solution to the problem of distributed, decentralized, heterogeneous online publishing tools used by students is not to build a monolithic berapp to aggregate them all. There is no One Ring to bind them all. If the problem is "how do faculty and students keep track of content published by people (students, each other, etc…) that they care about?", the answer is "We already do that. With RSS and feedreeders."

So, what if the concept of EduGlu is unnecessary, and instead of building a new centralized app, a set of tools to manage OPML (or XO, or whatever) lists of feeds published by individuals is refined.

A person just creates a list of their feeds, and adds it to a master list. Other people pay attention either to the entire list, or to subsets or cross-sections of it, subscribing to the OPML and/or RSS feeds listed within.

There are already several very powerful ways to do that, most notably the BlogBridge Feed Library tool, which does almost exactly what I was seeing – nested sets of feeds organized by whatever criteria (course? person? etc…) and available as OPML so people could consume the feeds however they like.

The solution to every problem doesn't have to involve "Hey! Let's design and build some cool new software!" – more often than not, especially in the last year or two, it should be more of "Hey! Let's use these existing apps in new ways!"

The Most Important Thing™

You’d never know it by looking out the window, but it feels like a whole bunch of changes are in the works this season. Personally, professionally, and more broadly. Some quick backstory – after co-unkeynoting at the BCEdOnline 2006 conference with Brian and Stephen, we wound up at a local pub to debrief and just hang out. It sounds corny, but that conversation became one of the cornerstones I keep coming back to when thinking about what I’m doing, and where I’m going. (oddly enough, Dave Matthews just came on my iPod with “Where are you going?” Man, how I love the uncanny psychic shuffle mode…)

It all comes back to a comment Stephen made, describing a realization he had during his hiatus. He said something along the lines of “I just think – is this thing that I’m doing right now – is this the most important thing I could be doing?” (actually, I don’t think he said it as a question, but that’s how I remember it, and it’s my memory so deal with it).

Is this the most important thing I could be doing? If not, what should I be doing instead? And what do I have to do to get to a point where I could be doing that?

So, obviously, the most important thing I can do is to be a good father. Everything else is secondary. Everything. But, part of being a good father is being able to provide a roof and some food. So that means that at least part of the time, the most important thing I can be doing is the Day Job™ in whatever form that takes. So, slogging through seas of copy-and-paste, although soul-sucking and seemingly unimportant, is actually The Most Important Thing in that it keeps the Mac & Cheese flowing.

With the major priorities taken care of, I’ve been trying to apply ITTMITICBD? to lesser priorities, to projects, tasks, etc… That’s been less successful, but has started shaping how I think about things, even if it hasn’t had a visible impact on what I’m doing.

What are the Most Important Things™ from the perspective of my Day Job™? Here’s where I likely differ from my Institution’s official stance (which will likely revolve around mundane things like “making money” and “maximizing efficiency” or some other dreck). I work in a university. A publicly funded research institution. The Most Important Thing I Could Be Doing™ is to work with individuals, inside the University community, and perhaps more importantly, outside of it, to ensure that people have access to what we’re doing here. This is a research university, and it shouldn’t be a privilege afforded only to those that can gain access to the hallowed halls. We should be bending over backwards to make sure everybody has access, in whatever form we’re able to provide.

So, I’m going to be focussing my energy on things like Creative Commons, Open Education Resources (not Learning Objects), personal publishing, remix culture, and things that empower individuals rather than Institutions. Which means I’ll likely be a pariah, but hopefully not a martyr on campus.

My ability to contribute to this has changed over the years. I can no longer kid myself that I can write code. I’m not a coder anymore. I can edit code. I can understand what’s going on, but I’m not a coder anymore, if I ever was. But, I think it may be more important for me to take up the mantle and just walk the walk. Showing how this stuff could work in a practical way. Writing. Presenting. Workshops. Acting as an agent of subversion, then hopefully of change. Helping to guide our clients toward more open practices where appropriate (and, no, not everything can be Open). I might even bite the bullet and finish off the Master’s degree, using it to let me write more about this stuff.

Of course, keeping the number 1 Most Important Thing™ in mind, I’ll have to do this in ways that don’t risk the day job, so waving a Che flag and marching across campus yelling “Vive la revolucion!” might not be in the cards. Baby steps…