rambling thoughts on blogging and silos

Alec Couros posted a quick throwaway on Facebook (I’d link to it, but Facebook doesn’t work that way)


It got a lot of likes, and then the comment thread kind of exploded. I posted several comments and replies, and realized that was a silly way to post that particular discussion because it’s exactly the kind of thing we are talking about as killing blogging and personal publishing.

I’ve pulled my comments together below. They’re from various bits in the conversation, so don’t necessarily flow as a single post. Whatever.

I’ve been thinking about the web we lost a LOT lately, but keep having a nagging feeling that some of it is nostalgia and romanticizing the good parts while overlooking the less good. I think we should learn from what was good (and so, so much was very good), learn from what wasn’t as good, and move forward to build new goodness on modern tech.

I don’t miss Reader. There are alternatives. I miss interesting people publishing coherent posts on diverse topics, rather than scattered like birdshot splattered across disconnected algorithmic streams on corporate silos.

I’ve been digging Medium. Haven’t posted anything there, but it seems like a great mix of people and ideas (if a little heavy on the entrepreneur-fu articles). But I wonder what will happen to all of the posts after Verizon/Nokia/Facebook/Google buy it (eventually. It’s the exit strategy of every web company on the planet now). Will it be shuttered? Improved? Stagnate and die?

Reader isn’t the problem. People just stopped owning their words, publishing on their own websites. The internet archive for the last 5 years or so will largely be a gaping hole of dark matter where corporate silos like Facebook used to be.

And if someone didn’t have tech skills, they didn’t have a voice. And if they didn’t want to put their thoughts out on the open web (where they could be used out of context, doxxed, harassed, etc) they weren’t part of the conversation. There were reasons why the blogosphere (even the edublogosphere and openblogosphere) was dominated by white male professionals.

Readership is down by a few orders of magnitude as well. Back in the olden days, I often had thousands of people reading posts. Now, maybe 100 on a really busy day. Not sure what that means – I cross-post to Facebook and twitter, so I assume people just read the snippets there and don’t click through to read the full thing. Summary blurbs, short attention span, moving on…

Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media

A great summary of various bits of tech that made the early blogosphere1 so alive and vibrant in ways that hasn’t been captured or reproduced since. How can tools give individuals control over what they create, where they publish, who they follow, what they read, and how they share? These are currently controlled almost exclusively by one of two companies for the majority people on the modern internet. Something amazing, powerful, and enabling was lost in that transition.

More than a decade ago, the earliest era of blogging provided a set of separate but related technologies that helped the nascent form thrive. Today, most have faded away and been forgotten, but new incarnations of these features could still be valuable.As social networks grew in popularity and influence, the old decentralized blogosphere fell apart and those early services consolidated, leaving all the power in the hands of a few private companies. That’s left publishers and independent voices even more vulnerable to the control points of a few social networks and search engines.

Source: Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media. — Medium

Much of what I’ve been trying to do has been fumbling around trying to shift back to many of these bits of tech for my own use. RSS is still king because it lets me control what I read without opaque algorithms shaping and pushing. Blogs are still king because I can publish and archive whatever I want, without worrying or even thinking about where it goes or who gets to modify or transform it.


And, yes, I get that I saw Anil’s post on Medium rather than via RSS. Whatever.

  1. man, that’s something I haven’t said in ages… it used to be a thing. I desperately want for it to be a thing again. []

The Intrinsic Value of Blogging | Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg on blogging:

This post might be ephemerally tweeted by dozens of avatars I might or might not recognize, accumulate a number in a database that represents the “hits” it had, and if I’m lucky might even get some comments, but when I get caught up in that the randomness of what becomes popular or generates commentary and what doesn’t it invariably leads me to write less. So blog just for two people.

First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.

Second, write for a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write, almost like a letter, even if they never will, or a person who you’re sure will read it because of a connection you have to them

via The Intrinsic Value of Blogging | Matt Mullenweg. (HT to Dave Winer )

Notes: Clarke & Kinne (2012). Asynchronous discussions as threaded discussions or blogs

Clarke, L, & Kinne, L. (2012). Asynchronous discussions as threaded discussions or blogs. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29, 4-13.

The article looked at students publishing online discussions using Blackboard and WordPress, and their reported sense of community, etc…

Kinda perfect for use in my thesis.

But the article is embargoed from our library collection, and the ISTE website for the journal locks it behind a broken paywall. I’ve tried several times to buy the article, but can’t get near it.

Open access, people. Don’t lock your awesomeness behind a paywall. This article is perfect for my thesis, but won’t be used because I can’t get to it.

Dave Winer on hamsters and sharecropping

On why he won’t be posting stuff to the new Branch semi-private conversation thingy (the one I linked to earlier )

Anyway, I can’t just use it, because then I would be breaking a rule, one that keeps me from using services like Quora and Google-Plus. I’m not going to willfully put my writing in spaces that I have no control over. I’m tired of playing the hamster. The business models of these companies, if they become successful, keep them from being part of the web. And it’s not in my interest to support what they do, that’s the broad reason I don’t use them. Further, I am creating an archive of my writing, over many years. And if I scatter my writing all over the place, even if these services were part of the web, it would be against my interest to do that. Having it all in one place is value, to me at least.

via Scripting News: Before I use Branch.

(How) do blogs need to evolve?

Interesting discussion about the nature of blogs, blogging, and where this stuff might be going. Some comments jumped out at me:

Paul Bausch:

The whole idea of comments is based on the assumption that most people reading won’t have their own platform to respond with. So you need to provide some temporary shanty town for these folks to take up residence for a day or two. And then if you’re like Matt–hanging out in dozens of shanty towns–you need some sort of communication mechanism to tie them together. That sucks.

So what’s an alternative? Facebook is sort of the alternative right now: company town.

Anil Dash1 :

Yeah, I think Dave’s2 been consistent for years that commenters should get their own blogs; TrackBack was predicated on the idea that was a viable course of action, so it’s certainly not philosophically contrary to what bloggers (used to) want to do.

That being said, I think it’s the on-ramp to participation that’s broken. Not just signing up, but actually thinking "I’m a blogger" is a big mental hurdle, when in fact anyone who’s ever updated their Facebook wall or left a comment is a blogger.

Shanty towns and company towns, rather than walled gardens. Much better descriptions of what these things are now.

Lots more good stuff in the thread. Also of note is that the conversation didn’t happen on a blog per se, but in a beta private-conversation-shared-publicly platform. Strange, but interesting…

via How do blogs need to evolve?.

  1. with another interesting post on the topic here []
  2. Winer, with more here []

raj boora on course blogging

[Raj Boora just posted some thoughts](http://boora.ca/blog/?p=3543) on setting up a courseblog with a prof., and they echo many of the same things I’ve found on my campus:

> let’s understand that students are as likely to be blogging for the class as they are to be pulling their own teeth – they are going to do it because they need to. You might get the odd student who is really digging it and wants to keep reflecting on it once the class is over, but for most, like pulling teeth, they are only going to jump the hoop once. Thirdly, even though blogging has this aura of being able to put the student at the center of the learning experience, it is still very much the case where students are told what to write and how to write it. It still almost has to be this way in order to create a level field on which the student work can be assessed. Finally… if we know that the students are not going to become bloggers on topic X, and we know that they are unlikely to have a portfolio (yet) where the entries that they do make can become part of a greater whole, why not start them with the most baby step of blogging… commenting.


> If the instructor wants students to blog, s/he should be a blogger as well. Without the passion for the topic and without the ability to show students what the process really is, things are going to get boring pretty fast for everyone and the great enthusiasm at the start is going to wither quickly, perhaps on the vine. So even if the instructor only has a handful of posts, that is a start. The students should then have to comment on the posts of the instructor, who can then post about those comments and bring in new information. Students can also link out to other blogs that are talking about similar material in comments. This way they can get the idea of what blogging can be about. But wait, you say that this is nothing but a glorified message board? You say that it is in-authentic to the ethos of blogging? To that I say… well yes it is. Having every student start their own blog and post on a predetermined topic is basically creating a non structured discussion board anyway. So what is the problem with at least making the thing manageable?

I’ve talked with many profs who are convinced that blogging is going to change everything, and that the students are all already avid bloggers. It only changes things if used appropriately. And the **vast** majority of students have never posted a blog entry on their own (but may have been cajoled into posting one in a course before) and don’t manage their own blogs.

The mantra I keep chanting when talking to faculty members is **what problem are you trying to solve?** and then (and only then) do we get into options of technologies (or not) that support their goals. Blogging may or may not be a solution that’s appropriate for a given situation.

the twitter effect

Rereading Alan’s post on his blog hiatus, where he takes a month off of posting on his blog to comment elsewhere, I was struck (as always) by the patterns in activity he described. I decided to take a closer peek at the activity on my own blog – I’ve been thinking a lot about discourse analysis lately, so it’s at least partially non-navel-gazing.

Here’s the graph for the first few years of life for my blog. It started out as a private, personal outboard brain, then kind of took off with a life of its own.

a pretty graph, about nothing

Interesting. This blog’s heyday was 2005-2006. A lifetime ago, in intartube years. Then twitter happened in January 2007. It would be _really_ interesting to run some latent content analysis on both posts and comments, to see if they’re different BT vs. AT. Are the activity patterns different? Is the content different? Linking patterns? etc… It’d be completely nonscientific, but fascinating nonetheless…

private and group blogging with WPMU and WP-Sentry

I just pushed the latest version of the WP-Sentry plugin out to general use on UCalgaryBlogs.ca – any site can now enable it to have the ability to create groups and to set the audience for posts and pages. A site admin can create groups and put members of the site into any number of groups – which can also be hierarchically arranged – and then the members can decide who should be allowed to see the posts that they publish.

A workgroup could post updates that only group members can see (so a flood of group meeting notes doesn’t flood a blogsite used in a class of 300 students), or students could write posts on sensitive topics without worrying about it leaking out onto the open internet and into their permanent record.

The plugin is very well designed, and is easy to use. I’m going to be setting up a few sites using it as a means of managing information flow within large classes. One nice feature of the plugin is that it gives the ability to select multiple groups as the audience for a post, and to add individual member access, so you could invite someone in to view content without granting them full group member status. Very nice.


So far, the only suggestion that I could think to make would be some way to provide a list of groups (a group directory page) that links to a page listing content published in a given group – a group home page.

I know there are people for whom the idea of “private” blogging makes them break out in hives. But there are valid cases for providing safe places for students to publish content without worrying about public exposure, and this is a fantastic solution to that problem.

Update: It hit me, shortly after hitting “Publish” on this post, that the WP-Sentry plugin would be a perfect fit for the other plugin I’m playing with – WordPress-Wiki – which allows for wiki editing of pages and posts by members of a WordPress site, but without needing to delve into geeky MediaWiki syntax. It tracks revisions, allows diffing of changes between revisions, and generates the table of contents based on the headings in the content in the same way that MediaWiki does. All the fun of wiki, without the geeky stuff or pain.

WP-Sentry + WordPress-Wiki, when combined, would let people create private (or public, or any variant in between) wikis for workgroups, as part of their regular blog or website publishing workflow. No extra software to learn, no new syntax, no new jargon. Just an extra couple of checkboxes and widgets to twiddle when publishing a post to determine who gets to see the thing, and whether it should be wiki. Very cool stuff, and it could become a powerful tool as part of a course blogsite.

Home Grown Alberta

I had a meeting with a prof last week about a very interesting project she wants to set up (to run the course as a series of blog posts resulting in a science magazine published by the students – I’ll write more on that later). During the discussion of the project, we got to talking about blogging in general and she mentioned that she had recently started a blog of her own.

Gwendolyn Blue started blogging less than a month ago at Home Grown Alberta, and already has some great posts up about sustainability and local food sourcing. 100 mile diet? In Calgary? Apparently, it IS possible (just a little more difficult due to the insane sprawl of this city…)

I’m looking forward to seeing what Gwen comes up with, and really excited to have discovered her blog!