This Blog Gonna Rise Again?

I had pretty much made my peace with being an ex-blogger.   It’s been a year since the last time I posted to this blog, and, even that last post was just a speculation about the wisdom of amateurs running their own servers.  For the previous four years, the blog had been center of my digital identity and the source of connection with a host of interesting, challenging and involved colleagues.  It also generated a fair amount angst, since writing is a form of torture for me; I’m prone to embarrassing typos, and I’ve been told by several colleagues that the defining attribute of my writing is my “keen sense of the obvious”.

That said, I’ve never quite gotten rid of that small voice in the back of my mind that keeps suggesting I ought to revisit the decision to abandon the blog.  The volume of the voice has gone up this semester as I’m teaching my adult education course for the first time since 2006.   The course is a bit unusual in that it builds explicitly on adult learning principles, which immediately frames the class much differently than most other courses that the students have experienced.  (We write the syllabus together after the fourth week of class, for example.)  There are a couple of guiding principles that emerge that relate to blogging:

  • Adult  educators an ethical responsibility to engage in sustained, systematic and critical reflection about their practice.  One of the major goals of the class is to help students develop methods of reflection that will live on beyond this course and will become integrated into their own lifelong learning and will help guide their efforts in helping others learn over the lifespan.
  • If you can find the courage to do it, sharing some of those reflections in a public way can be a source of continued creativity, inspiration and professional challenge.

Three or four of the students in the class are blogging as part of their reflection efforts, so I’ve been a bit sensitized to the need to narrate my own work.  Then two things happened that pushed me over the top and back into the new post window.  First Gardner posted a comment on a year old post saying stating that he was waiting for something new to appear.  (Curse you, Gardo!)  Then, one of the member  of my class signed up for a Twitter account and started following me, causing me to think that maybe it was time for me to get a little more public about my own reflections and practice.  Maybe it would be good to reopen myself to some of that creativity, inspiration and challenge.

Words You’d Rather Not Hear

All of us have certain words we’d rather not hear:

“Hi Dad, I’m using my one phone call…”

“I think it’s important that you get to the cardiologist’s office this afternoon…”

“Um, about that money you invested with Bernie Madoff….”

I’ve added the following:

“I gave him the url to your blog….”

I still believe that all of us who claim to be students of the digital world need to continue participate in the conversation in that world, but my blog itself certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence in my ongoing activity as a an active learner/teacher and citizen of the digital universe. Those of us who have participated long enough in this exercise called blogging know that there is an ebb and flow to it–a time to write and a time to refrain from writing. The secret is knowing the difference.

When you physically cringe when someone says, “I gave him the URL to your blog” it’s time to write again.

Expanding Research Through Open Notebook Science

IT Conversations | Jon Udell’s Interviews with Innovators | Jean-Claude Bradley

He believes that scientific research happens better and faster when the entire process is transparently narrated online.

New social tools can have a tremendous impact on teaching, learning and research. The emergence of Open Notebook Science has the potential of speeding up the diffusion of scientific discoveries and of helping students and others look into the nature of “real research with all it’s glitches.” In this interview, Jon Udell and chemist Jean-Claude Bradley talk about the real-world potential of blogs, wikis and other social software tools to encourage communication and speed up collaboration among scientists and students..

Writing Strategically (Part Two)

This is a quick follow-up to my last post about choosing a writing strategy for your for your blog. In the last post, I talked about treating your blog as an a forum to explore all the interesting things that you learn about through the web, reading, conversations, and all the other sources of information that come into your personal information universe. Readers will seek out your blog as a way of entering into your world and of finding resources that they never would have found on their own.

Another strategy is to pick out a particular area of expertise and write deeply and extensively about issues within that area. Readers come to your site because you know more about this topic than almost anyone else in the world. (Or at least on the internet.) The goal of this type of blogging is summed up in this quote from Ron Gross’s book The Independent Scholar’s Handbook:

Max Schuster was not a man to mince words or to warm you up with small talk. His words were well honed; he obviously had delivered this message before and knew exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Fixing me with a firm eye over the glistening mahogany desktop he declared: “I have one bit of advice for you–not just for success in this business, but personally. Begin at once–not today or tomorrow or at some indefinite date, but right now, at this precise moment–to chose some subject, some concept, some great name or idea or idea in history on which you can eventually make yourselves the world’s supreme expert. Start a crash program immediately to qualify yourself for this self-assignment through reading, research and reflection. In his librarylike office, such a program did not seem impossible, as a generous slice of the world’s wisdom was within arms reach.

In a world defined by the long tail, just about every topic needs its experts. One of my favorite examples has been

43 Folders where Merlin Mann has turned his own inability to manage his time and his life into what appears to be a full-time job. If you have a passion, no matter how narrow, your blog can be a place to find others who share it.

Tying Up the Loose Ends of Your Digital Identity

re.web – The William & Mary Web Redesign

Andy DeSoto, a junior psychology major at William and Mary, has written a guide for students (and faculty) on how to use the new Tribe Voices tool to manage their presence on the web. He argues that a small investment of time can yield big benefits in 1) bringing an element of control about what readers see when they Google you, 2) increasing the reach of your community and 3) “tying up the loose ends” by pulling your digital footprints into one container.

Folks who want more features than those available with Tribe Voices can take a look at wmblogs, William and Mary’s wordpress multiuser solution.

Disclaimer: Both Tribe Voices and wmblogs require a William and Mary userid. Folks from outside the William and Mary community can easily get the same benefits by starting their personal space at WordPress.com or a similar service.

Andy provides a series of suggestions of ways to establish your web presence:

  • Pick the right name (yours) for your site.
  • Update regularly.
  • Link freely.

He also suggests that folks do a little light reading on “search engine optimization”–which might be beyond what most folks are willing to invest in this process.

Read up on search engine optimization (SEO). Search engine optimization, a multi-million dollar industry, is the science of improving the volume and quality of traffic your website receives. It’s a pretty technical topic, but worth a little bit of further reading. Take a look at Wayne Smallman’s Blah, Blah! Technology blog for some beginner articles.