Aggregating blog content: the dilemma

I’ve been keeping blogs for several years now. This one was the first-born, or at least it ‘growed up’ out of my first experiments in what I thought of as an online journal. Fairly soon after its incarnation, Spinning a Learning Web became too sprawling, so I reined in my grasshopper inclinations to write about life, art and the whole darn thing, and focussed my Web 2.0 commentary in a more appropriate way for my then-position as a higher education lecturer.  I did from time to time stray outside the higher ed boundaries into discussions on what you might call recreational digital tools – photography for example. Until very recently I thought of Spinning … as my primary blog. Indeed its URL contains my name.

My other blog Groundling is all about theatre, performance, voice art – the other passion and avocation in my life. I maintained Groundling in a quarantined fashion from Spinning … . There I’d mention the web and digital technologies from time to time, but it was largely a separately focussed, niche area, and the blogs very rarely met on common ground. But that has changed, and this is where the dilemma has begun for me.

Life goes on, we change, and the time has come to consider the future of both blogs, at least in their current incarnation. The reality is that I no longer work in higher education, but my interest in all things Web 2.0 continues just as strongly if not more so. I’ve got more time to scrabble round the web, chat to others, experiment and reflect.  But Spinning …  is no longer focussed on higher ed. Of course, the learning goes on!

Groundling on the other hand, continues to focus on theatre etc., but more and more the world of digital performance, business marketing for the arts using online tools, social networking, and other topics I was used to dealing with in Spinning … are now finding their way into posts on Groundling. I think that Groundling is going to be the primary/only blog from here on in, incorporating its coverage of things theatrical, performative and so on, whilst dealing at the same time with life on the web. What’s developed is a natural outcome of my work in both areas of interest over the past 5-7 years.

The other element in the equation, and perhaps a key driver of my thinking right now is that I find myself working a great deal of the time via Twitter and Facebook, two community-driven, eclectic chat platforms which feed my communications needs with colleagues, as well as the wider community of social networkers. This engagement provides me with research projects and then material for longer, reflective posts on the blogs, but also – and here’s the rub – it lessens the time I can spend or would want to spend in maintaining two other, quite separate blog presences.

I’ve done what I can to integrate my social media sites on the blogs. I’ve pulled Twitter in via a widget; FriendFeed is also present, and you’ll see in the navigation tabs at the top of the page that there’s a link out to Groundling – on Groundling there’s a link to Spinning. In each blog’s sidebar there’s a link to other places where Dramagirl hangs out on the web. But the thing is, there are still two blogs with separate readerships needing attention. And whilst I am not driven to post unless I have something to say,  I’m very mindful of the long time between posts that has become the norm.

Can I – should I – consider a design change and create an ‘uber-blog’? What might this look like? Do you know of any good templates that would enable me to pull in and archive my Spinning … posts perhaps as a Category? Is this even desirable?

I’ve not written a help post before, but then I didn’t have as wide a network to consult as I do now.  I’d love to hear from you here or via Twitter should you come across an idea to spark my own thinking on the next step.

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How to survive online possum-stirring*

A guest in the garden shedI wonder at the naiveté of people who publish material to the web, and then spit and scratch if it appears somewhere else ‘out there.’ I also think people who cut and paste clearly private or sensitive material from sites to other more public forums deserve all the un-friending they get – a sort of cyber standing-in-the-corner-till-you-learn-to-play-nicely approach.

By all means stir the possum, but know what you’re doing before you pick up the stick. Possums really bite and scratch when cornered.

I write having read some reasonably combative commentary by people passionate about a particular subject, and triggered by a blog post (not on this site) which referenced an earlier event.  Back and forth it went … angry at times, reasonable at others; mean and generous spirited in fairly even measures.  Sane and forward-looking, nutty and self-centred – typical you might say of the kinds of debates that flare up from time to time on the web.

What I found interesting was that the two things which really irked those who bothered to comment were firstly this issue of what’s appropriate to post and what’s not and in particular to share others’ so-called private (although named) off-guarded comments from one forum out into another. The second touched upon choosing whether or not to publish under one’s own name. Seems most of the participants appreciate a name to go with a blow, whether fair or underhand. Can’t say I disagree about that.

Cowards, bullies and cry-babies are just as distasteful in cyberspace as they are in real life. Kiss-and-tellers aren’t much fun either.

* ‘Stirring the possum’ is an old Aussie saying which refers to livening up debate, or creating a disturbance.

3 Simply Elegant Tools: redux

A year ago I wrote about a few tools I was then using to make blogging simpler. I’ve updated the original post 3 Simple Elegant Tools because in that year I’ve added a few more clever apps to my digital toolbox and tossed others. It’s probably also not a bad idea to revisit and revise posts from time to time. I’ve left the original post rather than deleting it, since I like to leave posts like this as a marker of where my adventures had led me at the time.

Report Card

I wrote recently about good design and some of the aesthetic principles from the philosophy of Zen which inform my personal design preferences and work flow. I wanted to recommend a couple of small tools which fit the bill in terms of ease of use and elegance. I find myself calling on them constantly for their convenience and reliability. They save time, and they just plain work. What’s more they are fine time savers with a purpose.

A couple of dozen years ago, I recall reading a discussion on the freedom word-processing provided writers. There would now be more time to be creative and there would be less time spent rewriting from scratch, and fixing mistakes in various laborious ways … erasers, liquid-paper, Typpex and variations on ripping paper from the typewriter, balling it and tossing across a room. Of course good writing insists on constant editing … I’ve just cut, pasted and rewritten several of the sentences above, but writing, editing and rewriting are now a synchronous activity thanks to the tools under your fingers. There are hundreds of applications and digital tools lurking in menu bars or hovering as invisible plug-ins on blogs. They exist simply to make your job a little easier, and to give you more time to be creative … or just more time.

With changes to WordPress versions or the arrival of newer plug-ins and add-ons (FireFox tools) it’s inevitable that a slicker, more efficient, more elegant … simply better tool will come along. The speed with which new apps are created, modified, used for a while and replaced by others is quite breathtaking. We’re fickle with a purpose on the web. I’ve kept my deactivated plugins on my WordPress backend. There are now quite a few. The newer arrivals will keep their activated status until I find something better, or they stop working. Plugins sometimes don’t play nicely with one another; this is another reason for tossing one and substituting it with a more amenable workmate.

A year ago I was using Linkify a script bookmarklet, and Photo Dropper a WordPress plug-in because I like adding ‘value’ to a blog post via hotlinks to other sites.  Part of the value of a blog entry lies in its potential to lead readers to pursue the post’s theme beyond the confines of my comments.  Now Linkify did it with ease, but I’m sad to say it broke somewhere along the way, and then along came Zemanta … more of that in a minute.

I pretty much always use images in a post to prod the imagination – you know, a picture is worth a thousand words etc. Images also help the aesthetics of the page design. A year on, rather than PhotoDropper and Linkify I’m using Zemanta which is free.  Based on keywords from my post Zemanta not only searches my own and other relevant Creative Commons licensed Flickr images for material, it also suggests relevant and recent links and other posts elsewhere on the web from which, once again, you get to choose. One click on each word or article’s link and they appear as hotlinks in the post or links to those other articles after your own post.  There’s a video tutorial here on how it works.

For a while I had PicApp, a WP plugin installed. If you’re interested here’s a useful Vimeo video tutorial on how PicApp works. I have to say I don’t use it because I don’t like the Google ads that pop up with the image. If you don’t mind ads as the price for a huge collection of searchable images, then go for it. Wherever I can, I use my own images which sit on my Flickr homepage. These are ‘grabbed’ by Zemanta and flow in along with its other choices in the right sidebar from where I can click and insert wherever I choose into the post.

I still love the other non-blog tool which continues making my life so much easier- the data-detector in Mail OS-X Leopard. Hover your mouse over any date or time, even a relative date like ‘tomorrow’ in a Mail message and a drop-down menu appears. Click to add to iCal. That’s it. What this essential interconnectedness does is to get appointments from Mail into my iPhone with a click. It does the same for any phone number in a Mail message. How’s that for elegant simplicity! Yes, I am showing my Apple fangirl status here, but that’s one of the reasons I use Apple products – for their elegance, simplicity and utility.

PS I also use iStock for images when Zemanta doesn’t fit the bill; iStock is not cheap, but the quality of its images and the searchable database of its collection make it a pleasure to use – another time saver.

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The e-traveller hits the road again

This time I’m heading to the US for a holiday … no conferences, no presentations, just fun. I’m very keen to have the opportunity to join in the celebrations following Barack Obama’s inauguration; I imagine the place will be bursting with bonhomie and pride. It deserves to be.

I’ll be tweeting and blogging and uploading to Flickr as I go … all the fun that’s fit to report, and I hope that’s a-plenty. I’m getting cannier as I go these days.  A card reader and a small point and shoot Nikon L16 (rechargeable AA batteries) do service in the still photography department, whilst MarsEdit is my offline blogging app of choice. The trusty, small G4 Powerbook is the computer that’s tagged along with me faithfully for 4-5 years. I really can’t leave it behind any more, and it’s size and power give me all the grunt I need.

This time I am being joined by a new toy which I’m picking up in the US. I’ve wanted an ultra-portable-put-in-your-pocket-no-fuss HD video camera, and thanks to Amazon, will have a Creative Labs Vado HD waiting for me. You can read the pros and cons in this comparative review by Chris Pirillo.  I’ll post the first experiments edited via iMovie to Vimeo. Phew … must remember to just do some touristy lollygagging along the way.

Stay tuned ….

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How Twitter is invigorating my blogging

tweetstats-__-for-dramagirl-1

As I’ve written elsewhere here, I’ve spent a good bit of time microblogging – diversifying the way I engage in online conversation. Whereas once I would have written a blog message or two a day, I now find I am more likely to twitter and then take far more ideas from the Twitter stream into face to face video, audio chat or a lengthier blogpost here or on my other blog Groundling. In a way, Twitter has invigorated my thinking, and opened up the potential for a more diversified conversation to a much greater audience than before. If blogging is about the conversation, then the conversation is getting richer, and so too are the contacts.

I’ve been on board the Twitter bandwagon since May 2007, but the flood into the stream in the past 3-6 months has been huge. The screen grab (above) shows in cloud form the most common words and the names of some of my contacts or ‘tweeps’ … I know, I know … but somehow this silly neologistic game of appending ‘tw-‘ is all part of the fun. Am I chatting more and enjoying it less? Heck, no! I get a dozen new followers a day, although I have no intention of following them all back … I look for interesting posts, stimulating debate, and if we had something in common, well that would be nice too. In this way, I’ve met a slew of new adventurers, exchanged some good ideas on the fly in 140 characters or less … yes it can be done … and gone on to expand those ideas in concert at Utterli where a new contact @andreweglinton has set up a group called Talking Theatre. What emerges from these threads of thoughts expressed in voice or moving image invariably finds its way to further reading and/or blog posts and more considered comment. And what fun it is to hear a variety of voices in all their dialectical richness.

It’s worth mentioning FriendFeed, another app that’s proving useful. As an aggregator of social networking applications and services, it’s a one-stop contact point where I can see my contacts’ photographs, quick comments, link to their blog posts, and even what they are reading. More importantly perhaps is that FriendFeed provides a more detailed profile of a person; you can feel you know them much better than should be possible in what is a virtual creation of ‘self.’

Invariably, you will find your way to a contact’s blog … or not as the case may be. You could stay on FriendFeed or Twitter and chat there.  But if you fancy a more considered exchange of ideas, inevitably you will hit their blog URL hotlink. Once you’re there you get to be a bit more thoughtful. The tweet is to the blog as a quick phone call is to a long, kick-your-shoes-off, sit down and talk session.

So whilst the shiny-bright, new, often frantic kid on the block is inevitably soaking up more of our online time, I can’t help but feel that, at least for me, it’s provided a pick me up, a whole new lease of life to my online communication.

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I’ve been tagged …

Image via Wikipedia

Now I’ve heard about these ‘meme’ things but for the first time last week I was tagged by Sue Hickton to release 7 or maybe 8 things you don’t need to know about me. Actually there are lots of things you don’t need to know about me, but you don’t need to know those now, do you. I originally tried to wriggle out of a response, but that would really lower my blog cred amongst my small but exclusive circle of blogmates. Besides others have done it, so here goes with the ‘things’:

  1. On gran, and my snake and lightning phobias. I had a couple of bad experiences in the backyard as a kid with the joe blakes. Then there was a close call with a lightning strike in my highchair as a wee kiddie. These phobias were not assuaged by the Irish Catholic superstitions of my grandmother, who would dash from room to room sprinkling holy-water whenever a storm loomed. Gran also had a marvellous collection of holy pictures in her missal.  You know, the ones with snakes and angels and bleeding hearts. Ugh! She was also a water-colorist enthusiast of no note whatsoever, but she taught me how to clean my painbrushes. It was a valuable, early lesson in the value of craft skills.
  2. I once had the same sandwich filling on my school lunches for an entire year, so my mother told me: cheese and tomato sauce. It’s an acquired taste but probably more a nod to my obsessiveness about … stuff.
  3. I could read when I was quite young apparently, and well before I got to school. I used to read bilboards, ads and everything that had words on it.  I’ve never stopped.
  4. I have a very high typing speed and can still take shorthand. My mother thought I should learn practical skills to ensure I always had a job. It was the 1960s you see. You should see me whirl around on this keyboard!
  5. I’ve been told that I speak French with an Irish accent. My French teachers were Irish nuns.
  6. I trained to be an actor in swinging London during the late 1960s. It really was a groovy place, baby!
  7. I learned to love cricket aged 3 or 4 at the knee of my great aunt and in front of an old upright radio.
  8. Our family history claims an ancient ancestor of mine was a knight of England’s Black Prince. His name was Sir John Hall and he lived in the 14th century. Wish you could time travel.

And somehow all of this is connected, somehow.

And now I get to tag 7 other amazingly diverse and fascinating individuals … and we’re all connected, somehow

Laura Whitehead

Julie Roads

Colin Warren

Kabren Levinson

Katherine Lyall-Watson

Elizabeth Lloyd

Anika Malone

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