Hello, my name is Dramagirl, and I’m a webaholic …

Several of my latest posts here have focused on the flood of social networking sites I’ve been attracted to during the past few months. In fact, an entire theme has developed with these often apologetic posts. I’ve been a bit whiny really, using the sad excuse that such play aka experimentation is all grist to the mill of future posts.  Well that’s not going to cut it for much longer I can tell, and besides I and the blogosphere have changed for good.

For a start, the applications and services just keep coming. Oh yes, I could duck for cover or simply ignore the chatter about this or that new service that floats by, but it’s proving extremely difficult. You see the playing has brought new friends whose own interests lie in the social networking sphere, and so the chatter tends to orbit around this activity, if not entirely exclusively. Yes, blogging is not the same … at least it’s diversified beyond what I’d imagined when I began blogging 3-4 years back, and it’s all because of the technology.

This time last year I was recovering after the August 31 Day Blog Challenge. It was brutal folks! Yes, I survived along with other hardy bloggers determined to ‘get it right.’ There the focus was all on good (traditional) blogging: thoughtfully crafted posts, collegial commenting, shared tips on time management and sound GTD principles. During the month anxieties emerged from time to time … how long should a good blog post be, apologies for poor spelling, syntax and so on.

I also took part in a Comment Challenge in April this year. As you can tell from the title, it was about learning more about the art and craft of blog commenting, and sharing the conversation around.  Such a challenge is now showing its conceptual age, at least in terms of how ‘big’ bloggers and micro bloggers are commenting on one another’s ideas. Now it’s about short and fast, but hopefully not superficial responses. Posts and comments from services like Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, Tumblr and Jaiku sent from desktop, laptop or mobile phones now appear on aggregated sites like the mighty FriendFeed, where I daresay they are far more visible and engaging of diverse opinion and comment than here on the humble but still unbowed traditional blog post. And of course you can link your blogs to FriendFeed as well;  a cross-link to this post will appear on my FriendFeed site as soon as I hit the publish button here on Word Press.

But when it comes to speed of uptake, indeed turnaround in attitude towards traditional blog writing, what about Seesmic eh?  As you might be aware if you’ve come here before, Seesmic is the video conversation tool which has really engaged me for the past 6 months or so. There appears now … out there … to be a complete turn around in attitude towards what’s called video blogging or vlogging …ugh!.

Now, when I installed Seesmic video commenting capability here back in April and encouraged visitors to leave a video comment, I was at first disappointed at the lack of uptake, especially during a Commenting Challenge.  I got the distinct impression that most bloggers were not keen to do ‘barefaced’ commenting … indeed many declared it wouldn’t last and for all sorts of reasons, none of which frankly convinced me much. It set me thinking and has provided food for much thought and conversation. Now what has happened to the hive attitude inside 6 months … well, try Googling ‘popularity of video blogging’ and see what you get! Not the put-downs and pooh-poohs of 6 months back, but what comes close to a ‘told you so’ attitude. Well, told you so! And then yesterday, a new video commenting app called 12 Seconds was released out of invitation-only into public testing. This is video blogging or commenting on speed. Yes, 12 seconds is all you get to make your video comment. It’s kin to Twitter and its 140 characters. This is opening up conversation and comment to experimentation. I for one, am delighted to puddle around and see where this leads us.

Friday Factoid

Science Daily tells us that researchers now have a new gene pool of subjects to gather data from and to experiment with …  internet junkies. Apparently that’s about 10% of us. Oh well.

‘Hello my name is Dramagirl, and I’m a webaholic.’

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Commenting: challenges of another sort

It’s been a busy couple of days for me. Ignoring the beautiful weather outside, I’ve been engaged in video conversations with the Seesmic community.  My previous post outlined some of the challenges I faced at the outset.

I’ve been interested to see how others on Seesmic deal with video commenting. The style is eclectic; some are better on camera than others. Some of the conversations are light banter and chatter … a bit like real-life conversation. And then a post will come along that gets everyone going, and this is within seconds!

Cathy Brooks on Seesmic began a thread a couple of days back which simply asked ‘How will video conversation change the way you comment?’ I came in late with my 2c worth, and thought this was too good not to share with you. So below (and also on Cathy’s blog and using the new Seesmic embeddable thread player) you can read what has been said so far. At the time of posting, mine was the final comment in the thread.

Without in any way gazumping the commenters, and no you probably couldn’t anyway … the expression and nuance are the meaning in many if not all posts … here were some of the issues raised:

  • comment anxiety
  • authenticity and commenting
  • personal appearance
  • difference between writing and speaking
  • the implications of viral commenting
  • the courage to be bare-faced about it all

Sound familiar? Some of these emerged during the conversation recently in the 31 Day Comment Challenge.

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More commenting possibilities …

Comment systems are the latest webb apps to intrigue me, but boy are they volatile.  I had pretty much decided to let go of CoComment and throw in my lot with Disqus both regular, traditional comment systems … you know, the kind where you use words and write sentences?  At the same time I was lamenting the fact that old WordPress comments won’t show up in Disqus.

I’d been experimenting with Seesmic, the video commenting system during the recent 31 Day Comment Challenge, but found the jury to be out on using video comments; most prefer to comment and to ‘read’ written comments. Undaunted I persisted, but suddenly and for about a week, Seesmic (which had become a secret favourite of mine) wouldn’t record comments;  I was saddened as you are when a friend inexplicably stops calling you … but mostly I was frustrated. And then, somehow, somewhere the Seesmic gods took pity on me, and it all started working again.  Aha.

Within a day or so what should happen but along came the integration first of Disqus and then CoComment with Seesmic.  Okaaay …. moving right along. But wait, there’s more. I woke this morning to find that a new Seesmic embeddable player in blogposts enables threaded comments.  This is a bit of a big deal I reckon.

Have a lookie below. This blogpost is embedded using the new Seesmic player. I recorded it at the Seesmic site and pasted in the code here. The neat thing is that once people start commenting back (either here or at Seesmic) their comments show up. Just mouse over the pane and you’ll see them appear in a time-line. You can reply directly to the commenters or add your own thoughts by hitting the reply button. Your comment will then get added!

If you follow the conversation, and it does feel like a conversation, you’ll see that people helped me out with some of the problems I was having. We also talked about walking a dog, interior decoration, the potential video commenting systems hold for retirees and other ‘shut-ins,’ as well as hats! I’ve also met some new human beings.

Is this a step forward? I think so. And yes, I do feel as though I’m running on a treadmill, but I love the sensation.

Reflections on a month …

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson).

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly at the end now, and days 29-31 have been about wrapping up the 31 Day Comment Challenge. The final 3 days focus on the learnings: to prepare a commenting guide for students, to consider how learnings from this commenting project could change one’s teaching practices, and finally … to reflect on what we’ve learned from the challenge.

I have to say that the task of preparing a commenting guide for students is more difficult than I’d imagined. I know that students do know how to comment, can comment if they want to, or if the encouragement to do so … the incentive is sufficiently meaningful, and if the atmosphere is conducive to discussion. The challenge is to make the horses drink once you’ve brought them to the water.

Now I teach in the world of the performing arts where expressive, imaginative commenting out loud is almost a given; most of these students have the confidence to contribute their opinions in a lively and engaging way. I also teach non-performance majors in arts history courses. Encouraging these students to contribute in live tutorial sessions often proves difficult … especially if the class is shared with a group of voluble actors or musicians. The challenge with a live class is to generate a good discussion, to enable commenting from everyone who wishes to contribute … not all do of course … and not let one or two dominate the session. Useful to remember though that it’s OK to lurk … you can learn this way too.

Now when it comes to interacting online, I remain convinced that for most students, their insecurity about technology, lack of access or poor net connection, along with anxiety about the concreteness of words really do prevent the kind of free-flowing discussion that we like to encourage. Further inhibitions could come from the fact that you can’t read body-language in words on a screen, and can’t see a face or hear vocal tone … think how the simple upward inflection at the end of a statement actually encourages further comment. And that’s not the same as a question mark on the screen.

Yesterday I had a scheduled tutorial session which followed on the previous day’s lecture. It was a cold day and the class was sluggish as they entered the room. I wondered whether creating a playful but purposeful environment mightn’t warm them up. So I applied the kind of approach more often found in a rehearsal room. I asked a student (an acting major) whether she could run the discussion as tutor for the day … to be provocative, outspoken if necessary, and to encourage comment. She went immediately into role as ‘lecturer’ and it worked far better than I’d hoped. Students relaxed … I felt the fear factor diminished … I wasn’t out front for a start … and the discussion rolled along even amongst the quieter contributors. This strategy worked ‘live’ but I wondered whether throwing responsibility to one of the group mightn’t work in the same way in stimulating online discussion. Variety as the spice and all.

What else have I learned from the challenge to change or value-add to my teaching practices? The tension between the ideal and reality in the use of online digital media has surfaced on an almost-daily basis in comments. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise the potential of e-learning, but like many I am frustrated by the slow uptake and even resistance to it … from colleagues as well as students. I realise the necessity to tread softly but persistently and judiciously as I model and mentor learning in this 21st century medium. And to be patient.

5 Learnings

  1. I’ve learned more about what I’ve been calling the commenting fear factor. It appears that we are still sufficiently anxious to be wary of putting our opinions out there. As a result, we’re perhaps less likely to comment than we should; a bad experience via a comment has the potential to do a lot of damage. And … people are less secure about commenting via video (technology, personal vulnerability) than they are about commenting per se. Will video and audio commenting develop? Yes.
  2. I’ve been reminded of the power of one comment to revive a flagging spirit. Someone out there is reading or watching, or listening, and thought enough of what was said to take the time to engage.
  3. What I’ve experienced has been the reinforcement of one of the greatest strengths we have as teacher-learners, and that is our capacity to generate and nurture a community of practice … whether online as in this project, or live and face to face. This lessons of this challenge have reinforced for me the necessity of collegial support amongst educators … by encouraging and supporting a colleague next door or down the hall; by engaging in a discussion in the lunch room, or by posting a video or written comment in a blog from a colleague half a world away. What matters is that we keep talking, sharing, and valuing contributions.
  4. I’ve been reminded of the power a well-designed tool has to encourage or turn off a learner. I don’t like design that’s flaky or loud with ads … sorry CoComment, it just didn’t do it for me! And I’m not convinced yet by Snapvine (audio). Seesmic is here to stay.
  5. I work better in my busy life in short, focussed or intensive bursts of work. For this reason, I would like shorter challenges … say a 5 or 10 day rather than a whole 31 days of tasks.

What will stay with me from this experience? Posts from a few new blog discoveries will continue to arrive in my feed reader. I’ve met up with and traded ideas with some wonderful thinkers, writers, and creative souls during the past month, and I’d like to continue this engagement.  I’ve received so much valuable, direct and indirect feedback, support and advice on my writing and on the tone and substance of my comments. My thanks to all of you. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Hello June … and welcome winter to the southern hemisphere.

Branding and Theme

This is piggy-backing a little on branding, one of the ancillary threads running through the 31 Day Comment Challenge.

I’m wondering what role you think your blog’s theme plays in the matter of branding you and your blog? Why did you choose the theme you are using right now? Was it because it fits your brand or the tone of your niche?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Day 28: A blog comment strategy

Each line is drawn between two nodes, representing two IP addresses. This is a small look at the backbone of the Internet.

Image via Wikipedia

Do I have a blog comment strategy to build readership such as Caroline Middlebrook has? In a word, no. Maybe I should … but then again … . Caroline has some great strategies via commenting to build RSS subscriptions and to promote her business, and I think anyone seeking to develop an online business would benefit from her post Do You Have a Blog Comment Strategy?

Whilst I can understand why an entrepreneurial blogger who is building an internet-marketing business needs to be focussed on building a reading public and a profile/brand, this is not (for now) for me. I guess you could call me an ‘amateur’ rather than a ‘professional’ blogger.

In terms of building or encouraging readership and conversation, what I have learned from the comment challenge is the importance of spreading the net a little wider on a more regular basis, and to establish conversation (aka comment) with other bloggers in the niche.

I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t feel a pang if my subscriber numbers drop, because of course I like to see those little graph lines heading upwards on a regular basis. However numbers and business-focussed branding aren’t the be-all and end all for me. For me, commenting is the end not the means, and I’d much rather quality conversation than quantity.