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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Now we are 2

Spider on a wet morning
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

December 11th marked Spinning a Learning Web‘s second birthday.  I’d used blogs before I created this one, but they were learning tools and marketing devices to publicise an event that I was working on … as such, they were time-limited and topic-focussed. What I found I wanted was something more personal – a blog that would develop along with my own life’s adventures. I guess I was looking for a digital diary that I could experiment with.

This is what I wrote on the day Spinning a Learning Web first drew breath:

This is a blog I have been promising myself for a while. A blog where I can simply chart the happenings of each day, the curiosities that emerge, the lovely things and the sad, the intriguing and the rolling pattern of the seasons of my life. The blogs I keep apart from this one are more like casebook entries in work projects. I needed somewhere else, as in a trusty old journal, where I could keep thoughts along with images and links. This is the first entry of what I hope I can keep for at least a year. We’ll see. Creative Stirrings, Dec 2007

Spinning … has gone beyond the one-year life span I set myself at the outset. Whilst it is not my sole blog, it remains my eldest and therefore, special in its own way. It’s had a couple of lives, first as a hosted blog, then a self-hosted grown-up, publication … ooh how tense it was changing over to the world of php files and CSS stuff. It’s also had a couple of face-washes as far as themes go. We moved from Cutline by the terrific web designer Chris Pearson to his lovely Thesis which is the current look. Widgets and plugins have come and gone, and we’ve upgraded WordPress more times than we can recall. We survived these changes of course, thanks in part to the kind of support I’ve received from my terrific web-hosting service (A2) and friends made along the way. All part of the adventure of course.

But what of the content in the two years since I began? Whilst I’ve remained true to my wanting to chart the happenings of each day, the curiosities that emerge etc etc., I did focus down eventually on e-learning as the ‘chief happening and curiosity’. I had tried to cover a whole lot more for a while, but it became very clear that the resulting sprawling, amorphous grab bag was neither compelling  for me nor anyone else who happened along. I wanted conversation, so I had to find a topic to talk about. My natural curiosity led me to write about what I was working with … the web itself and its potential in learning and teaching in higher education. There was the whole business of blogging itself … how it was the same as or different from other forms of writing. And then there was my interest in the aesthetics and workability of good design, and my continuing affair with Apple Macintosh. These threads managed to spin themselves into the blog I keep today.

And I guess that is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in a year. Find what you want to write about, focus on it, resist the urge to bloat, and work on establishing a readership. It takes time. I’m always wary about the ‘Get 1000 subscribers in a week’ promises of some blogs; they seem suspiciously like get rich quick schemes. I don’t want or need 1,000 subscribers with this blog. As with Twitter, I like to keep my ‘follows’ manageable, and to have a meaningful relationship with them. It’s not a business but an avocation. That will do me for now.

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Interaction, Conversation, and Reflection

Showing various components of ecosystem and th...Image via Wikipedia

Yes it’s been ages; my regular posting pattern has disappeared, and visits have dropped away. Those readers loyal enough to stay with me would have read between the lines of my last post some 3 weeks ago. It was a guilt-trip that I laid on myself for exploring a slew of social networking platforms and services, and playing long and hard at them. I’d neglected my ‘first-born’ … this blog … even though my productivity has been way up. If the truth be known, I had nothing much to say here until now. I’ve been saying it all elsewhere, and along the way continuing mulling over other ways and means of communicating using the various platforms I’ve discovered: especially Seesmic and Friendfeed. I’ve enjoyed the new communities I’ve wandered into, and the ways of interacting with them. I’ve found an amazingly diverse and technologically rich ecosystem along the way. I’m excited by the potential we now have to gather, shape and share our words, sounds and images in so many variations … to communicate, learn, and to create … together.

The backstory to all this is that I’ve also changed the pattern of my life with its rhythms and demands. I took a month off recently not only for a holiday but also to sever myself physically and metaphysically from a lifestyle dominated by full-time work as an academic. Now I can choose what I do and how and when I do it. Yes dear reader, we are speaking about what’s called ‘retirement from the workforce.’ You could say I am in transition, and loving it. So this was another thing I had to say … things have changed for me as has the way I now think about myself and what I do.

And what has this to do with blogging? Well lots as it turns out. What will I write about here? Spinning’s by-line has been ‘one academic’s adventures in e-learning with a Mac.’ I’m not a professor any more, but that doesn’t mean I’ll lose my adventurous spirit, curiosity and love for learning, or penchant for things Mac. So I will continue under a new by-line … you had noticed it above hadn’t you? You can expect to see some structural changes around the site, but they’ll sneak in and out until I can get the shape right; I’ll write about them too … it’s nice having more time to spend on such things.  I’ll also be talking more about e-learning and digital communication outside formal education systems. I would love to hear from you as always … .

And yes, they always say you’re never busier than when you retire. It’s true.

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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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Web 2.0 Wednesday #1

Google Toolbox Opened

Originally uploaded by shimsand

I was searching this morning for an image of a toolbox or a playbox to sum up how I think about Web 2.0. I found this one on one of my favourite Web 2.0 sites Flickr and via a Creative Commons search. The toolbox is branded Google, but of course Google is one part of the whole Web 2.0 world. I think you’ll get the idea.

Web 2.0 is a great big toolbox of opportunity. It’s important that we try out the tools, find the one that works for us, and share it with others. And enjoy along the way!

Check out how others feel about Web 2.0 on the Bamboo Project blog.

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Serendiptious thinking and a new endeavour

Michele Martin and Tony Karrer are two writers I enjoy. Their individual contributions to the sphere of workplace learning come together in their new endeavour WorkLiteracy. Check it out and engage if you can.

One thing I’ve come to believe in the past 6 months or so is the power of the serendipity of our connection and writing in this field. Michele and I have often been mulling over and writing the same things within the same 24 hours. I read Tony’s entry in his post Personal Value and Change today, a couple of hours after I’d written much the same thing in a comment here.

Here’s Tony:

At one point, I was much more positive about the prospects for adoption of web 2.0 tools and cited the technology adoption model:

Adoption Rate = Perceived Usefulness (PU) * Perceive Ease of Use (PEOU)

And with how easy these new tools are, the PEOU is going to be high. So, it will come down to their Perceived Usefulness (PU). So …

It’s first and foremost about personal value.

There’s also a factor of the individuals feelings about their capabilities related to the system.

And here’s mine … much shorter but eerily similar:

‘Ownership’ is a great term. I think when we claim to own something, it’s because we see value in it, and because that value has meaning of some kind to us.

I’ve found that if a student/colleague finds value in one of these tools then they will attempt to claim it and own it for their own use.

Good luck Michele and Tony. Work Literacy looks like a great enterprise.

Love this web thing.

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