Unsociable playground spats

When I was a primary (elementary) school teacher, one of the jobs I hated most was playground duty.  It meant losing your precious lunch or break ‘downtime’ to wander an always hot and dusty playground, often trailed by kids who liked nothing more than to tell tales on one another.  You had to keep an eye out for a little knot of kids; it almost always signalled a gathering over a new toy being proudly shown off, or just a game being played or a meeting amongst a gang of friends. It could also – and on rare occasions I’m glad to say – be one of those horrible physical kid fights – punching, rolling on the ground, always followed by tears and recriminations. You had to intervene, sort it out, dust them down and send them on their way with stern admonitions. It was also a lesson for me in reading the body language of everyone involved, even the onlookers, who were mostly shocked, teary and very very partisan – everyone had an opinion to accompany the pointing finger,  “S/he started it, miss.” Ah, the days in the old schoolyard!

Sometimes things get a bit rough and tumble in social networks too, and emoticons notwithstanding – you know these 🙂 🙁  – you can’t read the body language of the respondents, so it can be difficult to know who are the trolls or trouble-makers, and who just don’t have the social or linguistic skills needed to put a case.  Last night on Friendfeed – normally a fairly safe haven for robust discussion – a brainstorm session which I’d responded to was ‘interrupted’ shall we say by someone who was trying to put a counter argument. The big kids in the playground didn’t care for his contribution, and so he was ‘blocked’ – bye bye troll.   At this point I left the group and wandered on, glad I wasn’t on playground duty any more, but disappointed at the outcome of the discussion.  Shame though that some big kids still haven’t learned how to play nicely.

Social media: covering an event

Yesterday or today (depending on your time-zone) is the second World Wide Photo Walk Day, the brainchild of photographer Scott Kelby. You can read all about it at the homesite for the event. Some of us signed up for a walk through our city Toowoomba in south-east Queensland, Australia. What really appealed to me was the idea of a whole lot of people taking photographs of a chosen location on the one day – the coverage, the coverage! Of course, there’s the social aspect of such an event, and the chance to get out into the crisp, winter air and hunt out locations that you rarely see as you whizz around in your busy life. We chose to shoot the back lanes and rarely seen corners of the city. What also appealed to me was the opportunity to cover the event using social media. Here’s how I tackled it. Continue reading “Social media: covering an event”

Friendfeed: a ticket to ride – but where?

Well, the pussycat’s among the pigeons as of this morning with news that Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. The interwebs are aflutter. What will it mean? Has the jock got the good-girl (as Louis Gray wittily notes)? What will it mean for us dedicated Friendfeeders? Only time will tell. Let’s hope the feel of Friendfeed with its access to the Twitter stream doesn’t get swamped by the Facebook nutty stuff – oh, and ads! I for one will be delighted if it makes access to each other easier for my two communities. Right now they are in two separate places.

The longer you socialise online – and an awful lot of us do – the more familiar you become with the online ‘neighbourhoods’ you inhabit.  I visit a lot of these neighbourhoods or social networking sites and services.  I like to stay in touch and keep up to date with them all but, like most commuters, I don’t like the travelling I have to do to get from one neighbourhood to another.  Jumping from website to website to visit yours and your friends’ Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube sites, switching from Face Book to Vimeo to leave comments, or clicking through your Tumblr site, your blog (or blogs),  your Delicious account, checking what’s what in the latest feed subscriptions via Google Reader, or Digg, or Stumbling upon interesting sites – all gets pretty tiresome after awhile.  Have a look over there in the sidebar,  and you’ll see a Friend Feed widget with some of the stops on my own social network neighbourhood line.

After commuting between up to a dozen of these neighbourhoods it became pretty clear that I needed an application to serve as a hub or aggregator – something that would pull my various neighbourhoods together and get my friends, contacts, subscribers, followers – call them what you will – in a place where we could talk and share our ‘stuff’ in a real-time stream like Twitter’s,  but without the disconnectedness of the disembodied one-liner that is typical of a tweet.  Then along came Friend Feed, and it didn’t take much to get me signed up and experimenting.  However, and despite its potential, I found that I wasn’t really putting Friend Feed to work for me. I’d been over in the Twitter crowd more often than not, and suddenly, Friend Feed was just another stop on the line.

A quick segué about Twitter – although there’s probably not much more to say; it continues to grow at an astonishing rate – at least millions have signed up for the service, and millions are following millions more; there’s the viral part. If you’re on Twitter, then you’ll also know that the conversation (if not the activity) is very limited – to 140 characters in fact – but with links to image sites and embedded URLs that take you out and beyond the constantly streaming chatter – no bad thing some would say. The ebb and flow of Twitter conversation – and increasingly not two-way-or-more real conversation – was getting on my nerves. Too many followers who never contact, a lot of chatter which didn’t interest me, more hopping across to other sites. I began to notice that when I did visit, the conversations on Friend Feed and the embedded content were qualitatively and, because you are not character delimited, quantitatively different from Twitter’s. For me, this provided a better socialising experience. Here are a few reasons why.

I love Friend Feed’s customising tools – its ability to pull in the latest posts to (so far) 58 other social networking services.  There’s also a handy bookmartlet that can send a website link with image and a comment to your Friend Feed.  With image and a brief description, there need be no more disembodied hotlinks for friends to puzzle over.  You can also push out your Friend Feed posts, so if tweeting is your thing you can cross-post to Twitter from within Friend Feed.  If you haven’t customised your Friend Feed messages to post to Twitter by default, all it takes is a tick of the CC button beneath a Friend Feed posting pane.  I also like that it can determine which of your friends currently using other sites like Twitter or Facebook , GMail and Yahoo Mail are also signed up to Friend Feed. Click a button on the Friend Feed sign-up page to find out who they are. From there you can bulk ‘subscribe.’  They’ll get an email from Friend Feed, and can choose to follow back – or not. Of course, like any other social networking app, Friend Feed is only going to work if there are enough ‘others’ to get conversation flowing. And this is part of the problem; if your current friends/subscribers or followers aren’t using Friend Feed, then it isn’t going to work for you – remember the network part?  You can always find new ones – say friends of friends you already have on Friend Feed.  You’ll be able to see when someone (not your friend) has liked or commented on a message from someone else (already a friend of yours).  If you think they might be interesting or useful or fun to have as part of your network, you can click on their name, get some more info and subscribe to them – and so the networking ride continues.

I also like Friend Feed’s ability to organise my friends into lists so that, if I choose, I can follow their postings apart from the main or Home feed.  I’ve got lists based on topic feeds, timezones and general interests: theatre folk; social networkers; and one random list called ‘wits and philosophers’ – I’ll let you work out why.  I know my American friends have been working while I sleep, so one of the first lists I open over my morning coffee is theirs. When they’re asleep, the Australian lists come into their own.

Friend Feed also has a feature called Groups, which are a bit like rooms on other services. Groups can be organised around niche topics or subjects; Friend Feed lets you search for people or topics, so you could create a group based on a search. Join a pre-existing one – again do a search to find an area of interest – or create your own.  If you create a Group you can make it Public or Private, and invite people to join.  If it’s Public, anyone can see it, join, and post material.

As I mentioned at the outset, I’m a fan of Friend Feed’s ability to push out and pull in material from my other social network neighbourhoods. Now I get to choose what appears where, and who gets to see it  … so I don’t, for example, send all of my Friend Feed activity to Twitter, or bombard the Friend Feed Home with content perhaps better appreciated in one of my Groups.  Indeed, the flooding of the Friend Feed Home stream with what some consider unnecessary ‘junk’ (aka certain tweets) is a current bone of contention amongst some in the community.  However, it seems to me that the main issue is that not everyone, and even those signed up for Friend Feed (like me), has worked out how to use it to leverage its considerable potential. Friend Feed is a wee bit more complex than Twitter or Face Book.

In my next post I’ll talk about how a minor flame war on Friend Feed got me thinking about whether or not I was using the application to its best advantage, and how a subsequent experiment changed the way I now use my social networking apps.

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I’m on the road again …

I like reviewing the gear I take with me when I hit the road on trips. Hands up if you always take more than you need. Yes, me too. Before I took off for the US in January this year I posted on my favourite e-tools for the trip. Here’s an extract

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.

I do miss not having a video camera in the G4 but that’s about all it doesn’t give me. I was tempted to take my son’s old MacBook, but the size-weight thing really does matter when you’re travelling, so I’ll be putting the G4 through the airport scanner yet again.

The Creative VADO-HD mini camera is working a treat. It will provide my moving images which I’ll more than likely put on my Vimeo page. That way they ‘flow’ out via my Friend Feed and Twitter account for access. I’m doing the 31 Days to a Better Blog Challenge so I need to have daily access to the net. I’ve also planned a photo essay which will find itself on my Flickr account – again on a daily basis as a visual diary of the trip.

Where am I going? Singapore for a week. The internet access and speeds there are legendary, so I’m hoping for an easy ride.

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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 Twitter is invigorating my blogging


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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