Some Thoughts on Blogging: Original Content, Linking, Engaging

I like teaching people about blogging. Right now I have nearly 100 students who are learning to blog, with varying enthusiasm and success. Teaching blogging makes me realize that this mode of expression which comes naturally to me is not that easy to master. Here are a couple of the main hurdles I’ve noticed for the student-blogger:

  • Original content. It seems obvious that a blog will contain original content, but in the age of Tumblr (I love Tumblr) and Facebook (I love Facebook) and Twitter (I love Twitter) it seems there is a bias towards republishing rather than creating. One of the things that make a blog a blog is the fact that the blogger has taken the trouble to think and try and communicate ideas or experiences or emotions to their reader, in the written form. Some early attempts at blogging resemble Facebook walls.
  • Links. Writing in hypertext is not easy. A blog is not an island. A blog is connected to many other pages on the web, be they blog articles or not. It’s caught in the web. It’s part of the web. A blog which never links elsewhere? Might be a journal or a memoir, but it’s missing out on something. What do I link to? When? Which words do I place my links on? The art of linking is full of subtleties.
  • Engaging. Blogging is about writing, but also about reading and responding. Links ensure that a blog doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The parallel human activity is responding to comments, reading other bloggers, linking to them socially, and actually engaging with content found elsewhere. Some will say “comment on other people’s articles”, but that is not the whole story. Leaving a superficial comment is not it. Trying to understand the other, daring to challenge and disagree (respectfully), push thoughts further and drag others out of their comfort zone: there is something philosophical about the practice of blogging.

Some things are relatively easily taught: how to hit publish; how to write in an informal voice; how to dare being subjective. But how do you teach engagement? How do you teach debate? I know the Anglo-Saxon (at least American) school curriculum includes debating. Switzerland, sadly, doesn’t — and we tend to shy away from it, or end up in “dialogues de sourds” with two polarised camps each trying to convert the other.

2nd Back to Blogging Challenge, day 7. On the team: Nathalie Hamidi(@nathaliehamidi), Evren Kiefer (@evrenk), Claude Vedovini (@cvedovini), Luca Palli (@lpalli), Fleur Marty (@flaoua), Xavier Borderie (@xibe), Rémy Bigot (@remybigot),Jean-François Genoud (@jfgpro), Sally O’Brien (@swissingaround), Marie-Aude Koiransky (@mezgarne), Anne Pastori Zumbach (@anna_zap), Martin Röll (@martinroell), Gabriela Avram (@gabig58), Manuel Schmalstieg (@16kbit), Jan Van Mol (@janvanmol), Gaëtan Fragnière (@gaetanfragniere), Jean-François Jobin (@gieff). Hashtag:#back2blog.

David Weinberger and Andrew Keen

*Random, scattered notes. Not necessarily understandable. Might contain outright mistakes — I don’t always understand everything. No who-said-what either, sorry.*

#### David Weinberger

Supernova Second Day 29

1993: Too much information. Solution: more information. This has always been the problem of the web: too much info out there. Why aren’t we drowning?

First order: ?

Second order: physically separate. *steph-note: great slide with photos of cars demonstrating that we can’t put two physical things at the same place*

We like taxonomic trees: everything in one place and the right place. Sorting clothes in a pile. Animal kingdom tree.

We have absorbed the limitations of the physical and applied it to the world of ideas. Terrible limitation!

We take the leaves of the trees.

1. leaf of many branches (put one thing in many categories)
2. messiness as a virtue
3. no difference between data and metadata (everything is online — “I remember a bit of the content” => you can find the thing, and all the metadata. Everything becomes metadata.)
4. Owners of the information do not own the organisation of that information. We have invented techniques to allow us to find stuff. The web is not flat, it’s lumpy.

1. We are used to favoring simplicity because that’s how you get the message out. (cf. politics *steph-note: slide of Bush*) Blog posts commenting on Bush’s speech made it more complex, commenting on little aspects of it.
2. Experts. Publicly negotiated knowledge. Wikipedia. Usually Wikipedia is better than what we get from any one individual. No matter how much of an expert Howard is, the mailing-list is smarter than him. Kids using social tools to do homework. Doing homework socially.
3. Understanding. What we do on the web is understand what we know. We have a huge pile of stuff we enrich with metadata (tags!!) We’re creating links between things. We’re building the real semantic web!

Infrastructure of meaning. It’s **ours**.

#### Andrew Keen

Supernova Second Day 34

This is supposed to be a debate about the value of authority in a connected year. Troubled by the idea that authority has value.

Power being defined as religious, charismatic, expertise

Are all these changes a good thing? Are they a threat to what we truly value?

What he values: he’s a modernist. Believes in the nation-state, mass-society. It’s good. Radically new access to culture, education. Mass education, mass media, mass literacy — good thing.

Where is this world going? In spite of digital utopians’ hopes (genuine hopes, they believe what they say!) *steph-note: sentences too long, can’t keep track* concerned about what we’re losing in the withering of mass-everything, bigger divisions between the rich and the poor.

More scarcity of education in this digital world. We’re doing away with the access to education for the masses by taking down the gate-keepers.

Hierarchies: digital revolution is creating profound new hierarchies. Dramatic contrasts in terms of wealth and poverty.

Fragmentation of mass society: we’re seeing complex boundaries of the middle ages reappear. *steph-note: to me, he seems to be saying lots of things that ring well with people’s fears, but for me it’s disconnected from reality. “it’s making access to education more difficult” — how? where? when?*

#### Debate

Supernova Second Day 37

*steph-note: DW asks a question, don’t have the feeling AK is answering — asking another question. Noticing I have lots of trouble following conversations. DW engaging more than AK who tends to just ask questions back at DW’s questions.*

*steph-note: AK now answering questions, but I’m still crap at taking notes in this kind of situation. I still think he’s somewhat hindering the conversation by going on tangents and flying out in abstractions with no examples. Sweeping generalisations and references to how we’re going back to medieval times.*

AK: people need authorities and experts.

DW: the web is more of everything — the good, and the bad.

Tom: there is actually very little authority in the world which is derived from expertist.

AK: the media system is relatively meritocratic regarding to society *steph-note: couldn’t disagree more, and the audience visibly doesn’t agree either*

**Update, July 25, 2007:** [Full Text: Keen vs. Weinberger](http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118460229729267677.html)

Arrived in the UK

Just a note to say I’m safe and sound in the UK. I’m going through the latest on [LeWeb3](http://technorati.com/search/leweb3) and I’m really glad to see the mob has somewhat calmed down and I’m starting to see some very constructive posts popping up. I’m sticking stuff [in del.icio.us](http://del.icio.us/steph/leweb3) as fast as [Flock can synchronize my favorites](http://steph.wordpress.com/2006/12/13/when-does-flock-synchronize-my-favorites/).

I’ll write more on my views about the whole mess in the coming days. For the moment I’m recovering from too many weeks of madness.