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June 29, 2004

Safari, Sagoodie

I've seen this announcement in a couple of different places (and confirmed it): it seems that the next iteration of Safari will come with an RSS aggregator. This is both welcome and important. Why? Here's Doc Searls (whose feed was I think the first place I heard it):

It isn't just RSS that's getting huge. It's that more people are getting their Web services without the complicating container we call a browser. What we're stating to see is another Web, alongside the static one we browse like the aisles in a store, or the stacks in a library, looking for finished goods to read or buy. This other Web isn't served up the same way as the one we've been browsing for the last eight years. We see it in a news aggregator, or a blog, or a message on a phone, or a search through an engine that only looks for fresh goods. Yes, you can see it in a browser too, but it's different in kind from the static stuff. Most importantly, it's live.

As someone whose reading habits have shifted quite a bit from browser to aggregator, I'll testify to this. There are a lot of people for whom the question isn't only "what's out there?" but also "what's new out there?" And this means that all sorts of definitions will have to change in response (like interactivity, as I mentioned a few days back, but also hits, blogrolls, etc.). It's already added a whole new dimension to my own interaction with the web.

June 25, 2004

blog research

Liz has a really nice post over at M2M that is partly a call for more academic research into blogs and partly a state-of-the-art kind of review of the kinds of things that are being done currently or should be done soon.

I've got any number of responses, since this will be one of the core foci of the graduate course I'll be teaching next spring, but I'll try and contain myself a little bit. Heh. One of the crucial points that Liz makes is that there is a limit to the usefulness of conducting research on blogs without spending some time actually keeping one. (yes, those graduate students will...) This was one of the points of her MEA presentation/overview--the problems with studying blogger-as-other. She offers a tentative wishlist of five different research approaches or avenues of inquiry:

  1. study of the form itself
  2. "study of interactions between blogs and blog authors, and the clusters (or communities) that are forming in this context."
  3. ethnographic study of those kinds of clusters
  4. study of style/content
  5. "study of the use of weblogs as tools in specific organizational contexts"

This a solid list, but I'd add a couple of things. Liz says that we need definitional and descriptive work, but I guess I'd add inventional to those terms. As important as it is to find some common ground definitionally, I'd argue that it's equally important to leave that ground open for redefinition and redescription. Smarter folk than I have done the post-mortem on hypertext, but it's always struck me that one of the things that plagued it, over and over, was an obsession with defining it in a particular way. Those definitions built in impossible expectations that were simply never met. Liz talks about finding some "meaningful labels" that we might apply, such as voice, audience, and interactivity, and I think it's useful to describe these kinds of labels as practices rather than as forms.

I think, for example, of Lilia's recent discussion of the Herring et al. piece on genre, where she critiques them for reaching conclusions about blogs (they're not as interactive as touted) when those conclusions are based on an incomplete understanding of the various practices that make blogging interactive. And it's not a matter of simply widening the def'n of interactivity to include trackbacks, or feed subscriptions; as Lilia notes, it's a matter of changing definitions of interactivity. And I'd add, not jumping in to define interactivity too soon--giving it space to develop in various ways.

This clicks with something else that Liz mentioned at MEA, the tendency of blogs to change over time, and we might add bloggers here as well. As new tools emerge, we change our practices, develop new habits, and that will have some effect on what we're doing. As Liz rightly points out, our perceptions of audience change the way we approach writing to them. As do our personal circumstances, the way we budget our time, the level of privacy or transparency we choose, and any number of other factors.

I'm not disagreeing here, believe me. If there's an item that I'd add to the list, it's one that weaves throughout several of her points. I think that the kind of writing that many bloggers do differs quite a bit from the writing traditionally expected of academics. Not a huge claim, that. But it carries with it all sorts of implications: voice, audience, form, style, subject, risk, etc. Shouldn't be too surprising that a rhetoric professor would be interested in this element, no?

A final quick point, and that's that I really think it's important that these kinds of conversations take place amongst or across disciplines. For me, that was one of the real bonus elements of the MEA panel, and it's why I find myself coming back over and over to M2M. Okay. Now I'm just kissing ass. Time to go.

June 23, 2004

fun knee business

"The thirties is the time when the back gives out."

Fortunately, I wasn't stupid enough to post any sort of rejoinder about how my back's doing just fine, and me in my mid-thirties and all. Back in the day, I used to wreck my ankles every couple of weeks playing soccer or tennis (or ultimate frisbee in college), but that was quite a few years (not to mention pounds) ago. Now it's my left knee, and after hoping for two weeks that it would just heal up on its own, I've finally admitted my age to myself, and gone out and gotten a knee brace and a couple of ice pads.

And you know what? My knee feels so damn much better now. I've spent the last day re-learning how to walk without a limp, how to walk up and down stairs leading with alternating legs, etc. And that's after playing softball on it on Monday.

It's almost enough to make me forget my plan to switch over to bionics. Almost.

June 21, 2004


Caught this over at Lilia's, but would have eventually arrived at it myself. Mark Bernstein's got a thoughtful post on how the presence of comments and trackbacks exacerbated and/or enflamed both the recent Six Apart price scheme and the weblogs.com implosion. He writes:

In both cases, a ringing chorus of abuse questioned the motives, the abilities, and even the sanity of the very people who had done the most to create weblogs. In both cases, cooler heads eventually prevailed -- but not, I expect, before lasting damage was done to the relationship between the blogosphere and the very people on whom it most depend.

And, in both cases, it seems to me, the real culprit were comments and trackbacks -- technologies which allowed and encouraged flaming.

On the one hand, I think he's right about this. It's one of the reasons I have a 24-hour rule in the courses I teach. When I turn papers back, I ask students to wait 24 hours before they come to speak with me about the grade that disappoints them. I ask them to collect their thoughts, and to try to make a compelling case for why they see a difference between their perception of an essay's value and my own. Doesn't always work, but it's the same principle at work here. Our initial response to something, particularly when that response is negative, is much more likely to be a "violent reaction." Mark speaks in favor of the time delay involved with fully blogged conversations (as opposed to those taking place in comments):

Weblog comments incite duels. Duels are bad for society. We should all forego comments and return to carefully blogging responses -- including responses we disagree with, but excluding responses we cannot tolerate.

I think there's a flip side to this as well, though, one that Mark doesn't fully account for. When I first saw the 6A price scheme, and considered how it would affect my ability to use MT for courses, I was certainly a little steamed. I found this info pretty early in the cycle, but there were already 30-40 trackbacks at Mena's site, almost all of them outraged and nasty. For me, that had the opposite effect, though. My own post, when I reread it, sounds a little disappointed, but I like to think that my tone is more moderate than it would otherwise have been. In fact, my post proved to be the rough draft for the email that I sent to 6A, which led to a month's worth of correspondence, which in turn played some small role in the much-revised, much-more-friendly educational pricing that they now offer.

And so I guess the flip side is this: just as there are those who like duels, who want to be confrontational, there are those of us who don't, who may pull back from our own extreme reactions when faced with other people who are even more extreme. Occasionally I get a kick out of reading the 100-comment threads on MetaFilter, for instance, but most of the time, I read them knowing that that's not the kind of discussion that really gets my critical juices flowing. Seeing others' reactions often prompts me to question my own, to ask myself if I really want to take a particular tone or if I want to give myself a 24-hour pause before responding.

It's easy for me to minimize the "lasting damage" that Mark cites, I know, because it didn't happen to me, but I'd like to hope that the damage isn't as lasting as Mark suggests. I'd like to think that most of us who were disappointed in 6A have taken the time to go back and look at their revised price scales, which seem pretty fair to me, and I'd like to think that part of the reason that there wasn't as much kerfuffle over the weblogs.com thing was that people listened to Dave Winer's audio explanation of it ahead of time. And I suppose I'd like to think that there's some value in the immediacy of comments, even as I recognize that it fans the flames more often than it should...

Update: and as demonstration of the fact that it's not just comments that produces bad behavior, I submit the following, from the belated CBS coverage of the weblogs.com shutdown:

Still, bloggers who relied on Weblogs.com were furious, saying they should have been warned about the cutoff. Their anger spread to other bloggers, too, including Elisabeth Riba of Melrose, Mass., who called Winer "an egomaniacal blowhard with his head in the clouds. So much for his vision of blogtopia."

I don't know much about Winer, but I do know he's not universally loved. Even so, all I can say is wow. And that from someone, the story implies, who wasn't herself affected by the shutdown.

Preserve, Archive, Disseminate

The only other session I caught at MEA last week was one of the plenaries, about the future of digital literature. Marjorie Luesebrink gave a brief talk as part of the plenary, and in it, she mentioned the efforts of the Electronic Literature Organization's PAD project.

Their first manifesto is now available, called Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature, and it was written by Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Among their recommendations are writing for open systems instead of closed ones, working cross-system as best as possible, using valid code, etc. It's certainly worth a gander if you're involved with new media in any way. As Marjorie mentioned during her talk, we've already reached a point where some early examples of e-literature are becoming more and more difficult to view, due to proprietary systems, software/hardware versions, etc.

June 18, 2004


I'm going to slide off on a tangent here. For me, the questions raised about blogs & communities and/or email v. RSS have gotten me to thinking about push & pull. And that, in turn, has connected for me with the discussion about citation that Alex, Seb, and David Brake have been holding.

When I think about push & pull, one of the first places that my brain travels to is this little section from Steven Johnson's first book, Interface Culture. Among a number of (I think) unappreciated ideas in that book, there's a spot where Steven tries to redescribe links as stylistic devices, using the example of Suck:

Suck's great rhetorical sleight of hand was this: whereas every other Web site conceived hypertext as a way of augmenting the reader experience, Suck saw it as an opportunity to withhold information, to keep the reader at bay (132).

Johnson labels the normal way of web linking (the click for additional info) as centrifugal, pushing readers to other sites, or other pages within the site. The links on Suck, on the other hand, encouraged readers to go to other pages but to return--other pages were used as a means of adding various dimensions to the page you happened to be reading. Compare this idea (of directional, or centripetal/centrifugal linking) with a lot of the other early hypertext theories and you'll find that for most writers, links are immaterial conduits. (There are some smart exceptions to this, of course.)

Okay. What does this have to do with importing academic citation index models into the blogosphere? Academic citation does a little bit of both push and pull. On the one hand, I select certain scholars and integrate their work into my own as a means of building my credibility, locating my work within a particular tradition, name-dropping, whatever. I pull their work into my own. But I also push my readers to these scholars--if I find them valuable enough to cite, then a reader who finds my work compelling may trace out my bibliographic network and read these other writers. Duh. Obvious enough.

Print bibliographies, however, blur these two different directions and various functions. In fact, they blur a lot of stuff. I've always thought it would be interesting to try and weight bibliographic entries according to how central they are to a given book, maybe just by messing with the alpha channel so that parenthetical mentions or footnotes are light grey while crucial texts get bold faced. But that's neither here nor there. For all of the imperfection of your run-of-the-mill bibliography, these different motives for citation all legitimately feed into the purpose of a citation index (unless they encounter widescale gaming, I suppose).

One of the wrenches that gets thrown into the mix with weblogs, though, is the fact that there is no generic "link." The links that I'm building into this entry are different from the links to the right in my blogroll, and those are different from the links when I visit Bloglines. Right now, I'm pushpulling with citation links, but I think of the blogroll as centrifugal and of Bloglines as centripetal. And that's to say nothing of comments or trackbacks. An "accurate" citation index would be able to weigh each of these appropriately, I suppose, but for me, one of the real advantages of that variety (contrasted with the flatness of the bibliography), is precisely that it doesn't lend itself to one-size-fits-all accounting. One example. More and more, I'm using BL as a filter for my roll, as a way of trying out sites and writers. If I stick with them, I move them to my roll, bc I understand that it's only there that they "show up." But I manage the roll by hand, so those changes tend to be rarer and slower.

And for me, those various weights attached to my links are important. They're not all equal for me. Mycology is more dynamic for the fact that I can decide how much pushing, pulling, and pushpulling to do. There is value in flattening out those categories, and treating them all simply as links--the interesting work that Alex is doing re Scholarati is evidence of that. And when Seb borrows Guédon's core-fringe metaphor to advocate for the margins, I can't argue. But I think David hits on it when he says, "Unfortunately, counting such links does not (usually) tell you anything about why the link was made (was it criticism? how significant is the linkee to the linker or vice versa?)"

The why of linking matters a heck of a lot less in academic citation, Erdos numbers nonwithstanding. But out here, as a variety of link types develop, the idea of an index is of limited usefulness, I suspect, and at worst, it would lead to even more gaming, and impose upon a dynamic, general economy of links the kind of scarcity that Guédon describes in relation to the ISI citation index.

June 17, 2004


Traffic's been spiking here lately, thanks to two largely unrelated phenomena:

  • Jenny received the first ever Kairos award for best academic weblog (congrats!), and then made me blush for about three days by saying that she thought I deserved the award. (She's just being modest, believe me.)
  • Last week, I blogged a power session at the Media Ecology conference, and the session rundown has been cited in a bunch of places, in part or whole.

The traffic spike that's resulted is probably not interesting to anyone other than me, but the tension between the two events has gotten me to thinking, I must admit. Each represents a very different community, neither of which I would consider myself particularly central to. The first community, though, computers and writing, is one that I've been familiar with for a much longer time--in terms of disciplinary geography, it's the neighborhood I grew up in. The second is still emerging and, thanks to Ton Zijlstra, I've been thinking of it as the city I'm interested in moving to. In fact, part of the motivation for me in going to MEA was to see that panel, but also to meet some of the speakers, to start building some of those connections. One way of thinking about that panel, in fact (since it was on cross-discplinary connections), would be to say that it both performed and discussed the advantages of getting outside of the gated communities we call disciplines.

The semi-official listserv for C&W was pretty active today, and one of the thoughts that was advanced was that blogging has had a detrimental effect on the "neighborhood." Too many people looking elsewhere, or focusing on themselves, I suppose. I understand the motives behind such a claim, and I can even understand how some might think that the case, but my gut reaction was disbelief. Among other things, Ton writes:

I myself look for ideas, co-thinkers, sounding boards and conversational partners in the blogosphere. I talk to Martin Roell for instance on an almost day to day basis, while I don't really know who my nextdoor neighbour is. And the conversations Martin and I have are way more important to me than I can imagine having with the guy next door. So I too, am having part of my communication needs fulfilled on-line in stead of by the city I live in, and where I would traditionally have looked for it.

I think it would be hard for each of us not to recognize ourselves to one degree or another in that--I certainly do. I think one of the differences that blogs introduce is that they really allow us to generate our communities, our trust networks, our sounding boards, in a way that is potentially threatening, not just to old old school disciplinary structures, but even to relatively recent forms of electronic communication. For a while Jenny and I talked about writing an article that asked if listservs hadn't outlived their usefulness for disciplinary communication, and I know Steve is working on a "list v. blog" article. For my own purposes, I've gotten to the point where listservs are almost unbearable--and I'm talking about damn near every listserv I'm subscribed to, not just one or two.

Will's thoughts about academic blogging also prompted me to think about this, mainly bc I'd love to be able to say this about listserv activity:

I consider this an academic activity. I learn from it. I read, think, respond, and in doing so, when the blogging is good, I clarify my thinking, allowing me to reflect upon it in more concrete ways, which in turn produces more learning. Lately, I find myself digging back into these posts more and more (which has led me to consider ways in which I might categorize or organize these thoughts even more effectively.) The amount of writing and thinking I've chronicled here just floors me sometimes. Not that any or most of it is especially ground breaking...just the sheer size of it. In just under two years in this space (not including previous spaces) there have been almost 2000 posts. That's amazing to me.

We can certainly say the same about the vast number of posts, I suppose, but precious little else. Listserv archives are difficult to navigate, contain a minimum of options for organization, and in fact, often seem to encourage an absence of reflection. I still use them for certain things, but only with the understanding that their one-size-fits-all approach to information is severely limited, and often downright annoying.

In fact, I'm starting to wonder if there aren't a bunch of parallels in recent "email v. RSS" discussions that might fruitfully be transposed to "list v. blog." Hmm. Need to think on this further, and pick it up again later.

June 16, 2004

Happy Bloomsday

When I was a junior in college, I spent the spring term studying in Dublin. One of the three courses I took (alongside an Irish Lit survey, and a course in 20th Irish history) was a semester-long reading of Ulysses. Wow. We read one chapter per meeting of the course, and boy, did we read it closely. The only other required reading was a book that contained 18 different "walking tours" of Dublin that corresponded to each of the chapters.

And I'll maintain to my dying day that there was no better way to read Ulysses than that. Our final exam was a 100-question test of stumpers. The only question I can remember, for example, was one that required us to name the four rivers that the funeral procession in chapter 5 crosses. And oh yeah, we had to put them in the correct order. If I remember correctly, I scored like a 96 on it. I couldn't replicate that score now, some 15 years or so later, but I'm still proud of it.

So, Happy Bloomsday, all.

June 15, 2004


Nothing profound to be found here this evening. I have this bad habit of winding my legs around chairs when I'm sitting and typing, and since I re-aggravated my knee yesterday, I've tried to avoid chairs (as opposed, say, to couches and beds) when possible for a stretch. Tonight I'm in the office, facing the daunting prospect of de-bunkering about three years worth of accumulated stuff. Since I'll be on leave in the fall, and since office space in the SU WP is at a premium, I'll be office-less during that time. I've already filled five boxes, with little visible effect.

But it's gotten me to thinking. This summer is the first in almost ten years that I won't be teaching a course, and this fall will be the first extended stretch in even longer that I haven't had access to office space. And so I've been thinking lately about how important (& implicitly so) it's been to me to have separate home/office spaces. I organize my email partly via the fact that I have both home and office access. I came in to the office tonight to work, knowing that if I had the NBA finals on TV, I wouldn't. So I'm catching an ESPN radio stream, and able to do other stuff. My office gives me immediate access to a sizable library. I'll bring home books to work from, but my office is my base. Not this fall, though.

For me, this connects to a bunch of stuff that I'd been thinking about this weekend. I've been feeling a little bit of a disjunct between the writing I'm doing for my book, and the writing I do here. Part of it is topic-based, certainly, but part of it is the kind of writing that I can do on cgbvb. I don't really want the overlap, frankly, for reasons I'm still thinking through.

Maybe more on this later. What it boils down to, though, is what I've come to think of as my personal media ecology, the various ways that I manage and organize my space, time, resources, memory, information, etc. I'm just bumping up lately against the fact that mycology is going to have to change soon...

June 12, 2004

A little experiment

Will over at Weblogg-ed just made note of Seb's Bloglines tool, and says:

Now, if there was just a way to add that functionality to the end of each post, right next to the Trackback link...

I'm not exactly overflowing with technical skills, but I think I've managed it with a quick tweak to my MT template. I'll need to go to the individual & monthly archive templates and give it a try. Seems to work, though...I just used the BL script with the MTEntryPermalink as the URL, and put it in the template right after the comment and trackback scripts...

If someone's got a better idea for what to call it, besides "CiteLines" or "Seb's Bloglines bookmarklet," drop me a note...

And while I'm thinking about it: Seb, if you read this, is there a way to retrieve the number of results from Bloglines as well, and to put it in parentheses as part of the link?

Blogging @ Ruins

It's been a while since I've counted Bill Readings' The University in Ruins among my own personal resonant texts, but there was a time when I read it pretty closely. Small surprise, then, that some of Clay's remarks triggered a synapse or two. I've been glancing back through it for the past hour or so (while listening to Jenny's inaugural show on KVRX), and I've got a couple of thoughts. I should also note that Alex Reid has been throwing down some analysis lately that's also a part of the stew...

So, Readings. There's a two-fold argument that Readings makes in UR that most everyone should recall. First, he argues that the university has gone through a couple of epistemic shifts, from the University of Reason to the University of Culture to, finally, the University of Excellence. The second part of his argument that most people recall is that the emergence of the UofE is characterized by the dereferentialization of everything into the empty category of "excellence" ("What gets taught or researched matters less than the fact that it be excellently taught or researched" (13).) by means of the translation of accountability into accounting, the rendering of everything academic into the jargon of excellence (the USNWR college rankings are the classic example of this). According to Readings, this has ruined the university, period. The question for him then becomes what we as academics might do, other than behaving like villagers at a Renaissance Faire, ignoring the fact that we're practicing a fiction.

Ok. It's been a while since I'd looked at the final chapters of the book, where Readings lays out his solution, or suggestion at least. I think the chapter title, "Dwelling in the Ruins," has caused some misreads as it connotes a kind of resignation that I don't really see there. And Readings does try to track some middle ground among nostalgia, fatalism, and neglect. The core of his suggestion:

To dwell in the ruins of the University is to try to do what we can, while leaving space for what we cannot envisage to emerge. For example, the argument has to be made to administrators that resources liberated by the opening up of disciplinary space, be it under the rubric of the humanities or of Cultural Studies, should be channeled into supporting short-term collaborative projects of both teaching and research (to speak in familiar terms) which would be disbanded after a certain period, whatever their success.

This clicks for me with what Clay had to say yesterday about framing our activities differently. And as I thought about it, the attention that Seb paid to issue-oriented and/or transdisciplinary work resonated as well. It's not just that disciplines are black holes, sucking everything to the center, in the academic attention economy. It's also that, even when we try to maintain a respectable distance from that center, we end up focused on the center in our efforts to avoid it. Disciplinary networks are like series of concentric circles, and regardless of which circle you occupy, you're always facing inward. And so that one discipline's gravitational pull doesn't interfere with another's, they're placed far enough away from each other that it's difficult for someone in one disciplinary orbit to find others outside.

The groups that Clay described (e.g., Many2Many, Abusable Tech, Wireless Unleashed, etc.) strike me as the kinds of collaborations that Readings would approve of. In a chapter on teaching, Readings explains that "Contrary to conventional wisdom, an audience does not preexist an event. The event makes the audience happen, rather than the event happening in front of an audience." The problem with much of the way that the academy works today is that we've been encouraged to believe the latter, that our audience must preexist any production of knowledge on our part. The time and labor intensivity of academic work means that starting that work without an audience is a gamble. But one of Liz's remarks yesterday--about the rewards of serendipity--are relevant here, as is Clay's "deep force" of atomization. If I sit down to write an article, I'm investing a fair amount of time and effort which is only returned to me in the event of publication. But weblogs remove a lot of that cost overhead, yes? The cost of putting together an idea for a blog post is alot smaller (the length of today's and yesterday's posts nonwithstanding), and the potential "reward" or return much greater. Both Jill's and Clay's talks (with the SOC and M2M examples, respectively) provide evidence for the claim that Seb made directly, that blogs allow you to find an audience, even in places where you may not be looking.

And I think we in the academy (if I'm allowed to speak that big of a "we") need to see more evidence of that, and to start thinking about ways of generating that return ourselves. A couple of days ago, I jotted down some of the things that keep academics from blogging in response to one of the posts Alex wrote to prep his talk, and in his reply, Alex mentioned wanting to preserve (or transpose) the "culture of blogging," and I wonder if this "event/audience" ratio isn't one of the most crucial elements of that culture. I'd add as well that making that turn (towards events preceding audiences instead of proceeding from them) is probably a key distinction between blogging done by academics (now) and academic blogging (soon?).

Ok. I've mentioned everyone from the panel now. Ha. There's more to say, of course, but I'm hitting the hunger wall now...Thanks again to the panelists for making me think about this...

June 11, 2004

Blogging @ MEA

Mission accomplished! Despite what was barely a nap this morning, I managed to scrape myself together and made the drive to Rochester this afternoon for the Media Ecology Association conference. And as promised, I had the pleasure of attending a plenary-quality panel on blogging: Liz Lawley, Alex Halavais, Sébastien Paquet, Clay Shirky, and Jill Walker. And here's my rundown...it's long, and there are places where I'm projecting, I think, but I trust you'll indulge me...

Liz Lawley chaired the panel, and opened with a brief discussion of the definitional problems that weblog research encounters:

  • There's no such thing as an "average" blog, making generalizable conclusions difficult;
  • Most so-called "personal" blogs defy narrow categorization;
  • Most weblogs shift in tone and focus over time, making it difficult to generalize even within a single blog;
  • Many of those writing about them aren't writing them, and research that treats bloggers as "others" often misses crucial aspects.

Liz talked about these as quasi-themes, and while the panelists didn't directly address them per se, it wasn't difficult to see connections among these opening remarks and the talks (e.g., Paquet on narrow centralization, Walker on the MeFi-cation of Straight Outta Compton, etc.).

Alex Halavais spoke first, and took a little more than his fair share of time, I suppose, for a couple of reasons. There were some audience questions for one thing, but in the context of the panel, Alex's talk also provided a nice frame for the other speakers, each of whom (if I recall correctly) referred to some of the points he raised. He began by explaining that he was less interested in what blogs are right now than in what they might become, particularly as they stand to transform the academy. An audience member asked for a baseline definition of a blog, and the 2nd, more unconventional answer Alex offered was to suggest that we should be thinking at the level of community or network rather than individual blogs. I liked that.

The blogging "revolution" has yet to occur in the academy, and if I understood this correctly, Alex introduced a distinction between blogging as a potentially academic activity and blogging as an activity carried on by a handful of academics. I think he implied that to get to the former, we need to start looking more closely at the latter. He presented the results from his recent study of academic bloggers, and then discussed several archetypes for academic bloggers (teacher, memex, public intellectual, institutional critic, & diarist).

He had to zip through the later portion of his talk, but his interest is in the symbiosis of academic conferences and weblogging, seeing both as spaces for both the exchange of ideas as well as the creation & maintenance of our social networks. Both, he argued, provide a gateway or bridge between individual and collective intelligence. He closed on a note of optimism, urging us to get blogging, to experiment, and to learn from our successes and failures.

Next up was Sébastien Paquet, who began by noting two crucial characteristics of weblogs. First, that the basic unit is not the book, article, or even page, but the post. Weblogs are comprised of many small pieces. Second, weblogs allow for informal interaction in wide open spaces [this dovetailed with a point that Liz raised during Alex's talk as well--namely that one of the things that differentiates weblogs from lists or BBs is the openness and the serendipity of contact].

Seb's talk focused on what I would describe as the organizational structure of the academy. The academy, he argued, is optimized for specialists--there are central organizations, journals, presses, programs, etc., and while the threshold for reaching the center is perhaps high, it is not difficult for specialists to locate themselves or to find like minds.

However, this is a problem for those researchers who aren't specialists: issue-oriented researchers who pursue their topic of inquiry across multiple methodologies or disciplines; synthesists who draw on multiple disciplines and put ideas together; boundary spanners who attempt to draw ideas from one field into another; and originals/visionaries, whose ideas simply defy easy categorization within disciplines. For these kinds of thinkers, finding an audience for their work can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Seb contrasted the centralized, high-threshold model of finding one's audience with what weblogs allow a writer. Weblogs can help a researcher generate conversations, even if they begin very small. They allow an audience to develop over time [as opposed, say, to a professional journal that only accepts articles likely to appeal to a majority of its readership...]. And each member of a blog's audience is him or herself a writer with an audience, which allows trust networks to expand, FOAF-style. Finally, the fact that this network carries material traces in the forms of links, comments, trackbacks, et al, allows a researcher to maintain far closer contact with an audience.

He closed with a visualization/mapping of the growth of an individual's audience/network, and finished by reasserting the value that weblogs possess for building collaborative, dialogic networks.

Clay Shirky's talk was called "Weblogs as Universal Solvent," because of the way that they have dissolved language, disciplinary, geographical, and institutional barriers to action and collaboration. He began by identifying three "Deep Forces" that he sees at play in the emergence of weblogs: "Surprised by Simplicity" -- weblogs represented a turn from the colossal bloatware of the late 90s, and allowed the creation of robust, dynamic sites based on a few basic principles and a minimal, technical threshold; "Atomization & Recombination" -- blogs work at the micro-level of the post, and make it possible to combine the atoms in a variety of ways; "Coordination Replaces Organization" -- activity is not "organized" from the top-down, but begun from the bottom and eventually distributed laterally.

Clay identified what he described as a framing problem. Computer-mediated communication provided an umbrella in the 90s, under which was gathered publishing, computer-supported collaborative work, and online communities. But this umbrella didn't account for offline groups, despite the fact that they were practically inseparable from these other elements. Social software as a frame doesn't aspire to the level of generality that CMC did, and it has taken elements of CSCW and both on and offline communities to provide a focal point for research, conversation, collaboration, etc. As recently as two years ago, Googling "social software" would have produced perhaps one out of 10 links that actually led to a site that used the phrase with its current meaning. Nowadays, the top 50 all point to such sites. [an aside: I took Clay to be talking about shifting the terms of discussion from "what" to "how"--that it matters less what social software actually is than how it has allowed the Many2Many crew and others to work together.]

Intervening at the level of a working group rather than theory or philosophy allowed the M2M group to gather together what Clay described as "Heterogenous Literature," materials that included articles that had resonance for the group, RIT courseware, the work coming out of the HP labs, ethnographic observations, etc. Clay had other examples of groups (literally Dream Teams of experts on various topics) emerging out of shared interests and concerns as well, groups that couldn't have happened in any way outside the blogosphere.

He closed by briefly outlining the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of collaborative action. The good? The development of alternative, unofficial theoretical units [think Bill Readings at the end of University in Ruins--this is a connection I may write about over the next day or so] allows action without requiring loads of organization or bureaucracy. Groups can develop across disciplines, and they can gather resonant texts/ideas without having to endorse entire disciplinary structures (Clay called this source-insensitivity). And the end result of this is a new unit of collaboration, one that is extremely flexible and productive.

As of yet, though, the interfaces themselves are still geared towards individuals, and so there's a sense of "parallel play" rather than actual collaboration. Conversations can become diffuse and difficult to track, collect, or reference, which can slow things down. Finally, there are etiquette issues as well--informal conversations, writ public, can sometimes turn into posturing.

Clay's final note was that group blogs are going to become vitally important for the academy over the next 18 months. I don't know if that'll prove to be the case or not, but it's certainly got me thinking (and hoping).

Jill had the final slot, and little time, so her remarks were abbreviated. Although she framed her talk as a story, it was easy to see how she could have tied it into each of the other talks. She focused on two "events" in the blogosphere: 1. The Straight Outta Compton story from Feb/Mar 2002 (boy meets girl, boy kisses girl, boy blogs about girl's lack of kissing skill, girl Googles boy, girl reads blog, girl breaks up with boy, girl tells journalist friend, friend writes story about boy, MetaFilter finds story and turns it into a huge netmeme) and 2. Henry Jenkins' "cockroach" comment in the MIT Technology Review which ended up biting him in the butt.

She didn't have a lot of time to offer exposition, but both stories were examples of the way that weblog audiences can spiral out of control very quickly (from the author's perspective, anyway) as well as the way that the traditional buffers between author and reader simply don't apply to blogs. For me, it was a nice circle back to the definitional problems that Liz raised. As I mentioned to Jill afterwards, I would have liked to give them an extra hour, both so she could have a full slot, and so we could have had some audience interaction.

In all, it was a really good panel. I don't know that there was much that I hadn't heard before, but then, I've been reading their work for the last year, so that's to be expected. Each paper provoked connections for me with stuff I've been thinking about, and that's all I want from a panel. I managed to overcome my painful shy long enough to chat a bit with Jill and Alex, and I got to see a top-notch crew of folk whose work I enjoy. Not bad for an afternoon's work.

(ps. if i've made any egregious errors here in my recap, let me know, and i'll get to fixin')


Sébastien Paquet's posted a groovy bookmarklet that allows you, with a click of a menubar link, to use Bloglines to find all of the sites that are currently linking to the page you're on.

Very nice. And this was in response to a post by Lilia Efimova, wherein she surveyed the various tools that allow us to trace links in the absence of (or in addition to) trackbacks...

June 10, 2004


The Media Ecology Association conference began today over in Rochester, which is notable for me bc I'll be driving over there tomorrow to catch a few panels, do a little networking, etc. The object of my affection?

Session 5-A Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication
Moderator: Elizabeth Lane Lawley — Rochester Institute of Technology
Panelists: Alexander Halavais — SUNY Buffalo
Sébastien Paquet — National Research Council of Canada
Clay Shirky — New York University
Jill Walker — University of Bergen

Should be a grrrreat panel, and it's bracketed on either side by plenaries, so I'll try to get up there early and stay into the evening. And I'll see if I can't have the panels blogged by tomorrow night as well...

June 9, 2004

softball update

After a funky week off (Memorial Day + off date), your One Inch Margins took to the field this week for a couple of unofficial games.

Monday's was unofficial bc we couldn't field a full team. We ended up borrowing three people, and our cobbled together crew actually won the "game" 9-3, thanks to one big inning that involved us batting around and then some. Today, we fielded a minimal team (8 people), and took a 6-4 lead into the 3rd inning, only to have the game called on account of lightning. The second inning was rain-soaked, but the umps weren't keen on the prospect of the players waving aluminum bats in the air with lightning around.

Ah well. No official games, although we took a loss. And I popped my left knee, which is now roughly 50% again the size of my right knee. Ouch. The good news? Through 2.5 games, I still haven't walked a single batter, and I'm picking up anywhere from 3-4 strikeouts a game. And I'm hitting surprisingly well also. Now if we can just get a full team together and the weather would cooperate...

June 8, 2004

Truth in advertising?

Caught this over at Anne Galloway's site, and I'm not really sure what to think. Seems that Penguin UK has, for better or worse, joined the rest of us in the 21st century in terms of their ad campaigns. I'm not saying that's a good thing, btw. So you visit their site, and are greeted with the following claim: Good Looking Women Want Good Booking Men.

Umm...yeah. After I stopped laughing, I started looking around through the site. I even started taking their online quiz to "find out how Good Booking you currently are." I did make it all the way to page 3, but I couldn't get past the first question thereon:

See how many bona fide authors you can pick out of this lot:

  • Alan Cumming
  • Hugh Jarse
  • Dave Eggers
  • Phil McCraichin
  • Jack Orff
  • Daisy Chaine
  • Martin Wank

Yeah, that should give you some clue as to the overall tenor of this particular marketing campaign. If I were Dave Eggers, I'd sure be thrilled to find my name in that list. Anyhow, apparently Penguin's hired a model who will bop around from bookstore to bookstore, giving out 1000 pounds a month to someone who's reading the Book of the Month. Oh, wait. Did I say "reading"?

What women really want is a man with a Penguin. You may not even need to read it, just bend the covers, let it stick out of your pocket and the book will do the talking!

I'm not even going to try and crack wise about "a man with a Penguin." I'll leave that to your imagination. To my own imagination, I'll leave the question of who in their right mind at Penguin thought they could drum up sales by giving their corporate image over to the shallow slackwits in charge of the corporate brand for FHM, Maxim, Stuff, or whatever the hell softcore porn rag "men's magazine" they're obviously emulating.

Did I mention that page 2 of the quiz involves matching book to bosom?


June 7, 2004

I disapprove this message

It's been a while since I've seen W's commercials about how Kerry will raise taxes on the price of gas, and I'm assuming that this is no coincidence. Tonight, though, I caught a new one, about how Kerry is "playing politics with national security." The irony of that is too easy when the commercial itself is about the Patriot Act.

Anyhow, the commercial basically explains that wiretaps, surveillance, etc., are vital tools in the war against drugs, but that Kerry, who now stands against the PA, would deprive us of said tools in the war against terrorism. I know, I know. Again, really easy to point out that the difference is not whether or not the tools can be used, but rather the degree of latitude and accountability law enforcement encounters upon their use.

The point I thought I'd raise here, since I know that there's undoubtedly a horde of GOP staffers scanning the web for mentions, is that the Bush campaign might want to reconsider the wisdom of running commercials in upstate NY right now extolling the virtues of the Patriot Act. Or Portland, for that matter. Problem is most of the successes (and I assume that there have been plenty) are invisible, and that only heightens the visibility of the abuses and mistakes.

No big conclusion. It was just ironic to see this commercial for the first time after hearing about Kurtz and Mayfield for the past couple of weeks...

June 6, 2004


It's been a slow weekend, both here and on the ol' aggregator. A handful of remainders I've been meaning to get rid of but haven't had the energy to turn into a paragraph, much less a post:

June 4, 2004


From the Eyebeam reBlog comes this link, to VisitorVille, which advertises itself as "a cutting-edge program that takes a radical new visual approach to web analytics." Not for the faint of wallet, this--the service costs anywhere from $30 to $170/month. And even if I wanted to pony up for it (which I was thinking about doing for a month, just for fun and data), it is for the faint of OS (Windows only).

What's interesting about the site is that it tracks website visits/visitors/etc., and offers them to you in a Sim City-style interface:

When you have many visitors on your web site, it begins to resemble midtown Manhattan, and it's hard to get your eyes off the screen! Buildings resize and illuminate dynamically based on the number of people inside, their relative popularity, and how many visitors exited through them. Buses, taxis, and limos race around the streets; pedestrians walk across crosswalks; helicopters ply the air. It's all very real, because it's reflecting something that's also very real: Your visitors are human beings, and they exhibit human behavior. They are not abstractions, and with VisitorVille you no longer have to think of them as such!

Fascinating stuff. Way way beyond what I will ever need, but I could definitely see how this kind of interface would be fun for someone in charge of some hardcore, high-traffic architecture...

June 2, 2004

Back 2 Front

Clay Shirky's got a post over at Many2Many about Planetwork, a conference that's engaging in an interesting experiment. They've set some themes, programmed some sessions, and set aside some slots. They're allowing conference attendees to propose and vote for sessions they want to see, with the idea being that the sessions that receive the highest ratings will be added to the program when the conference happens later this week.

It's an interesting experiment in emergent scheduling, although I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with Shirky's characterization of it or enthusiasm for it. He places this in the context of the debate that took place a couple of months ago about the creation of backchannels during conference presentations. The comment of his that stuck with me back then:

From my experience of professional conferences, almost all such meetings have the same characteristic — the hallway conversations are better than the contents of the talks.

Well, yes, but....

Shirky's more recent post builds on this by considering "the conference form" in terms of "social loss," an argument ultimately in favor of moving the backchannel to the front. Now, I know that academic conferences (and the economy thereof) are much different from the kinds of professional conferences that he's speaking of, and perhaps some of my difference of opinion is rooted in that. But part of it is also rooted in the certainty that it's impossible to formalize the kinds of energy and value that Shirky sees in the "groupness" of such gatherings, and not just bc there's no way that the academic economy would bear it. In other words, there is some value to be had in the "excuse" of the formal conference--hallway conversations (and backchannels) derive a fair amount of their juice from the fact that they're not formal, front, and center.

Part of why I've been thinking about this is that Derek just blogged about Robert Brooke's 87 article about "underlife." While I don't remember the article as well as I thought I did, I do remember thinking that there's always a certain amount of underlife that's simply in excess. No matter how engaging a speaker/teacher, there are some who are slower, some who are faster, some who have to pose for their classmates/colleagues, etc. I'm not sure I'm ready to skip ahead to the point where I'd label that excess in terms of social loss, though, or see it as purely competitive with mainchannel activity. The idea that hallway conversations are better than plenaries is something I hear at almost every conference I've ever been to, and the few times I've seen attempts to abandon plenaries in favor of those conversation, they've failed miserably.

I've got other qualms as well, ones more clearly rooted in the difference between professional conferences and academic ones, but I'll leave off. First time I tried to talk about them, I spiralled out into the ether.

One more quick note, and that's every form of social loss Shirky mentions (with one exception) could easily be describing most classrooms. That's another thing that made me think about this...

June 1, 2004

and Larry was like "no way!" and I was like "way!"

And the award for first giggle of June goes to Google to Enter Human Language Development...

Already slack-jawed at the company’s pace of innovation in recent months, the financial community was rocked once again by the news of yet another new market for Google. “I have no reason to believe that Googlish won’t become the dominant human language form within the next 12-15 years,” said Peter Weismuller, analyst at Sequoia Capital Partners, a leading Google investor. “Our projections show it overtaking Spanish by 2008 and trailing only Mandarin Chinese and Hindi by 2010.”

[via joho]