When bloggers quit

So Andrew Sullivan, one of the most prolific and earliest bloggers, is going to hang up his keyboard.  I’ve seen many a blogger leave their blog, sometimes taking refuge in Twitter or Facebook, but Sullivan was a big one, one who made a blogging empire.  He was one of the bloggers us puny bloggers looked up to, aspired to be.

I was not a regular reader, but many of my regular readers were, so I often ended up reading his work.  He stuck with the political realm and as my online life shifted more into a focus on teaching, learning, and sometimes parenting, I didn’t feel the need to keep up.

Still, on a DVD somewhere, I have a clip of Sullivan talking on CNN about blogging, back when the moderator had to actually explain what a blog was.  The point of the conversation, which included Wonkette, now a sometime tv commentator, was that blogging didn’t have word limits the way newspapers and magazines do and that the distance between reader and writer was zero.  Readers were in conversation with writers and vice versa.

This whole new multi-way conversation was what made blogging so awesome.  Finally, we could talk back immediately rather than mailing a letter and waiting weeks to see if they were going to publish it.  The beginning of blogging was a big deal, and Andrew  was part of making it a big deal.  It’s changed the way we interact with information and for some of us, the way we write.

Blogging is still a thing.  There are lots of us still doing it, and just because a few people leave it doesn’t mean it’s dead.  There are still ham radio operators after all.

My ecosystem is dying

Nearly everyone in my online world is in a tizzy about Google reader going away. So much of my online work an cliff is tied up in google reader, I’m not sure how I’ll replace it. The larger issue is not reader itself, but RSS, which reader is built on. My dissertation focused on rss as a technology that binds the web together. RSS enabled me to forgo the tedious task of bookmarking things and checking them periodically for new stuff. I started with bloglines and moved to reader a couple of years later, mostly because the rest of my stuff was going Google. Through reader, I could easily read and share the blogs and other items I read. There’s nothing else out there that I’ve yet seen that does this so cleanly and seamlessly.

The argument has been that everyone is reading and sharing through Facebook and Twitter. Well, yes. And I use those, too, but those are like moseying up to the display table at a bookstore and seeing what the staff has picked out. Reader is like perusing a shelf of books in the library. There was order to it.

When blogs first came on the scene, I jumped in, reading and then writing. RSS was built for blogs, to capture an audience where none yet existed. Thanks to RSS, I had some 300 readers a day. friends of mine had more than that. we built a community around the connections we made. Newspapers and other online media were late to the rss game. I remember when the NYTimes finally got an RSS feed. But now, now there are those little buttons to like and tweet and pin, so no one needs rss anymore, or reader. I think maybe I know what the dawn of the automobile just have been like. One ecosystem faded, but another was built upon its remains. It’s at once sad and exhilarating. In case you’re wondering, I’m lamenting the passing of the old ecosystem. I’m standing around with my thumbs under my suspenders talking about the days when there were no browsers much less RSS. Yep, I’m the get off my lawn, back in my day, kids these days dude of the Internet.

I’m sure I will survive in the new ecosystem. It’s not like I’m totally unfamiliar with what else is out there, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the things I used to do with just twitter and Facebook. I’m going to drive my horse and buggy a little while longer.

Speaking out

This is somewhat related to my Joining post above.  These issues are on my mind a lot lately.  The Internet makes it at once easy to participate in something and easy not to.  One can watch a forum, blog, Facebook, Twitter, email thread go by and not say a thing.  Or one can jump in and participate in ways both positive or negative.  Too often, the participation leans to the negative.  Because it’s easy to spout off your opinion or inveigh against the person posting.  But increasingly, I think it’s important to find ways to jump in, and better yet, to do something about whatever issue is at hand.  I’ve seen a couple of these kinds of things happen recently.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick points to one, and Audrey Watters and I have discussed another.  I know these events and postings only in passing via my Twitter stream.

Mostly I am guilty of simply letting something go by, even if I’m disturbed by it, even if I feel my opinion might shape the conversation in positive ways.  And I think too many people do that.  Neither Audrey nor Kathleen did.  And I’m not talking about something super dramatic necessarily, just things in places where one might legitimately help things get better.  And I don’t mean feeding the trolls either.  I mean arguing with someone, or supporting someone, or even, in major cases, reporting someone.  Because if we just let stuff happen, then we can’t be surprised when things turn out in ways we didn’t expect. Increasingly our discourse and discussions are happening primarily online, and I think the tendency sometimes is to think that if it’s just online then it doesn’t affect the “real world.”  Well, online is the real world now and what happens there affects what happens in the real world.  So, for example, how women do or don’t participate in the tech world is hugely shaped by how they’re discussed online or by what happens when they post in tech forums (I’m looking at you, Slashdot and Reddit).  It’s not like Vegas. What happens there doesn’t stay there. It bleeds over into the real world.

I’ve started participating myself, more locally.  There are issues that matter to me.  And I really do believe in the saying that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Basically, I think I’m done with letting others speak for me.  And I’m ready to do something about some of the issues I care about.  I may be beating my head against the wall, but hey, if you don’t try, you’ve already failed.

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What to do with social media

A person I follow on twitter has I followed everyone he follows, some 5000 people, so that he can start fresh. He’s trying to get more bang for his buck, and recognized that he was caught in the wrong feedback loop. He was more interested in getting more followers than in getting value from people he did follow. Reading some of the responses makes me feel old. I’ve been blogging since 2003, on Facebook and delicious since 2004, and tweeting since 2007. Most of the people who responded mention joining twitter in the last year or two.

I feel their pain, though. I’m constantly reevaluating what I’m doing in these networks. Who should I friend in Facebook versus Twitter? I’m constantly thinking about dumping Facebook. I blog on my own domain while most new folks join .com domains. Am I promoting myself or learning? How much time should I spend in these networks? I don’t have easy answers. The answer is 42. And the answer is yes.

I am promoting my work, but it’s not about me. I’m part of a larger cause. I’m also promoting my school–honestly. And I’m trying to educate about my field, about women in CS, etc. So there’s a little selfishness in my social media use, which makes me a little squeamish because I don’t like being artificial. I try not to be. I try to say what I think, and if people like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t.

I switched fields a couple of years ago, which has meant rebuilding. What I’m finding is that there’s a core of people who started blogging, etc. about the same time I did. If they’re still at it, we follow each other in various media. Many higher ed folks have stopped connecting with me and I with them because what I say and what they say are no longer related. While I follow a lot of k-12 people, not that many follow me, or so it seems. And CS people tend not to be on social media, which strikes me as problematic when we have an image problem.

I do find blogging valuable. I like the chats on twitter. I get a lot of information there that I find useful. I wish more of my colleagues tweeted and/or blogged. I’ve enjoyed connecting with the few who do. And I wish I could figure out what to do with Facebook. It’s a constant reassessing, I guess.

Old school nostalgia or not

Last night, I found out via twitter that my friend Collin was in town, and so, via twitter, I arranged to meet him for a drink. This is how I roll now. Collin and I go back a pretty long way in Internet time. I don’t know exactly when I first started reading his blog, but it was at least a year or more before we met in person at the MLA in 2006. Collin is a friend from another lifetime for me. He’s in my former field of rhetoric and composition, we used to blog together in the old days of blogging, and we used to play WoW together.

I’m still blogging (though not as much as I used to), but those other things? They’re mostly in the background. When I met some of Collin’s grad students and colleagues, I got a few weird looks, but not many. It does seem incongruous to most people that someone who started in rhet/comp, even getting a PhD in it, would end up teaching computer science in middle and high school. I contend that CS is not that different from rhet/comp, and that I use my skills from my PhD every day. I research. I write. I make my students write. I understand the importance of writing both as a skill in and of itself and as a process for learning a subject.

I’ve said before that I think the logic of writing, especially in the sophisticated argumentative style used in academic papers is similar to the logic of programming. Just think about an if statement. If some condition is true, then execute the code below. In papers, one often sees the forwarding of evidence in similar ways. If this fact or assertion is true, then you must accept the following argument. Now human thought processes aren’t binary the way computer conditions are, but the logical process is still similar.

It’s also true that the ability to communicate in technical fields is hugely important. In most of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve served as translated between techies and non-techies, something that is valued in almost every industry I know. I attribute those skills to my work as a writer.

Collin and I discussed a bit the bubble that academics are often in. They see things according to the logic of academia, unaware sometimes that the world around them functions on a different logic. One of the great things about blogging in the old days was that it brought a community of people together around blogging who might never have met each other. It looked something like this:

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So academics were exposed to regular people and vice versa. As Collin said, the landscape has changed. There’s very little left of that old community. A few individual bloggers are left and some people still congregate around their blogs, but the interlinking, inter commenting atmosphere of the old days is mostly gone. Partly it’s a result of the commercialization of blogging and social media more generally. It’s also in the rise of twitter and Facebook. There’s sort of the same kind of community there, but it’s not quite the same reflective space that blogging was or is.

Another online space that’s changed is WoW. I joined just after the first expansion (after, I should note, I’d finished my PhD). I became part of a community who explored together and had common goals, from which I learned an amazing amount about who I was as part of a group. I learned, for example that I don’t like to lead, a surprise to me, and something I might not have recognized otherwise. I can qualify that a bit, and say that I don’t like to lead when I feel unqualified or unskilled, and I felt that way in game more often than not. In life, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t put myself into a leadership role when I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I should educate myself. That sense of community, and group dynamics is largely gone. It’s both because of people that have left, but also because of the changes made to the game which made casual play less fun, and made the singular goal raiding, requiring a kind of grinding many got tired of (including me).

I do miss playing WoW. There was a wonder and camaraderie about it that’s hard to find. Just writing about it here gives me a sense of nostalgia.

Not all change is bad, of course, but it’s interesting to have been involved in some things since practically their inception and see how they’ve morphed and impacted society. I wonder if people who saw the beginning of the automobile felt that way (feel that way? Are there any living still?). Seeing and talking to Collin reminds me that I value the connections I’ve made, in former fields, former jobs, former virtual spaces, and that I should continue to find ways to maintain them.

Blogs vs. Term papers

A lot of people have been pointing me to this article on using blogs in writing classes instead of term papers.  For an extensive answer, see my dissertation from 2007.  Just sayin’.  But yeah, communication forms change.  That doesn’t mean we do away with argument and evidence and critical thinking.  I mean, we used to give speeches (without teleprompters) all the time.  We spoke poems.  Now we have radio, tv, print articles, books, web sites, youtube, all kinds of ways of conveying an argument.  We should teach all those.

What social media I use

Earlier this week, Jackie talked about using Twitter and how it’s been going.  She finds Facebook more “conversational” for her, but Twitter still has its purposes.

Obviously, I’ve been reinvesting my time here.  I spend most of my time online reading other blogs.  It makes sense to me to up my contribution again in that medium.  And I like writing and I want a bit of a record of my teaching so that when I go to plan next year, I can see what works and what doesn’t.  I’m sure some people come here and say tl;dr, but that’s okay.  I’ve seen some other people start blogging more again to work against the Twitter and Facebook mentality of 240 characters (or at least shorter posts).  And I think that’s a good impetus.

Over the last two years, I’ve pulled back from contributing to most social media, mostly due to time constraints, but as I’ve settled into my new job, I’ve felt not only that I have time to participate, but also a need to participate.  My school knows about all my media participation.  I post about my activities at school and often my school will retweet or post to Facebook some of the things I do.  Which is fabulous.  So part of my writing is appropriate for PR.  But also, I learn a lot, and I learn a lot more when I’m actively participating.  So here’s where I’m building my efforts.

Twitter:  I tend to check in with Twitter in the morning after my morning blog reading/posting.  I shifted the people I follow to mostly K-12 educators.  That has been really helpful to me as those folks post articles about teaching and discuss teaching in many ways.  I’ve also participated in several scheduled chats via Twitter, which I also find helpful.  My favorite of those is #isedchat, a chat specifically for independent schools.  Most teachers are public school teachers and have to deal with very different issues than those of us who are IS teachers.  Most of my participation is during those chats.  Besides a post or two in the morning, I mostly follow.  And I think that’s okay.

Facebook: I am thinking about getting rid of my Facebook account.  I haven’t even logged in lately and frankly, I find it kind of creepy.  It’s not a professional space for me and I don’t want it to be a personal space.   And I have issues with their privacy policies.  So that might go away.  I’m on the fence still.

Google+: I really like Google+, but I’m not following that many people and/or the people I follow are not posting much.  So the traffic is low.  Which is sort of a good thing.  The people I’m following there are different from the people I follow via blogs and Twitter.  And I think that’s a good thing.  In fact, the blogs I read are generally not the same people I follow on Twitter either.  Google+ encourages more writing than Facebook or Twitter, but not as much as blogging.  It’s a good place to post an article and write a brief snippet about it.  Some people have suggested that they’re going to use it as a blog, which, frankly, I don’t have any desire to do. But I do like the slightly more thoughtful nature of it.  It’s slower than Twitter, less silly than Facebook.  That may be a factor of the people not the tool, but that’s the feel of it for now.

I’m still searching for a different social bookmarking tool.  I’m sticking with Delicious for now, but I want something new.

Another tool that I’ve used a lot less is Flickr.  Partly that’s a function of my not taking as many pictures, but it’s also because the pictures I take on my phone automatically go to Google+, which is very convenient.  I could set it up to go to Flickr as well, but meh, don’t really care.  I like Flickr very much, and recommend it to people all the time, but I’m not as invested in it personally.

So that’s where I am with social media.  There are things out there I haven’t really touched: Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.  And maybe I’m old school, but so far, I like where I am.

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Thoughts on being online

Over the last year, I’ve noticed several blogs pass into oblivion, either with or without an announcement.  This week, Bitch, Ph.D. said goodbye.  Several of the blogs of people I’ve been reading for 5 or 6 years are either gone or on a very sporadic schedule.  Twitter and Facebook seem more popular, though I have no desire to spend much time there.  My WoW guild is having an existential crisis of sorts.  Several members have left, citing both a boredom with the way the game works now and an increase in the need to spend time with work or family.  I, too, have spent less time online than I once did.  At first I did so out of a feeling that I was spending too much time online and not giving enough attention to other things in my life.  But now, it’s because I literally don’t have time.

I have a couple of thoughts about what appears to me to be not a “death of blogs” or “death of the online world” moment, but certainly a moment of transition.  Some of the disappearance, especially of blogs is a factor of commercialization.  As corporations set up blogs or media outlets like the Huffington Post arise, the small-time blogger has a harder time keeping up.  It’s impossible to keep up volume-wise and there’s the inevitable loss of audience as a result.  There are exceptions, but I do think a lot of us liked blogging because it felt like a community.  We got comments.  We had conversations in the comment threads, between blogs, etc.  I see that happening much less now.  I used to comment a lot.  It’s much more rare now.

I also wonder if some of us who’ve been online a while are getting bored.  Honestly, I’ve been participating in online communities for twenty years.  Every four or five years, the world would shift and a new type of community would emerge.  Nothing new along those lines has really emerged for a while.  Yes, there’s Facebook (been there since 2004).  And there’s Twitter (been there since 2007).  Neither of those offer the in-depth reading I want, nor the community I’d like.

I also think the online world is being used for other things.  Gaming thrives, but older games like WoW are losing their appeal, especially for those who’ve been playing for a while.  All of my guildmates agree that it wouldn’t be fun for us without the community aspects of the game, but increasing games are not meant to build community.  We’re still waiting to see if the expansion brings that concept back, but even I feel kind of blah about it.  Video has exploded, bringing our tv mentalities to the web.  So we pull up video on Hulu and watch for a 1/2 hour or hour and then we feel like we’re done.  And then there’s our phones and other devices, like the iPad and the Kindle, which offer other kinds of activities, most of which are disconnected.

I realize there are some people out there just now discovering all the wonders of the Internet, but for me, it’s starting to lose its luster.  And that’s left me with a bit of gap, entertainment wise.  My family asked me why I wasn’t raiding last night.  And I said, essentially, “Meh.”  I told Geeky Girl I needed a new hobby.  She asked me what I liked to do, and it was hard to come up with anything.  When I was kid, my hobby was writing, thus the appeal of blogging.  As I got older, I picked up needlepoint, but that takes more time than I have and I’m not that interested in the results.  I’ve never been much of a gardener.  Most plants that come into my house don’t leave alive.  I have no artistic talent for painting or pottery or even jewelry making.  I’m interested in politics, but not enough to go out and volunteer a lot.  And even though I have some time for myself, between work and managing kids and the house, I’m not looking to fill a huge amount of time.

Don’t worry, I’m not shutting down Geeky Mom any time soon, but I am doing some thinking about my life online.  I think it’s fair to say that the Internet will always be a part of my life, but what I choose to do on it (with it?) may be transitioning, as, I think it is for many people.

Time for a break

I love this blog.  It has honestly kept me going through some particularly tough times over the last six years.  Even as the comments have dwindled, just putting stuff out there knowing that someone might read it has felt pretty good.  These last couple of weeks, I have been quite busy in the lead up to getting my new job, about which I’m quite excited.  As I’ve spent less time in front of the computer, or at least on the web, I’ve been re-evaluating my time spent online (in case regular readers couldn’t tell).  I’ve tried to spend at least half my day completely away from the computer: doing housework, reading, or being outside.  I’m trying to set a good example for my kids, who don’t really see the difference (even though they’re both at an age where they might be expected to) between the intellectual work I do online and the playful things I do.  Given my career, I obviously can’t escape the computer entirely (and don’t want to), but I do think I need to spend more of my leisure time doing other things, preferably with my family, coaxing them into leisure activities that are not screen-based.

This blog, for me, is mostly leisure.  At one time, it contributed greatly to my professional development, and it may do that for me again someday.  But for now, I’m going to focus on it less and put my energies elsewhere.  I’ll be popping in from time to time over the summer, perhaps once a week.  But I’m no longer going to feel compelled to post something every day.   There’s at once not enough and too much going on for me to do that.  I will try to return to daily posting in the fall, but it may be the case that my work will not allow me the time to do that.  I’m still going to be reading people’s blogs, as that’s been a great pleasure of mine, and maybe, without my own blog to tend to, I can comment more. I’ll see you all on the flip side!

Recipes

I’ve added a widget to the sidebar to collect the recipes from my random recipe project.  I’m retroactively adding things to it and I’m also hoping to auto post some of them.