More on commenting

Several other people, disappointed in having their Haloscan comments disappear, have moved their blogs.  Phantom Scribbler notes that comments have gone the way of the do-do bird, thanks to platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  I have never gotten a huge amount of comments, as some bloggers have.  Compared to Phantom’s Whining Wednesday and even to many of Laura at 11D‘s posts, I was hosting an intimate dinner party compared to their big tent affairs.  And that’s been okay with me, though I do like having conversations better than standing on a soapbox.  One thing Facebook and its ilk can’t capture is a conversation around someone’s idea or commentary.  A blogger writes something and people have things to add.  Other people come along and add not just to the original idea, but the new ones.  The original post is more than it was, thanks to the additions of the people who contributed.  I remember struggling to find a way to post recent comments on the sidebar because I wanted to highlight that conversation.  Sure, it was a way to say, “Hey, people actually read my blog!” but more than that, I saw as an invitation for people to contribute, to participate in the conversations that were already going on.

It’s been interesting to be a part of this phenomenon from nearly its beginning.  When we all first began, we commented a lot because there weren’t a lot of us out there.  We had no one else to talk to.  Now, there are blogs and/or commnets associated with nearly every major publication and broadcasting company.  There are places like the Huffington Post for people to turn to for blogs on every topic from politics to entertainment to the arts.  People do comment there and at the New York Times, and at The Washington Post, but they devolve quickly sometimes and/or they sound like the call-in radio callers, some of whom sound like they could have their own show and some of whom you know you don’t want to run into in a dark alley.  Compared to that, commenters here and on other blogs I read had the feeling of running into old friends at the grocery store.  Oh, there’s Wendy and Janice and bj and Grace and Phantom and jo(e) and Susan and Elizabeth again!  Hello, how’ve you been?  What’s new and interesting in your world? I think as long as it feels like that.  As long as people want it to be a kind of camaraderie, comments will linger.  There may not be as many of them, but they’ll be there just the same.

P.S. I’m still hoping to find a way to import comments here.  We shall see.

Friday Fun: New Digs!

I know normally Friday Fun involves funny cats or stick figure drawings, but to me, playing around with new platforms is fun.  I’ve had hosting for a long time now and just set up this new domain and installed WordPress.  Took me about ten minutes.  No, really.  Though I can poke around in the innards if I want, I don’t have to, and that’s what I like about WordPress.  I’m looking forward to having more options here, to being able to change the look when I want to, to generally have more control.  So yippee!


So, my comments are gone.  Haloscan was bought out, and, unfortunately, they want to charge for their comment system.  So I exported 7,456 comments, over five years’ worth of comments.  All the old posts have no comments now.  I think this one will have comments–we’ll see.  And all that crap under recent comments–no clue.  Sigh.  It was a good run.  We’ll miss you Haloscan.

Fear the Blogs

So, my project for the summer is to restart, for about the umpteenth time, a book project about facing fear and anxiety over social media tools. Thankfully, I have two wonderful colleagues, Leslie Madsen-Brooks and Barbara Sawhill helping me out. We decided to dive in after our latest presentation on the topic and have set ourselves a fairly ambitious deadline to get something written. I suggested that we start with topics and ideas that we feel most close to, which is different for all of us, and see where that takes us. Since I wrote a whole dissertation on blogs, that’s where I started.

On Monday, I was at a social event with some folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while (hey, to any of you reading this!) and they, of course, asked how things are going. I told them that I’d just returned from a conference where I’d given a presentation. They asked, on what?, expecting me to say on something to do with technology in education. I said fear. They did a double take. I explained that my colleagues and I had decided that the underlying reason for much of the resistence to social software was fear. They said, oh, and I thought it was because I didn’t want to share my personal life with the world. I corrected them briefly that we weren’t talking about fear of setting up your Facebook profile, but of using social software in teaching and research, which can be done in a private setting or with other kinds of parameters that reduce exposure. We’re talking about using these tools professionally, in learning, not to talk about what kind of pajamas we’re wearing.

Only 9% of the population has created a blog, so I don’t expect creating and maintaining a blog to appeal to everyone, but just as very few students continue writing or doing math or thinking about sociology after they leave college, the experience of blogging can have lasting effects. I’m sure that students exposed to sociology look at the world differently than they would have otherwise. But, given the small number of people who do blog, I decided to start by writing about reading blogs. My husband has been a consumer of blogs since the dawn of Slashdot and he reads only a handful of blogs regularly, and he *loves* them. When he spouts off about something he read on a blog and starts making connections, I tell him he needs to get his own blog, and he agrees, but then he never does it. There are many more like him.

When I gave my talk at University of Mary Washington, it was reading of blogs I started with first. When I described my argument to my husband, explaining that I wanted to dispel the myth that all blogs were stupid, he said that would be simple, just have them read Tim Burke or Janet Stemwedel and you’re done. Of course, the problem is, that even showing them these blogs isn’t always enough to dispel their disdain for blogs. Those are outliers, they say. The rest are rubbish. And I wanted to take the argument a bit further. I wanted to say, hey, blogs are just as good as some peer reviewed material. Heresy! And I think they are in many cases for many situations, even within academe. At the very least, we can surely say that peer review is not above reproach. (See Janet’s blog for stories of cheating and tragedy in peer review.)

So I shouted out to my twitter faculty friends a question about whether they allow their students to read blogs. I got some funny responses about how much power faculty have to “allow” their students to do anything. So I rephrased it to ask if they’d let their students use blogs in academic work. Faculty on Twitter are necessarily more open to social media than many others, and so I got the expected answers. Many, in fact, required their students to read blogs, and many encouraged it, and used blogs as a way of teaching digital literacy and critical thinking skills. Which is what I usually say to the skeptics, and now I can point to actual real live faculty who use blogs in just that way.

Journalists are afraid that blogs are going to put them out of business and I started thinking, wondering, whether faculty had that fear as well. Despite my saying that blogs can be just as good as peer reviewed material, I think that unlike journalism, the audience for the two media are different people. And, I think, that students don’t actually read many blogs. But the faculty who do resist, the ones who ban not just blog reading, but using the Wikipedia, they seem to not trust their students to be able to make good judgements, and rather than teaching them how to, they keep them away from “bad” material. But what else might be at work there? That seems somehow too simple. Any skeptical faculty out there, or any people who work with skeptical faculty who have thoughts?

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Comments and the Commenters who make them

Virginia Heffernan writes a piece in the New York Times about the low quality of comments on news sites like the New York Times, the WaPo and Slate. She says:

But as it is, online commentary is a bête noire for journalists and readers alike. Most journalists hate to read it, because it’s stinging and distracting, and readers rarely plow through long comments sections unless they intend to post something themselves. But perhaps the comments have become so reader-unfriendly, in part, because of the conventions of the Web-comment form.

She blames the 24/7 access in part, with late-night tin-foil-hat-wearing people often being the first to weight in on an article, setting the tone for the discourse of the rest of the comments. Also, people who comment tend to be people who have the time and inclination to comment and these are not necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer.

I actually wrote a best-practices document on how to write good comments, aimed at students working in class blogs. Here’s what I said:

1. Comment on the original post topic.

2. Contribute something new to the conversation.

3. Even if you disagree, remain polite.

4. Don’t comment for the sake of commenting. Don’t just say, “Yeah, I agree.” You’re not adding to the conversation.

5. Keep your comment fairly brief. If you find yourself wanting to say a lot more, write your own post and then link to it in the comments.

6. Leave a link. This can be a link to your blog that you type into the comment form or leave a link to resources that might help the author.

Obviously, these take into account the usual short form students often resort to in online forums. These suggestions are for K-12 students. The second point, I think, is the most important, and perhaps what Heffernan is most disappointed by in reader comments. Most comments seem to be self-serving and/or polemic and the commenter does not seem to want to engage in a conversation with the author. But I think the article authors are also to blame for this. Rarely do I see an author weigh in in the comment section. I’m not suggesting they feed the trolls, but they could certainly respond to the comments that do have merit, which might encourage people who want to engage in a conversation instead of a shouting match to comment more often. The trolls might eventually get drowned out by the reasonable commenters.

I really like comments on articles, even the ones that aren’t so nice. Newspaper articles and blogs seem to me to be like soapboxes even more than personal blogs are. They don’t always invite reader commentary in their rhetorical strategies. They set themselves up as experts who know the answers. I like seeing what other people think in the comments. It’s a way of gaging my own reaction. Am I crazy for hating/loving/being confused by this? What arguments can be made against this? What does this mean in a larger context? It is also a window into the audience. Comments on IHE articles always cause me to raise my eyebrows. Comments on tech articles reveal a bit about the culture of the field. I like having that insight, even if it’s messy and crazy and a bit scary at times. I think it’s good to know that not everyone in the world is reasonable. Though it might also be good to show those people how they might become more reasonable while still getting their voices heard.

The Rocky Mountain News

Via Leslie, I watched this poignant video chronicling the last month of the paper. What I was thinking as I was watching it was that the value of good reporting has never been highlighted by anyone very well. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, the “news” that many people watch and pay attention to has never been about good reporting. So people don’t know what they’re missing. I don’t think, as a couple of reporters said, that blogs are much to blame. In the grand scheme of things, people mostly don’t get their news from blogs. It seems to me that the advent of 24 hour news channels, the Internet, and an administration who thought the news was like an annoying puppy conspired to create a bad environment for real news. So when the economy tanks, it seems like you’re cutting out the fat when you cut out the news rather than throwing away the meat.

My own papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Delaware County News, declared bankruptcy this week. I’ve been reading my news online for years and these papers have the crappiest web sites I’ve ever seen. I suspect that they lost quite a few readers that way. And quite frankly, my local paper doesn’t seem to cover very important stories. Quite often, it reprints stories from the Inquirer and the local stories all bleed. There’s very little coverage of local politics or really local anything that isn’t crime related. I think one reason blogs have bcome popular is that people are craving something more than the “if it bleeds it leads” kind of stories. And blogs may not always be good journalism, but at least for the very best of them, their content is substantive. My impression is that the Rocky did have substantive content and was a good paper. It’s sad that the community lost that. I’m sure it will be missed.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

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Gender and Blogging

Last week I hijacked Jim’s blog, bavatuesdays, by making a fairly innocent comment about how his top commenters were (or at least seemed to be on the surface) all men. I was not trying to claim Jim was sexist or anything (as I think Jim knows), but it’s a pattern I happened to notice and, quite frankly, that I notice quite often on many male-authored blogs.* I’m not accusing anyone of anything, really. I’m just trying to figure out why this pattern persists, and why it seems to persist in the technical world I tend to inhabit. I’m not sure I can say anything more intelligent here than I did there and I’m concerned that I’m re-enforcing gender stereotypes by even pointing out these habits. I know lots of women in the technical world, but it does seem to me that they participate less in these informal conversations than the men I know (and I included myself; I’m a lame commenter). What are the implications of that, if any?

I know this blog is random and all over the place, which doesn’t lend itself to being read regularly by people who are interested in specific topics. I personally like the randomness of it, even while I recognize that it means I don’t get linked to by others as often. And I know that randomness is typical of many women bloggers. Although not true of all women, of course, women tend to mush the different parts of their lives together more than men and that tendency is reflected in their blogs. Except Jim’s blog is random, too, but it’s random in a different way than mine. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him post about his kids or his family or personal life, really. His topics may shift, but they never drift to the personal. Maybe men shy away from the personal, both in their reading and posting habits. Maybe women are drawn to the personal and so are not drawn to male-authored blogs. I don’t know. I do know there’s research out there and I do wish I knew more. Please do comment on this issue if you have thoughts and can point me in different directions.

*For the record, I just want to note that I know that we don’t always know what gender a blogger is, nor do we know what relationship their gender has to their biological sex. And further, I also recognize and appreciate that gender is not a category that can be easily divided into male-female. But I do recognize that people tend to do that and that certain patterns related to gender identity seem to emerge and I’m interested in those.

Slow Blogging

Laura at 11D mentions the slow blogging movement. My dear friend and colleague, Barbara Ganley, was featured in this article on Slow Blogging, which is oddly in the Fashion and Style section. What’s up with that? I’m kind of a medium blogger myself, though some days (like today, for example), I find enough time and enough interesting tidbits to blog more than once. I think some bloggers lean more toward the habits of essay writers and others toward more rapid-fire commentary. There’s room for both and probably everything in between. The blog is dead! Long live the blog!

Blogging: The Slides I Didn’t Use

On Friday, I gave yatob*. We were the last panel and so, with time compressed, we went straight for the demo, skipping the slides altogether. It’s actually nice to know a topic so well to be able to speak almost extemporaneously on the topic. I had prepared well, though, so it didn’t matter that the slides got trashed. Here they are for your own enjoyment:

I ended up using the theme that “software matters.” There’s no right or wrong to setting up a class blog, but that your choice of space and layout can change the nature of the class. One thing that’s nice about blogging is that it’s flexible and easy to change midstream. Just move some widgets around and voila! new blogging environment.

*yet another talk on blogging (I should note that I’m in no way tired of giving these, but I worry that people are tired of hearing about it from me.)

What is scholarship

Yesterday, I sent a link to my faculty of the “Top 100 Liberal Arts Bloggers.” I recognized quite a few of the names and thought that it might make interesting summer reading. I, in fact, billed it as such–like beach reading. I got a response pretty quickly from someone saying that he/she was disappointed that the blogs weren’t scholarship and that the list just confirmed that blogs are worthless.


Where do I begin? First of all, I would say that most academic blogs are not written with “traditional” scholarship in mind. If academic bloggers do address their field, they often do so with a lay audience in mind. As Michael Wesch said of his YouTube work, he’s reaching millions of people, different kinds of people than he would reach with his work published in an academic journal. In fact, that’s why I appreciate certain blogs, like the blogs at Scienceblogs. I get a sense of fields there’s no way I would understand if I read the journal articles. Another way that these blogs come at scholarship is by addressing issues in the news. Stories about science or economics can be expanded upon (or corrected) by experts. Is that or isn’t that scholarship?

Secondly, there’s more to life than scholarship, at least of the detailed kind I think my correspondent meant. Many of the academic blogs I read discuss work-life balance issues, problems within higher education more broadly, issues in their fields of study, politics, and yes, sometimes just plain old stuff. Is there anything wrong with that? Isn’t that somewhat interesting and something we should take time to think about? Shouldn’t we wrestle with the problems that an antiquated system brings to bear on current faculty? Shouldn’t we talk about what education means, what being an academic means, how to have a life and a life of the mind? But that’s not scholarship . . .

And so what if it’s not. So what if we can definitively say that in no way are blogs ever to be called scholarship? Do faculty not ever read the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper’s, Time, Newsweek, watch the evening news, a movie or two? Are those bad things? Not intellectual enough? Are faculty not allowed entertainment?

I personally think we need to expand what we mean by scholarship anyway. I think we can still say that a certain kind of scholarship needs to be done (maybe), the kind written for the narrow group of people interested in a topic and published in journals reviewed and read by those same people. But I think there’s room for much more–critiques of the industry of higher education, discussions of teaching and grading practices, discussions of news or of peer-reviewed articles. I think blogs bring academics out of the ivory tower and I think that’s a good thing for both the academics and for the people who read their blogs. It ups the level of public discourse. I feel sorry for those who feel they should remain ensconced in the ivory tower and don’t engage with the world. Their work may become increasingly unknown and irrelevant.