Chasing Digital Rabbit Trails

I just ran across a blog that I set up in 2007 for a presentation at TYCA-SE. It refers to a presentation that I did in 2005 on blogging for TYCA-SE. I am now preparing to give a presentation called “Ten Years of Blogging” at TYCA-SE. This will be my third presentation on blogging for the same conference then. I didn’t remember that until I found the blog with the evidence, so I’ll just go ahead and add “a digital record of scholarly activities” to my list of things that a blog can be.

My blog projects trail off in so many different directions at this point that it’s no surprise I can’t remember them all. I would be embarrassed by this fact if shame were not such a waste of time that could be spent in additional public self-reflection.

I must say that working on this presentation has been an interesting look back at my own history.

As the day of the presentation approaches, I expect to do a little more meta-blogging, and a little more linking back to my own previous blog posts and blog projects. Come on over and hang out while I do it. This will be like watching someone sort out ten years worth of vacation photos.

A Domain (or a blog?) of One’s Own

This is an interested talk about a university’s push to get a domain name and web hosting for every student.

Two main points really struck me from the talk.

1. We want to give students a sense of ownership over their own web real estate and/or their own web presence.

2. We want to push students into discovering “the deeper possibilities of the web.”

There are, of course, possibilities that go far deeper than the blog, but I do think that for students who don’t have access to web hosting, a free blog account can be a good place to start learning deeper possibilities than can be found on social networking sites alone. Maybe a blog address is the community college student’s “domain of one’s own.”

I wish that my school could get every student a domain name, but for now I will settle for requiring all of my students to register a blog address.

Every Day I Write the Blog

Every day I write. That much is true. Some days I write pieces of books, and some days I write pieces of blogs, and some days I write letters and instructions and grocery lists, but every day I write.

Part of that writing happens because of my job. I write emails. I write notes to myself to remember what I’m supposed to be doing. I write comments on student work. Every day I write.

A large part of that is because of social media. I am a frequent poster to social media, so much so that I advise you to go ahead and unfriend me before we even meet if you like a nice, quiet, and orderly news feed. Every day I write. Every day I post my thoughts, my opinions, my frustrations, my dreams, and my good wishes for others on social media. Sometimes I post very fervent reflections on my beliefs. Sometimes my Facebook page reads like a “This I Believe” archive site.

I post, and my thoughts float on down the stream, and I lose track of them, and if I forget what I said or even that I said it, there’s no point in looking for it later. No matter how much in love with my own post I might be, I will not take it out to admire it again later because putting it there in the first place is an act of saying goodbye to it. I say what I say and, like any conversation, the moment passes, and the comment floats away.

That’s okay. That’s the way Facebook works, and maybe that accounts for its popularity. Things happen on Facebook in a way that mimics the fleeting nature of face-to-face conversation.

On the other hand, I created a blog post about some genealogy work that I did called “Infamous Cousins” on August 13, 2011. The most recent comment I have received on that post was submitted on December 12, 2014. That comment might read a little like spam, but it really isn’t. It’s just my uncle. After more than three years, family members are still discovering this post and still commenting on it.

Facebook is the conversation, but WordPress is the book.

I often post reflections on Facebook these days that I would have once reserved for the blog, and I do that for a couple of reasons: (1) It’s easier, especially if I am already logged in to Facebook on my phone; (2) I get more response when I post straight to Facebook because lots of people skip links but read status updates.

Sometimes I regret that I didn’t keep up with my status updates. Sometimes I would like to be able to link back to my status updates in order to further develop an idea. Sometimes I would like to be able to search through my status updates just to find out if I’ve already told the same joke, or if I actually told it three times last week. None of that happens easily on Facebook, but it does happen easily on a blog.

Facebook is for passing thoughts. Blogs are for projects.

Facebook is for making a speech at the high school pep rally that no one, including yourself, will ever remember. Blogs are for writing inscriptions in high school year books that someone will pick up and smile over in another 35 years.

Facebook is not the book. The blog is the book.

Every day I write.

Blogging died last year; Welcome to my blog

I started blogging in 2005. Actually, it was probably 2004. I know this because I presented at TYCA-SE in Jackson in February of 2005 on blogging, and since I knew nothing about blogging before I decided I would learn it in order to present on it, I’m sure that I started playing around with blogs some months earlier. I’m sure I at least created one to be certain I could do it before I sent in the proposal for that conference, and proposals are always due months ahead of time. Also, “blog” was word-of-the-year in 2004. I remember that from my presentation. I also remember that I had only just heard about blogging and was excited about it and thought that I was way behind the curve on this little tech fad and that I would never catch up before it faded into oblivion. That’s why I did a presentation on blogging (in partnership with my friend and colleague Tammy Townsend). I wanted a reason to make myself sit down and learn this tool while it was still hot.

Since then, the whole world has changed. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg was in the process of launching Facebook, but it would be a couple of years before I would hear about it, and I would not join until 2008.

When Facebook first came on the scene, it only allowed short posts, and blogs were designed for more involved posts, so for me there was a clear distinction between the two. Facebook dropped the character limits on posts, though, and that–along with a few other factors–blurred the lines between blogging and posting to social sites like Facebook. In fact, those lines became so blurred that people started announcing the death of the blog. Yet still I blog.

As Omar Kabadayi put it, “Blogging is dead, long live the blog.” He concludes,

Blogs haven’t disappeared – they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem. The loss of casual bloggers has shaken things out, with more committed and skilled writers sticking it out. Far from killing the blog dream, this has increased the quality of the blogosphere as a whole.

Kabadayi cites Jason Kottke of NeimanLab:

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

Maybe that’s why I still blog. I fit the demographic. Nevertheless, I also still have students create blogs because I see the blog as serving a different purpose than all of those other social sharing sites, and I see it as teaching students a different set of skills. I’ve also shifted my thinking a little away from putting so much emphasis on meeting students where they are (in terms of social media). It’s a common complaint among teachers that students know how to use Instagram and Twitter, but they don’t know how to copy and paste or send an email attachment or do any of the practical things they need to know for school and for the workforce. I think the blog is a good place to teach some of those practical skills. It’s also a good place to concentrate on more sustained public writing. It’s one thing to tweet an opinion or a joke. It’s another to develop an argument. Blogging has a very real and useful place in helping students learn these skills.

Ultimately, for me, blogging isn’t dead, but my 2005 way of thinking about blogging is, and it is mainly dead because of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Here are some of my thoughts on the 2005 blog vs. the 2015 version of the blog that has to coexist with all of these other social media platforms:

  1. In 2005, the blog was my social media network. In 2015. it is not. Today, the blog is a book that I am writing, but it is not also the coffee shop where I am reading portions of my book to my friends. Back then, it was both the book and the coffee shop. Today it is only the book. Facebook and Twitter are the coffee shop.I once worked hard to make sure that my blog networked with other blogs. I linked to other blogs. I visited other blogs and left comments. I wrote posts in response to things I saw on other blogs. Now, I don’t have a blogroll. If I visit other people’s blogs, it is because I have seen a link to a post that caught my attention on Facebook. If I comment on someone’s blog post, I will more likely make my comment on Facebook, and if I receive comments, they will most likely be shared via Facebook.
  2. Unlike 2005, I rarely use my blog simply for sharing articles now. That’s what Twitter is for. If I want to share a newspaper article, I just share it on social media. If I want to write about a topic that interests me, and I want to refer to several different articles in the course of doing so, I will probably use the blog because blogs allow the space for making connections between items as part of the development of my own ideas, but Facebook and Twitter mostly work better for sharing one main article and one main idea at a time.
  3. When I blogged in 2005, I assumed that my audience would be made up of people with similar personal and professional interests, and that I would have to seek those people out in order to find any audience at all. When I blog in 2015, I know that my social media world is no longer compartmentalized, and I know that even if I am writing on a specialized topic, sharing it with one group means sharing it with all groups because I’m way too lazy to create Facebook filters.I remember feeling uncomfortable with the intersection of various social groups in my news feeds ten years ago, but now those intersections are a way of life. I might write about teaching and get comments from a family member, or I might write about family and get comments from someone I knew from high school, or I might write about high school and get comments from someone I know from a professional organization. I still compartmentalize my writing so that different types of topics are posted on different blogs, but I no longer assume that only one limited group of like-minded people will read what I have to say. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, but it is different.Like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, we all tend to “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet,” but in today’s social media world, we no longer get to switch personas in order to meet a particular audience for a particular purpose because we are talking to all audiences all the time. In that light, the blog challenges us to be more aware of and to put more deliberate effort into developing a public voice.
  4. In 2005, the blog felt like loose and casual writing to me. It was a place for informal introspection even on professional topics. Now, the blog feels like the space for formal writing. Facebook is a casual writing hangout, and the blog is the put-on-your-Sunday-clothes place.I remember that in my own early days of blogging I would refuse to edit blog posts if I saw mistakes in them after publishing. I saw the blog as a journal, and I saw the blog posts as one-off events rather than as products. I thought it was good to show students that everyone is human, and that everyone makes mistakes in casual writing, and that editing was something to mostly reserve for more formal efforts that went through multiple drafts–unlike blog posts. Heaven forbid a blog post would have been put through a process that required much effort in those days. Blogging was just exploratory writing. If there was a process involved in developing that exploration into something more formal, it would happen off the blog.I no longer feel that way. Now I see Facebook as casual sharing and the blog as more formal. I don’t always take the time to thoroughly proofread blog posts. I do still distinguish between the level of formality in blogging and the level of formality in print publications. I do see the blog as more formal than Facebook, though, and I do go back and correct errors and typos if I spot them.

No doubt there have been more shifts in the way I blog and the way I think about blogging since 2005, and I may come back to revise this list later, but for now this covers the basics.

I do think that blogs as casual social media conversations are probably a thing of the past because it is easier to have those conversations on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. That doesn’t mean the blog is dead. It just means that the blog is now a space that more uniquely serves the needs of writers. People communicate on Facebook and Twitter, but people write on WordPress. This, to me, is why we need to keep blogging alive in the writing classroom.



And the blog lives on

This is my first post on this blog in several years, and I’m here now because I’m supposed to speak about blogging at a conference soon. Oh, irony of ironies. I’m scheduled to do a little blog evangelizing even though I haven’t been a practicing blogger lately myself.

Luckily, that’s only partly true.

This is my first post back here, but it isn’t my only since 2010. I blog other places. It isn’t blogging itself that I took such a long hiatus from, but more specifically blogging about technology in the classroom. I think that happened for two reasons. One, I was going through some personal overwhelm in my life. Two, I was burned out on learning new technologies for the classroom. I was saturated with technology. I felt like technology was taking over all of my attention, and that I needed to get back to concentrating on writing and the teaching of writing. Also, I felt like I was being glutted with new technologies, but none of them really excited me for classroom use. I just couldn’t get into making up Pinterest assignments. Maybe a better person could have, but I was toast, and not the pretty kind of professional toast found on Pinterest either.

I tell this now because I think it is part of the story of why blogging matters. I think this is a kind of burnout that teachers commonly experience. I think the question of when technology is too much is a valid one that ought to be addressed.

I don’t have the answer to that question. I only have my own story. I can only say I’ve been there too, and I am getting back into the game of talking about technology in the classroom now because I think it matters. I think it is important to my students and my colleagues that we all talk about technology and its place in the classroom.

Thus, for the next few weeks (and who knows from there), I will be blogging about blogging and ebooks and other sundry tech topics.

Welcome back to me, and welcome back to anyone who might come along and read what I have to say. Also, there are rumors that my brother might join me soon as a blogger on this site, but we will see if that is going to happen when it happens.

Cheers, colleagues. Happy blogging.