Tag Archives: blogging

Public Showcase and Engagement Blog Wiki Thing

Today’s Use Case for the Collaborative Tools Project is a difficult one to give an accurate title. It can be thought of as a site that promotes the work of a department or aims to attract a community of like minded people. It might have lots of media such as photos or videos from conferences or even lectures.

The teams I have that need this are…

  • The Sustainability Forum – who want to raise the awareness and debate around the University of York’s sustainability
  • The Philosophy Wiki – a Community of Practice about, er, philosophy (currently they are using MediaWiki)
  • Humanities Research – a cross departmental research department (currently using the WordPress service)
  • History of Art

An important part of this Use Case looks to engage potential students and impress funding bodies and attract collaborators. It is very much an “outreach site” and aspects of  social media marketing or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or being well ranked in Google might even come into play.

My first thoughts for providing service  this was WordPress…. and then the Philosophy team turned up and complicated things. Who’d have thought?

The challenge here is to give people what they want.. and what they tell me they want is…

  • Something that looks shit hot
  • Something that is very much “their look and feel”
  • Something that is the beginning of a niche community
  • Something that is theirs.

It’s a tough nut to crack.

At first I thought that a shared WordPress Multi-User environment, with a shared look and feel, although being easy to administer, might not be appropriate at all. It would be just “too corporate”. And WordPress is woeful at wiki integration and wiki thinking so it wouldn’t do for the philosophers at all.

But on the other hand, maintaining the upgrades on multiple installs of WordPress isn’t something I would look forward to doing.

I am struggling here to decide what is the best approach to providing great-looking, easy-to-use sites that broadly support self-promotion, blogging, community-building  and wiki working that are public-facing and look to engage the wider world in discussion or even content creation.

I currently am thinking of providing workshops, templates and guides to using Blogger, WordPress, PBWorks effectively and then make sure that we aggregate the items created centrally. This sort of gives people the “best of breed” service for a few pounds a month. They could even hire their own designers if the look and feel of free templates isn’t up to their very high specifications.

What would you do?

The Death of Blogging… Again!

I haven’t blogged in ages, but then, neither have you. It seems much of the blogosphere, meaning you and me, have been lured, entertained and distracted by twittering instead.

Twitter satisfies many of the needs that blogging used to sate. It’s instant, social and fun. But Twitter is so much easier, so easy that even talentless celebs can do it. And Twitter is a much better platform than blogging for “showing off” because one’s followers (or readers) are explicitly “on show”. Measurment is transparent.

But the twitter can’t half be annoying. And when I say “twitter” I mean you … and me. What I hate most is not the people who tweet what they had for breakfast which I quite like, I mean, any sentence with “kipper” in it is automatically improved in my book but the people who ruthlessly self-promote, ALL THE TIME!

Recently I was watching “Question Time” a political UK talk show. The audience and twitter alike were full of tough questions, humour and vitriol and someone (at 10:30PM) tweeted “New Blog Post: 15 ways to increase your traffic”. I’ve got nothing against self-promotion at all, it’s a dirty job and all that, but to push a crappy SEO blog post whilst everyone else is fuming about duck islands, moats and second homes apart from being beyond the pale seems unbelievably one dimensional and boring.

And whilst I’m probably more guilty than you are of mindless bandwagon jumping and I too find myself trotting out excuses about “not having time to blog” and “not quite seeing the point” I’m going to have a bash at old skool blogging again where I simply share what I’m doing, what I’ve done and what I’m thinking about doing in a “think out loud” way. Not with any alterior promotional motives, but just in the hope that it makes a connection for someone somewhere.

You never know.

p.s Like lots of people, I use Google Reader to read my RSS feeds. I had to move to Reader because NetNewsWire simply couldn’t cope anymore and neither could I. News reading had become a chore because Google Reader (apart from having a raft of usability issues) was just so bloody ugly. So thank goodness for Feedly (image above) which makes reading blogs not just easy on the eye but also has enough small usability additions to have me hooked.

Every little helps.

A third of people do things that the other two thirds don’t shock!

A third of people forget online passwords. Hilarious… the article requires registration. Is it a sympton of the nicer weather recently that NMA are breaking such hot potatoes as “People Forget Stuff”?

This weekend I went to the eko-create launch and left desperate to play with video editing software and discovered Andy is an indie rocker called Casper Hauser and rekindled a need to play/write music. I also popped into a local we-sell-everything store and on seeing some very cheap canvases and acrylic paints felt a yearning to paint again. There are times where there seems so much to do that I feel I could explode with excitement like a (very) big kid.

Perhaps it’s time to focus. Focus on what I do rather than on what I’d like to do with all the time in the world.

Using Google Page Creator/Blogger and Other Free Services for supporting Small Organisations and Communities

I am always on the look out for new and novel approaches to supporting small groups of people have a presence and communication online using low-cost tools.
THE CHALLENGE

Many small organisations, such as Easingwold Running Club, need a web site to help promote their races, so paying visitors runners enter their races  and to support coordinating their members. They need simple functionalities such as calendars, news, passworded file stores, information pages and discussions. The site would need to be easy to use and maintain, very cheap, if not free, and ideally encourage the members themselves to participate in the creation of the content.

Having experimented using open-source tools such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Zope and other groupware tools I was never very comfortable about setting up a server for a small group like this because:

  • There are always on-going costs. These may be small, and whilst a small simple site is cheap, a site with the complexity of log-ins, WYSIWYG editors, calendaring and file uploads starts to need a bit more oomph.
  • There are always maintainance issues. The job of keeping a backup has to be done by someone. The job of ensuring the site is running needs doing. If the site needs updating I would always prefer it if the client can do it themselves.
  • There is always the problem of control. When someone “runs” a web site. They can always, on a whim or by accident, shut it down. With a background in education, I’m a fan of the “you can too” model and I like the idea of empowerment in general. I like shallow hierarchies and hate gate-keepers. When you have a situation in which there is a gate-keeper, at some point, you meet the gate, it seems especially in insecure geek circles.

WHAT IS THE NEW SITE?
http://www.easingwoldrunningclub.org.uk/

This site is built using free services from Google, namely, Google Apps, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Blogger (owned by Google). The latest news from the Blogger blog appears on the home page using what Google call a “gadget” … as do the upcoming events in the calendar.

Because of a fault with the old site was re-created by rescuing data using Google-cache facility and the good old internet archive.

It took less than a day to build, starting from knowing little to nothing about the tools used. I spent some of the evening struggling with some CSS hacks but I’m no designer, that could have been quicker. The site isn’t finished yet but it works.

WHAT BENEFITS ARE THERE TO THIS APPROACH?

More people can contribute to the content of the site. Anyone with access and a browser can change the content using simple browser-based tools. The site can updated with photos and text, without any great technical knowledge. No need for HTML. The more people that “own” sections of the site, the more democratic and fair (in terms of time spent and effort) the process of running a web site becomes. I suspect that, as usual, few will take up that offer, but I like the idea that collaborative content creation isn’t ruled out from the start.

The Latest News Blog, where all the latest news will be posted, is open to anyone the club invites to post there and is a place you can put photos or race reports. Obviously, the more people that add news to the site, the more people it will attract via Google searches (the main way anybody finds any site) and in doing so will raise the awareness of Easingwold Running Club. I would encourage any member to maybe start a personal running blog at http://www.blogger.com if they are interested.

There is a secure Members Forum to which only members can enter. This is a space for private chat, say about finances or documents with sensitive documents such as members’ telephone numbers. Membership is granted by an administrator on request.

The Tables & Results section is a file store into which administrators can upload or create spreadsheets and documents. This is a quick and easy way to publish any public information members have made quickly and easily. Simply upload and view.

The Events Calendar is subscribable. This is a feature I find particularly useful as I can view events alongside work commitments using Outlook or iCal or similar. The events are also “shared with the world” meaning somebody visiting the Yorkshire area may discover one of your races via Google Calendar and pay their £2!

The alternative to using free tools is writing your own software and/or using open-source tools always require hosting and maintainance. Whilst this can be very low cost, free is always cheaper and the site benefits from Google’s excellent hosting track record. Additionally, Google’s services have many advanced features that are often missing from home-grown solutions, such as RSS newsfeeds, subscribable calendars, easy to use editing etc.

WHAT DRAWBACKS ARE THERE TO THIS APPROACH?

When one uses free-tools it could be said that you are handing over control to a third party. There is an element of truth in this and yes, their servers may be struck by lightning but that could also be said of using one’s own hosting. I feel that the benefits in terms of ease of use and functionality out-weigh this particular drawback.

Branding and looking professional can be a challenge when technologically pulling different services together. When using your own code, everything is easily editable, this doesn’t guarantee that the site will be well designed though, but in terms of ease-of-development it can be a lot simpler when you have total control.

Some of the tools, such as the file store and calendar aren’t brandable but the functionality they offer is so great, I don’t mind so much.

CONCLUSIONS

  • I am most disappointed with the “Gadgets” which for the most part don’t work or are pretty useless. Would you really want “Depression News” as a gadget on your web pages?
  • The poor Google Calendar gadget looks a bit goofy, I’m surprised that the means to integrate other Google services aren’t more elegant in terms of styling.
  • The Google Page Creator has no concept of shared content, so navigation has to be copied and pasted across multiple pages which makes making a change to the navigation a bit of a chore.
  • I discovered that you can’t rename pages
  • The lack of Blogger and Google groups integration is astonishing. I can’t imagine any web site without a blog nowadays. There seems to be a confict within Google about where they are going with publishing and collaboration.
  • There is no access to the Google Page Creator templates. I managed to implement a stylesheet hack so that the Blogger blog and the main site appear similar. It needs a little more work to add the finishing touches.
  • I logged a myriad of small usability glitches that Google are free to pay me for. If they need any help with their publishing/community strategy they can find me on Google 🙂

All this said, the Google toolset is very impressive, at times a little slow, but it offers most of what a small, non-profit organisation might need. I didn’t mention that you also get email accounts for members but in this case isn’t something that they needed.
Wiring Google’s services together could be made a lot easier with easier-to-use more configurable gadgets and stylesheets that work between Blogger and Google Page Templates.

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

Using a “free tools” approach means that an organisation is free to either swap in different services as an when they see fit or jump ship to a different service altogether. Whether that is feasible depends on them having a friendly tech person.

The header is used on both sites and could be edited to include a logo or strapline or use a different image. It is available here . Anybody is free to improve or offer suggestions on how to improve this, it’d make a great club competition! Deleting the old header and uploading the new file will update both the Blogger blog and the main site.

The site uses a stylesheet called style_override.css that any web developer worth his salt could improve on, particularly with regard to integration with the blogger template.

Rory Motion | my life as an artist

A very long while ago, Jonathan went on a course where he encountered performance poet Rory Motion, and very kindly bought one his books (Neither is the Horse) and gave it to me. I loved it and when, back in York got in touch with Rory to talk about poetry, football, the universe and chutney etc.
I introduced Rory Motion to blogging which from the banks of the River Ouse is no mean feat. Latterly, he’s been painting more than writing… go buy one now.

Human-centred driving directions

It always amazes me how almost all information can be made more human-centric somehow… with a little imagination even the most mundane data can be presented slightly differently to be better suited for our brains. Here’s some ideas for how driving directions could be/are going to be improved…  Optimizing Buildings for Driving Directions by Google.

UPDATE: OK, OK, OK, I take back everything I said about geriatric1927, it took me a few days but now I’m totally hooked… more strength to your arm sir!

Like… dur!

The article How to Get People Linking and Commenting on Your Blog has some great advice about blogging for people who really will never ever get it… ever… not even slightly….

Here’s another tip. If you want people to talk to you, find out where they are and talk to them. That one’s for free.

Here’s another (I’m on a roll). If you want people to comment, make sure your comment form works. You’d think that’d be easy but the people at Lockergnome’s comment form doesn’t work no matter how hard I hit the “Send” button.

I’m kind of angry with myself that I bothered to read that lightweight “article”… but then it highlights the importance of saying something people want to hear and having a catchy linkbait title (see how my “Like… dur!” blog title really draws you in?)

Sack the board of the LazyWeb

I’m fed up with the LazyWeb. It never does what I need doing… well, hardly ever.

You see there only really are 3 types of information… blogs (time-based), wikis (structured) and er… the other one…

All I want… is a blog that is a wiki… that’s all.

But how would that work? I can almost hear you asking… Simple. It’d be a blog, like Workpress (only better), except if you enter a WikiWord (or put square brackets around it) it then you are prompted to create another blog item. Whether or not that appears in the blog home page is up to you.

All I want… is a wiki that has a WYSIWYG editor (like fckeditor or tinymce) that handles WikiWords…. Wikis are great. Syntaxes suck.

All I want is to enter WikiWords and have them presented as Wiki Words, and for any content entered to recognize “Wiki Words” whether or not they are concatenated…

All I want is to be able to attach files to any page (yes and search them, but that can be version 2)

All I want is for the wiki/blog pages to automatically list 5 or 10 backlinks. Why most wikis don’t do this by default I’ve no idea… it’s like automatic navigation.

All I want is the choice of a free service, a paid for service or downloadable software.

I’ve been waiting for a long time now and the LazyWeb has failed to deliver again and again. I propose the LessThanLazyWeb.

GPS on MacOS X (or Why Blogs are Rubbish)

http://gpsonmacosx.blogspot.com/

I’ve started a blog about GPS on MacOS X, not to teach or share expertise or show off or anything. This blog is to share my confusion and ignorance.

There are a few blogs out there about mapping but I realized that blogs are very bad at taking a novice on a learning journey.

I literally have no clue about mapping but like lots of people I’m drawn to maps, I’ve always loved them. And I love notions like grassroots mapping, taking control as a people of useful data (like maps).

But blogs throw you in at the deep end, mid conversation really… listing them chronologically wouldn’t really help either because there’d be so much guff and fluff. To be a useful guide a blog would need a lot of editing… I guess they call well edited blogs “books” don’t they? Or they would need for you and a cohort of bloggers to start with similar interests and goals in mind and to share questions and things you find out with each other.

I hope my blog serves to share (at least one) customers confusion. The world of GPS/GIS seems geeky in the extreme and yet it holds treasures of interest to everyone. Ever met anyone (nice) who didn’t like maps? Maybe by sharing my ignorance some people will help me by commenting. Maybe someone will make a Skiddoo thing to “Get Me Started”… maybe the people who make the tools will read it and have insights on how better to communicate the concepts and functionality in software.

Maybe it’ll be be another blog nobody reads… you never know do you?

Headshift : Blogging patient opinions

Headshift : Blogging patient opinions
Livio Hughes, director of Headshift, says: “We were determined to avoid turning the Patient Opinion site into yet another token ‘patient’ website. Instead, the communication model uses a range of social software tool and techniques – from patient weblogs to feed aggregation – to create reliable patient-generated reputations for individual departments and services, and shares these with prospective patients at the point when they are choosing a provider.”

Stephen Powell: Organisational Blogging – Ultralab 2 year retrospective

Blimey, it’s been two years!

Stephen Powell is looking back at the work I (and he) did in my sabbatical in Organisational Blogging – Ultralab 2 year retrospective which has made me realise how poorly I documented everything along the way, a case of me not eating my own dogfood there. Maybe it has needed the time away from it though, to be able to reflect on it too.

At the time, I believed that Ultralab’s value was in the discussion that took place there. Lots of companieslike Nortel, BBC, Oracle and Apple all paid good money to be involved in our musings and debates, some in the form of projects and others used to just come and drink coffee and soak it up.

Ultimately, I wanted two things to happen, for those great debates to do some hard marketing work, to share with a wider audience the sorts of things Ultralab were doing. Secondlyy, I wanted to shake up the technological/pedagogical dogma with regards to technology and “play a little” with new genres of communication, to explore new ideas.

Of course, the job I was tasked with but managed to avoid, was to improve the communication between the New Zealand office and the UK office using the number of FirstClass postings as a measure. But because I perceived First Class to be part of the problem for all sorts of reasons, mainly that it is a “closed” system which in my opinion leads to creative stagnation. Anyway, I had different priorities, I was much more concerned with…

  • Empowering the NZ team so that they could, on a whim, create a “learning environment” such as a shared blog.
  • Empowering the NZ team to be in control of their own dissemination and marketing efforts, using a blog for their main web site – rather than emailing edit requests to the webmaster in the UK.
  • Not only disseminating blogging to NZ but enabling them to be able to evangelize blogging down under themselves.
  • Being able to “own the debate” for educational issues important to them, such as “Delightful Learning”.
  • To be able to benefit from all the open-source tools available (drupal, wordpress, wikis, calendars, zope, php etc.) and learn how to adopt the “good enough” approach to hacking tools into loosely-coupled emergent systems.
  • Being able to create learning tools that supported the creation of relationships that didn’t all fall apart when the pilot project funding ended, something I’d seen so many times before and that I thought was plain wrong.
  • Being able to create educational “tools”, or more like “approaches” that could be passed on… like Hypercard in the old days.

Regarding how all of our blogging efforts had an impact on Stephen’s main project, Ultraversity, Stephen says ..

This is significant in that it moves us away from the preferred relationship of control that Universities typically enjoy with their students. Clearly, the institution is still in the position of power, but students do have far more flexibility over whom they work with and how they chose to learn using a range of technologies €“ the embryonic practice required for the vision of a personalised learning environment?

I’m working on very similar projects now, having learned a lot about both what works and what doesn’t. The book is coming real soon.

Blogging and Marginalia

http://eserver.org/books/poe/marginalia.html

You know I keep forgetting how important and idea annotation is… how it has a direct relation to both the blog (an annotation elsewhere) and blogs’ sidebars… and comments…

…while the marginalia are deliberately pencilled, because the mind of the reader wishes to unburthen itself of a thought;€“however flippant€“however silly€“however trivial€“still a thought indeed, not merely a thing that might have been a thought in time, and under more favorable circumstances. In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly€“boldly- originally€“with abandonnement€“without conceit€“much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which, being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed,€“a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.