meta: May 2004 Archives

Double duty

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Over the next month or so, I'm going to be contributing over at Datacloud. Johndan is taking a break from the net for a month. Kind of like Morgan Spurlock, but without the extra cholesterol, depression, and persistent life threatenaity. One would hope, anyway.

Anyhow, it got me to thinking about what I'm going to do differently (or rather, if I'm going to do anything differently). I visit Johndan's site regularly in part because there are some sites (bOING bOING, Design Observer) whose stories I access through the 'cloud. So does that mean that I should try and set my feeds a little wider, and do more reporting while I'm there? There are several of us guesting, so it's not like there won't be some of that already, I'm sure. I've already started referencing others' posts within the site, which is something I don't do here all that often, unless a topic stays with me for more than a day or two. I could ask him to set up a second account for me, under an alias, and start bitter arguments with myself...

The answer, I think, is this: I won't think about it nearly as much as I have just now. At least, not once I've figured out whether I should post twice as often (once here, once there), or divide my weblog mojo in two for the month.

Yes, that's a joke.

There's no sense in piling on to all the criticism that Six Apart is coming under for their announcements today about MT3--to Mena Trott's credit, she's left an awful lot of disappointed, critical trackbacks intact, at least as far as I can tell.

What I want to do instead is to talk a little about the way that I use MT, and the way that I had hoped to use it. First, I should be clear that I have no objection to 6A trying to make MT a source of revenue. Second, there are indications on the MT site that their licensing structure will make some allowances for educational users, which may go some distance to answering my concerns. That being said, here's what I'd once hoped for MT:


Currently, I'm maintaining two sites, but I've experimented with using MT as my primary interface for course syllabi. Under the current license structure, if I want to continue using MT this way, I'll either have to pay or dump sites once a course is over. Nor can I allow students temporary accounts to post to a site. And honestly, I don't make the kind of money that would allow me to pay for the kind of license I'd need to do these things. (3 users/5 blogs I can afford, but this year, I had upwards of 35 students in each semester.) The pricing structure appears to me to do very little to understand different classes of authors--as far as I can tell, there'd be no price difference between my attempt to enable a semester's worth of access to 20 students for a single course blog (or even hosting 20 blogs for a semester for students) and a company that hosts permanent blogs for 20 users.

But that's relatively minor. I can switch to 3, I suppose, although it will severely limit my range of possible activities, enough so that I'll probably take up Wordpress or Textpattern for potential course blogs.


Ever since the U of Minnesota announced their UThink program, I've been thinking about how we (in my department) might do some of what that program does, albeit on a smaller scale. I've spoken with our tech people about installing MT on our server, putting together some site-specific documentation, and making it available to all faculty and grad students for personal and/or course use. Needless to say, our technology budget would not be sufficient to the task with MT3--there's no way to predict how many users there'd be, or how quickly people would take advantage of it, or even if they would. And given the initial sweep of their price scale, we'd be talking about thousands of dollars, which is prohibitive for us. We're a Mac unit on a PC campus, and even though we get great financial support from the university (fairly frequent upgrades, licenses, etc.), we don't have access to the root IT budget.

I'd also hoped to use MT in the fall to start up a department newsletter (or to restart it, I guess), again a many-to-one blog, but one that was ongoing rather than semesterly. We've talked about transferring our dept's homepage over into MT, or enabling an RSS feed on the homepage that would serve up newsletter items. But again, the cost would be prohibitive, unless we simply stick with MT2.6, and I don't guess that there'll be a whole lot of support or development for it down the road.

I'm going to go ahead and send 6A some feedback, and I hope that they take this to heart (if nothing else): the traditional model for educational licensing has been to drop 10-20% off of the price, but that's simply not going to do it here. With educational users, you're talking about very different patterns of usage, and a price scale that doesn't acknowledge those differences is going to simply drive off that market. It's conceivable, with even just a handful of power users, that the number of users and blogs in a writing program could reach into the thousands over a period of, say, 5 years. But the vast majority of those would be temporary and educational (i.e., non-commercial). Even the stable core (given grad students graduating and professors migrating) wouldn't necessarily be permanent. But you're talking about potentially wide fluctuations in the number of current users, and several potential levels of usage. Should a student required to post to a course blog once a week for 15 weeks cost as much as someone who's maintaining a daily site for years? Of course not. It's a lesson that Textpattern has already learned--I'll be waiting to see if 6A can say the same.

I must confess that I feel a little sad about this. MT has had a great deal to do with how I've learned about weblogs, and a disproportionate influence on how I think about them. The prospect of learning a new system and installation doesn't interest me a whole lot, but unless some major revisions occur, it doesn't look like MT3 is going to be my platform of choice. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do, but I'll be really thinking about it this summer.

There's only so many times that local news affiliates can recycle that same damn cyberporn story. And so, in the interest of catching us up, Fox "News" Chicago presents "The Latest Cyber Craze," aka blogging.

Wendy McClure, among others, was interviewed for a Fox segment on blogging, and she provides running summary, commentary, and wit, complete with screen shots. It's a hoot. My fave moment is the apparent importance of distinguishing blogs from chat rooms (chat rooms?!):

NEWSCASTER VOICE-OVER CONT'D: "...without losing what's been written, like in a chat room." And here Matt Weiler has to patiently explain the difference between a weblog and a chat room.
No kidding, they asked both of us about that.
It's like getting a squirrel confused with a mailbox because they're both on the sidewalk.

slow weekend

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It's the end of the semester 'round these parts, and that means a couple of things: a tall stack of final essays for me to get through, an influx of parents for graduation weekend, and the official start of "panic time" for the dissertators. I've been pretty scarce this weekend, doing a little leisure reading (starting Lessig and Norman, among other books) and taking it easy. This week I hope to start a somewhat different regimen, one that involves a renewed focus on my own writing (my non-blogged writing, anyway) and exercise. We'll see how that works out for me.

In other news, I've changed up my sidebar again, this time in response to what can only be described as Typepad envy. I've sat by and watched while Lori, Aly, and others were able to include album and book covers along their sidebars, and silently tried to take comfort in my various tweaks. No longer. Thanks to the generous folks over at All Consuming, I can now keep a running list, expose the top few items on it, and I get covers. The joy I feel about this is truly disproportionate to the actual good, I'm sure. Told you it was a slow weekend.

Redefining blogging

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Gordon Gould has an interesting post over at the Social Software Weblog called "Micro-famous: Defining and redefining success in the blogosphere, and it's particularly interesting in light of recent discussions about the Kairos award for Best Academic Weblog. According to Gould,

As millions more bloggers come online, the challenge of garnering significant amounts of people’s attention (which converts to social capital and, therefore, personal fame) is going to grow exponentially more difficult.  Fame, as measured by services like Google, Popdex, Technorati, etc, is going to grow very far out of reach for nearly all bloggers. This will be very frustrating for many people unless expectations get reset.

Although I'd argue that A-lists are an inevitable feature of networks that grow beyond a certain point, Gould raises the interesting issue of how such lists condition our expectations for weblogs. I think of it as the Gates-Walton factor: I can remember sitting in a cafeteria in grad school, and overhearing some undergraduates talk about how "useless" their degrees were, because "Bill Gates and Sam Walton never graduated from college." Or call it the American Idol phenomenon--people measure themselves unrealistically against those they see at the top of the heap ("I'm a better writer than Kottke!!"), and then turn bitter or drop out altogether when those expectations aren't met. Put more concretely, according to Gould, "For the average blogger, fame-as-success model needs to become pride in publishing on what is effectively the new refrigerator door. It needs to move away from being stack-ranked against bOING bOING and become much, much more socially localized."

This is where it connects for me with the Kairos award--it's not about asserting that there are C&W (or even rhet-comp) bloggers whose work is as influential as Invisible Adjunct or Crooked Timber. It's about cultivating "the concept of micro-fame among one’s peers, friends, and families." According to Gould, "this is both a technical infrastructure change and a social redefinition." That doesn't mean that we all need to just blog for each other in our little corner of the world--just as there are those among us who publish work outside of our disciplinary network of journals or present at non-R/C conferences, there will be plenty of us who target a broader (or different) audience. But recognizing those who do good work strikes me as the kind of micro-fame that Gould's advocating...

I've spent the last 3 hours trying to figure out how to take an RSS feed from my second site, and place it on this site as a secondary "Recent Entries" kind of deal. Unfortunately, much of that time was spent tweaking and jiving with MT plugins. While I'm fairly certain that they represent the most stable solution to my problem, they were also the most opaque to me.

Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled upon Elise Bauer's site, which offers no less than four methods for so doing. I went with the third option, which involves some stylistic rigidity and third-party hosting. So far, ten minutes later, I have no complaints. We'll see, though. For the record, I was able to do a little extra tweaking to get the font I wanted and to hide their tag in favor of one embedded in my description.

Now, hopefully, this will prompt me to cycle my entries on that site with a little more frequency...

Best Academic Weblog?

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It's been a couple of days, and I've got a big mental list of things I've been meaning to yammer about, but that stuff will have to wait. Today, across several of the lists I'm subscribed to, the following appeared:

As a step toward recognizing the valuable contributions that weblogs are making to our field, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy will be offering an award for Best Academic Weblog. The award will be given to the weblog which best meets the following criteria. The weblog must:
  • Be at least six months old from the date of submission for consideration.
  • Be updated regularly (an average of at least once per week).
  • Actively engage other academic weblogs; in other words, the blogger must be a public intellectual.
  • Deal with the kind of issues addressed in Kairos and other journals in rhetoric and composition studies.

Jenny is getting a host of comments regarding her suggestion that we develop counter-awards, which sounds to me like a much more entertaining prospect--be sure to track her comments from today...

I'm sure that some of this ground is being covered on at least one of my lists, but digest mode requires me to reserve any contribution for tomorrow. My initial reaction, though, is a mix. On the one hand, I'm glad to see that, at least in terms of computers and writing, there's acknowledgment that weblogs fill a different space in the media ecology--in other words, there's a difference between Kairos's "webtext" award and this new one, and appropriately so. And I think that it's valuable to start recognizing some of the quality blogs in our field. On the other, I'd dread having to (a) actually read all the nominees (a minimum of weekly posts and 6 months worth of activity = an awful lot of textual ground to cover just to get a sense of a single blog), and (b) coming up with defensible criteria for what makes a weblog worthy of recognition in this fashion. This is not a new issue, by any means--any attempt to evaluate weblogs has run up against it. On the third hand, though, I suppose that the conversations that will inevitably result will be valuable. If indeed we are going to start acknowledging the academic and/or scholarly value of weblogs, then these conversations need to take place (pace Jeff).

That's it for the moment--I'm sure I'll have more when the digests come rolling in...



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