Blog Glossary

If you have coined a word or expression specific to the blogosphere (there’s one for a start), submit it to Samizdata’s Blog Glossary quick smart, and get your name up in lights. Or if you are a mere mortal, go there and check it out anyway.

There were a few there that were new to me and highly amusing:

“Barking moonbat (noun). Someone on the extreme edge of whatever their -ism happens to be.”

“Link orgy (expression). When a blogger finds that he has been linked by multiple sites, or has been added to several blogrolls, in a short time.”

…which is obviously a logical extension of:

“Link whore (noun). A blogger (qv) who will go to any lengths to get other bloggers to link to them (the term is usually intended to be humourous). Also: Link slut. Both terms are in fact non-gender specific.”

Edward Said and the Role of the Public Intellectual

I thought it was timely to reproduce some of the late Edward Said’s typically perceptive, but ultimately optimistic, thoughts on the alternatives to mass mediated culture – in particular the role of the independent intellectual, from which I think we can extrapolate to the role of the blogger:

On one side, a half-dozen enormous multinationals presided over by a handful of men control most of the world’s supply of images and news. On the other, there are the independent intellectuals who actually form an incipient community, physically separated from each other but connected variously to a great number of activist communities shunned by the main media but who have at their disposal other kinds of what [Jonathan] Swift sarcastically called oratorical machines. Think of what an impressive range of opportunities is offered by the lecture platform, the pamphlet, radio, alternative journals, the interview form, the rally, church pulpit and the Internet, to name only a few. True, it is a considerable disadvantage to realize that one is unlikely to get asked onto the PBS NewsHour or ABC Nightline, or if one is in fact asked, that only an isolated fugitive minute will be offered. But then other occasions present themselves, not in the soundbite format but rather in more extended stretches of time. . . . The emancipatory potential — and the threats to it — of this new situation mustn’t be underestimated. . . .

[continued at netvironments, where there is a lengthy tribute to Edward Said as well as quotes by/about him and links to related articles]

Gary also draws my attention to his defence of Said’s work on Orientalism from the attacks of Australian anti-culturalist Keith Windschuttle.

Research Blogs and Interdisciplinarity

Anne Galloway has put together an interesting post on interdisciplinarity (specifically concerning sociology, anthropology and ubiquitous computing). The comments to her post link back to earlier questions about the balance between readability and complexity that I think are relevant, not only to academic blogs, but to all specialist writing (boy, the unadulterated geek talk of some tech blogs gets me down at times!).

There are two different issues here, though, aren’t there? One is interdisciplinary research/dialogue, and the other is the problem of finding an appropriate register for blog posts that connect to our research interests. The writing needs to be clear without being simplistic, and accurate without being dense, arcane, or simply boring. Annotation is also important here – most of the time it is possible to find something online that provides background or another perspective on the topic under discussion. And if the reader comes across something difficult or new, there’s always Google.

Clearly, the combination of lucidity and reasonable annotation in research blogs is an indication of a particular stance towards both (inter)disciplinarity and the world beyond the academy and is to be cheered. Again, coming from cultural studies, it is hard not to notice the jargonistic wankery of some writing – and more jargon, we don’t need.

Blogs as Outboard Brains

Swimming against the “blogs are exhibitionistic” tide, back in May last year Cory Doctorow described his blog as his outboard brain . This would be closer to the way I see my blog as well – a way of annotating the chaotic multimedia map that is my mind, and a way of forcing myself to distill (even temporarily) my thoughts and positions on things in a way that I could stand someone else to read. And it’s turning out to be more useful than my previous system, involving manic scribbles in my diary, on the backs of envelopes, and in the margins of whatever article I took home on the ferry that day. The “outboard brain” is also connected to other such devices (in theory, and sometimes in practice through comments and other forms of blogging dialogue). Which reminds me of the friendster as neocortical prosthetic thread of a week or so ago. Ever-decreasing circles is about right.

Creative Networks: Smaller, Better, Smarter

Tom Morris has responded to my previous post on “mass amateurisation” with a thoughtful piece on the personalisation and decentralisation of the web:

While personalisation and decentralisation may be just buzzwords at the moment, with the rise of the independent web we might see these becoming much more important: your own agent search engine finding you information, you recording it in your weblog for later discussion with friends and strangers and instant publication and dissemination with others.

What I like about these ideas, and what I love about blogs as well, is the mixing of production and consumption, the instant transformation of “consumed” content (like search results) into “produced” content (your blog posts) which is then picked up by others, who transform it, disseminate it, or disagree with it, depending on their own unique position in the cultural ecosystem on the web and beyond. It seems impossible that the “broadcast” or “centralised” gatekeeping portal models, even the “customised” ones, can in any way compete with the sheer vitality of this mass turn to DIY content retrieval and production. I share Tom’s optimism about that. As Earl Mardle of A Networked World in rebuttal to, quoting Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger, says:

“Take the value out of the centre and you enable an insane flowering of value among the connected end points.” Yes please, can we have that?

Like Earl, I think the Berners-Lee model of the semantic web accrues more power to the developer than it does to the user: I think it is really the developer who will appear to gain “omniscience over the vast resources of the Internet”. Not that I would want omniscience anyway. What I dream of is intense, meaningful social and creative networks: I want to engage more deeply over longer periods of time with fewer people whose work, and whose opinions on my work, I value. Again, a nice quote along the same lines from A Networked World:

Annotation is more important than metadata. There’s a lot of talk about metadata, ontologies and the semantic web. I don’t listen to much of it because it hardly matters what you think your document or resource is about, or how you think it can be used, or how good it is. What matters is what I think about it and how I use it, then what the people I respect, and the people they respect, think of it and how they used it.

In terms of “content nodes”, I would like to be less omniscient – I want to see less but understand it and immerse myself in it more. But at the same time, as my own interests and obsessions mutate, my networks must be able to do the same. I want smaller, more intense networks that can participate in the viral mutation that keeps culture alive.

So in terms of the flourishing discussion about the 150-person limit on social networks that is flourishing at the moment (see firstly zephoria, then plasticbag, then follow your nose!), I would come down squarely on the side of those who argue that bigger is not necessarily better, or at least not currently feasible. Danah
Boyd
writes:

This is where i fundamentally believe that humanity matters. Keeping up social relations is not simply about remembering everyone you’ve met or having a structure to keep track of them. It is also about having the time and ability to manage those relationships, keep information flowing, etc. Social networks are not simply about people that you can store to use as appropriate. Thus, i don’t fundamentally believe that an augmented version of your network will give you the tools necessary to maintain more meaningful contacts.

I really can’t stress enough the importance of meaningful as opposed to prolific networks here.

Value and the Blogosphere

As far as I am aware (please, post a comment to let me know if I’m wrong!), the meta-sites that collect and disseminate information about the blogosphere are still based on quantitative data. That is to say that the “most influential” blogs are still thought to be those with the highest number of inbound links. Now measuring links is a big improvement on measuring hits, because at least it gives an indication of which blogs are actually valued by other bloggers. But because people tend to link to blogs that other people already link to (in a hope of somehow sharing the A-list spotlight, perhaps?), the more popular a blog becomes, the less provable it is that the links are based on value (hmm, might have to rewrite that sentence). It’s a bit like celebrity: people become famous (usually) for doing something that other people really like, but after a time they are famous simply for being famous.

What if we could measure the intensity and depth of engagement between one blog and another instead? What if we measured the frequency of link exchange between blogs, the depth of analysis of particular topics between 3 or 4 networked blogs? Then we’d be talking about qualitative value, and not just crunching numbers. That seems to me to be the most exciting of the semantic web’s possibilities.

Blogger Weblogs: Tweaks for Non-Geeks

[Note: This is one of the posts imported from my old Blogger-powered weblog. As you can see, I’ve made the move to Movable Type, but I’ve left this post intact in case someone finds it useful.]

If you have a BloggerFree-powered weblog that you are keen to make more interactive without making the move to a higher-end blogging application hosted on your own server, and/or you aren’t a supergeek, you might find some of these tips useful. If you have access to some webspace (other than blogspot) and minimal HTML coding skills it makes life easier, but even without these advantages there are a number of easy improvements you can make.

Comments

One of very first things you will want to add is the ability for readers to leave their comments, enabling you to build and maintain social networks and encourage discussion of your ideas. Luckily, this is dead easy. There are a range of software companies that offer free hosted comments for websites, and Blogger has a list of the most blogger-friendly of these in the FAQ. I use blogspeak because it has a nice clean design that is fully customizable and it has proven to be very reliable. Best of all, unlike many of the other most popular commenting systems, it is still absolutely free!

RSS feed

As the number of blogs and web news sources increases exponentially every day, more and more people are relying on news aggregators to keep up with their daily reading. If you want like-minded people to find your content, you will want to create and publish your own RSS feeds and make them available to the RSS channel directories, thereby increasing the right kind of traffic to your blog. If you are totally new to the whole RSS thing, read this excellent introductory article first, to avoid panic attacks later. It took me a little while to figure out, but eventually I found ways to create my own RSS feeds, without having any special software installed on my server.

Option 1: Scraping
If you have no HTML skills whatsoever and no webspace on which to store your RSS/XML files, there are a couple of places that will automatically generate an RSS feed for you by “scraping” all the html content of your published blog. All you have to do is enter the URL of your blog in a web form, and the rest is done for you. Sound too good to be true? Afraid so. The results are generally pretty inaccurate: myRSS, for example, is a snap to use, but so far it has only managed to index my offsite links while totally missing the permalinks to my own posts – not much help to me really. The best I have found in this category is Blogstreet’s RSS Generator – on the plus side, the feed items do correspond to actual blog posts; unfortunately, however, the title field is ignored. This means that you end up with RSS feed titles based on the first 6 or 7 words of the body of the post, which looks pretty shoddy. So either get very creative about your opening sentences, insert the titles of your posts manually giving them heading style tags, or go for option 2…

Option 2: Fully Manual
If you are patient and get a perverse thrill out of hand coding (who, me?), it is actually pretty basic to manually create your own RSS 0.91 feed. To get started, use this code generator. Then it’s just a matter of copying and pasting the resultant code into notepad, saving the file with an .rss extension, and uploading it to your own server. Voila! On subsequent blog updates, simply replace the titles, permalinks and descriptions with your fresh content. With this option you obviously need some accessible webspace somewhere (i.e. other than blogspot) to store the feed so it can be accessed by news aggregator software. Content-wise, the big advantage is that you can filter out any trivial or link-only posts, creating a better quality and more usable newsfeed.

Whichever option you choose, the next thing to do is to submit your newsfeed to the RSS directories. The three best known right now are Syndic8.com, Feedster, and NewsIsFree. The Weblogs Compendium has a great list of RSS directories and newsreader software, as well as more than enough RSS resources to curdle your brain (presuming, once again, that you are not a SuperGeek). It is also a good idea to add the link to your RSS feed in the Autodiscovery element of your Blogger template (this helps news aggregators find your newsfeeds automatically). One final note: make sure you validate your newsfeed before submitting it anywhere.

Pings and Trackbacks

If you want to make sure that those A-list trackback-enabled bloggers know when you quote them, disagree with them, or shower them with sycophantic compliments, you will need to “ping” them when one of your posts refers to one of theirs. This has to be done manually if you have a blogger-powered weblog, but all is not lost: I found an elegant little stand-alone trackback ping form called Wizbang Trackback that works every time. Just make sure you enter the trackback URL (not the permalink) of the post you have referred to, and use your power for good instead of evil – don’t spam or you will suffer the flames of hell. If more MT bloggers follow Burning Bird’s example and include trackback forms with each post on their blogs, life will become even easier for the rest of us.

Speaking of pings, weblogs.com produces a “recently updated” list that is passed on to a plethora of blog indices and databases. Predictably, blogger is pretty slack at automatically pinging them, so it is best to do it manually when you publish a new post. You simply need to fill in the weblogs.com ping form. But to save doing this every time, here’s a neat trick: complete the form and submit it once. When the result is returned, highlight the URL in your address bar, then drag it (or copy and paste it) into your links bar or favourites. Next time you want to ping weblogs.com, click the link – no formfilling required. nifty.

I don’t claim this is an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear of better solutions people have come up with – leave a comment to let me know.

It’s official: blogs have genre boundaries too

I know I am a little late with this one, but it links up with recent (actually, probably more forthcoming) posts about genre containment – that is, to define is to exclude, to place in a relation of difference from some other alternative. And as anyone who has ever had to write an entry in a reference work knows, it’s a heavy responsibility, because definitions are often read as being prescriptive rather than descriptive. But I reckon jill has done an ace job with her final version of the weblog definition, for Routledge (what would we do without them)?

Everything I would expect to see in a 500-word entry is in there:

“A weblog, or *blog, is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first (see temporal ordering). […]Examples of the *genre exist on a continuum from *confessional, online *diaries to logs tracking specific topics or activities through links and commentary. […]Most weblogs use links generously, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics.”

I particularly like the consideration of reading practices – of course, the fact that this is a reference work on narrative helps, but still –

“Readers may start at any point of a weblog, seeing the most recent entry first, or arriving at an older post via a search engine or a link from another site, often another weblog. Once at a weblog, readers can read on in various orders: chronologically, thematically, by following links between entries or by searching for keywords. […] Weblogs are serial and cumulative, and readers tend to read small amounts at a time, returning hours, days, or weeks later to read entries written since their last visit.”

Blogging Goes to University

Weekly INCITE: “:: Weekly INCITE ::

INCITE is an Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography. It is based in the Sociology Department at the University of Surrey. Here, INCITE’s bevy of researchers report on matters methodological and theoretical, and discuss their various research projects as they progress.”

Go Surrey, this rocks! Meanwhile, certain humanities sections of rather prestigious universities here in Australia think the “internet” is primarily a “problem” for the veracity of scholarly publishing (bibliography-heads) and/or think that TV is the next big thing (ahem).