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“This A’int No Blogging” Part 2: Echo Blogging or Connecting

As hoped, I already got some bark backs on “This A’int No Blogging” Part 1: If a Blog Falls in the Woods…. And as rightfully pointed out, comments are not all there is to being part of the blogging community- see the well thought comments just made by Stephen Downes — noting the pitfalls of comments (if you get too many you really are unable to respond and have a life) who I think anticipated the next bit of froth I intended to post today:

More precisely, there are bloggers who are (more or less) well integrated into the network, and those who are not. Those who are more integrated are more like those academics who, as well as publishing to journals, actually read the articles other people have written, and reflect this in their own work. They are like those people who attend, and listen to, presentations by other people, in addition to showing up and giving a talk of their own.

Stephen hits an eloquent point on what is the blog equivalent of “listening” to other bloggers (reading other blogs and reflecting on their own) and providing those connections via linkages, trackbacks, whatever used to connect what you write on your blog to what someone else wrote elsewhere.

This was my focus for part two- a practice I refer to as “echo blogging”. it has happened numerous times that I get an email notice that a trackback “ping” was registered on this blog- meaning someone on their own blog has written something that is a direct reference to something I posted here. Especially if it is from a blog I have not visited before, I am rather curious to see what someone was written that is connected to something I wrote about.

We seek connectedness, right?

Sometimes I find on this other blog is just a post with the same title, a paragraph yanked from my post, and a link. This is fine. It is flattering. But a number of times recently, what I have found is the whole piece I have written (actually rarely more than a few paragraphs) completely lifted and posted on Blog X.

I am not hankered that someone has “stolen” my words (after all I get the credit, and my words are worth, well dog poop). No I am more annoyed that they have merely echoed, that there is no context, there is no “this is why I think what Alan wrote is important” or “this is why Alan is such a loser…” or “this is how Alan’s ideas are related to my own…”

I guess there is some of Stephen’s listening gone on in their lifting of my words. But to me, the real blogging is taking that snippet of news from elsewhere and writing your own reflections above, below, or around it. There must be some reason why the author of Blog X chose to link or lift my story- why? What is the connection? What is the relevance?

And worse, as educators, should we really be modeling this behavior? Isn’t the concern we had when CD-ROM encyclopedias came out in the 1990s and the web today, that students would merely copy and paste works from sources and not synthesize, not weave a thread, not draw a conclusion of their own?

So to me, echo blogging is merely regurgitating and not adding much to the pile of knowledge and ideas out here.

If you blog about something elsewhere, share why the heck you have done so. Share the connection. Share what is relevant or not. If your blog supports it, learn how or make sure your entries are sending Trackbacks to the source. If you lack that, make sure you provide hyperlinks to relevant content, or to the source, or to multiple sources. Link often. Create more connections not just echos, Find your own writing voice. Believe me, your words and ideas are just as interesting as the new clip. Even more.

If you are just copy/pasting news from elsewhere, to me you might have a weblog, but ya ain’t blogging.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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“This A’int No Blogging” Part 1: If a Blog Falls in the Woods…

I am going to write something in this first of two posts that I bet (and hope) a lot of people will disagree with. I want that. I want to hear your dissent. That is what this stuff is about.

Here it is, I make my own artificial distinction between publishing a weblog and the broader, social act of blogging.

Huh?

This came from several instances of following some interesting stories in my RSS reader, finding a blog where the author had written something where I wanted to disagree with, agree with, offer extra information… and in a number of instances I had no voice because there was no comment functionality. I get tired of looking for it, trying to even find email contacts, and failing.

I understand fully the bloggers who have dealt a blow by spam. I have too dealt with the scourge of blog spam, but rather than quitting and cutting of others, I researched, experimented, and found solutions to the problem.

It is an excuse that does not wash, and it is giving in to spammers.

But I see it more problematic- if you publish a weblog without a comment feature, you are using software just for cranking out web pages, and you might was well be using FrontPage, DreamWeaver, or GeoCities for that matter because it is just web content.

Blogging is a social process. It is discourse, conversational, a back and forth with your readers. If there is no voice “back” for the readers, to me, while there is a thing at a URL called a “blog” it is not blogging, and not part of any connected fbaric of the web. There is no conversation except for the author. And that becomes a lonely voice. And I become less interested in reading.

So to twist an old tired saying, “If a comment-less weblog falls in the woods, it certainly does not make a sound”. Or worse, to re-write lyrics to the Talking Heads “Life During Wartime”:

There ain’t no comments, this ain’t no blogging,
this ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no OLDaily, or C. D. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

Coming up next… “‘Echo Blogging’ Ain’t Blogging Either”

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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  1. Well so far I’m not sure what there is to disagree with (I guess I should wait for your next post, but…) I get a bit frustrated when people ask me what a blog is or about blogging software, because I don’t think those are the interesting questions at all. Instead, the question I find insteresting is ‘what is blogging’ and for me the answer has very little (not ‘nothing,’ just very little) to do with the technology, and far more to do with what one colleague termed ‘network writing.’ So sorry, no disagreement yet; but knowing you I won’t have to wait long ;-) Cheers, Scott

  2. There are a couple reasons – at least – why some blogs may not include a comment or feedback feature. With the definitions of blogging being so amorphous, I’m not sure this makes them Bad Blogs.

    1. Some people are using blogging tools that simply don’t include a posted-feedback mechanism, likely because they rely up uploading content to a static server. iBlog comes to mind.

    2. Blogging tools are useful for for simply posting information, and they are not really just Dreamweaver surrogates in this context. There is a fairly steep learning curve for non-techies who want to create and maintain web content using those older tools. However, blogging tools (Manila comes to mind) almost eliminate this roadblock to web publishing.

    I agree that it is useful to distinguish between different uses of blogging tools (posting news, creating pages, supporting discussion) but I’m less inclined to see any particular approach as being more valid than the others.

    As always, thanks for your great and thought-provoking web site.

    Dan

  3. Scott,

    And of course one always has their share of “u suk” comments ;-)

    My sideways point is the futility of singual definitions; I wrote more or less about what my own personal definition is, and hardly expect people to have the exact same one. I want to have the conversation about it, not the absolute answer, if there was one.

    People generaly agree to this, but as you point out, they ask simple answers to rather complex questions. “What is blogging” is nearly as pointless as “What is a learning object”, again pointless to expect an all encompassing answer. Don;t we want our learners to seek out there own answers rather than put blind faith in some “authority”.

    And along the lines of your reaction to thois questions, I get bombarded by ones that have me wonder if I am the only person in the world who uses Google? Why do peopl not use their “google”? I always answer te question with a Google link:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=blogging+definition

    http://www.google.com/search?q=blogging+software

    and leave the distillation as an exercise to the asker.

    Dan,

    Thanks for the thoughful answers, and of course if the tool does not provide it one can hardly expect the publisher to figure out how to publish. On the other hand, it begs the question of the choice of tools (e.g. Blogger.com by default uses not widely as compatable Atom feeds, and its default templates do not even provide the links).

    And yes, I would buy that using a blog as web publishing is powerful, and something I have advocated elsewhere.

    There has been enough written, studies out there that strongly supports that learning is a social process, that the exchange via communication reinforces learning, yet for the most part, our tools focus largely on the content itself, “managing courses”, presentation modes.

    I want to stimulate more than just the content, but all the conversation and connections we ought to be doing in the in between space.

    Either that or I just want more comments to respond to ;-)

  4. Browsing through LiveJournal (which has a wonderful ‘random blog’ button that I wish Blogger had) I found an increasing number of bloggers restricting comments to ‘friends’ only, not because of blog spam (which can actually be programmed against, sort of) but because of abusive comments. LiveJournal is a bit like the canarie in the coalmine, because it attracts the sort of writer who (a) most depends on community, and (b) is most likely to be abused online – the stereotypical teenage girl describing her daily life. If the trend is as I observe it, comments on LiveJournal will in a relatively short order cease to be available for the vast majority of blogs. Unrelated to the current debate, but a fascinating read, is my compilation – ‘Lives’ – from LiveJournal. http://www.downes.ca/files/lives.htm

    For myself, I can’t imagine not having a comment section. For that matter, I cannot imagine having an internet presence at all – or an active academic and intellectual life at all – without the possibility of interaction. I think that the value of this was recognized well before blogs, and explains such phenomena as journals and conferences. Put simply, my ideas will simply be better if they are informed through interactions with others, and they will be more widely read and accepted if they are created through the forge of interactivity.

    It is tempting and yet misleading to identify the act of blogging with interaction. If you look at the early blogs, comments were unusual. They formed no part of the RSS format that developed alongside blogging (and I am almost unique in placing comment links in my RSS feeds). Many sites that would rightly be considered blogs – such as InstaPundit or even Drudge – have never allowed comments. Comments came late to blogs, and as the evidence suggests, will leave early.

    Comments are, in my way of looking at the world, ‘push’ technology. By that, what I mean is that I am pushing my content onto your computer. It should be contrasted with ‘pull’, where I put the content on my computer, and if you want it, you come and get it. Comments, trackbacks, pings and email are all push. Web pages and RSS are pull.

    What’s important to note at this juncture is that conversation is possible using both push and pull. When Lilia Efimova http://blog.mathemagenic.com/ talks about blogs as conversation, I don’t think she is talking about comments as much as she is talking about the content of one post on one blog responding to the contents of another post on another blog. The recent back and forth around school blogging centered around James Richardson’s site is a good example of that. And it’s what I think when I think blog conversations; comments are not and cannot be an integral part of that.

    Comments cannot form the basis of conversation because they don’t scale; this has been shown over and over again. Newspaper sites learned early about the problems of public fora. Slashdot atracted an inordinate number of script kiddies with nothing more helpful to write than “First post!” Kuro5hin adopted a complex system of voting. Metafilter simply closed its doors to new members. When the number of comments on a post breaks 100, especially if they are threaded, order breaks down and they become – no matter how articulate – just noise. Look at tacitus.org for an example. And, moreover, as the number of comments increases, the capacity to police them decreases. Imagine this board, for example, with hundreds of comments (Dog heaven?) – how do you even spot, let alone filter, the commercial messgaes, the abusive and offensive posts, the general chatter, the noise?

    Spam is just one early indicator of a more general problem – with a billion people on the net, you can’t be open to what all of them will have to say at any given point in time, because a certain non-zero subset of them will have something to say, a phenomenon that can become unmanagable almost without warning. The only long-term and scalable mechanism is a pull mechanism – if you want to hear the reactions to your comments then you have to go out and get them.

    Which brings us to the genuine issue at hand: whether or not people are open to hearing the voices of others, most especially including their critics. And I think that what Alan is getting at here is that people who use the medium to broadcast only, and not to listen, are not engaging in what may be called ‘true blogging’. I would not divide it up that way, however. I would say that if they have sites of the right format – reverse chronological listings of relatively short entries – then they are blogging.

    The fundamental distinction is between what may loosely be called ‘good bloggers’ and ‘bad bloggers’. More precisely, there are bloggers who are (more or less) well integrated into the network, and those who are not. Those who are more integrated are more like those academics who, as well as publishing to journals, actually read the articles other people have written, and reflect this in their own work. They are like those people who attend, and listen to, presentations by other people, in addition to showing up and giving a talk of their own.

    I don’t know whether you can force such behaviour on people and I’m not sure it’s a good idea – after all, the only difference between forcing someone to listen to your messgae and a spammer is the content of the message. Listening, as always, has to be voluntary.

    What is needed, it seems to me, are mechanisms for making listening easier. That is what I value about RSS – it makes the act of scanning and reading that much easier. Lost in the welter of data that is the internet is most often exactly the comment or observation you need to complete that thought you’re having. Where is it? A good system of metadata, aggregation and retrieval will pull it from the web and put it into your hands. A bad system will also do this, but bury it under 100 pages of spam.

    Blogging has created a broadcast revolution. We now need the other shoe to drop – a listening revolution.

  5. I guess my point has always been that it’s not a question of whether a blog that has comments or not is a blog or is blogging, but that using blog software or producing a ‘blog’ that doesn’t have comments (or any of the other social attributes, many of which I find even more interesting than comments) is fundamentally uninteresting. Sure, maybe they are more lightweight and easier to use than front page. Whoopee!! Honestly, if that was the innovation, then it’s actually a bit half-assed, as the produce only one particular format (chronologically ordered) easily.

    I think Stephen (and yourself in your second post) point to an important fact, that comments are not the only way to enable communication in blogs, and if you follow Stephen’s line of though, likely unsustainable. As both of you mention, posting in one’s own blogs is another way to enable the conversation. But this is where I think I differ Alan – so called ‘echo’ posts are also a form of communication. They are not a conversation, and if that’s the only thing they ever post then I agree they are relatively uninteresting. But in re-posting material (specifically when one references the source) one is communicating a few things. One – they communicate back to the original author ‘I read you.’ The ability to see references in referrer logs and through tools like technorati has been (in my mind at least) fundamental to the explosion of blogs as social writing tools, and not simply solipsistic personal publishing mechanisms. And secondly, the say to other readers ‘I read him, so should you.’ No one ever gives him any credit for it, but one of Dave Winer’s true contributions to creating a social blogsphere was having the Radio tool automatically site the source for a post when one hit the ‘Post it’ button in the Radio news aggregator. I know Radio itself has never had the most massive market share of the blogging tool market, but by demonstrating this convention I am absolutely certain he promoted good social behaviour (e..g citing sources) in other tools that didn’t automatically support it. (Sheesh! I GOTTA get back to work!) Cheers, Scott

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