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Distributed Conversations: More Than Four Reasons

Worth more than the banner “2 Cents Worth”, David Warlick muses on Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums:

I have been experimenting a good bit lately with integrating some of the emerging web tools (blogs, wikis, rss, podcasting, etc.) into my presentations and workshops, attempting to expand the scope and dimension of these events. For most of my presentations at NECC, I used a wiki page for my online handouts, enabling participants to come in after the presentation (or during if we’d had WiFi in the presentation rooms) and add their own insights on the topics. Some of the wiki pages also aggregated web links from my Del.icio.us account and related external blog articles written by participants after the session (and by colleagues before the session). This was accomplished by tying in with Technorati’s ability to generate RSS feeds based on keyword and tag searches.

With this experience, I’ve been wondering about using some of these tools to establish professional collaborative spaces for schools, districts, and school consortia. Our tendency is to look to discussion boards and mailing lists for online collaborations, and all things considered, these may remain the most effective tools for many collaborative efforts.

This is but another recognition of what my Canuck friends and I tried to pitch as Small Technologies Loosely Joined. It’s about us being in charge of building our own sources of information and ideas, and participating in conversations distributed in many places, rather than neatly organized into one nicely structured cubby.

David’s reasons I’ll buy into, but it’s not the entire enchilada:

1. Teacher Blog Articles come from the Person.

Or that the blog becomes an expression/extension of the teacher, with a personality, and (should) lend itself to human expression. There is much to be said for ownership of the part of the Read/Write web that we Write.

2. Blogs extend beyond their primary community of interest.

For the most part, or in theory. I do not think by themselves blogs do this, it is the social process that happens as blogs are linked, commented upon, discovered, referred, Googled.. IN fact, I think most people focus too much on the noun part of blog, “THE BLOG”, the creation– blogging, in my humble mind, is also a verb, and the act of participating in others’ blog spaces… see Blogging is a Social Process.

3. Blogs and other RSS content can be organized uniquely.

That is an understatement. Via RSS we are free to ick and choose our own channels, to mix and match, to add and discard. Again, more on ownership, but very much, as opposed to a fixed wall “virtual community” or discussion board, you are responsible for seeking your input, at the core of the process of Active Learning. Maybe this is a process of Active Communicating, as opposed to the old modes of Passive Communicating- stuff thrown at you from a listserv in reliable, but rigid structures.

4. Individual blog articles with their comments and links to related blogs can serve better as a stand-alone document and line to for other interested people.

Yes, but a “document” is even the wrong metaphor. I think the point is an idea put out there ends up, for the most part, server crash and non-payed ISP bills aside, a fixed piece of the net. It gives ideas a small peg in the grander space of all ideas.

But blogs are but one of the pieces- wikis, as alluded to in his opening, Skype, chat, Google News+Maps+Froogle_…., photoblogs, vlogs, even old IRC are possible pieces. What else? The magic, the sheer utter magic, in all of its simple, item, link, description, is the humble RSS feed– the ties that loosely bind and connect disparate systems. Rather than all of the various named tools, which will morph, evolve, devolve, the most important understanding that should take place is managing and using RSS– not at the technical level of XML and the various flavors, but the underlying principle at work.

David’s piece also resonates with a recent experience trying to fathom the value of that grand 1980s technology, the email listserv it all begain with a mis=palced question of “blogs vs. listservs” on the ITForum discussion list. That “conversation” is limited by David’s reason #2, and in hindsight, seems as plausible as going to a bar near Fenway and trying to start a rational comparison of the superiority of the Yankees (note to blog- as an original Orioles fan and life long Yankee hater, I would never do that ;-).

Of course people on a listserv will prefer it… they have chosen it as their medium. They want the comfort and structure it provides. And that is fine. But it’s not a space I find as valuable for the rapid exchange, discovery of information and ideas in my field… for the very reasons David describes. It’s not even an “either/or” type of question, if you buy the small pieces approach.

That all said, I think it is going to be an incredible uphill battle for large numbers of people to embrace distributed conversations, and information that is not neatly organized into fixed hierarchies and ping-pong discussion threads. So it will take a while for others to pick up their share of David’s 2 Cents, and just wish they would lift the veil a bit more from the known to peek into the unknown… cause that’s where the action is at.

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.

Comments

  1. Part of the challenge of blogging as a social conversation is that it takes place in a bunch of separate places. I’m going to try to compile a post over at my new edublog site that links to David’s original post, this one, Will Richardson’s response to this, and whatever else comes up.

    But following the thread of the ideas is a bit like having a houseful of small children, where they all want to talk to you RIGHT NOW. :-)

  2. That;s my point, Corrie- we are asking for a rigid structure in online conversation that does not happen in the real world… even when you think your “controlling” your children, they are secretly rebelling, plotting your overthrow, etc.

  3. Well, they’re not rebelling yet… much… very often.
    But I do try to treat them well; after all, they pick the nursing home.

    To the topic, I found out about your reply to my comment via email. Will talked about RSS as a glue that holds the conversation together. Being able to subscribe to comments as well as posts is a terribly useful feature, especially when the conversation may be distributed across several blogs. That distribution makes it challenging enough to follow when you’re actively participating in the conversation; the lurker is likely to miss out on a great deal.

    I’ll expand on that thought over at the Intra-Active blog…

  4. “This is but another recognition of what my Canuck friends and I tried to pitch as Small Technologies Loosely Joined. It’s about us being in charge of building our own sources of information and ideas, and participating in conversations distributed in many places, rather than neatly organized into one nicely structured cubby.”
    (Alan, sorry I’m late to the conversation, I’m getting caught up reading “the news.”)

    As a rhetorician, I’m fascinated by this conversation! I think you are definitely right on the need to losely connect. It is like when I studied syntax of spoken speech, it is radically different from spoken language. And how we get Jakob Nielsen discussing the different style of writing that is “usable” on the web (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html). However, what I find most intersting about this is that your statement paraphrases what I want my ENG102 students to do…make their own use of sources, build their own argument, and then put it into their own “cubby” that is also a single instince of “participation.” I guess I’m just thinking that you still have to meet the conventions of your readers during individual instances…and usually those readers want some form of organization, right?
    All of this rambling just to say…good thinking, I hope the collective academic “we” continues to have this conversation.

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