When Blogs Soar (Like a Pb Balloon?)

I fervently believe in the power of potential of weblogs, for students, teachers, and people in general, as a powerful, expressive platform, and have been beating the drum for the last year and a half.

At the same time, I also wonder, with a Keith Moon accent, whether they will fly with the speed and grace of a lead balloon.

Some people who have contacted me have assumed that all of Maricopa is blogging at the cogdogblog pace. Hardly so- going into the 2004-2005 academic year, blogs are on the rather low rise of emerging technologies, not even understood as a term among the broad spectrum of teachers and staff in our system. We do have some excellent early examples (here too) of our pioneers who have stepping into a more or less experimental use.

However, this seems to be at the 1-2% innovator level. It just takes time or a miracle or some combination for things to take off. And in my position, where I am deeply immersed in this stuff almost 24-7, it is easy to forget that others are just peering over the precipice of new technology, and holding on to the safety rail of powerpoint, WebCT/Blackboard, etc.

Going into 2004-2005, we are hoping that the faculty co-chairs for our new Ocotillo Action Groups are going to be using blogs (and wikis/discussion boards) for the primary communicating for new efforts this year in Learning Objects, Hybrid Courses, Electronic Portfolios, and Emerging Learning Technologies. They are just getting started learning how to use these tools, and my toe is starting to tap with impatience….

In our system, there is pretty much a solitary focus on email as the primary means of sharing information. Some recent surveys have shown that people “want more information” about projects, ideas, etc but at the same time say, “we get too much email”. At the same time, e-mail is the only channel most people tune into on a regular basis, even if they are just tossing messages without reading them. Worse, e-mail is the only way people are sharing resources, events, projects- what I have labeled “email attachment disorder” — and there are major programs and projects in our system well worth sharing that lack any sort of web presence at all.

But what does all this have to do with my assertion of blogs as flying lead bricks? We blog enthusiasts make some daring assumptions that people more skeptical or used to the environment will participate as actively as those in the choir section.

What are the intrinsic self-motivators for people to blog consistently, on a regular basis? It takes some sort of OCD trait to keep up that pace. Blogs that I followed daily a year ago are sputtering, with a frequency posting on the scale of weeks rather than daily or even hourly like it seemed long ago. (see Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?)

And for students- is it really enough motivation for them to blog if it is related to “points” / grades? Will the writing be as good as we desire if it is the minimum needed to “get by”? What happens to this motication after the course?

More Blogging / Less Commenting? I still maintain the blogging is a social process and the publishing part is half the coin- participating in other’s blogs is crucial, it is what connects these blog islands. I have seen quite a drop in comments coming here, and Trackbacks are will nilly too. When I get comments, I am jazzed, I visit other sites if it references a blog I have not heard of before.

There seems to be more and more people writing or echoing other stuff, but not quite the same increase in comment exchange/ Is it really the fault of spam?

And I am constantly reminded of the fascination notion of a “comment blogger” who only exists in the comment space of other people’s blogs. This is a golden idea as an illustration of the role of comments as exchange.

If we are only stressing the publishing aspects of blogs, we are missing the mark.

So this mornings philosophical question is, can blogging be sustained by a wide range of people? Or will it be the realm of the compulsives only?

So blogs as lead balloons? Keith Moon was either right or wrong, and sometimes a metal balloon can fly rather high..

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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.


  1. Hey Alan,

    Great thinking, and I’m sure I’ll reflect in similar fashion on my blog shortly. I’ve been frustrated (?) by the pace and wondering if there is something wrong with those of us who seem to like this so much. Part of it, I know, is that we have a sense of audience that new bloggers don’t (Congrats on clicking 100 subscribers at Bloglines, btw.) But the other part of it is that most people still haven’t heard of this stuff, and if they have, they don’t see the things we see. It’s one thing to show them, but it’s another when, in a group of tech educators at a recent presentation, someone asked “but how will they find your blog?” It really shocked me. I think this is going to be a long, long road, as things usually are in education.

    Thanks for keeping up this site. It’s always at the top of my list.


  2. Thanks for the feedback Will.

    I was hoping to make a point that just because WE are excited about the potential for blogs does not mean that our students or colleagues will, and we ought to identify, pay strict attention to, and address the motivating characteristics that will keep people involved.

    A key aspect is getting feedback- we all crave it, and rarely get enough. It means more for a student to know, “someone out there is listening to me!”

    As far as the blog discovery process, I found it was important whan I started out to spend a good amount of time participating in other people’s blogs. Paying attention to your feeds (e.g. not letting your blog just chop it at 5o words), developing a voice of your own, writing catchy titles, developing a style that grabs attention from the top of the post, all seem to be factors.

    And I must add to the mutal admiration society. I;ve been pushing out the URL for the NECC video– it means more than anything to hear students say in their own words what this technology means to them. I cannot get out of my mind a demo we did for our faculty group last year where one of our bleeding edge faculty brught his students to share their experiences of using blogs- it made the atmosphere in the room electric, and there was one young lady who was so excited to share her reflections she could not stand still.

    Now that is a sign of the motivated. Not the dead glaze of PowerPoint victims 😉

    Maybe we can dream of a cross country collaboration this year!

    cheers from Arizona

  3. Alan – you mentioned the reduction in comments.

    I wonder if the increase in RSS and other aggregators (I use and love Bloglines) may have something to do with this? Rather than visit each blog (and then read and comment) I review the articles in a long list, and only sometimes click through – this one for example…

    So the benefit of easy access has a knock-on effect of reducing the community aspect?



  4. Maybe, but I am doubtful, Sali.

    After all, you proved it! I use my RSS reader for my surveying work, for scanning all my expert sources, but if the RSS item looks of interest, I am always clicking through.

    A large number of feeds provide just the snippet (which is fine by be, I see no need for a full article stuffed in a feed), sometimes the links are not fully marked up in the feed, etc

    But I would not trade the availability of RSS for 1000 gushing comments per day!

  5. Dear Alan:

    Have you been listening into our conference room?:

    1) “…. people “want more information” about projects, ideas, etc but at the same time say, “we get too much email”…”

    2) “email attachment disorder”

    3)”…major programs and projects… that lack any sort of web presence at all.”

    These are real organizational communication challenges that blogs & esp. wikis might help resolve — at least in part — once enough people jump in & stay in for a while.

    Andrew Bonamici

  6. Andrew,

    Am I supposed to know about this conference room? 😉 I am guessing these are recurring themes you are hearing in Oregon.

    However, I would place little faith in technology alone (blogs and wikis) to resolve- it is a human faactor, change factor, usability factor…

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