Conversations: Tree People and Cave Dwellers

It’s been interesting to see how a dis-connected set of blog posts about “distributed conversations” have pretty much emulated the topic. Mine was but one tiny ripple among the tide. With a few iterations of search (lacking an explanation of their syntax), Technorati does a credible job, but is it all the echoes?

Just recently, Stephen Downes pointed to an iteresting, long thread on this topic inside the house of Moodle, the forums where Moodlers are trying to get their hands around fitting a blog tool. Take a gander in Blogs, Forums and the Nature of Discussion (you can read by logging in as guest).

It seems like there is a village of people who dwell in tree houses, and spend all their time there. They sometimes see through their binoculars 1 or 2 people who live far away in the caves. The two societies rarely meet, yet they form amazingly concrete opinions on the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the others living styles. How can opinions be so firm based on such little interaction?

Inside the Moodle forums are some utterly star, grand, sweeping proclamations:

Very few bloggers bother to engage in conversation with the people who comment on their original post. They usually just post and move on to another topic without engaging readers in a discussion.

I must admit I don’t really understand all the fuss about blogs. They just seem self indulgent to me. They have very little value (especially educational) compared to the input required to maintain them and they can very quickly become dated and laborious. The only people who tend to read them are the authors themselves.

Another difference between blogs and forums is the time nature. Blogs tend to be very time sensitive. The relevancy of their content usually decreases over time. I’m not going to care in 2 years what you had for dinner on July 13, 2005, nor is a collection of outdated links to news Web sites covering the London bombings going to be of much use to me either. Whereas information in a forum tends to have a more lasting value than the content of blogs.

I mean have you considered the reason nobody but the authors read blogs is because they don’t make for very good reading? I mean, if those people really intended the blog for no one but themselves then why don’t they just open up a document on their own computer and record their thoughts there?… I believe most blogs are pretty much like portfolios in that they aren’t really polished work,

These “facts” and summaries are astounding, and to echo myself earlier, make me wonder if I am really using the same internet.

Frankly the “control and structure” glasses of the people who live in the tree houses of Forums make them draw some odd conclusions about all the bloggers running in and out of their cave complexes in the valley below. The tree folk have never even seen the inside of a cave, yet they can handily dismiss it.

As a primary counter example for the tree folks, just spend a few minutes reading Brian Lamb’s post about accidental discovery of a Live Journal site of students from his University who are trading valuable (to them) bits of information and commentary about student life at UBC. Is that conversational or what? Is it just “self indulgent” and only “outdated news”? Can you really say “nobody is reading” them?

It gets even more interesting as Brian, who has set up one of the most free and open educational wiki sites, finds out these students are proposing to create one outside the university’s reach. (And what a fair and open response he provides to them– he joins their conversation in their space).

Maybe I am singing a broken record, but after all these years, we still have people dismissing blogs as juvenile diaries. They are mistaking the product of blog (the noun, the published thing) form the social process of being in blog space (blog the verb).

Come out of your trees for a while.

Lastly, and I am on my own limb since my Moodle experience is slim to nil, I empathize the complexity of successfully trying to roll a blog tool into / around Moodle. They are weighted down by the CMS approach where everything needs to fit under one big roof. You might want to keep your eyes on a FLOSS project by Teemu Arina in Finland… I’ve been inside and seen a demo of this software, where it takes everything from a blog entry to a discussion board thread to a wiki page as entities than can be mixed into new forms by recombining elements joined by RSS, and user/group control over portions which are public vs private.

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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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so)


  1. I can only guess my point is not clear.

    I love Moodle, I hardly use it, but I love the concept, the delivery, the open-ness. I am a Moodle fan from afar and I hope it continues its trajectory of success.

    My trees and cave message had nothing to do with Moodle, but people who in one stroke, just dismiss blogs based on a few visits to a few examples, or just outright snobbery. It comes from people who have not spent much interaction time in these rich environmments, and it is ludicrous to paint such broad brush strokes over such a wildly varied landscape.

    I would not argue there are no vain, stupid, vain, pointless blogs. Maybe there’s a lot of them… but to dismiss all the potential based on the loudest examples is folly.

    I am not going to argue quotations and citations and know little about the “graphomania” you describe in your link, but to me, you have just proved my point. You boldly state as a “fact” that blogs are ALL THE SAME JUST AN EGO OUTLET, and that I refuse to accept.

    But hey, it is a free world, and I can be just as wrong as the next guy. However I admit it. Freely. And for that matter, I could get a rat’s behind if anyone reads my blog- I use tis for my own journaling, tracking ideas, and I search my blog on a daily basis to reference ideas and resources I wrote about years ago.

  2. Hi Alan,
    The fact that blogs are graphomania does not dismiss their content. War and Peace and all Shakespeare plays are actually also a form of graphomania. Graphomania (in the sense stated by Kundera) is just “The desire to have a public audience of unknown readers”).

  3. Thanks for clarifying that. Now I see it as a good? interesting? thing to be graphonomic. I retract my remarks above out of my own blogged ignorance 😉

  4. Hey Alan.
    I think you might be misrepresenting the blog moodle.org thread a little – sure there are a people in the moodle community who have littel experience of and exposure to blogs, but there are some well informed and clear posts from the pro-blogging lobby over there too.

  5. Yes, Josie, The posts I picked on where but a minor ones in the length of a long thread… it was in no way a criticism or a lob at Moodle or the discussion there. Its a very active community, which is a Good Thing, and in such places are a wild range of ideas.

    But I see this attitude a lot with technology and how ill-informed opinions are spouted like facts.

  6. This discussion reminds of a powerful blog entry I read awhile back (it’s quite long). Here is an apt quote from it:

    “I was in a meeting this week with a group of “educators”. We were talking about Communities of Practice. I mentioned blogging several times in the meeting. At the meeting’s end, one of the participants approached me and said, “Every time you mention blogging I get annoyed. It is only a fad and will never affect education.”

    I believe that it is not a fad. I believe that Blogging, and its wider family of Social Software tools, will not only affect education but will shake our entire society to the core. I believe that our descendants will look back at its arrival the same way that we now look back at the advent of the printing press.

    I believe that Social Software is a vector a return to an old culture. ”


    I can hardly imagine what 50 years of a blog culture will do to our world. Can you?

    I don’t think that cave dwellers OR tree house dwellers understand the implications of blogging technology. I do not believe Gutenberg could have foreseen the fallout from his printing press either.

    That’s what makes blogging so fascinating (and frightening). Just think of the reformations that followed the invention of the printing press and the millions that were murdered for differing ideologies. The 15th century ‘Renaissance’ had a dark side which reveals a power struggle between intellectual freedom and government/church control.

    Sound familiar?

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