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Felipe Calderon’s Cabinet on Twitter

@GGalvanG (Guillermo Galvan G.), Secretary of National Defence, Mexico

My latest post for Global Voices, just published on their website and reproduced below.

Mexico: Felipe Calderon’s Cabinet on Twitter

Posted 19 April 2011 14:58 GMT
 
Written byDeborah Esch
 
In mid-April, the government headed by Felipe Calderon announced with much fanfare that every member of the cabinet was now registered on Twitter, and prepared to deal with the public more directly via social media.

Two reports in the Mexican mainstream media set the story in motion. Writing for CNNMexico [es] under the title “Mexico busca eficacia del gobierno electronico pese a la poca conectividad” (”Mexico looks for efficient government despite limited connectivity”), Hiroshi Takahashi reported on the presentation of the draft communique from the President, which features new language on the use of social networks including Twitter and Facebook, as well as a redesign of the website [es] associated with his office that now comprises nineteen blogs.

Alejandra Sota, the President’s Co-ordinator of Social Communication, pointed out [es] that Mexico leads Latin America in the use of Facebook, and occupies eighth place [es] in the region in its total of Twitter users. Ms. Sota elaborates on her blog [es], located on the revamped website:

El nuevo modelo de comunicacion digital de la Presidencia es un proyecto basado en el compromise con la innovacion pero, principalmente, con la transparencia; con el derecho de los mexicanos a saber, y con su obligacion de preguntar, de informarse, de debater y proponer….  A partir de hoy el gavbnete mexicano sera el primero completo en twitter en el mundo.

The new model of digital communication from the Presidency is a project based on a commitment to innovation, but mainly to transparency, to the right of Mexicans to know, and their obligation to ask, inquire, discuss and propose…. The Mexican cabinet will be the first in the world to be fully on Twitter.

A report by Maria del Carmen Cortes for El Universal [es] entitled “Timidos, muchos secretarios para expresarse en Twitter” (”Many secretaries are timid about expressing themselves on Twitter”), distinguished between the handful of secretaries who already had active accounts and significant followings on Twitter, and another group of users entirely new to the platform.

Pero lo cierto es que muchos de ellos prefieren pasar inadvertidos, mantanerse en silencio, sin emitir comentarios en esta plataforma instantanea….

La initiativa forma parte de una nueva forma de comunicacion del gabinete presidencial, cuyo objetivo es mantener comunicacion directo con los ciudadenos.

But the truth is that many of them prefer to go unnoticed, to keep quiet, not to comment on this instantaneous platform….

The initiative is part of a new form of communication on the part of the presidential cabinet, whose objective is to maintain direct communication with citizens.

Javier Lozano, the secretary of Labour and Social Welfare (who has declared his own presidential aspirations), is thus far the most popular and prolific of the ministers on Twitter, with more than 37,000 followers and over 11,700 tweets to his credit (at the time of writing this post). The timeline for his Twitter account, @JLozanoA, yields the following tweet, indicative of a certain level of comfort with the medium.

Ya me voy a dormir, no sin antes reconocer que Chivas perdio bien con un golazo de ultimo segundo contra Santos (en Guadalajara). Saludos.

Now I’m going to sleep, but not before acknowledging that Chivas lost even with a goal in the last second against Santos (in Guadalajara). Best wishes.

On the other end of the spectrum is the minister of Public Security, Genaro Garcia Luna, with 1,408 followers and, to date, a single, somewhat redundant, tweet at @GenaroGarciaL.

La cuenta de twitter del Secretario de Seguridad Publica es @GenaroGarciaL

The twitter account of the Secretary of Public Security is @GenaroGarciaL

The secretary is, however, already on the receiving end of a number of tweets from his followers, including Ale (@aaleog), who directed the following messages to him:

@GenaroGarciaL el silencio informativo es la peor strategia

@GenaroGarciaL la mejor consigna es explicar en todo momento lo que se hace

@GenaroGarciaL informative silence is the worst strategy

@GenaroGarciaL the best slogan is to explain at every moment what is being done

The Secretary of Public Education, Alonso Lujambio, who can be reached @LujambioAlonso, is drawing a sometimes enthusiastic response from his followers. From Aguascalientes, Manuel Cortina (@manuelcortina) tweeted approvingly, appending the link to a twitpic of the minister:

Desayunando con @lujambioalonso  #AgsMx  http://twitpic.com/4m2379 Buen ejercicio democratico

Having breakfast with @lujambioalonso  #AgsMx  http://twitpic.com/4m2379 Good democratic exercise

The Attorney General, Marisela Morales, issued her first tweet from her account @MMoralesI, which took the form of a call for collective responsibility:

Solo con la participacion activa de la sociedad vamos a someter a la delincuencia

Only with the active participation of society will we subdue delinquency

Her followers appear to be of mixed minds about Mexico’s prospects. Guillermo Lozano A. D. (@glazanoad) wrote encouragingly from Leon, Guanajuato:

Marisela, cuenta con todo nuestro apoyo como sociedad, confiamos en tu capacidad y conviccion para acabar con la delincuencia

Marisela, count on all our support as a society, we trust in your capacity and conviction to put an end to delinquency.

Irma Zvelasco (@unpieenelcielo) was more equivocal:

@MMoralesI Esperamos que eso sea cierto, por q vamos muy mal

@MMoralesI We hope that is true, because we are going very badly.

It is worth noting that in the same week that the Calderon government trumpeted its full-fledged entry into social media, the World Economic Forum issued its Report on Global Information Technology 2009-2010. According to the study, Mexico ranks 78 out of 133 in the use of information technology –the same as the previous year. The report measures how likely countries are to take advantage of opportunities afforded by technology with regard to governance, business and public policy.

With the question of access to a range of technologies underlying the results of the WEF report, one user’s response to the announcement that Mexican ministers are now on Twitter takes on a particular resonance. Ivan Trejo Molina (@ivan_trejom) admonishes,

http://on.cnn.com/gqQSIHJ #Mexico / Sin embargo olvidan ke no todo Mexico esta en TW

http://on.cnn.com/gqQSIHJ #Mexico / However they are forgetting that not all of Mexico is on TW[itter]
 

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Research in motion: “The ‘real-time’ Web in 100 words or less”

First off, I am perfectly aware that a strict grammarian would never write “100 words or less,” in the knowledge that “fewer” is the correct term in such a context.  But I am in fact quoting from the title of a post written by Marshall Kirkpatrick for ReadWriteWeb, a to which I subscribe via e-mail (that makes it one of a very few, fewer than 100 certainly).  In September 2009, Kirkpatrick threw down a gauntlet, challenging the blog’s readers to “explain the phenomenon of the Real-Time Web in simple terms and few words…. From Facebook to the New York Times to blogs and geeky tech infrastructure, it seems like everyone’s exploring the Real-Time Web paradigm these days.  It’s not easy to explain, though.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Having extended the challenge to his large readership, Kirkpatrick went on to “offer our working explanation of what the real-time web is and why it’s important, in exactly 100 words.”  The combination of RRW‘s collective expertise and the economy of Kirkpatrick’s formulation meets the high bar for entry into my notebook.

The Real Time Web Explained…In Exactly 100 Words

The Real-Time Web is a paradigm based on pushing information to users as soon as it’s available – instead of requiring that they or their software check a source periodically for updates.  It can be enabled in many different ways and can require a different  technical architecture.  It’s being implemented in social networking, search, news and elsewhere – making those experiences more like Instant Messaging and facilitating unpredictable innovations.  Early benefits include increased user engagement (“flow”) and decreased server loads, but these are early days.  Real-time information delivery will likely become ubiquitous, a requirement for almost any website or service.

These are indeed early days, and it is difficult to discern whether we are talking about the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning – or whether plotlines or calendars even apply.  Gloss (likely to exceed the 100 word limit) to follow in due course.

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Research in motion: from my “real-time” Web notebook

I confess to feeling a certain pressure, since beginning to make an argument about the illusory, ideology-driven character of the “real-time” Web, to write quickly, to skip over the tangle of challenges required and just put something out there.  But, I’m adhering instead to at least some of the intellectual imperatives that are, in part, a legacy of scholarly training, and trying to do some homework before presenting myself as any kind of authority.  Along the way I will be sharing some of my findings.

Last fall, Mashable’s founder and CEO Pete Cashmore began a stint as a weekly columnist for CNN.com.  In that capacity, he was one of several pundits who predicted that “real-time” would be “a top 10 Web trend for 2010.”  In December, he presented his case to CNN.com‘s readership under the admonitory headline “Brace yourself for the real-time Web.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/10/cashmore.realtime.web/index.html

For Cashmore, a significant indicator of the ascendancy of  the “real-time” Web was Google’s December 2009 launch of “real-time” search, which brought “live” updates from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites into its search results.  Taking this epochal event as his point of departure, Cashmore asked and answered a series of questions, which are worth reproducing at some length, in part because his language serves as a model for many others who write about these matters.

Why real-time?  What’s driving this real-time trend anyway?  In large part, lowered barriers to content creation:  Posting a 140-character update to Twitter is so effortless that Web users are becoming conditioned to create….

But the real answer may be in our heads.  These technologies are literally addictive, says psychologist Susan Weinschenk, fueling a “dopamine-induced loop” of seeking behavior and instantaneous reward.”  [Cashmore is quoting a post on Weinshenk’s blog, “What Makes Them Click.”]

Real-time search  If this new paradigm stimulates our seeking behavior, it follows that search is central to the real-time Web.  Before Google entered the fray, OneRiot and Collecta stood out among real-time search engines.

The reigning champion of real-time search, however, is Twitter Search, which provides instant updates whenever new tweets are posted.  “108 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them,” implores a message below the search box.  Enter the topic du jour here and you’ll no doubt find yourself in one of Weinschenk’s dopamine-induced loops.

This thirst for the new and novel is by no means limited to search, however:  It looks set to pervade the entire Web in 2010.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

1.  Real-time location   Foursquare…combines real-time updates with location-based features.  Every time a friend “checks in” nearby, you’ll experience the same buzz as when your BlackBerry chirps for a new email.  [Once again I give thanks for my vintage BB, which never, ever buzzes or chirps. – Ed.]

2.  Real-time news   News reading is going real-time, too.  An increasing number of early adopters use the Twitter apps TweetDeck and Seesmic to manage their consumption of updates from both friends and handpicked news sources, while newcomer Brizzly is becoming a hit with info-junkies thanks to its superior Web-based interface.

Even Google Reader, the de facto service for those following scores of blogs and news sites, now provides updates in real-time for those feeds that support it.

Will our news addiction ever be sated?  Oh, and don’t forget that news curation is going real-time, too.  See my real-time journalism article for a refresher.  [Isn’t real-time curation very plainly a contradiction in terms? – Ed.] 

3.  Real-time comments    If the stories are real-time, how about the comments, too?  Real-time services make blog comments work more like instant messaging….

4.  Real-time reviews   Why wait till you get home to review that cafe or restaurant when you’ve got Yelp and Urbanspoon on your iPhone?  Movie was awful, you say?  Try Flixster.

5.  Real-time auctions  ….

6.  Real-time collaboration   A trend within a trend:  We’ll be real-timing together in 2010.  Google Wave, the much-hyped collaborative tool, is wiki-meets-instant-messaging-meets-email and much more….

Real-time…everything!    The trend is too nebulous to capture its every facet.  Suffice to say, a vast array of Web sites and applications will try to capitalize on the real-time Web in 2010, serving our need to be engaged in the moment.  Serving, perhaps, but never quite satisfying. 

 [Yes, it’s the “never quite” that remains to be thought here, to say nothing of the “perhaps.” – Ed.]

Slow down, Pete (“easy,” as we say to horses who are moving too fast for their own good, and possibly ours).  You’ve signalled much that is of value, and perhaps more than you know.

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fledgling’s archive, october 2009, part 1

October 2009  
 

10/21/2009  Grist for the (Twitter) mill  
 

  
 

The following notes, intended for elaboration in the near future, pertain to the language used to describe, characterize or gloss “Twitter,” for example in a Google search result, on the revised Twitter homepage (over against the earlier one) and on the Twitter search homepage.  I’m interested too in what the results of a Twitter search for “twitter” might look like at any given time.  
 

1.  Google search for “Twitter”:  “Twitter is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now.”  
 

2.  Twitter homepage:  “Share and discover what is happening right now, anywhere in the world.”  (Remember the relative brevity and simplicity of “What are you doing?”?)  
 

3.  Twitter search homepage:  “See what’s happening – right now.”  
 

4.  “Real-time” results for “twitter” on Twitter search:  In the 60 seconds since the search results initially appeared on the screen, “381 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them.”  
 

Here is a good deal of grist for my mill.  My work has just begun.  
 

10/20/2009   Kant weighs in on Twitter, part 1 
 

  
 

Caveat lector.  This post reproduces a few pages from my notebook which may or man not be of interest (or even legible) to anyone but myself.  But I am working on the assumption that pretty much everyone who uses Twitter has at least some interest in how it produces meaning and other effects of language.   

What follow are some paragraphs from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” which resulted from a series of graduate seminars he taught at Yale in the early ’80’s.  The essay appears in the volume Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (U Minnesota Press, 1996), which you can find on the press website:  http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/D/de-man-aesthetic.html .  Taking as its focus Kant’s much-misunderstood Critique of Judgment (also known as the Third Critique), de Man’s essay zeroes in on the notoriously difficult sections devoted to the analytic of the sublime.  
 

In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination:  apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung.  Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination.  
 

[Anyone see where I’m going with this?]  
 

The ability of the imagination to achieve synthesis is a boon to the understanding, which is hardly conceivable without it, but this gain  is countered by a corresponding loss.  The comprehension discovers its own limitation, beyond which it cannot reach.  “[The imagination] loses as much on the one side as it gains on the other.”  As the paradigmatic simultaneity substitutes for the syntagmatic succession, an economy of loss and gain is put in place which functions with predictable efficiency, though only within certain well-defined limits.  The exchange from part to whole generates wholes that turn out to be only parts.  Kant gives the example of the Egyptian Savary, who observed that, in order to perceive the magnitude of the pyramids, one could be neither too far away nor too close.  One is reminded of Pascal:  “Bornes en tout genre, cet etat qui tient le milieu entre deux extremes, se trouve en toutes nos puissances.  Nos sens n’apercoivent rien d’extreme, trop de bruit nous assourdit, trop de lumiere eblouit, trop de distance et trop de proximite empeche la vue.  Trop de longeur et trop de brievete de discours l’obscurcit, trop de verite nous etonne….”  [Pensees, Ed. du Seuil, Pensee 199, p. 527]  
 

[My kindest regards if you’re still with me at this point.  I can only hope that your patience will find its reward.]  
 

  
 

It is not surprising that, from considerations on vision and, in general, on perception, Pascal moves to the order of discourse.  For the model that is being suggested is no longer, properly speaking, philosophical, but linguistic.  It describes not a faculty of the mind, be it as consciousness or as cognition, but a potentiality inherent in language.  For such a system of substitution, set up along a paradigmatic and a syntagmatic axis, generating partial totalizations within an economy of profit and loss, is a very familiar model indeed – which also explains why the passage seems so easy to grasp in comparison with what precedes and follows.  
 

[Did you find the passage easy to grasp?  Aren’t you grateful that I’m not asking you to read the hard parts that precede and follow?]  
 

It is the model of discourse as a tropological system.  The desired articulation of the sublime takes place, with suitable reservations and restrictions, within such a purely formal system.  It follows, however, that it is conceivable only within the limits of such a system, that is, as pure discourse rather than as a faculty of the mind.  When the sublime is translated back, so to speak, from language into cognition, from formal description into philosophical argument, it loses all inherent coherence and dissolves in the aporias of intellectual and sensory appearance.  It is also established that, even within the confines of language, the sublime can occur only as a single and particular point of view, a privileged place that avoids both excessive comprehension and excessive apprehension, and that this place is only formally, and not transcendentally, determined.  The sublime cannot be grounded as a philosophical (transcendental or metaphysical) principle, but only as a linguistic principle.  Consequently, the section on the mathematical sublime cannot be closed off in a satisfactory manner and another chapter on the dynamics of the sublime is needed.  (77-78)  
 

We can pause here, for now.  There is more to come on what Kant – of all people – can teach us about Twitter.  The utility and perhaps the necessity of the concepts of apprehension and comprehension (which may go by other names) for the project or reading Twitter can serve as a point of departure.  
 

10/19/2009    A flock of tweets (like a murder of crows, or a parliament of rooks)  
 

On October 19, in the aftermath of the Stephen Gately / Daily Mail fracas on Twitter, Ian Dunt took it as his point of departure in a column posted on politics.co.uk:  
 

It seems inevitable that within a decade we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere in the world.  
 

Here is the historic thing about the utility:  It brings a sense of community – real community rather than what someone in marketing might call community – to the internet.  It is beyond the power of political institutions to control.  So far, the courts cannot tame it.  Now the juggernaut of popular opinion which has it the potential of mobilizing is becoming a major player in [the] political and media landscape – a major player in its own right.  
 

Dunt’s claims for Twitter (which he rightly terms a “utility”) also refer to the groundbreaking events surrounding the issuing of an unprecedented gag order on the Guardian, preventing the paper from reporting on questions raised in Parliament in an effort to protect he interests of the oil production company Trafigura (see my earlier post, “#Trafigura v Twitter,” for a more detailed analysis).  In this instance, not only were #Trafigura and their law firm #CarterRuck trending topics on Twitter over the course of several days, but flashmobs organized via Twitter appeared outside the London office of Carter Ruck in flesh-and-blood protest.  
 

Dunt’s thoughtful column gestures toward further thinking that it does not undertake, and that I will simply stake out here for future elaboration.  For example:  what sorts of relations link the phenomenon of the trending topic and the occurrence of something like a flashmob – that is, real people turning up at a specified time and place for a common purpose?  If Twitter’s trending topics bespeak a community of people flocking fleetingly around a shared interest, what difference might this make to “what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world” (to cite Twitter’s latest homepage)?  When and how do shared interests gather to constitute a community whose life span is longer than a few hours, or a few days?  
 

The lifting of the gag order against the Guardian after social media (as well as print and broadcast journalism) exposed the shameful secrets that Trafigura sought vainly to protect hints at the possibility that a “trending topic” may in some instances translate as intervention, changing, however incrementally, the course of history.  On this basis, Dunt is perhaps right to suggest that it “seems inevitable that, within a decade, we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere [“anywhere”] in the world.”  At the rate at which Twitter and other social media are evolving, a decade is, to say the least, a long time.  
 

10/18/2009  “Can’t we all just get along?”  
 

  
 

Even as thoughts, intuitions and questions regarding Twitter and its multiple impacts continue to amass like unread tweets on a trending topic waiting to be released by the ‘refresh’ button, today’s blog-prompt came unbidden as I rustled through the A-section of this morning’s Globe and Mail, which styles itself “Canada’s national Newspaper” but is also my local daily of choice (most days).  Under the category heading “Policing,” and the title “Schools, lies and videotape:  Footage tells only part of the story,” reporters Joe Friesen and Anna Mahler Paperny follow up on two recent arrests in Ontario and the problematic role played by amateur video recording at the respective scenes.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/do-arrest-videos-really-tell-the-whole-truth/article1328807/  
 

Raising concerns that date back at least to the explosive video footage of LA police beating Rodney King in 1991, Friesen and Paperny note that “in the jumpy cellphone video of a man being arrested by campus security at the University of Western Ontario last week, several bystanders can be seen aiming their own cellphone cameras in the direction of the action.”  Strikingly similar is the footage of another recent and controversial arrest in Toronto, that of a young man at Northern Secondary School.  In this instance, “As the student demands to know why he’s being arrested, at least three people wave their cameras to let the police officer know that everything is being recorded.”  
 

In Canada, at least, there is another inevitable reference point for such events and their recording, which postdates the Rodney King case by more than 15 years:  the footage of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being tasered by RCMP officers in Vancouver International Airport.  The video, shot by Victoria resident Paul Pritchard, “contradicted police statements at the time that Mr. Dziekanski was combative and had confronted police.”  
 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=IPe_hf7aBXM  
 

While the events that led to Robert Dziekanski’s death at the hands of the RCMP officers took place in a no-go zone separated from public areas of the airport by a (thankfully transparent) wall of glass, the recent cases in Ontario lead the reporters to observe:  “It’s symbolic of an age of instant, constant scrutiny, where the community instinct to intervene against perceived wrongdoing has been replaced by the urge to stand back and film it” [emphasis added].  
 

These examples, each with its own specificity as to time, place and circumstances, raise fundamental questions about the relationship between history and historiography – between the materiality of events and their transcription or registration through a variety of media (the cellphone with video camera – and SMS, which also enables Twitter – being for now the most ubiquitous).  Friesen and Paperny’s language casts the tendency toward bystander videography of spectacular or overdetermined events in ethical and ultimately political terms, questioning a perceived shift in the “community instinct” from active engagement in the present to passive witnessing for posterity.  
 

The article goes on to cite John Fiske, a communications theorist who has studied the Rodney King instance, and who observes that “the trouble is that the video is seen as the whole truth, when at best it is an incomplete representation of what occurred.  Only about 14 people witnessed the Rodney King incident, but millions saw the video and drew their own conclusions.  The video clip is always one person’s representation of what was going on, which is not the same thing as what was actually going on…. What ‘s going on outside of the camera may be very significant in terms of the meaning of what’s going on, what the camera is actually seeing.  But people don’t think of that.  They also often don’t think that the video clip is subject to interpretation.  They think it’s raw reality itself.”  
 

To the extent that this is the case, one wonders how far our understanding of media has come since the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, which an astonishing number of Americans came to confuse with the event itself.  In these terms, the image (whatever its medium) is substituted for the event, with which, however, it can never coincide.  And because the image (or, in the case of Twitter, the “characters” or the link) is mediated, transmitted, it is never, ever, “live.”  I’ll have more to say about the need, in appeals to the “real-time” Web, to bear this in mind.  
 

10/17/2009  Save time:  tweet.  Save more time:  retweet.  
 

  
 

Scrolling down my Twitter homepage a few minutes ago, I clicked on Mashable’s “Top 5 Twitter Trends to Watch Right Now” (“now” being sometime on October 17, 2009), as reported by Jennifer Van Grove (http://bit.ly/25ufvg ).  In attendance at the Blog World Expo in Las Vegas, Jennifer took the opportunity to survey a handful of authorities for their responses.  Among them was Chris Pirillo, “Lifecaster, blogger and uber web geek,” who argued among other things that more bloggers are tweeting instead of blogging, that Twitter gives some bloggers the chance to save the “time and energy poured into long-form blog posts, and instead find a way to say the same thing in 140 characters.”  Increasingly, Pirillo observes, Twitter is “augmenting blogging” in this fashion.  
 

For the moment, I’m less interested in the truth value of Pirillo’s assertion, than in what is apparently one of his favourite formulations, as cited by Van Grove:  “Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’ve been thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.”  
 

Conjoining matters of thought and temporality, this pithy….  You know, maybe Pirillo is on to something.  Screw it.  I’ll just retweet.  
 

10/16/2009  Fledgling Initiative?  You talkin’ to me?  
 

I must confess to feeling a little unsettled at the moment.  Having just logged on to the Twitter blog’s most recent update (October 15, 2009), scanned its first paragraphs, and idly clicked on a link, I was startled to see the word that gives this blog its title (and some of its character) popping up everywhere on the page announcing Twitter’s new Fledgling Initiative, which “aims to make awesome wine for the benefit of Room to Read, a non-profit organization extending literacy and educational opportunities to children worldwide.”  The idea is that “every case sold will provide approximately 60 local language children’s books and promote education in the world’s poorest regions.”  And it seems that Fledgling Wine will be drinkable at the least:  “These wines are being made using some of the best vineyards in California by the acclaimed winemaking team at Crushpad [wait…is there a tie-in to TypePad here?]  In addition, 2009 appears to be an excellent vintage in California, potentially one of the best of the decade.  Buy wine for $20.00.”  (A brief detour to http://www.crushpad.com yields the fact that “we’re a combination of wine industry veterans and technology industry refugees….”)  
 

There is a “quick video” explaining how this initiative will help promote literacy, featuring John Wood, an ex-corporate-tech-guy who founded the Room to Read project.  Just beneath the video is “An introduction from Biz and Ev,” which I will record in full here to help myself process what it says:  
 

As a company that’s only one percent into its journey, we’re always thinking about our long term impact on the world.  The Fledgling Initiative embodies two things that are at the core of Twitter’s mission:  providing access to information and highlighting the power of open communication to bring about positive change.  This initiative is just one piece of that approach.  Take part in this mission and pre-buy our limited bottles of the wine. You can follow along with our wine-making activities on Twitter and at some points even participate in its creation.  For each bottle you buy, $5 will be donated to Room to Read, a transformational non-profit that brings books, libraries and ultimately literacy to people in the poorest areas around the world.  The efforts of Room to Read will benefit literacy, and in doing so they’ll allow Twitter to grow.  Because if you can’t read you can’t Tweet!  
 

Okay, so I’m getting over my initial reaction (Wtf?!? They stole my name!), and now my generous side is at war with my cynical side in an effort to make sense of this (and decide whether or not to pre-order a bottle of pinot, if only to have the label as a souvenir).  Earlier this week, I retweeted Mashable’s bulletin that “‘Twitter Adds 110 Million Potential New Users With SMS Deal in India” (http://retw.me/VSLn ).  And now, scrolling down the Twitter blog, I see that @BIZ had something to say about that on October 14, under the title “Hello, Bharti Airtel”:  
 

Twitter is committed to fostering the open exchange of information because we passionately believe it can have a positive global impact.  When people can exchange information freely and publicly they are able to accomplish great things.  As powerful as the Internet has become for the democratization of information, its range is limited when compared to mobile texting – a format uniquely native to Twitter [emphasis added].  There are over one billion people with Internet access on the planet but there are more than four billion people with mobile phones and Twitter can work on all of them because even the simplest of these devices feature SMS.  
 

We have seen people use Twitter to help each other during fuel shortages, track the spread of wildfires, check in during earthquakes, organize major charitable events, spread urgent news efficiently around the world, and much more.  In many of these scenarios, texting has been the key.  People exchanging information quickly and efficiently with the device that has become essential to everyday life, their mobile phone.  In many parts of the world people do not have Internet access but they can text – and that means they can access Twitter.  
 

As we grow, we seek to partner with organizations that share our vision for positive global impact.  Our partnership with Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile operator in India, means a huge population of people [? – ed.] can now send tweets at standard rates and receive tweets for free.  Bharti Airtel is offering people in every city, every village, every remote taluk and even the smallest panchayat the opportunity to connect to Twitter and enjoy the open exchange of information with no added fees.  We are proud to have Bharti Airtel as our partner.  Give Twitter a try with your Airtel phone by sending START to 53000.  And spread the word!  
 

Twitter is not about technology, it’s about people….  
 

Sorry, Biz, but that last assertion doesn’t hold up.  Of course Twitter is first and foremost about technology, and your denial of something so obvious in this context makes me wonder if you are being straight up in the rest of the post.  I’m left with dwindling time, several questions and a wish that someone would help me figure them out:  
 

1.  Why did they have to nick my name?  (This, dear reader, is a rhetorical question and does not require an answer.)  I’m so glad I claimed my URL on Technorati back in September.  
 

2.  How much does it cost to make a bottle of that wine?  If it’s less than $15, where does the rest of the money go?  (This is, after all, “the largest social wine-making process in history,” according to the promo video.)  
 

3.  How does Twitter calculate that it is “only one percent into its journey”?  Are the mixed metaphors symptomatic in some way that matters?  
 

4.  What “percentage” – or what niche – of Twitter users do they reckon will pony up $20 USD for an untried bottle?  
 

5.  How transparent is the Twitter blog?  
  

10/15/2009  #Trafigura v Twitter  
 

  
 

In an attempt to provide readers of this blog with a red thread that identifies its component parts and ties them loosely together (cf. the allusion to Goethe’s Elective Affinities – literary source of the figure of the red thread – in a prior post), I dutifully re-read my last entry, on Steven Johnson’s analysis of Twitter.  I was reminded just how  right he is to highlight the importance of user innovations since Twitter’s inception, and especially how, “thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago [he was writing in June, 2009], that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.”  
 

In fact I had, moments earlier, been doing just that:  following a “live” or “real-time” feed of tweets turned up by my Twitter search under the hashtag #Trafigura.  As I tweeted yesterday, Trafigura – a moniker new to me – sounded  like the name of the horse that finished third.  A cursory survey of etymological sources yielded little of interest, though it pointed to other terms, including prefigure and disfigure, that are not without relevance to the high-stakes unfolding over the last few days.  
 

It is at times like these (though no two times, no two historical moments, are the same) that I become aware that Twitter’s sheer speed, evident in the hectic reverse chronology via which one tracks events as they unfold, is at once its great strength and its potential limitation.  Certainly during the Iranian election and its aftermath, as I strained to follow the rapid-fire timelines under #IranElection and other hashtags, it seemed that the requisite thinking through was racing to keep up with the reporting and other interventions frantically accumulating before each frequent hit of the “refresh” button.  Scott Rosenberg’s pithy formulation – “We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later” – does not assuage a certain anxiety that something of potential value will be lost in filtration.  
 

In this case, I spent yesterday assembling a brief archive of reporting and opinion on the gag order (or “super-injunction”) against the Guardian on matters relating to the London-based oil trading company Trafigura and its attempt to cover up the publication of findings into its dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidijan.  Rather than sythesize and paraphrase the accounts in this space, I will simply furnish links to some of them, for those to whom this may still be news, or those who want to read further.  
 

http://uk.techcrunch.com/2009/10/13/thres-nowhere-to-hide-if-your-name-trends-on-twitter-is-there-trafigura/  
 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/psa/2009/oct/13/twitter-online-outcry-guardian-trafigura-order/  
 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/oct/13/trafigura-drops-gag-guardian-oil/  
 

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Minton_report_secret_injunction_gagging_The_Guardian_on_Trafigura/  
 

http://techpresident.com/node/15004  
 

http://thewitheringvine.blogspot.com/2009/10/trafigura-oil-and-law-dont-mix.html  
 

http://broadstuff.com/archives/1914-Trafigura-thoughts-from-the-day-after.html  
 

  
 

What will land this episode in the history (of Twitter) books is the fact that the gag order against the Guardian, links to Wikileaks and a variety of other relevant information were reported, tweeted and retweeted on Twitter, with great agility and acumen.  Among others, Mike Butcher of TechCrunch pointed out that “the entire issue trended on Twitter with hashtags including #guardiangag, #guardian, #carterruck (the name of the law firm representing Trafigura) and of course #Trafigura.”  In short, social media, with Twitter leading the pack, helped circumvent the heavy hand of censorship.  As Butcher phrased it in his story title for TechCrunch, “There’s nowhere to hide if your name trends on Twitter.  Is there, Trafigura?”  While savouring this important victory, and the frisson of watching a corporate villain attain the heights of trending topics, I would simply caution that virtually nobody stays on trending topics for more than a day or two.  Historical memory must be there to supplement Twitter, in every instance.  
 

10/13/2009  Twitterfied  
 

One wonders:  is somebody out there at work, right now, on a history of Twitter?  Will there be, one day soon, a chronicling of its origins and development that can hold its own next to Scott Rosenberg’s comprehensive history of blogging?  Certainly, in the case of Twitter, that history has unfolded in unpredictable fashion, and in ways no doubt unforeseen by its creators.  A handy journalistic account of some of the innovations and interventions that have forged Twitter’s path is to be found in “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live,” written by Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) for time.com in June 2009.  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1902818,00.html  
 

Johnson’s claim is that “the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us.  It’s what we’re doing to it.”  What we’re doing to and with Twitter, he suggests,  falls into three basic categories:  social networks, live searching, and link-sharing.  Below are a handful of excerpts from his brief but suggestive piece.  
 

The basic mechanics of Twitter are remarkably simple.  Users publish tweets – those 140-character messages – from a computer or mobile device (The character limit allows tweets to be created and circulated via the SMS platform used by most mobile phones).  As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers.  When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page….  
 

…Twitter users have begun to find a route around that [140 character] limitation by employing Twitter as a pointing device instead of a communications channel:  sharing links to longer articles, discussions, posts, videos – anything that lives behind a URL.  Websites that saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from “passed links” at social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  
 

…Put these three elements together – social networks, live searching and link-sharing – and you have a cocktail that poses what may amount to the most interesting alternative to Google’s near-monopoly in searching.  At its heart, Google’s system is built around the slow, anonymous accumulation of authority:  pages rise to the top of Google’s search results according to, in part, how many links point to them, which tends to favor older pages that have had time to build an audience.  That’s a fantastic solution for finding high-quality needles in the immense, spam-plagued haystack that is the contemporary Web.  But it’s not a particularly useful solution for finding out what people are saying right now, the in-the-moment conversation that industry pioneer John Battelle calls the “super fresh” Web.  Even in its toddlerhood, Twitter is a more efficient supplier of the super-fresh Web than Google.  
 

This is not just a matter of people finding a new use for a tool designed to do something else.  In Twitter’s case, the users have been redesigning the tool itself.  The convention of grouping a topic or event by the “hashtag”…was spontaneously invented by the Twitter-userbase (as was the convention of replying to another user with the @ symbol).  The ability to search a live stream of tweets was developed by another startup…. Thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago, that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.  
 

Moving into prophetic mode, Johnson foresees a future that is permanently “Twitterfied”:  
 

…it’s entirely possible that 3 or 4 years from now, we’ll have moved on to some Twitter successor.  But the key elements of the Twitter platform – the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching – will persevere regardless of Twitter’s fortunes, just as Web conventions like links, posts and feeds have endured over the past decade.  In fact, every major channel of information will be Twitterfied in one way or another in the coming years.  
 

Perhaps.  Probably.  But then again, as Twitter has so lately instructed us, history lies in the unforeseen.  
 

10/09/2009  “Permanence is out of reach”  
 

  
 

Having alluded in my last post to the argument(s) to be made for blogging, as well as tweeting, as artful pursuits, I subsequently located  a few paragraphs from Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything that make a fairly persuasive case.  They also raise crucial questions about the survival, over time, of these virtual texts.  
 

For all the novelty surrounding it, the act of blogging is fundamentally literary.  A blogger selects some information or experience, shapes it into words and sentences, and hoists it into public view.  Linking may change some aspects of reading, and comment threads and permalinks and RSS feeds may dot the screen, but at heart blogging is a species of writing, in the direct line of descent from the Rosetta Stone through Shakespeare to The New Yorker (and the Weekly World News).  Although a blog lives for today, in the moment, more than most other literary forms, its record is intended for the future as well.  That is why so many bloggers obsessively maintain their archives, painstakingly reformatting older entries to survive each transition from one publishing system to the next. 
 

Will today’s blogs survive long enough to matter to future generations?  Most of us are intensely aware of the fragility of digital data:  a life savings of information can vanish with the theft of a laptop or the crash of an unbacked-up hard disk.  Many early blogs have disappeared from the Web, leaving little or no trace…. Words on the Web, we rightly fear, are ephemeral. 
 

On the other hand, data on the Internet has a remarkably enduring half-life.  Copying bits is what computers do – they are, as Cory Doctorow says, “copying machines.”  Copies of most material that has been posted online since the late 1990’s exist in some form somewhere…. Once a document has been widely dispersed on the Internet, it is difficult to suppress, even when you try, and have the legal right to do so. 
 

Paper fades; bits get deleted.  Libraries burn; disks crash.  Whatever the medium, permanence is out of reach.  No matter:  bloggers might hope to be read by children or even grandchildren, but few dream of immortality for their words.  The Web has made it possible for us to write more, to distill more and consume more…. But blogging’s critics have been so incensed over the ways in which blogging differs from the literary past that they have missed the ways in which it carries literary values into the future.  (345) 
 

More in due course on writing and reading blogs – and on the matter of the archive.
 

 
 

10/09/09  Cards on the table

 
   Benjamin writing
 
A quick check of my Typepad stats just now yielded the following:  22 posts, 8 comments, 7 followers, 760 “lifetime” page views, 38 average page views per day.  So I won’t be featured on Technorati anytime soon (though I have been, inexplicably, on Tweetmeme).  At this stage, I might feel more than a little discouraged at the time and energy it takes to gain a foothold in a medium that claims to allow for the lightning-quick, for transmission and exchange in what is termed “real-time,” were it not for two figures that I hold out, each in his way, as exemplars.  I think first of Walter Benjamin, whose work I have been reading for most of my adult life; in this context, I return to his essay “The Task of the Translator, written in 1923 as an introduction to his own translations of Baudelaire.  Here is its notorious first paragraph, as translated by Harry Zohn: In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful.  Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such.  Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response.  No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  [emphasis added] 
 http://www.scribd.com/doc/12733233/Walter-Benjamin-the-Task-of-Translator
 
Certainly this blog lays no claim to be a work of art – though there is an argument to be made for blogging, and tweeting, as artful pursuits.  But I did not embark on this project for the sake of my potential readers, nor with the purpose of building a readership – that will either happen, or it won’t.  What prompted me to begin blogging (cards on the table) was the prospect of a regular, disciplined practice of writing, to dislodge my habitual modes of research and more research, voluminous note-taking leading to drafts and more drafts, revisions galore and eventually, should all the stars align, publication within two years of manuscript delivery.  What I’m doing instead (or at least on a parallel track) in this still-experimental space, is essentially posting pages from my notebooks.  Which brings me to my second exemplar, the blogger who writes under the name Salam Pax.  As I indicated a few posts back, Salam blogged earlier this year about finding a notebook that had served as a diary during the months after the invasion of Baghdad, and that had gone missing in the ensuing chaos.  Five years on, he told his readers the story of the lost notebook, and added “I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you… I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”  http://salampax.wordpress.com
  
 Salam-Pax-the-Baghdad-Blo-001 
 
While my notebooks, some of which date back more than five years and have likewise been retrieved from a chaotic period, can’t hold a candle to Salam’s – they have survived neither siege nor bombs, and chronicle no such historical events – I humbly follow his example in posting pages from them anyway.  But I’ll hang on to the originals, at least for a while.
 
 

 10/08/2009  Give me permalinks or give me oblivion

Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything is a valuable account of the history of Web-based journalism and the origins and rise of blogging.  In particular, his insight into “the simple utility of a reverse-chronological list” as a way to help readers understand where to look for new material is grounded in a meticulous chronicling of the early days of Web publishing.  At this stage, when many have come to take for granted the instant fix afforded by reverse chronology, when websites (in Rosenberg’s terms) are “less about subscription than about addiction,” it is worthwhile to retrace his steps, to connect what we experience now with the origins and genesis of Web publishing.

 
 

Ii_atom

 
 

Say Everything also makes a persuasive case for the watershed character of the advent of “permalinks,”

 a code for each blog post that enabled other websites and bloggers to link back to a specific post. (Previously it had been difficult to do anything other than point to a blog’s home page, which would change all the time, foiling any attempt to link to a particular item.) Later the Movable Type platform would expand this concept by giving each individual blog post its own separate Web page as a permanent home with a unique address to which links could point.  Most other blogging tools followed suit.  This software wrinkle, lttle noticed at the time, made a huge difference:  it meant that the basic unit of writing online would change from the page to the post.  Blog posts became the atoms of the Web.
 

In our own moment, we are bound to pay attention to the little-noticed software wrinkles that are changing the medium right now.

 10/07/2009  ‘Say Everything.’ Really?

As a relative latecomer to blogging, and as someone whose writing has generally been destined for articles, essays and books, I am still coming to terms with the novelty of one-click self-publication.  While it continues to feel a bit strange to make public what is merely presentable prose – written in one sitting, lacking the presumptive polish of a ‘finished’ piece – I have set aside my qualms for the time being in the resolve simply to take part.

 Like others, I have learned a good deal about the genesis of blogging from Scott Rosenberg’s recent volume Say Everything, whose subtitle is How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming, and Why it Matters.  The following paragraph seems to have generated the book’s title:
 

Most writers today grew up in a world where the ability to publish was a hard-won privilege, and, once won, guaranteed at least some attention on its basis alone.  That world is rapidly fading.  On the Web, publishing has become an abundant, effectively limitless resource.  Clay Shirky has laid out the consequences for us:  When publishing was scarce, we filtered first, making choices based on relevance or quality before committing words to our limited stock of paper, our costly fleet of trucks, our scarce radio and TV frequencies.  The Web inverts this sequence.  We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later. (319)

 I take Rosenberg’s point, and recognize the paradigm shift he is indicating.  But surely any blogger worth reading asks questions before and while writing posts, comments and responses.  Interrogating one’s topic cannot be postponed till after publication, even if blogging allows for the rapid transmission of unfinished work.  And what blogger would presume to ‘say everything’ about anything in a single post?

 In my next post (or some post hereafter) I will return to Rosenberg’s valuable volume, which offers plenty of grist for a blogger’s mill.
 

10/06/2009  Viva Salam Pax

Salam Pax notebook 
 

I predicted in my first post that I would be citing the words and work of others as this blog unspools.  In the spirit of reproducing posts that are better than any I can hope to write – well, I can always hope, I suppose – I offer a sampling from Salam Pax:  The Baghdad Blogger.  I chose this entry from among other possibilities in part because it extends a poignant promise of more to come.
 

 “Looking back, one last time.”  March 22, 2009
 

 In three weeks time it’s the 6th anniversary for the fall/liberation of Baghdad.
 

 Baghdad falls/Baghdad is liberated…all semantics.  What is fact is our life in Iraq as we knew it ended at that day.
 

 Since the start of the war in 2003 we had to move house three times for various reasons.  A lot was given away or lost in those moves including a notebook I used as a diary during the days when we had no electricity or internet access, it also contained flyers and other things from those days.
 

When the bombing stopped a couple of weeks later and the first place with internet access opened I sent all the notes to my blog friend Diana Moon and she posted them for me on my blog.  The blog posts from that time are still online, you can go check them out. 

While looking through the boxes of belongings I found the notebook, with newspapers, photos and the flyers I had kept.  As five years have passed and we’re entering the seventh year of our post-war/post-Saddam lives I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you. 

Until the 9th I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”* 

Read more at http://salampax.wordpress.com/ 

Viva Salam Pax. 

*Readers of fledgling:  cf. my previous post on Fisk’s Beirut bookbinder, who apparently throws very little paper away no matter how old it is. 

 10/05/2009  The Bookbinder of Beirut

Bookbinding koran

Never mind the fact that there is no journalist that I admire more than Robert Fisk – this is merely anecdotal.  But I find something characteristically instructive, and perhaps salutary, in his recent column for The Independent on the oldest and most honoured bookbinder in Beirut, known for that reason as “Sheik Tijlid” – Sheik Binder.  Here is a sample:
 

There are only five left in Lebanon, repairing old newspapers, handwritten 17th-century Korans, ministry archives, cutting and pasting and then modelling fine leather covers and impressing on that wonderful soft leather the title of each volume in gold leaf.  Riyad Shaker al-Khabbaz lives for his bunker of an office with its ancient iron presses, its century-old steel Arabic typeface from Germany, France and England. Some of his presses come from the homes of priests – who were the bookbinders of Beirut in centuries past. 

He hands me a Koran, written in black and red ink, the margins adorned with yet more handwriting, interpretations of the sura – 300, 400 years old? – and he tells me about his client.  ‘He is a man who greatly loves a Lebanese woman and he wants to give this to her as a gift.  It is worth $100,000.’ 

http://www.independent.co.uk/commentators/fisk/fobert-fiskrsquos-world-not-even-a-civil-war-could-stop-the-old-bookbinder-of-beirut-1786167.htm

For those who dwell in large part in the virtual world, who spend their days staring at flickering screens of one sort or another, such an account may jar them back to a reckoning with the materiality of the written word, and the materiality of the history to which, in one of its multiple functions, it refers.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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fledgling’s archive, december 2009

December 2009

12/31/2009  More from Michelle Lang’s “Afghanistan Dispatches”

A few days before her own death, journalist Michelle Lang blogged about the passing of Lt. Andrew Nuttall, a fellow blogger.  Both died via IED.

“A ‘Rough’ Year in Afghanistan”

By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Sun, Dec 27 2009

As 2009 draws to a close, Canada’s top general conceded the past 12 months were “rough.”

Speaking to reporters in Kandahar this weekend, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the country’s chief of defence staff, said the growing danger in Afghanistan and problems with corruption in the summer presidential election made the past year a difficult one. You can read more here.

His comments follow the death last Wednesday of Lieut. Andrew Nuttall, 30, who was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated as he was leading a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district. Nuttall was, by all accounts, a well-liked young officer who was bright and athletic.

At a ramp ceremony last week, attended by thousands of NATO soldiers and civilians who work at Kandahar airfield, Padre Steve Defer said Nuttall loved the outdoors and loved to surf off the shores of Vancouver Island, where he grew up. “The waves at Tofino,” said Defer, “will never be the same.”

 

12/30/2009  RIP Michelle Lang, journalist and blogger

Canadian journalist Michelle Lang, who began reporting from Kandahar on December 20, was killed today, along with four Canadian soldiers she was accompanying on a routine patrol that ended when an IED exploded beneath their vehicle.  She wrote 7 blog posts during what was to be a two-week tour in Afghanistan.  Here is the most recent of her “Afghanistan Dispatches” for the Calgary Herald.

“Wanted:  Combat Barbers” 

By Michelle Lang in Afghanistan Tue, Dec 29 2009

On a recent trip outside of Kandahar Airfield, I started talking with a lady who had an unusual patch on her body armour. It was a skull with the words, “combat barber” underneath.

It reminded me of a story I had read several years ago about Canadian Forces’ efforts to recruit hair stylists to work in Afghanistan.

My editor had asked me to write a story about civilians who come to work in Kandahar and I thought combat barbers would make for an interesting interview.

Yesterday, I spoke with Vanessa Mead, 25, from Fredericton, N.B., who came to Afghanistan one month ago to cut hair.

You can read about her adventures in Afghanistan here.
Read more “Afghanistan Dispatches” at http://bit.ly/4xSmrL

 

12/30/2009  New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper (not) and Walter Benjamin

 As the year winds down, I have been thinking, in passing, about the nature of New Year’s “resolutions,” and specifically whether they are of the order of promises, which is to say, of contracts.  Does it matter whether resolutions are made public (which would imply consequences of some sort if they were not made good down the line), or can they remain vows, made and kept internally?  In any case I expect to see lots of resolutions on my Twitter feed in the next few days. 

And herewith I make good on a tacit promise made in my last post, namely to reproduce Walter Benjamin’s “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses,” which I leave to the reader to align with Stephen King’s tips for writers, addressed earlier.  Benjamin’s theses appear in One-Way Street, which is included in Volume 1 of his Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 1996, 458-459).  I thank my dear friend Tom Levin for flipping them to me nearly instantaneously following an email query just now. 

Benjamin
 

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next. 

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion. 

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds. 

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.  

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens. 

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it. 

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work. 

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process. 

IX. Nulla dies sine linea — but there may well be weeks. 

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight. 

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there. 

XII. Stages of composition: idea — style — writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style. 

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception. 

As a holiday bonus (since so many bloggers seem to be offering them), I will append Benjamin’s theses on the critic’s techniques, which also number thirteen. 

The Critic’s Technique in Thirteen Theses 

I. The critic is the strategist in the literary battle. 

II. He who cannot take sides should keep silent. 

III. The critic has nothing in common with the interpreter of past cultural epochs. 

IV. Criticism must talk the language of artists. For the terms of the cenacle are slogans. And only in slogans is the battle-cry heard. 

V. “Objectivity” must always be sacrificed to partisanship, if the cause fought for merits this. 

VI. Criticism is a moral question. If Goethe misjudged Holderlin and Kleist, Beethoven and Jean Paul, his morality and not his artistic discernment was at fault. 

VII. For the critic his colleagues are the higher authority. Not the public. Still less posterity. 

VIII. Posterity forgets or acclaims. Only the critic judges in face of the author. 

IX. Polemics mean to destroy a book in a few of its sentences. The less it has been studies the better. Only he who can destroy can criticize. 

X. Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby. 

XI. Artistic enthusiasm is alien to the critic. In his hand the art©work is the shining sword in the battle of the minds. 

XII. The art of the critic in a nutshell: to coin slogans without betraying ideas. The slogans of an inadequate criticism peddle ideas to fashion. 

XIII. The public must always be proved wrong, yet always feel represented by the critic. 

This seems to me a fitting offering at the threshold of a new year and decade.    

Anderson-cooper 
 
 

P.S.  All the best in the New Year, Anderson. 
 
Posted at 06:01 PM in Books, Television, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Anderson Cooper, Harvard University Press, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s resolutions, One-Way Street, Stephen King, Tom Levin, Walter Benjamin

  

12/29/09  My first brush with Stephen King

Having said that (cf. my post from earlier today), I did break down and read a few of the posts in my inbox promising to make me a better blogger in 2010, and actually found a list that made some sense.  I’m pasting it below for my own reference as well as for readers who might find it of interest.  You can find it at http://www.howtomakemyblog.com/book-review-13-blogging-lessons-learned-from-stephen-kings-on-writing/ I’m thinking of revising my avoid-reading-Stephen-King-at-all-cost in light of what follows.

13 blogging lessons learned from Stephen King’s On Writing

 Stephen King’s book On Writing is a very good read. It is targeted towards writers and wanna-be writers, but it is a very inspiring book for anyone.

As bloggers are writers, this book can teach you several lessons and can inspire you in your blogging. Here are the 13 lessons I have picked up from reading Stephen King’s On Writing.

  • Just start it. Whatever you plan or wish to do, just start doing it. Take the first step. Start chasing your dream. When you’re brave enough to start, you will be able to succeed and you will make it happen.
  • Follow your passion. No matter what people say, always do what you like to do. Stephen King’s family, teachers etc all said that he was wasting his time writing, but he kept going on as he believed in it himself.
  • Do it for joy. If there is no joy in it, it’s just no good. Writing is not about making money, getting famous, or making friends. Writing blog posts should be inspired play and it should not feel like work. When you do it for joy, you can do it forever, no matter what.
  • Stick to it. Never give up on your dream. No matter how hard it seems. Good writing is the result of thousands of hours that the writer has spent composing and the tens of thousands of hours spent reading compositions of others.
  • Don’t be afraid of rejection. Is nobody reading your blog yet? If you really enjoy it, it shouldn’t matter to you. Just keep working on producing new material and work on winning blog readers one by one.
  • Find your own writing space. When writing, get rid of the whole world. Find your own writing space, close the door and concentrate. Eliminate all the distractions. Turn off the TV. It will improve the quality of your life, save you a lot of time which you can spend on working on your passion.
  • Make it unique. Blend in your own personal knowledge in your writing. What you know makes you unique. You have your own thoughts, interests and concerns. Be brave and tell people what you think and what you know.
  • Make your writing reader-friendly. Just by looking at the text you can see if it is going to be easy or hard to read it. Easy stuff contains lots of short paragraphs and a lot of white space.
  • Edit yourself. Write a first draft, get away from it for a bit and do something else. Then come back and read it over. Fix the spelling mistakes, and pick up inconsistencies. You need to revise for length. Omit needless words. Cut the bullshit, cut the fluff from your writing. 1st draft – 10% = 2nd draft.
  • You cannot please everyone. You can’t please all the readers all the time, you can’t even please some of the readers all the time, but you should always try to please some of the readers some of the time.
  • Teach yourself. Forget the classes, the lessons, the seminars… you learn your trade best by putting the effort into it and doing it. The most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.
  • Write a lot. Don’t talk about it, just do it. Your time is valuable and you need to understand that the hours you spend talking about writing is time you don’t spend actually doing it.
  • Read a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time or tools to write either. Everything you read has its own lessons. Reading good stuff helps you aim higher and work harder. You see what can be done, and experience different styles. Reading bad stuff helps you recognize bad things and helps you steer clear of them in your own work.

And yes, bloggers are (for the most part) writers.  Nothing more and, importantly, nothing less.

Memo to self:  retrieve Benjamin’s tips for writers for an upcoming post. 

Posted at 09:22 PM in Books, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: ” blogging, “On Writing, howtomakemyblog.com, reading, Stephen Kind, writing

 

12/28/09  Blogging in the decade to come

Over the last few weeks, my email inbox has been brimming over with posts from other bloggers proffering advice (and flogging books) on how to blog bigger and better in the new year.  The majority of these posts take the form of lists of what to do differently (which undoubtedly includes translating my sometimes cumbersome paragraphs into something more telegraphic).  I confess that, while I have deleted only a few (whose sources I don’t entirely trust), I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the ones that still await my attention.  There are a number of reasons for this, some of them obvious (celebrations, family time, year-end exhaustion).  The less obvious ones would, I think, appear on the radar of the author of a comment on an earlier post of mine, which I reproduce here in grateful acknowledgement of its thoughtfulness and timeliness.

[ ]

Adriana said:

Oh dear, sounds like you have hit on a rather formulaic view of blogging (if you substitute ‘formulaic’ with ‘wrong’ I won’t disagree much in this case). Your blog is your castle – to paraphrase the English phrase. It is your space to deliberate, write, share, rant, shout, or even offend, if you can face the fallout. Interactivity is overrated and over-used. Sharing and collaboration is often a shield used by people who have little original thought or are afraid to be alone. (This applies only to individuals, my criticism of organisations for lack of interaction, sharing and openness is known.) I think blogs like yours are what still keeps me interested in blogging (I started blogging in 2002 and have seen several waves of people arriving to the blogosphere, each bringing their own assumptions, objectives and experiences. Darren Rowse is but one of them.) I am interested in thoughtful writing, longer forms than just a few bits regurgitated by many bloggers. I like to see ideas that would not have seen the light of day, if not for the blog form and the drive of the author/blogger to capture them for their own reasons, not to please some audience. There are as many types of blogs and ways to write them as there are books and writings styles. They share one thing in common – they are expressions of individuals, not of institutions. That to me is revolutionary! They allow us to drive our ‘identity’, as defined by ourselves. This is one of the most valuable things the web has enabled. So if you decide to write only interminable screeds based on your innermost thoughts and notes, that’s fine by me! The good news is that you will get audience that will value your blog exactly for that. There is no point in writing a blog to fit an imaginary audience. Your blog is an expression of things you want to express and the rest of the world can shut up and read. Or ignore at will. Of course, there are a few things you can do to make your blog more visible and discoverable to others. For example, I found you because you linked to my blog in one of your posts and I liked it enough to explore your blog further. I might even subscribe to it. 🙂

And here is an excerpt from my reply to Adriana Lukas:

To have an indication that I can go on writing without the reader in mind, and still garner readers like you, makes a big difference.

This will still hold true in the decade to come.

Posted at 06:18 PM in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Adriana Lukas, blog post, blogging, Darren Rowse, New Year

 

12/26/2009  Twitter’s ReTweet feature prompts a small insurrection

If this is off-da-hook, I’m hanging up….  But rather than resume my sporadic rant, already well-documented on Twitter, I thought it better to share a useful year-end account of the debates surrounding Twitter’s imposition (sorry, implementation) of its “Retweet” feature, and the resistance of users adhering to the consensual RT practice generated by themselves.  The latter, while requiring slightly more effort than a couple of clicks (since when did copy/paste become labour-intensive?), allowed for both off-the-cuff and more thoughtful editorializing and contributed, sometimes significantly, to the ongoing conversations facilitated by Twitter.  http://blog.sxdsalon.org/2009/12/03/rt-vs-retweet/

RT vs. Retweet

Posted on December 3, 2009 by pete

This is a post about “retweeting,” a beautifully evolved and delicate little social dance called that Twitter users invented, and Twitter’s so-called “Retweet” feature, which stomps on it.

In this post, I’ll call the original, organically evolved practice “RT” (as it is usually written in tweets), and Twitter’s confusingly named mis-feature “Retweet” (with uppercase “R”).

Social Relationship

An RT comes from somebody I follow. The reason I follow people on Twitter is because I want to know what they’re thinking and what they want to say. An RT is a way for somebody to repeat (and perhaps change, perhaps not) what somebody else has said, and give them credit for it. But it’s important to me that it’s not just a little bauble they find interesting (that’s what Favorites are for), but that they’re willing to enter it into public record as something they’re willing to repeat, in their voice.

On the other hand, a Retweet comes from somebody I’m not following. Yeah, sure it’s interesting to see new people on Twitter — but I’m deliberate about who I’m following and who I’m not. If I’m not following someone, I don’t want to see them in my timeline. Let me go see who they are and what they’re about, then maybe I’ll follow them. But please, I don’t want random people popping up in my timeline.

Darn it Twitter – “retweet” Meant Something Else!

The original RT practice evolved as a set of social gestures:

  • repeating what someone else said
  • giving someone else credit
  • sometimes giving multiple people credit, in an RT chain
  • editing original sayings to fit in 140 characters after adding the “RT” string and the @-sign attributions
  • editing original sayings to add commentary or change emphasis

Creating a good RT is an editorial, curatorial and social process. Should I give someone credit, or not? How many people should I give credit? Should I edit it to punch it up, or add emphasis?

Seeing someone else take my tweets and add and shape them makes me feel good. It’s an act of love and co-creation. The RT practice works the way people have talked and chatted with each other, about each other, since people became human and started talking.

Even seeing somebody retweet something poorly — missing an attribution, or editing badly — was a meaningful social gesture. Did they just not know the conventions? In that case, it’s a great opportunity to be social with them and help them out. Are they just mean-spirited, and they don’t really care about other people? Bad retweeters could communicate that, as well.

On the other hand, a Retweet is a simple, mechanical indication that someone liked something. It’s wonderful that social media systems like Flickr, Delicious and Facebook allow you to see what other people think is interesting, with “Like” and “Favorite” affordances — they’re great mechanisms for discovery. Slashdot and Digg are entire services built just on that concept. And of course, Twitter itself has a Favorite feature that they haven’t really exposed as well as they could have for readers.

I don’t have any problem with the Like/Favorite affordances. But @Twitter, for shame — why would you name your Like feature “Retweet,” and completely confuse the wonderful social practices that had evolved so beautifully on your service?

But I Just Want to Share Interesting Tweets Easily

It was a little bit of work to make a regular RT with the standard tools — cutting, pasting, making sure you got the attribution correctly. But third-party Twitter clients and Twitter add-ons like Greasemonkey scripts included easy single-click RT features, which went along with the original social practice, and didn’t break it like the Retweet feature did.

Ease of use doesn’t explain why the new Retweet feature breaks all the sociality of the old RT convention.

Business Model; Relevance and Ranking

I would guess that at least some of the motivation behind Twitter’s implementation of the Retweet feature is that they think it will be good for their business. When everybody is using an automated mechanism, Twitter can tell just by counting button clicks what’s being repeated most often. It automatically aggregates popularity, which of course has some relation to relevance.

I don’t have any problem with Twitter counting popularity of tweets. But again, they should use a Like function, or their Favorite function, for that, instead of bastardizing retweets.

References and Further Discussion

The discussion around the Retweet mis-feature has been ongoing for months. Here are some pointers to other voices.

#saveretweets

Some representative tweets from the last month or so that were posted under the #saveretweets hashtag.

RenVonVit – RT @RayBeckerman: I strongly urge my friends who RT NOT to use the Twitter pseudo-retweet button. #saveretweets
RickyMaveety – @RayBeckerman I saw that feedback request. I gave them feedback. They won’t like it, but I told them the truth. #saveretweets
lacouvee – @dingbatkaren nothing to YAY about!! They just don’t get it #saveretweets
TomRaftery – @franksting Well, it is by a ZenDesk webform. Tbh, I don’t care how it is received, as long as Twitter fix the RTs #saveretweets
eviltofu – RT @ctham: @GrowlyBear I’d rather it does not. I’d rather copy-n-paste entire tweets than use the new RT button. #saveretweets
erika613 – RT @queerunity RT @RayBeckerman Don’t use Twitter’s version of the “retweet” http://is.gd/59hDD #saveretweets
kootenayrev – @buzzbishop So do. Many are boycotting the new RT and just sticking to the old way of RTing. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
triumph68 – @LesbianDad If you want to add comment or alter orig tweet at all (+some other things), use orig “RT” format not the button. #saveretweets
pkieltyka – RT @mhp: Please #SaveReTweets and do away the unwanted implementation RT @jack: Anyone know how to turn off the auto RT function in Twe …
jimrhiz – Twitter clients should keep original retweet mechanisms as well as canned uncommentable version #SaveReTweets @echofon
JulieDeYoung – Thanks, I agree: RT @RayBeckerman What to do with Twitter’s pseudo-retweet button: ignore it http://twurl.nl/jakme5 #saveretweets
RayBeckerman – #saveretweets RT @Kcecelia Continue to:not use new RT,vocally object,provide objections to techies such as,e.g, @davewiner to note/pass on.
RayBeckerman – Twitter tip:Don’t use so-called “retweet” button on Twitter’s web site http://is.gd/4YRfB #twitterfail #saveretweets
cjoehl – RT @Strwbrry_Blonde IT HAPPENED. retweet feature pushed @michellemalkin into my feed. I AM UNFOLLOWING YOU ALL. #saveretweets #p2
CloudK9 – Agree! Using “Genuine Retweet” for this! RT @Andjelija Dear @twitter please #saveretweets. I’m not liking the new system AT ALL. Sorry ;-(
sarachapman – removing comments on twitter’s new retweet function is a joke- whole point of a RT is you’re reacting to something you’ve read #saveretweets
Nanmac3109 – AGAIN, I do not like the new retweet function. I don’t like for ppl to appear on my timeline who I do not follow. grrrrrrr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @NYT_JenPreston When I see all the smart things our readers say, I hope no one ever uses new RT feature. #saveretweets
JessicaPuchala – #saveretweets !!- seriously! — RT @Twitter_Tips: New Twitter RT’s Don’t Get The “Social” In “Social” Media: http://j.mp/2dMiW9
alison99 – Agree 100% RT @LisaBarone: Why Twitter’s New Retweet Feature Sucks http://tinyurl.com/ybs2mft #justsayin #saveretweets
davechapman – @Twitter_Tips I hate that you use the new-style RT so much. My feed is a mess now! I’m gonna unfollow you unless you stop #saveretweets
Makurrah – RT @kootenayrev: Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
sookieverseblog – Hate it. Hate it. HATE. IT. #SaveReTweets
ElVeiga – RT @davechapman: @twitter @ev wanted to let you know I really don’t like the new retweet feature. please reconsider it #saveretweets
jmcesteves – Rerepeating 🙂 RT @plasticmadness I hate to repeat myself, and I hate the word hate, but I hate you damn new RT ways! Grrrr… #saveretweets
denvan – @brandexpression Re. New RT a joke. Nope: I’ve got a growing list of 10+ anti-RT blogs: http://tinyurl.com/yfkega8 #saveretweets
kootenayrev – Thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature. A wretched feature. #saveretweets http://bit.ly/Bg75c
Makurrah – @HowardKurtz #SaveReTweets and check my new blog post on ” Resistance or Collaboration: How will you ReTweet? http://bit.ly/4j76mO
Stargirlie713 – RT @Shoq: #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie #DieProjectRetweetDie http://bit.ly/z2bYr #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rochtrev: RT @several_ RT @PkaPk: Me 2. RT @bytesize23b: @twitter I oppose new RT feature.I wnt 2 C names of ALL who RT. #SaveReTweets
phoenix_drums – I like MC Hammer as much as the next person, but I don’t recall following the dude. #saveretweets
AmishPhoneBook – RT @rrcarter: @TheDLC I also HATE the retweet function! It’s crappy. Go here to sign a petition against it: http://act.ly/er #SaveRetweets
snugglezz – RT @RayBeckerman: RT @mlharr i noticed w/ the RT button we cannot comment anymore 😦 #sad #twitter @ev @twitter #saveretweets #twitterfail
andrewmueller – @DenVan Worse than that they are saying “we know what is best for users” That said, it may be best for their bus model #SaveRetweets
Just_Vampires – Congrats @twitter – the dumb beta RTs ensure I shall no longer tweet via the web interface. Here’s to tweetdeck and echofon #saveretweets
mireyamayor – Isn’t the personalization what makes you stand out in social media? Why take this critical feature away? @RayBeckerman #saveretweets @ev
RayBeckerman – RT @musingvirtual: RT @GraceMcDunnough Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media #SaveRetweets
RayBeckerman – RT @MissShuganah: Too bad @ev and @twitter have no competition. Then they wouldn’t be so cavalier about community. #saveretweets Pls RT
OscarB – Ok, the new official RT system is a #BIG #FAIL #saveretweets
tamaracharmed – lLOL! RT @dbugliari: Came home to @Alyssa_milano dressed in black. Apparently, she’s mourning the loss of retweet’s integrity. #saveretweets
Latimore – RT @Jason_Pollock: #SaveRetweets: I think since Twitter is ruining RTs that many will just stop RTing as much since the new feature is s …
Stwo – RT @andrewmueller: @twitter who did U talk to when determining how2implement the new RT function,it certainly wasn’t UR users! #SaveRetweets
reeph – #SaveRetweets @Jason_Pollock I hate the new RT. I don’t like emphasis on the original poster’s handle. Plus, let me edit freely!

Posted at 09:54 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: business model, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, ranking, relevance, retweet, RT, Slashdot, sxdsalon.org, tweets, Twitter

 

12/25/2009  RIP Lt. Andrew Nuttall, soldier and blogger

Pasted below is the final post on the blog kept by Lt. Andrew Nuttall ofthe Canadian Forces, who, together with his ANA partner, lost his life to an IED a few days ago. 

Update from Afghanistan 4  December 1st, 2009 Posted in Military, Personal/Website| No Comments » (I’ve put some more pictures up on flickr!)  Hi all!  In order to be as open as I can i’m now going to post these updates on my website, although I am going to have to be a bit less specific, but i promise it won’t take away from the story. As well I’m posting some new pictures with this update so it should be a good one! The last I left you was saying I was moving to a new house with no internet. Well many things have changed, yet many things stay the same. The new place was working out excellently for us, and a platoon of ANA (afghan national army) which we started to work with very closely. We spent many long days fixing and improving our compound, as well as the typical patroling around our AO. The situation around this new home was much more tense and fragile than our last, the last time the locals saw any uniformed troops was some americans who ran through the place guns blazing. As such they were quite wary, and so were we because of the high amount of insurgent presense we were expecting. Either way though during all of the days we’ve spent there nothing kinetic (aka fighting) has gone on, and that is relatively typical of the situation here. On one side the people are frightened, impoverished, and seek nothing but safety and prosperity for their families. On the other side is a very small subset of a combination of extreme Salafist muslims (aka seeking to impose an extremist version of islam on the entire world), anti-western mercenaries, and misguided brainwashed (generally) youths that utilize cowardice hit-and-run and ied tactics in order to sway the civilain population of afghanistan and north america to pull their troops out. Then there is us in the middle, an array of nations trying to combine our traditionally conventional forces and conduct combined operations with the young but capable ANA (and young but immature Afghan National Police, ANP), in a barren country with many more needs than just militaristic. Complicated, yes, confusing, only a bit, frustrating, unfortunatly too much. But back to my situation, I spent my first bit of time there talking a lot to the locals together with the ANA. One of our biggest force multipliers is the combined arms team we’ve got working together, the CIMIC people (aka reconstruction and projects), PSYOPS (aka local messaging), engineers, armoured people, and the afghan government (ANA and ANP). Together we can really do some good, when the people are on board. Sometimes the people aren’t as what was happening with me, either their frightened or don’t realize what we can do and it takes time to convince them through actions that we are there to stay and not gone with the next change in winds. So as I was beginning to make some heady with the locals and get more information/weapon and ied caches and such, the platoon recieved another surprise. We had to move another time! Now usually moving around is no big deal, but it definetly throws a wrench into the plans (plus we’ve got to fit in our foosball table!). Either way we found ourselves moving not too far down the road, which works out well as the new place is close to the village we’re trying to improve and is more comfortable. I tried to include as many pictures of the place we’re in now, most of the troops live in the mud hut, while the hq staff is outside in the tent. The mud hut themselves are only a bit dusty (and mouse infested), but are really warm at night and cooler during the day (perfect for afghanistan weather). Plus we’re slowly building up some other nice morale boosting amenities, warm water for showers, a dvd player, a gym with actual weights (instead of sandbags), and of course we’ve got the foosball table and dart board plus many board games. The longer we stay here the better it gets.The other big event that happened was Eid. Its the muslim version of christmas, all of the locals will go home with their families and cook big meals. I had the lucky chance to be at 2 different Eid dinner celebrations with the ANA, where we butchered some local goat and sheep, boiled it in a curry like water, and had it with the best tasting basil i’ve had, of course lots of rice, and huge pomogranetes for desert. Wow it was so delicious, and so much food we all were stuffed! (Though i missed out on the heart and liver soup, and brain pate. Apperently it was delicious, i wanted to try).  After the first Eid meal there was a big dance party, the ANA put on a very scratchy speaker with the usual shrieky arab music. That is when the night started getting a bit gay, you could see that some of the ANA probably joined for the booty, luckily i had to run to attend to the radio. On the second Eid dinner afterwards we sat around and talked for almost 2 hours, it actually was fun sharing stories and jokes. Another big (ish) piece of news that some of you may know already, but my tour is being extended over here. Since canada seems determined to pull out at the end of 2011, their going to extend the last three tours, starting with mine. The effect they’ve told us is only a 3 week extension. But from what I can infer, the effect it will have on me will turn my 6 month tour into almost 8 months. Since I have to be the first one in and last one out, I’m guessing i’ll be back sometime mid June (though thats a total guess now). All of us here (including me) are not worried about this extention. We all believe in what we’re doing and an extra few weeks isn’t going to hurt anyone in the long run (as long as we maintain our vigilance of course). Plus if I end up getting home then, i’ll get to celebrate my b-day with lots of friends and family. Also loop my post-deployment leave into summer leave and get my vacation mustache growing! Heh, but that is waay far away and i’m really not thinking of that. I tend to look about 72hrs to a week out, keeps me from getting distracted.

Well, i’m off back to the command post to get back to the battle. I can’t believe that its almost December, feels like time is flying! Though its getting really cold now. The nights and morning it might even be 0 and even during the middle of the day its not super intense hot (though still those of us not on mission will try to get some rays on our pasty white farmer-tans). There’s even been a couple big rain and thunderstorms, very surprising as they came up really fast, though don’t usually last long (max an hour), and its nice to wet the ground and get the dust down. Though after we see lots of local activity as they will get out and tend to their crops because water is definetly a scarce commodity that these people are very efficient users of.

Thank you very much everyone for your emails and care packages! I will do my absolute best to answer every message, and every package recieved feels like christmas! (Actually my first happy day here was when i got a nice care package from a grandmother in greenwood, ns. A random one i definetly was not expecting, but definetly a huge lift of the spirits).  Keep sending me updates of all of the great times you will have in the winter. I hear that the west coast is getting an early snow, thats fantastic, wish i could be the for the snowboarding! Please all stay healthy and live everything to the fullest!!

Much love to all,

andrew

Posted at 04:38 PM in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) Technorati Tags: Afghanistan, Canadian Forces, IED, Lt. Andrew Nuttall

 

12/18/2009  A question for Clay Shirky

This, as it turns out, is my first mobile posting, punched into my trusty BB as I wait in a cafe for my kid and her friend to exit the nearby cinema.
I’ve just re-read Clay Shirky’s “A Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority” for the fourth time – in hard copy, of course. Two colours of highlighter compete with scribbled marginalia at this point. Having already pasted up the OED definitions of “algorithm” and “authority” in an earlier post (when in doubt, adhere to etymology and historical usage), and reviewed what are in fact fairly tight arguments in what Clay terms a “placeholder” for a full-fledged formulation (would that still be speculative?), I find myself wanting to ask one question, fmi.
In what I take to be a key paragraph, Clay writes:
“There’s a spectrum of authority from ‘Good enough to settle a bar bet’ to ‘Evidence to include in a dissertation defense,’ and most uses of algorithmic authority right now cluster around the inebriated end of that spectrum, but the important thing is that it is a spectrum, that algorithmic authority is on it, and that current forces seem set to push it further up the spectrum to an increasing number and variety of groups that regard these kinds of sources as authoritative.”

So Clay, what forces do you have in mind? Some seem obvious, but others perhaps less so. And as I wrote the other day, this seems like front-burner stuff in the context of the “content farming” discussion.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

via makurrah.posterous.com

Posted at 03:43 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: algorithmic authority, Blackberry, Clay Shirky, content farming, OED, posterous 

12/16/2009  “Algorithmic authority”:  Keeping up with Clay Shirky

I’m feeling an urge to contribute something by way of a gloss on or supplement to Clay Shirky’s “Speculative Post on the Idea of Algorithmic Authority” (http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/11/a-speculative-post-on-the-idea-of-algorithmic-authority.html )  I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a couple of weeks now, and more intensively since my encounter with the flurry of posts on the menace of “content farming” (cf “‘Content farms’?  Can we parse this before we start to worry?”, posted yesterday).  Clay’s “rough and ready” idea is summarized in the final words of his speculative post:  “algorithmic authority handles the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ problem by accepting the garbage as an input, rather than trying to clean the data first; it provides the output to the end user without any human supervisor checking it at the penultimate step; and these processes are eroding the previous institutional monopoly on the kind of authority we are used to in a number of public spheres, including the sphere of news.”

Clay is clearly (obviously and with lucidity) working through the crux of the problematics that, to my mind, are obscured by the language of “content farming.”  In an effort to follow in his footsteps (no easy task, I recognize) and earn for myself the insights he is making available to others, I decided to resort to an established authority whose basis is not, on the face of it, algorithmic – a source I have never failed to find productive in some way.  Thankfully, one can now access the Oxford English Dictionary without having to go to the reference room of the nearest library, or to use the handy magnifying glass to read the miniscule print of the compact edition, less legible with each passing year.

With the online version it’s as simple as copy and paste.  I wanted to check the definitions of “algorithm” independently of Clay’s work in any case, since my 11-year-old daughter asked me about it a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t entirely confident of my reply. (They’re doing algebra in grade 6 – it’s not long now till I will  be unqualified to help with math homework.  Hallelujah.)

GeneticAlgorithmOut

Herewith the OED definitions, with my highlighting for future reference:

1. = ALGORISM 1a.

1699 Phil. Trans. XXI. 263 The Algorithm or Numeral Figures now in use. 1774 T. WARTON Hist. Eng. Poetry III. 46 The first who brought the algorithm from the Saracens. 1852 R. GRANT Hist. Phys. Astron. Introd. 9 The ingenious algorithm of the Indians.

2.Math. A process, or set of rules, usually one expressed in algebraic notation, now used esp. in computing, machine translation and linguistics.

1938 HARDY & WRIGHT Introd. Theory of Numbers x. 135 The system of equations..is known as Euclid’s algorithm. 1960 E. DELAVENAY Introd. Machine Transl. 129 Algorithm or algorism.., used by computer programmers to designate the numerical or algebraic notations which express a given sequence of computer operations, define a programme or routine conceived to solve a given type of problem. 1964 F. L. WESTWATERElectronic Computers ix. 146 An Algorithm is a set of rules for performing a calculation. 1966 OWEN & ROSS tr. Revzin’s Models of Lang. ii. 22 A..more convenient way of arranging the phonemes is suggested. It is given by an instruction (an ‘algorithm’) consisting of six points.

3. Med. A step-by-step procedure for reaching a clinical decision or diagnosis, often set out in the form of a flow chart, in which the answer to each question determines the next question to be asked.

[1968 L. B. LUSTED Introd. Med. Decision Making iii. 70 Two..[studies] show that an algorithm in terms of a computer program can be developed for a computer based medical history system.] 1970 Scottish Med. Jrnl. XV. 378 (heading) Flow charts, diagnostic keys and algorithms in the diagnosis of dysphagia. 1985 Brit. Med. Jrnl. 23 Mar. 916/1 The algorithm illustrates the steps towards establishing a functional and aetiological diagnosis.
 
 
 In the spirit of due diligence I thought I’d go ahead and check on the definitions of “authority” as well.
 

  I.Power to enforce obedience.

1. a. Power or right to enforce obedience; moral or legal supremacy; the right to command, or give an ultimate decision.

1393 GOWER Conf. I. 257 The pope..Of his papall auctorite Hath made and yove the decre. 1480 CAXTON Chron. Eng. III. (1520) 20/1 They chose another man the whiche sholde have more auctoryte..and they called hym dictator. 1590 Harl. Misc. (Malh.) II. 176 He hath aucthoritie over all kinges and princes. 1598 BARRET Theor. Warres IV. iv. 113 Their Colours..represent the authoritie Royall. 1603 SHAKES. Meas. for M. II. ii. 118 Proud man, Drest in a little briefe authoritie,..Plaies such phantastique tricks before high heauen, As makes the Angels weepe. 1665 BOYLE Occas. Refl. IV. xi. (1675) 233, I allow lawful Authority a Jurisdiction over my Actions, that I deny it over my Opinions. a1680 BUTLER Rem. (1759) I. 251 Authority is a Disease and Cure, Which Men can neither want, nor well endure. 1872 RUSKIN Eagle’s Nest §94 If ever you find yourselves set in positions of authority.

b.in authority: in a position of power; in possession of power over others.

c1460 FORTESCUE Abs. & Lim. Mon. (1714) 108 Men that were in grete Auctorite. 1551-6 ROBINSON tr. More’s Utop. 15 Nowe placed in aucthorytye and called to honoure. 1611 BIBLE Prov. xxix. 2 When the righteous are in authoritie, the people rejoyce. 1722 SEWEL tr. Hist. Quakers (1795) I. Pref. 12 Speaking to persons in authority. 1878 HOPPS Jesus x. 36 The people in authority..would try to stop him.

2. a. Derived or delegated power; conferred right or title; authorization.
  (The relation to sense 1 is seen in ‘by the (king’s) authority, by authority of the King.’)

c1375 WYCLIF Serm. Sel. Wks. 1869 I. 56 Reprovede him sharpli bi autorite of God. c1400 Apol. Loll. 8 If he pronounce wi{th}out autorite..a{ygh}ennis {th}e lordis wille. 1483 RICH. III in Ellis Orig. Lett. II. 49 I. 153 Upon auctorite or commission yeven unto him. 1535 COVERDALE Mark xi. 28 By what auctorite dost thou these things, and who gaue the this auctorite. 1790 BURKE Fr. Rev. 6 To open a formal public correspondence..without the express authority of the government under which I live. 1831 CARLYLE Sart. Res. III. vii, He carries in him an authority from God.

b. with inf. Conferred right to do something.

1535 COVERDALE Ezra vii. 24 Ye shall haue no auctorite to requyre taxinge & custome. 1559 BP. SCOT in Strype Ann. Ref. I. App. vii. 13 By commission from him, prestes hathe aucthorytie to forgyve sin. 1719 YOUNG Revenge IV. i, Am I not your wife? Have I not just authority to know That heart? 1855 PRESCOTT Philip II Pref. 8, I also obtained the authority of Prince Metternich to inspect the Archives of the Empire. 1858 LD. ST. LEONARDS Handy-bk. Prop. Law IV. 20 The authority to sell does not include a power to receive the purchase-money.

3. Those in authority; the body or persons exercising power or command. (Formerly in sing. = Government; a Local Sanitary Authority or similar body is also spoken of as ‘the authority.’)

1611 BIBLE 1 Pet. iii. 22 Angels, and authorities, and powers being made subject vnto him. 1652 NEEDHAM tr. Selden’s Mare Cl. Ep. Ded. 1 The Supreme Autoritie of the Nation, the Parlament of the Common-wealth of England. 1682 LUTTRELL Brief Rel. I. 233 Authority has thought fitt..to prosecute the offenders for the same. 1760 T. HUTCHINSON Hist. Coll. Mass. Bay iii. (1765) 395 The authority treated him kindly, and sent him home. 1833 I. TAYLOR Fanat. x. 456 The conduct of the authorities. 1859 MILL Liberty 172 It is a proper office of public authority to guard against accidents. 1865 LIVINGSTONE Zambesi xx. 403 The Mozambique authorities. 1870 Statutes V (Tramways Act) 491 Orders authorising the construction of tramways..may be obtained by (1) The local authority of such district. 1880 Sat. Rev. 25 Dec. 809 The actual authorities of the Post Office. 1909 Westm. Gaz. 8 Sept. 2/3 The Port of London Authority is a thoroughly practical body of men. 1951 Good Housek. Home Encycl. 189/2 It is usually possible to obtain the free services of one through the local Health Authority.

II. Power to influence action, opinion, belief.

4. Power to influence the conduct and actions of others; personal or practical influence.

c1410 HOCCLEVE Mother of God 92 Syn thou art of swich auctoritee Lady pitious. c1449 PECOCK Repr. V. ix. 531 Hi{ygh}e in wisdom and in auctorite and in fame. 1542 BRINKLOW Complaynt i. (1874) 7 Them which beare any auctoryte..in the cowncel or Parlament. 1673 Lady’s Call. I. i §20 Such an autority there is in vertue, that where ’tis eminent, ’tis apt to controle all loose desires. 1705 ADDISON Italy Ded., With your Lordship’s Interest and Authority in England. 1792 Anecd. W. Pitt III. xliv. 202 It is your duty, my Lords, as the grand hereditary council of the nation..to feel your own weight and authority. 1818-60 WHATELYCommonpl. Bk. (1864) 125 The person, body, or book, in favour of whose decisions there is a certain presumption, is said to have, so far, authority.

5. Power over, or title to influence, the opinions of others; authoritative opinion; weight of judgement or opinion, intellectual influence.

c1386 CHAUCER Sqr.’s T. 474 Preued..As wel by werk as by Auctoritee. 1481 CAXTON Myrr. III. xii. 160 Good clerkes..of grete auctoryte. a1677 BARROW Serm. (1683) II. viii. 119 The auctority of the ancients doth more prevail with me. 1724 A. COLLINS Gr. Chr. Relig. Pref. 18 Is there anything that..stifles the light of truth, but autority? 1794 SULLIVAN View Nat. II. 231 The proper way of reasoning from authority, that what seems true to some wise men, may upon that account be esteemed somewhat probable. 1865 MILL Liberty ii. 21/2 He is either led by authority, or adopts..the side to which he feels most inclination.

6. Power to inspire belief, title to be believed; authoritative statement; weight of testimony. Sometimes weakened to: Authorship, testimony.

1303 R. BRUNNE Handl. Synne 1239 Seynt Poule {th}at sagh Goddys pryvyte, He sey{th} yn hys autoryte A feyre wurd vs for to save. 1494 FABYAN I. i. 8 Therof is founde lytell auctoryte. 1586 THYNNE in Animadv. Introd. 73 Untill I may see good authoritie to disproove it. 1710 PRIDEAUX Orig. Tithes v. 253, I deny not Ingulph’s autority to be good, but for his Copy there is his autority only. 1875 SCRIVENER Lect. Grk. Test. 12, I have been recently informed on excellent authority. a1885 Mod. Do not accept news on the authority of the evening papers.

7. The quotation or book acknowledged, or alleged, to settle a question of opinion or give conclusive testimony.

c1230 Ancr. R. 78 {Th}en ilke autorite, {th}et..schal beon vre strenc{edh}e..a{ygh}ein {th}es deofles turnes. c1386 CHAUCER Friar’s Prol. 12 Lete auctorités, in Goddes name, To preching and to scoles of clergie. a1535 MORE Confut. Barnes VIII. Wks. 770/2 Hys fyrst authorite be these words of saynte Austyne in hys fyftieth sermon. 1608 SHAKES. Per. III. ii. 33 By turning o’er authorities. 1706 POPE Lett. Wks. 1736 V. 55 To corroborate these observations by some great authorities..in Tully and Quintilian. 1876 GREEN Short Hist. Pref. 6 Giving in detail the authorities for every statement.

8. a. The person whose opinion or testimony is accepted; the author of an accepted statement. b. One whose opinion on or upon a subject is entitled to be accepted; an expert in any question.

1665 GLANVILL Sceps. Sci. 77 To confront such celebrated Authorities. 1855 PRESCOTT Philip II, I. II. vi. 210 Historians in a season of faction are not the best authorities. 1860 R. WILLIAMS Ess. & Rev. 59 Egyptian authorities continue the reign of Menephthah later. 1867 A. J. ELLIS E.E. Pronunc. I. iii. 65 Wallis is the great authority for the fully developed pronunciation of the XVIIth century. 1871 BLACKIE Four Phases i. 1 A great utilitarian authority. a1885 Mod. Who, may I ask, is your authority for the statement? A. B. He is no authority!

9. Comb., as authority-maker.

1678 CUDWORTH Intell. Syst. I. v. 893 These justice-makers and authority-makers pretend to derive their factitious justice from Pacts and Covenants.
 
 
It turns out that “authority” is also a keyword in the OED’s definition of “consensus.”  More on this as time allows.
 
[cf Clay’s response to my subsequent question to him on kommons.com]
 
 
 
12/15/2009  “Content farms”? Can we parse this before we start to worry?

Yesterday I retweeted (the user-generated way, which allowed me to editorialize “Nightmarish”) the rww Sunday Editorial “Content Farms:  Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried”  (http://bit.ly/68LAmv ).  The fact that I follow Richard MacManus (author of the editorial) and Co. on Twitter demonstrates that I take them to be authorities of sorts, such that, if they are worried, perhaps I should be as well (though the last thing I need is more anxiety in my life). 

So I did a bit of homework on this pending threat to my relative tranquility as a blogger, and read a cluster of recent posts around the question of “content farming”:  Michael Arrington’s “The End of Hand Crafted Content” (http://techcrunch.com/2009/12/13/the-end-of-hand-crafted-content/ ); “Why Social Beats Search” by A VC (http://www.avc.com/a-vc/2009/12/why-social-beats-search.html.); “The Revolution Will Not Be Intermediated” on Doc Searls’ Weblog (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2009/12/13/the-revolution-will-not-be-intermediated/ ) – all of these posted on December 13, 2009.

Along the way, I realized a couple of things.  First, my anxious response to the notion of “content farms” was based in part on some unconscious association with cruelty to animals, and especially to horses (e.g. the invidious “PMU farms” where mares are relentlessly exploited to produce estrogen-based products for women).  But more importantly, my trouble has been with the word “content” in this context, and the slippery imprecision of its usage with reference to the Web.  In rww’s editorial, for example, Richard MacManus writes that “companies like Demand Media and Answers.com…create thousands of pieces of content per day.”  I get what he’s talking about, but I also get the beginnings of a headache.

Pmu mares

And what “really scares” Michael Arrington?  “It’s the use of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that handcraft their content today.  It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, fed to us by the portals and search engines.” I guess I resist the image of me (or any blogger I respect) with jaws wired open, ingesting whatever is coming down the pipeline.

Doc Searls’ post of 12/13 came closest to making sense on this matter.  “…I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content” for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn thing.  I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers (no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonalds killed the market for serious chefs….  Nothing with real value is dead, so long as it can be found on the Web and there are links to it.  Humans are the ones with hands.  Not intermediaries.  Not AOL, or TechCrunch, or HuffPo, or Google or the New York Freaking Times.  The Net is the means to our ends, not The Media…. The Net and the Web liberate individuals.  They welcome intermediators, but do not require them…. what matters most is what each of us as individuals bring to the Net’s table.  Not the freight system that helps us bring it there, no matter how established or disruptive that system is….  We seem to think that progress on the Net is the work of “brands” creating and disrupting and doing other cool stuff.  Those may help, but what matters most is what each of us does better than anybody or anything else.  The term “content” insults the nature of that work.  And of its sources.”  [emphasis added]

Finally, a kindred view on the debased usage of “content” in this discussion, and more broadly in relation to the Web.  I underscored above the instance where the word marks a link to a much earlier post on Searls’ blog, entitled “The personal platform” and dated January 31, 2008 (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2008/01/31/the-personal-platform/ )  It seems that the figure or model of “content” has been troubling Searls for some time:  “Until I read this piece by Adriana Lukas this morning I hadn’t fully realized how the ubiquitous use of the word content, which I’ve griped about for years (and which Adriana quotes), frames our understanding of markets, and media, in ways that place presumed control in the hands of “providers” other than ourselves.  Even  UGC – “User Generated Content” – is not seen as ours, but as freight for media companies to forward for their own purposes.  As John Perry Barlow put it a few years back, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened.'”

He provides a link to a post by Adriana Lukas for mediainfluencer under the title “Content is for container cargo business” (http://www.mediainfluencer.net/2008/01/content-is-for-container-cargo=business/ ), which in turn begins with two citations from Doc Searls on “content.”

Doc Searls on Content in 2005:  “The word content connotes substance.  It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material.  “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data,” and more handy than either.  Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value.

And again in 2007:  “Stop calling everything “content.”  It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online.  It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial.”  Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”

As Searls belatedly notes on his own post of 2008, “But rather than gripe some more, Adriana offers a useful way of framing the full worth of individuals, the creative goods they produce, and what they bring to both social and business relationships:  the concept of the person as the platform:

Content is media industry term.  The number of people talking about content grows every day as they assume roles that before only media could perform.  With more tools and ways of distributing, photos, videos, writings, cartoons etc. are being ‘liberated’ from the channel world.  Alas, often sliding into the platform and silo world.  As far as I am concerned there are only two platforms – the individual user and the web.

Years later, in light of the purported menace of “content farms” coming soon to a search engine near you, this might ring a bit naive, or utopian.  But at least Searls and Lukas reflect upon and resist the ways in which “content” has become radically debased coinage.  With its value so diminished before the fact, it’s harder to worry about what little is left.

Posted at 12:52 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink
 
 
12/14/2009  Chris Brogan v Makurrah on the language of blogging, part 2
  
It occurs to me that I might borrow a technique, and the language that makes it work, from someone I just began to follow on Twitter yesterday.  @danielbachhuber sent the following tweet on December 13:  “Two pieces, loosely joined: @jayrosen_nyu’s explainthis.org and standard fare at the @guardiannews.  http://db.ly/71  The link is to a post on his blog, one that I recommend as (to quote him) “an entry point for deeper learning” about the possibilities inscribed in Jay Rosen’s conceptual framework for explainthis.org.  For now I will simply borrow the “loosely joined” structure or relationship to tie today’s post to yesterday’s, which was on Chris Brogan’s advice to bloggers to keep their words small and their language simple.

What I want to pass along today is something like the flip side of Chris’ case (or just another piece of some greater question).  My source here is an article by Erin Anderssen for the Globe and Mail, published Saturday December 12 in the F (for “Focus”) section of the paper, and online at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/gr8-news-were-entering-a-new-era-of-literacy/article13977421/

Under the title “GR8 news:  We’re entering a new era of literacy,” Anderssen reports on received wisdom about the dumbing-down of the English language, but also on the research of a number of academics across several disciplines that cuts against it.  Here are some of her findings.

Ever since the send button clicked on that first sloppy e-mail, digital technology has been accused of ruining the quality of writing.  Describing the fate that awaited prose in a world overrun by texting, John Sutherland, emeritus professor of modern English literature at University College, London, made a dire pronouncement:  Texters, he wrote in a column in the Daily Mail, are the ‘Genghis Khans’ of the written word, ‘pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary.  And they must be stopped.

Clearly, Prof. Sutherland is no fan of the shorthand texters use – GOYHH, they might snipe back at the language scholar (as in, Get Off Your High Horse) – but more than a few worried academics share his gloomy prognosis, suggesting that literature, as we know it, is doomed by pulpy Web-based pose [sic] and careless punctuation….

But take heart, dear scholars. A new study from California’s Stanford University has produced some reassuring news:  Young people may not be writing so badly after all, and, in fact, their prose is evolving in some promising new ways.  They write more on their own time, their school essays are longer, their voices are more attuned to the people who will read their words.  They know better – at least by university – than to drop text-speak into a class paper.

[Permit me to insert an image here, one that I discovered during the year I spent at Stanford on a faculty fellowship.  I do this for myself and for any readers of this post who could use a visual break.]

Stanford quake
[This is the men’s gymnasium at Stanford, photographed on April 18, 1906 after the great earthquake struck at 5:13 a.m.  I’m also fond of the image below, depicting the entrance to the university at the end of Palm Drive before and after the quake.  Perhaps it goes without saying that I had a terrible time at Stanford….but that’s for another post, probably another blog, entirely.]

Entrance_intact

Back to Erin in the Globe:

In the Stanford study, undergraduate students submitted pieces of writing over the course of five years, including everything they wrote for school.  Their contributions amounted to 15,000 samples – blog postings, journal entries, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, honours theses, scripts and an astonishing amount of poetry.

Only 62 per cent of the writing was done for class assignments – the rest of the samples were other items the students submitted voluntarily.  On their own time, the students – half of whom were pursuing science or engineering degrees – were remarkably prolific, says Andrea Lunsford, director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who spearheaded the study.

Much of the personal work was intended to be active, to make a case or argue a point.  For this generation, she says, “writing is performative.  It gets up off the pages, walks off and does something.”

[I will keep my own sense of the performative function of language to myself at this point, in deference to the prof who actually did all this work. – Ed.]

While students at Stanford may be a select group, Prof. Lunsford has also completed a similar study by amassing a random collection of essays by first-year university students across the United States.  In a sample of more than 800 papers, there was not an LOL (or any other text lingo) to be found – though other English professors say they do crop up.

And her research showed that over the past century the length of student essays has increased dramatically – from an average of 162 words in 1917 to 422 words in 1986 and 1,038 words in 2006.

In addition, while 25 years ago, the most common assignment was a personal narrative, first-year students today are most often assigned papers requiring a thesis and sources – and consequently, Prof. Lunsford concludes, more “higher-order thinking skills and complexity”….

There is more worth reading in this thoughtful piece.  Perhaps the most interesting outcome of Lunsford’s research is her crediting the students whose work she studied with kairos, the ancient Greek term for the ability to say the right thing at the right time.  This is surely a hopeful sign.  And she is right on the mark when she argues that teaching proper punctuation and the ability to make a cohesive written argument is first of all the responsibility of educators.  “If we want students to sustain dense, richly sourced arguments then we will have to teach those skills throughout schooling,” she argues.

I expect to encounter some of those dense, richly sourced arguments in (for example) blog posts, in the near and longer term.  And I can hope, can’t I, that some of those savvy students might one day find their way to my blog, and not mind if I use words with more than two syllables to make my case?

Posted at 11:25 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink 

 
 
12/13/2009   Chris Brogan v Makurrah on the language of blogging, part 1

This a.m. my inbox yielded another post from the prolific Chris Brogan:  “Write Better Blog Posts Today.”  The “today” was an effective hook – of course I want to start writing better posts today, right away, right now – so I read with attention, finding myself admiring once again Chris’ willingness to share the benefit of his experience.  He offers a good deal of solid advice, succinctly put, and I would recommend the post to novice as well as more experienced bloggers.  Read it at http://www.chrisbrogan.com/write-better-blog-posts-today/

But I had to disagree on one point, which I reproduce below:

A caution about choice of words: a great piece of advice a professor once gave me was this: “tell it to me like I’m 6 years old.” Ken Hadge said that’s what he told anyone trying to sell him something the moment they used a large word. The other day, I spoke in front of a huge international audience. I used the smallest words I had, except for one: serendipity. I had never considered how hard to translate that word might be to other cultures. The definition of serendipity is: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. I could’ve found another way to say it, or could have bolstered up the original use of the word with a simple definition. Because I missed this, I lost some small part of my audience.

Words matter. Choose yours for an inclusive audience. Everyone knows you’re smart already. Save the big words for your crossword puzzles.

For the moment, I will simply append here the comment I left for Chris earlier today:

This is a great post, Chris – lots of wit and wisdom. I disagree, however, on one thing – I think that the professor who gave the advice about addressing him like he’s a 6-year old misses something important. One thing a dedicated blogger can give his/her readers is language, including words they might not know, but might want to know. Your example of serendipity is a great one: use the word, gloss it in another clause – you’re giving the gift of new words that others can turn around and regift. It doesn’t have to be an either-or: go ahead and use more complicated or sophisticated language (which may in fact be required to make your point precisely), but provide the meaning or sense as well. Surely we’re not under pressure to leave out the better part of our vocabulary to reach an audience.

I haven’t heard back yet, but I know from my Twitter feed that Chris is in transit and will be offline all day.  But there is more to be said about the language of blogging in what some are calling a new era of literacy.  I’ll return to this in tomorrow’s post.

 Posted at 03:10 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

 
 
12/11/2009   Journalism: a prognosis (from the Nieman Lab)
 
A link provided by Dave Winer on protoblogger.com led me to a useful piece by C.W Anderson on the Nieman Journalism Lab’s website, entitled “Next year’s news about the news:  What we’ll be fighting about in 2010.”   http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/12/next-years-news-about-the-news-what-well-be-fighting-about-in-2010/

Prognosis 

Following a handy summary of “What we kinda-sorta know” at this stage (e.g., “‘bloggers’ versus ‘journalists’ is (really, really) over,” “Some information won’t be free, but probably not enough to save big news organizations,” “The news will increasingly be produced by smaller, de-institutionalized organizations”), Anderson tries to “pretend (just for a moment) that all those fights are settled,” in order to reflect on the possibilities for discussion and argument in the year to come.  The following are his candidates:

1. What kind of politics will be facilitated by this new world? In the old world, the relationship between journalism and politics was fairly clear, and expressed in an endless series of (occasionally meaningful) cliches. But changes on one side of the equation inevitably mean changes on the other. The most optimistic amongst usargue that we might be headed for a new era of citizen participation. Pessimists see the angry town halls unleashed this summerand lament the days when the passions of the multitude could be moderated by large informational institutions. Others, like my colleague Rasmus Kleis Nielsenat Columbia, take a more nuanced view. Whatever the eventual answer, this is a question we should be trying to articulate.

2. What kind of public policies and laws will govern this new world? Law and public policy usually move a few steps “behind” reality, often to the frustration of those on the ground floor of big, social changes. There’s a reason why people have been frustrated with the endless congressional debates over the journalism shield law,  and with the FTC hearingson journalism — we’re frustrated because, as far as we’re concerned (and as I noted above), we think we have it all figured out. But our government and legal system don’t work that way. Instead, they act as “consolidating institutions,” institutions that both ratify a social consensus that’s already been achieved and also tilt the playing field in one direction or another — towards incumbent newspapers, for example. So the FTC, the FCC, the Congress, the Supreme Court — all these bodies will eventually be weighing in on what they want this new journalistic world to look like. We should be paying attention to that conversation.

3. What kind of networks will emerge in this new media ecosystem? It’s a strong tenet amongst most journalism futurists that “the future of news is networked,” that the new media ecosystem will be the kind of collaborative, do-what-you-do-best-and-link-to-the-rest model most recently analyzed by the CUNY “New Business Models” project. But what if the future of news lies in networks of a different kind? What if the news networks we’re starting to see emerge are basically the surviving media companies (or big portals) diversifying and branding themselves locally? This is already going on with the Huffington Post local initiative, and we can see national newspapers like The New York Times trying out variations of this local strategy. A series of “local networks,” ultimately accountable to larger, centralized, branded organizations may not be what “networked news” theorists have in mind when they talk about networks, but it seems just as likely to happen as more “ecosystem-esque” approach.

4. What’s the future of journalism school? This one’s fairly self-explanatory. But as the profession it serves mutates, what’s in store for the venerable institution of j-school? Dave Winer thinks we might see the emergence of journalism school for all; Cody Brown thinks j-school might someday look like the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence. Either way, though, j-school probably won’t look like it does now. Even more profoundly, perhaps, the question of j-school’s future is inseparable from questions about the future of the university in general, which, much like the news and music industries, might be on the verge of its own massive shake-up.

5. Human beings, data, and “the algorithm.” This one fascinates me, and it seems more important every day. In a world of Demand Media, computational journalism, and AOL’s news production strategy, questions about the lines between quantitative, qualitative, and human journalism seem ever more pressing. If we are moving towards some kind of semantic web, what does that mean for the future of news? What role are programmers and developers playing? How will they interact with journalists? Is journalism about data, about narrative, or both? Is journalism moving from a liberal art to an information science? And so on.

These, as Anderson attests, are “big, big questions.”  But we’ve been preparing ourselves to tackle them for a while now.  There are more than a handful of folks I trust to share this daunting task – in fact, some of them are well underway already.

 

12/10/2009   The self-flagellator’s monthly report

 With no expectation that this post will garner many page views, I am nonetheless pleased to announce that I have finally completed the masochistic task I set myself, namely a re-reading of all the posts published on fledgling during the month of November, in hard copy and with red pen in hand.  And while during much of the time that I was conducting this review I felt like I’d rather be reading someone else’s blog (I wonder what Dave Winer is up to?), it was an enlightening exercise nonetheless. 

Cat_o_seven 

As I began this accounting, I kept the language of my TypePad profile as a frame of reference, and specifically its enumeration of my “interests”:  “Blogging in all its manifestations, including Twitter; journalism; historiography; literary and cultural theory; history of aesthetics.”  If this is the equivalent of an ad for my blog, I wanted to see (for one thing) whether the product was delivering on its promise. 

In brief, then:  The total number of posts for November is 25.  An analysis of their predominant themes yielded the following: 

Blogging (8 posts) 

Twitter (7 posts) 

Blogging and Twitter (2 posts) 

Social media in general (1 post) 

Breaking news/current events (3) 

Print journalism (1) 

Other (3) 

For the most part, then, the content is in line with the terms of my profile.  What the numbers alone don’t convey is that, as the month unfolded, more and more of the posts were devoted to blogging, even at the expense of micro-blogging.  This was unanticipated, since Twitter was my focus when I began the project.

The other matter that does not register in this number-crunch, but that has had an irrevocable impact on fledgling, is my signing on to posterous in late November, to embark on a companion blog, makurrah’s posterous.  My hopes for that site are bound up with my hopes for this one, and I have already begun utilizing it as (among other things) a gloss or set of marginalia on this, the “macro” effort. 

Posted at 01:43 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

 

12/09/2009   A quick-compose update:

 I’m still re-reading the hard copy of my November posts from “fledgling,” doing informal accounting and scribbling marginalia. Reading my way back from the latest post (11/30/2009), I’m struck by the extent to which this blog is more about blogging than anything else. I’m wading back into the #SaveReTweets imbroglio – will have a fuller report shortly.
 
Marginalia

 

12/07/2009   A downer (guest post) from ProBlogger

 In my continuing effort to seek out good advice on blogging, and more importantly good examples of engaging and purposeful writing in this medium, I signed onto ProBlogger the other day and read a guest post by Nathan Hangen entitled “10 Things I Wish I Knew when I Started.”   http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/05/problogging-10-things-i-wish-i-knew-when-i-started/ 

By this point, having run across a quantity of conventional wisdom in list format, I wasn’t particularly optimistic going in.  But Nathan’s post not only made sense; it provided examples from his own history of blogging that resonated in a meaningful way, and had me making changes almost immediately.  I revamped the design of fledgling (I’d been equivocating) in response to his emphasis on the importance of making one’s blog stand out, visually, from the crowd.  Moreover, I promptly subscribed to ten additional blogs in and around my “niche,” with an eye to leaving comments and adding to the conversation (taking the “social” in “social media” more seriously, in effect).  One of those new subscriptions was to beginnerblogger.com, whose author got back to me straightaway, thanking me for the follow and offering a suggestion on my blog’s design. 

I was feeling on the right track, and grateful for the pragmatic assistance available in the blogosphere.  But when I opened the email containing today’s ProBlogger offering, the title of the post raised not only doubts, but hackles.  This too was a guest post, written by Rob Sutton from “Ramped Reviews” and entitled “How Getting An F On Your School Paper Makes You A Better Blogger.”  You can read it at  http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/07/how-getting-an-f-on-your-school-paper-makes-you-a-better-blogger/  

Knownothing
 

Could there possibly be more bad faith inscribed in the title of a blog proffering advice about blogging?  It’s tantamount to saying, go ahead and fail at school, it won’t keep you from being a popular blogger and making tons of money by selling ads on your site.  In the very first line of his post, the author confesses (or perhaps brags) “This comes to be a surprise to many, but I hate writing.”  He then goes on to boast about “throw[ing] over 2,000 words a day on a screen for others to read and why is everyone I know surprised that my words now turn into dollars?” [I’m keeping my virtual red pen firmly in check – it would be too easy to demonstrate ignorance here.] 

This guy obviously had some inept teachers during his school days (I’ve never been one to blame the student when learning goes awry).  And of course it’s very easy to make an argument that lively and persuasive writing works better on a blog (or anywhere else for that matter) than text that is grammatical but uninspired.  Who doesn’t know that?  I would simply say, without reservation, that if someone hates to write, then they are involved in blogging for reasons that have nothing to do with writing.  And they are in no position to give advice to bloggers who know that if you hate writing, you are seriously compromised as a reader as well as a writer.  As to what kind of blogger that makes you…. 

Let’s leave it there for now. This may be a case where the less said, the better. 
 

Posted at 12:19 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

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12/04/2009   A question via Quick Compose 

Does anyone else find it challenging to read their blog archive in full on the screen?  I’m finding that reading it in hard copy is a very different experience.
 

12/03/2009   The self-flagellator

For the past several days I have been feeling (and resisting) an urge to push pause on the blogging and tweeting, in order to take stock of what, thus far, my efforts in this sphere might amount to.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this is exam season on the campus where I work – some reserve of empathy with the anxious and exhausted students around me driving me to punish myself (by way of a crude mimesis) by reviewing my own output since roughly mid-September, perhaps?  But it’s not that simple, or virtuous, alas.  For the impulse derives, I’m afraid, not from the example of youth dedicated to learning (or at least graduating with some prospect of employment), but from one of those dead white guys some of them are made to read.  Yes, my friends, I mean Kant. 

Flag_large1
 

If you are still reading at this stage, you may be one of the few to recall my post of 10/20/09, “Kant weighs in on Twitter” (a lame placeholder for a proper title).  In that text I cite a long passage from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” the crux of which I reproduce here. 

In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination:  apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung.  Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination. 

Right.  To make a long story short, I have given myself a masochist’s assignment:  to begin to try to comprehend (understand as a whole, or cumulatively, to the extent possible) what has to now been a matter of apprehending the ephemeral components of this project as they appear, fleetingly, only to disappear again according to the strict laws of reverse chronology. 

Reverse chronology is of course at its cruelest and most unforgiving on Twitter, with which I’ve begun this attempt at comprehension.  I have printed all of my tweets from the month of November and begun to analyze them.  I can already share a couple of things, for those who might be interested, about the translation from virtual to material.  When you print your Twitter feed, the tweets are numbered, with the most recent appearing as #1.  My November tweets run to 148.  What is slightly unsettling about this accounting is that tweet #1 has long since been displaced as such, though it’s only December 3.  So the numbers in front of me are not current, stable, or reliable, but rather traces of a time now past. 

As a somewhat reluctant student of Scobleizer’s “pimp my blog” school of tweeting (whose obverse is the “pimp my tweets” school of blogging), I was curious to see just how many of my tweets would turn out to be serving this purpose (I had no clue going in).  Of the 148 in total, 57 tweets had links to posts on fledgling – around 20%. 

The predominant thematics running through the November tweets appear to be 1)Twitter’s introduction of its Retweet feature (of which I am highly critical, though I try to maintain a sense of humour about it) and 2) “meso-blogging,” to which I came fairly late in the month in the form of posterous and my new blog on their site.  The possibilities afforded by a blog neither micro (Twitter) nor macro (fledgling), but dedicated to negotiating the space between the two, animate a number of the tweets posted in late November. 

Then there are the one-offs (on Molly Ringwald playing the MOM in the tween soap The Secret Life of an American Teenager, or news that Al-Jazeera English got CRTC approval, which means they will be broadcasting in Canada soon, or reports that Springsteen won’t be performing with the E Street Band ever again), @replies, RTs (all and only the copy/paste way.  #SaveReTweets). 

More results as they emerge.  Once I get a handle on the months’s Twitter output, I will turn to November’s posts on fledgling and makurrah’s posterous.  I may or may not pull an all-nighter. 

Posted at 03:03 PM in Television, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink 

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12/02/2009   The gift of reader engagement

  
 
As I embark on today’s post, I’m feeling as though my identity as a blogger is undergoing a small crisis (Do I term it “small” because my average daily readership is, perhaps thankfully, paltry?  I’m not sure.).  Just last night I was confidently converting my Twitter avatar from the one I’d adopted for World AIDS Day – not back to my former little green bird, a small commemoration of #IranElection, but “forward” to the one I use for this blog as well as makurrah’s posterous:  a fledgling bluebird in the wild.  With my avatars aligned, I was ready to move ahead with what I’ve come to think of as my blogging trinity. 

But this morning I opened an email containing a recent post by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, to which I subscribed about a month back in the spirit of consulting more experienced bloggers across a range of disciplines and practices.  I have to admit that its content threw a wrench, at least provisionally, in the works. 

Readers of fledgling will know that this is my “macro” blog, which it to say the place where I entrust pages of various notebooks of my own, and reproduce or at least flag material I run across that informs my project as it unfolds.  It is, in other words, a locus of writing as well as curating texts, with a view to future work (whatever its eventual form) that the blog will (I hope) make possible.  The experience of writing it is, for the most part, solitary – a solitude with which I’ve made peace over the course of my working life as a writer.  The readers, should they materialize, will be welcome as a kind of bonus, or gift – that’s primarily how I’ve conceived of the reception of my written work, including the blogs. 

But ProBlogger, or at least Darren Rowse, works on a very different model, one predicated on interactivity.  In the video component of his post “7 Questions to Ask On Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement,” he comes across as a thoughtful and likeable guy, who recounts an experience of meeting someone at a party, asking the person some polite introductory questions (“What do you do?”, “What are you working on?”, that sort of thing), and then being “talked at” for half an hour rather than treated with reciprocal consideration and given an opportunity to tell his own story.  This experience is utterly familiar, and his appeal to it in the framework of blogging etiquette is fairly persuasive. 

See for yourself at http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/12/02/7-questions-to-ask-on-your-blog-to-get-more-reader-engagement.html 

For Rowse, just as “it doesn’t feel good to have someone talk AT you” in a “real life conversation,” it is also the case that “Blogs can be like that and in this post we explore the power of asking questions on your blog.”  He goes on to “share 7 types of questions you can ask to increase reader engagement.” 

Here are Rowse’s 7 questions (or “types of questions”): 

– What Do you Think?  [Not clear on the use of upper case here, but never mind. – ed] 

– How Do you Feel? 

– What Will You Do? 

– What is Your Opinion? 

– What is Your Story? 

– What is Your Experience or Example? 

– What Have you Been Working On? 

His sign-off is in keeping with his message, on the video as well as in the written post:  “Of course there are plenty of other types of questions – what type do you ask and how do you find people respond?” 

A quick scroll down the page showed that, in the brief hours since its publication, the post had garnered loads of comments, most of them of the order of “Great advice, thanks Darren.” 

So what is my problem? (Yes, that is a real, not a rhetorical question, so please feel free to respond.)  Maybe the better question is, what are my problems?  (There are a few people who would have a lot to say on that matter – come to think of it, some of them read this blog.)  There are several aspects of the kind of “interactivity” advocated by Rowse that provoke resistance on my part.  For starters: 

– To be perfectly frank, I’m not even sure I want people to be reading my notebooks.  This is partly residual, I suppose, from twenty-odd years as an academic who only made things public when they were finished, polished, ready (in my judgment) for prime time. 

– Rowse’s schema reminds me of the helpful response of a member of my family who is reading the blog with some regularity, and making suggestions to boost its page views.  Things like “more pictures would be good” and “if you use difficult words, can you link to an online dictionary?”  He’s undoubtedly right (and I have tried to grab more images.  Have you noticed?).  But can’t I expect my readers to do a bit of the work themselves? 

– I do not conceive of my role here as that of a teacher, imparting a body of knowledge.  Been there, done that, in spades.  I figure any reader who wants to engage as a peer (or a mentor) knows to hit the comment button without my having to ask “What is your opinion?” 

– There are some traits that all blogs share, and it would be useful at some stage to enumerate them.  But all blogs aren’t the same.  They are not created equal.  They have different raisons d’etre, different objectives, different temporalities and life spans.  So how can they all be expected to engage readers in the same ways? 

I’ll return to these and related questions shortly.  Oh, and I nearly forgot to ask:  What have you been working on? 

Posted at 11:36 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

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fledgling’s archive, november 2009

November 2009

11/30/2009  Parenthesis (more confessions of a novice blogger)

When, a little over two months ago, I chose a name for this startup blog, I wanted it to convey (among other things) the humility with which I was crossing – and perhaps trespassing – into a domain and  a practice that were new to me.  After a couple of decades working at or near the forefront of my discipline (with remuneration), I find myself on much less certain terrain, even as I’m spending a good part of my work day labouring for free, and perhaps in vain.  And while learning daily can only be good for one in the long term, a felt lack of mastery and a sense of constantly playing catch-up are novel, and not entirely reassuring, experiences.

Let one example serve to illustrate the unsettling admixture:  the excitement of discovering new media and new modes of interaction with the slight disappointment that comes with realizing that others have already encountered, processed and either put their stamp on the medium in question or in some cases moved on.  It was only last week that I became aware of the concrete options for writing and publishing something between a full-fledged weblog a tweet.  My blogging platform, TypePad, began offering a quick-compose option.  And then I found, through reading other blogs and clicking through myriad links, that Tumblr and Posterous have for some time offered mini-blogging services, which are sufficiently distinct from one another to prompt “tumblr v posterous” debates and evaluations around the Web.  I promptly signed on with Posterous (mostly because I’d read a post on the site that I’d liked) and started emailing short posts, before I even knew about all the options and “extras” that were available.

And this is where, again, I find myself outside my comfort zone – by design.  I’m leaping before I look, putting the cart before the horse, messing with the order of things as I’ve known it for most of my life.  Unsettling, yes.  But also very cool.

Posted at 02:03 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: blogging, posterous, Tumblr, Twitter, Typepad, Web

 

11/30/2009  If you want a swarm, you gotta inform

I think that this post, drawn from http://www.steverubel.com and dated November 23, 2009, can stand pretty much on its own for the moment.  Under the title “Study:  Twitter is 80% ‘Meformers’ and 20% ‘Informers,’ Rubel cites a report in the Miami Herald on a new study about “Twitter psychology” (a formulation that is perhaps too abbrieviated to be very useful).

The communication and information professors, Mor Naaman and Jeffrey Boase, found that there tend to be two types of Twitter folks.  The majority, or 80%, were what they call “meformers” – Twitter users who sent out messages that revolved around themselves, updating others about their activities or sharing thoughts and feelings.

The other 20% are “informers” – people who were actually sharing information.  Not surprisingly, the informers tended to have larger social networks and be more interactive.

Rubel’s gloss:  “If you’re going to attract a swarm, you gotta inform.”

For the moment I will just flag a couple of points for further consideration.  First, this simple opposition ignores the fact that many users operate in both modes.  Some of the most generous suppliers of information on a wide range of topics (many examples come to mind) also tweet about their activities and certainly about their opinions.

Secondly, I think it would be fruitful to connect these numbers to the transition marked (belatedly) by the recent shift in Twitter’s framing question, or prompt:  from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”  If more users take the prompt to heart, might we expect the percentages to shift accordingly over time?  If they don’t, what might that portend for Twitter’s future?

Posted at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

 

11/27/2009  Modalities of blogging

Below are the passages from yesterday’s notebook pages (cribbed from http://www.theplayethic.com/2009/08/macro-meso-blogging.html) that I have highlighted for future reference:

If I want to be aphoristic, or be immediately useful with a one link-reference (which can, of course, be to my macro-blog entry), I go to the land of the Fat Wee Bird. The Moses of the Net, John Perry Barlow, recently described Twitter as a place where “genius last ten minutes… Twitter is casting pearls before mayflies“.  Funny, but only half-true: tweet a link from a macro-level blog, and it can operate as a gear changer, moving people down a few speeds from their skittery cybernetic loop.

But if we posit the poles of micro- and macro-blogging, there must perforce be many gradations in between – what we could call “meso-blogging”. 140 characters is indeed valuable for the concision it imposes, and the haiku-like or newspaper-headline-like editing it compels. It’s also a kind of input that, with the right device, can easily happen in the tiniest interstices of a busy day. But what happens when what you have to say spills over that long-lost telco engineer’s arbitrary text limit? When you have a small story to tell, or a sequence of sound or movement to bear witness to? How do we gently ease out from the limits of 140, yet still retain our spontaneity, our responsiveness to our environment, our thrill of instant publishing? 

One can easily imagine another modality of blogging coming through this kind of platform – one that’s more experience-and-affect based. Capturing epiphanies at arts, sporting events or family gatherings; enabling a richer record of holiday, tourism, expeditions; presenting rich, personal and multimedia records of practice or craft.

I’m also wondering whether meso-blogging might also interleave with the long, tottering fall of mainstream journalism. Is the hyper-local, super-specialised media that Jeff Jarvis keeps imagining actually awaiting richer blog platforms and smarter devices – where localities narrate themselves across a range of media streams, and journalists modularise and editorialise these flows (seeking, as ever, the elusive ad dollar…difficult to do with socialist infrastructure, I know…)

Here, in a modest curatorial exercise of my own, are some excerpts from recent posts on Dave Winer’s blog scripting.com:

“Posterous and Tumblr are next” (November 23, 2009) http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/23/posterousAndTumblrAreNext.html

There is a position between the lightweight Twitter and the heavyweight WordPress. And Tumblr, Posterous and now TypePad are positioning themselves right there. I expect this sweet spot to become more important over time. Twitter is, no doubt, introducing a great number of people to the joys of blogging. When they want more, some of them will certainly move to these “lite” blogging tools.

“Tumblr and Posterous” (November 25, 2009) http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/25/tumblrAndPosterous.html

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has caught onto the idea I borrowed from Steve Rubel, almost. They noted that WordPress was growing while Twitter’s growth has (perhaps temporarily) stalled.

The phenomenon is not, as some have said, the “death” of blogging (I hate that word!) — rather huge growth in blogging at the low-end as NBBs discover its joys through Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps very few of them will want more, but even a few is a lot! Expect a huge surge in medium-range and high-end blogging in the coming years, with products like Tumblr and Posterous and WordPress perfectly poised to capture the growth.

Two things the Twitter guys should, imho, be thinking about: 

1. How can they capture this growth as people move up-scale? Should they have a blogging network of their own? Or…

2. As people branch out they’re not going to want to give up their networks on Twitter. An alternate to #1 is to fully open the Twitter architecture before the flow around it builds. The Internet routes around a funnel, which is largely what Twitter is, because it’s too limiting for what users want to do. Maybe not today, but it’s easy to see the day coming. 

Historically it always seems to work this way. A company boots up a new activity, then people get familiar with it and want all the power and don’t need the training wheels. An industry appears where there used to be a company.

More news.. The TypePad guys have also gotten in touch with news that they have a new simplified REST-style API coming for their new “micro” service. I was actually looking for it.

I totally get the sense that there’s a critical mass developing. All these companies are competing fiercely, and they’re sharp and focused and hungry. And attaining some success.

I got a note from David Karp at Tumblr saying that for the first time his site is in the top 100 of all sites on the Internet. That’s pretty amazing and something to be proud of. Congrats!

One step at a time. This has been a pretty good week for getting things to work together.

I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

And a third contribution from Winer’s blog:  “How (slowly) we add metadata to tweets” (November 25, 2009)  http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/25/howSlowlyWeAddMetadataToTw.html

Why make an exception for geographic data or which app created the tweet or which tweet it’s in response to, or that it was retweeted by 7 people and who they are? Or who wrote it? And when

These bits of data all live outside the 140 character “limit.”  

Every good idea people come up with for Twitter involves latching a new piece of metadata to a tweet. And in the middle you have a conflicted, slow and arbitrary (and opaque) decision-making process, controlled by one company.  

Shouldn’t the architecture of tweets be open to any kind of data that anyone thinks of?  

If you make a Twitter client please, start pushing your users’ updates to a RSS feed on a server outside of twitter.com. It’s just a backup. That’s the first easy small step down the path of free evolution. Once someone does that, there are more steps.  

To get an idea of what’s possible, I recommend reading A better design for Twitter retweets. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to wait for Twitter Corp to try this out?  

The link Dave provides is to a post by Alex Bowyer for bitcurrent.com, entitled “A better design for Twitter Retweets”  http://www.bitcurrent.com/a-better-design-for-twitter-retweets/, which brings this cut-and-paste montage-fest of the last couple of days back to my posts from last week on the crisis in Retweeting.

Right, that’s just about enough curation and montage for one week.  As you are aware, these passages comprise my most recent notebook pages, offered here for your consideration (some will be available on my new meso-blog site, makurrah’s posterous, which I hope can serve as a gloss on fledgling).

Posted at 02:09 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Alex Bowyer, bitcurrent.com, blogging, curation, Dave Karp, Dave Winer, Facebook, Internet, Jeff Jarvis, John Perry Barlow, macroblogging, mesoblogging, microblogging, montage, posterous, retweets, scripting.com, Steve Rubel, TechCrunch, theplayethic.com, tumblr, Twitter, TypePad, WordPress

 

11/26/2009  I have seen the future, and it includes meso-blogging

Of the many posts on blogging – past, present and future – that I’ve dutifully studied, paraphrased, quoted, filed and/or trashed in the space of about a week, this one merits the full copy/paste treatment.  I found it at http://www.theplayethic.com/2009/08/macro-meso-blogging.html.  This more than qualifies as today’s notebook page (and I’m going to sign on with posterous shortly).

Meso-blogging: or, posting between the poles of micro- and macro-blogging

[….]  We know about blogging; we know about micro-blogging. But is it time to start thinking about macro-blogging, and after that, meso-blogging?

Macro-blogging for me is a grand(iose) term for how my own blogging, done through a standard publishing platform (Typepad), has evolved. It’s become a place where my research, journalism and presentations are “publicly” stored – all the better to enhance my intellectual brand. But it’s also become a place where I can “essay”, travel forth, into subjects, in a way that satisfies my own editorial sensibility (like now), rather than that of a client, publication or broadcaster. As JP said, micro-blogging – which for both of us meaning sending the same message to Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc – “takes the static out of one’s blog writing”. 

For us both, our blog – or macro-blog – has now become a very Enlightenment-style space, a place for extended publication (and for me, sometimes, textual restitution – saving newspaper pieces from the tender mercies of subeditors). I’m planning my entry into the world of ideas podcasting at the moment: and I would certainly put my 50-minute audio or video discussions in the “macro” category, in more senses than just byte-size. I want people to dwell with this material, to have it operate as the stimulating background to their commute, or housecleaning, or Sunday glass of wine, in the way that traditional media does. 

So like slow food, you could call the content of macro-blogging slow media: the long-read, the long-listen or the long-watch, dwelling with a voice or approach over some duration. I note from JP’s blog that Cory Doctorow is putting his new book Makers on his blog, chapter by chapter – which adds “Dickensian” to “Enlightenment” as descriptors for the macro-blogging space. Many authors are using their blogs in this way – as a kind of open rumination and development of their books (Kevin Kelly’s The Technium is the most magnificent example of this I know). 

If I want to be aphoristic, or be immediately useful with a one link-reference (which can, of course, be to my macro-blog entry), I go to the land of the Fat Wee Bird. The Moses of the Net, John Perry Barlow, recently described Twitter as a place where “genius last ten minutes… Twitter is casting pearls before mayflies“.  Funny, but only half-true: tweet a link from a macro-level blog, and it can operate as a gear changer, moving people down a few speeds from their skittery cybernetic loop. (I attempted a map of some of these subtleties at my keynote at the Media 140 conference in London a few months ago, relating real-time media to old-time media). 

But if we posit the poles of micro- and macro-blogging, there must perforce be many gradations in between – what we could call “meso-blogging”. 140 characters is indeed valuable for the concision it imposes, and the haiku-like or newspaper-headling-like editing it compels. It’s also a kind of input that, with the right device, can easily happen in the tiniest interstices of a busy day. But what happens when what you have to say spills over that long-lost telco engineer’s arbitrary text limit? When you have a small story to tell, or a sequence of sound or movement to bear witness to? How do we gently ease out from the limits of 140, yet still retain our spontaneity, our responsiveness to our environment, our thrill of instant publishing? 

Meso-blogging already has its obvious phenomena – eg, rich media clips generated from a mobile device by the man or woman on their feet (Qik, Audioboo). I’ve used Audioboo on the iPhone reasonably successfully in the past – but one or two deeply frustrating failed uploads, as the content squeezes and sputters its way through a toiling 3G connection, make me think that the bandwidth isn’t really ubiquitous enough for that, nor are the devices (or their apps) properly configured. 

Posterous is clearly intended to fill the meso-blogging gap. It simplifies its input mechanism to the basics (an e-mail – manageable by almost every device these days, static or mobile), but it receives every form and size of file, from photos to MP3’s to documents to video. (I’ve never used Tumblr, though JP made a strong recommendation). Posterous also narrows the gap between creation, utility and publicity by giving all audio its immediate iTunes link – a very seductive integration (though I’ll be using Typepad-via-Feedburner). 

One can easily imagine another modality of blogging coming through this kind of platform – one that’s more experience-and-affect based. Capturing epiphanies at arts, sporting events or family gatherings; enabling a richer record of holiday, tourism, expeditions; presenting rich, personal and multimedia records of practice or craft. All of this is scattered across various services at the moment, from YouTube to Flickr to SlideShare – which of course the diligent macro-blogger harvests and embeds to garnish her deep-dives into topics and interests (see my Micheal Jackson essay with the opening You Tube clip, and for a supreme master at macro-blogging, Momus’s Click Opera). But the idea of creating a service which presents all modes of capturing experience and thought, easily and tidily, seems right on the button to me. As I say: not quite macro, not quite micro, but meso-blogging. 

Yet I still think we’re pretty far from a web interface that could adequately express this ‘dream-catcher’ element of meso-blogging. I’ve had a great experience over the last 18 months with the Ning social network platform, and particularly with its ability to let you quickly shift blocks of rich media around its front page. In terms of interaction design, mainstream blog platforms need to think more expansively – breaking out of the essentially “one-column-with-fringes” format, and re-conceiving the norm as three, maybe four contiguous columns of rich multimedia content. (I know that there are open-source content-management systems like Joomla and Drupal that could do this for me – but as the King of Pop didn’t exactly once sing, “I’m a user, not a coder”).

The diverse input that’s coming from our smartphones, netbooks and (probably) tablets needs a more polyphonic (or perhaps better, polymorphic) kind of display mechanism on the web. Facebook’s endless tinkerings with its interface – still far from right for me – are evidence of how much pressure is building up from the tsunami of user-generated content that’s coming from the populace now.

As our devices become smarter and more mobile, and bathe in an ever-richer soup of Hertzian frequencies, we will each have the chance to become ‘mini media-moguls’ – writers, dialogists, broadcasters, retailers, folksonomists, community and friendship network managers. I’m also wondering whether meso-blogging might also interleave with the long, tottering fall of mainstream journalism. Is the hyper-local, super-specialised media that Jeff Jarvis keeps imagining actually awaiting richer blog platforms and smarter devices – where localities narrate themselves across a range of media streams, and journalists modularise and editorialise these flows (seeking, as ever, the elusive ad dollar…difficult to do with socialist infrastructure, I know…)

Meso-blogging might sound like setting up your laptop over the starters at a Japanese noodle bar…But there’s certainly (ahem) a soup of possibilities between where we are with Twitter, and what dignified middle-aged men like me and JP are starting to do textually with their WordPresses and Typepads. These might not be exactly the polarities you want to measure this field by. But please, choose your own. And when you do, meso-blog me about it.

Posted on Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 09:44 PM

Posted at 01:49 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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11/25/2009  Conceptions of blogging: a juxtaposition

A simple, fairly stark juxtaposition of two conceptions of blogging culled from a couple of days’ reading.

First, Dave Winer, writing on Rebooting the News # 34 (with Jay Rosen)  http://jr.ly/whnr

The natural born blogger

Dave wrote, “A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her hands.” This was a reaction to the film, Julie and Julia, which is about a blogger. But the real blogger was the elder one, Julia Child. She stuck her neck out, and disrupted the old system. “This may not be easy, but you can do it…” is the blogger’s true battlecry.

The natural born blogger (Dave says) is “someone whose nature is to do stuff without waiting for permission. To explain things, knowing they could easily be wrong. To go first. To err on the side of saying too much.”

And here is a post by Chris Brogan that appeared in my inbox this a.m.  http://www.chrisbrogan.com/how-to-use-your-blog-for-stock-answers/

There are lots of things you have to answer more than once as a business (or even as an individual). In the book Trust Agents, Julien and I write about “putting it on paper,” which means using the web to leverage the “answer once, share often” kinds of advice and information that people might need from you. I do this more and more often.Here are a few examples of “stock” answers I share with people often:

Are these two conceptions of blogging compatible? 

 Posted at 04:08 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Chris Brogan, Dave Winer, Jay Rosen, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, Rebooting the News, Trust Agents 

 

11/24/2009   Of Dave Winer, Julia Child, and the “natural born blogger”

In this post I will retrace the steps of what is becoming a typical trajectory for me:  one in which the point of departure is a tweet or a blog post, usually from someone I follow, that directs me to another source that itself points elsewhere.  Though I monitored Twitter at a distance for a time  before I signed on and began taking part, I would not have guessed that a tweet could unfold in multiple directions worth pursuing, like a map of a place that you love folded origami-style into a tiny, enigmatic shape, and unfolded again.

This morning’s example was a tweet from @jayrosen_nyu that is characteristically straightforward in its framing of the link:

“Rebooting The News #34 with me and Dave Winer.  Show notes and mp3  http://jr.ly/whnr (Google Wave, natural born bloggers, spot.us and more.)

Jay Rosen has more than once provided the link that set a blog post in motion, so I was prepared to follow his direction here, particularly because I am also inclined to want to hear what Dave Winer has to say, especially about “natural born bloggers” (cf. yesterday’s post and my set-to with a “pro”).  And I’ve been postponing an investigation of “Rebooting the News” for too long, mostly because I generally don’t like watching video on my laptop screen. When I clicked through, I found #34 in the form of a post by Winer, some of which I’ll reproduce here, with a brief gloss of my own.

For starters, Dave had something to say about Twitter’s belated move from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” as the service’s framing question, or prompt – a move announced on the Twitter blog last week.  I addressed this at some length in “‘What’s happening?’ Indeed,” posted on fledgling several days ago.  Here is Dave Winer on the matter:

Twitter’s new prompt 

The official prompt Twitter offers users changed this week. From “what are you doing?” to “what’s happening?” is a shift toward… news! Or, from first person to third person.

Why did they make this shift? Dave: “They have a problem,” a wall, as they call it– converting all the people who sign-up into regular, active users.

I would only underscore that the change in formulation does signal a shift, and potentially a shift toward news, if by that we understand the chronicling of history as it unfolds – journalism in its most crucial function as contemporary historiography.  After this virtual meeting of minds, I was delighted to read what these two mindcasters had to say about the concept of the “natural born blogger.”

The natural born blogger

Dave wrote, “A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her hands.” This was a reaction to the film, Julie and Julia, which is about a blogger. But the real blogger was the elder one, Julia Child. She stuck her neck out, and disrupted the old system. “This may not be easy, but you can do it…” is the blogger’s true battlecry.

The natural born blogger (Dave says) is “someone whose nature is to do stuff without waiting for permission. To explain things, knowing they could easily be wrong. To go first. To err on the side of saying too much.”

Jay: An example of that in journalism was I.F. Stone. Bloggers aren’t intimidated by expertise or certification. “In rebooting the news we need people who can just look at what needs to be done, look at the tools they have for doing it, and just start in.” As with the political blog, Firedoglake, which sprung up when an ex-movie producer and a lawyer felt the Valerie Plame case simply wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. “They just started this blog because it needed to exist.”

Dave: “That seems like it’s a very American thing.”Jay:

“Jefferson’s idea was that talent was very broadly distributed.”

Dave: “Which is one of the reasons why you want to distribute the publishing tools… That’s what inspires me.”

As a Yank long ago transplanted to Canada, I can’t fully endorse the “very American” part, even if Jefferson was right about the distribution of talent.  But I’m inspired by Dave’s being inspired by the distribution of the publishing tools (remembering the moment when I opened an email from Typepad granting me membership in their program for journos, which however oddly felt like a meaningful certification, and in that moment left the PhD and assorted acronyms of academe languishing in one of memory’s less accessible drawers).  So without hesitation I clicked through the link to Dave’s blog in my quest to discover more about “natural born bloggers.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009 by Dave Winer.

I’ve now seen two movies that had bloggers in leading roles. 

1. State of Play. A remake of a brilliant BBC series that was so bad, that portrayed the blogger in such a superficial and humiliating fashion, that I actually walked out in disgust. (A movie has to be very bad for me to walk out on it.) 

2. Julie and Julia. I saw it last night, and stayed to the end. I was just as angry at the way they portrayed the blogger, but it turns out for an opposite reason. In this case the dishonesty was reversed, the blogger wasn’t at all heroic, and they misrepresented the hero, Julia Child, who was, in many ways more of a true blogger than the blogger! Kind of funny how that works. 

A blogger isn’t just someone who uses blogging software, at least not to me. A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her own hands. Someone who sees a problem that no one is trying to solve, one that desperately needs solving, that begs to be solved, and because the tools are so inexpensive that they no longer present a barrier, they are available to the heroic individual. As far as I can tell, Julia Child was just such a person. Blogging software didn’t exist when she was pioneering, but it seems that if it did she would have used it.  

Julie used blogging, but Julia was a natural-born blogger. 

The dishonesty in the story was how they portrayed Julia Child’s reaction to Julie Powell’s writing. They didn’t explain why she disapproved. If you just went by what the movie said you could easily think she was bitter or closed-minded or jealous of young Julie. Luckily the archive is still on the web, and a simple Google search turned up the answer. Julia Child considered The Julie/Julia Project a stunt. She said of Powell: “She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned.” There’s a lot more in a Publisher Weekly interview with Judith Jones, Child’s editor at Knopf. Now, that makes sense!

I’d love to see a movie that captures the heroic spirit of blogging. Like all inspiration, it’s rare, but that’s why it’s worth making a movie about. The story of the nobility of blogging largely remains, imho, untold.  @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

I’m somehow skeptical that “the story of the nobility of blogging” could or should be told through a visual medium.  But I’m still inspired, most days, by what I know of Dave Winer.  And at some point I’ll click through to the Google search for the Julia Child archive, and the interview with Judith Jones.  (I saw the film, too.  Hated the Julie character.  Will never forget the final few frames, with Meryl/Julia opening the box that contains the first copy of her masterwork.)

If there is a persuasive image of Julia as blogger, natural born or otherwise, it looks something like this.

And I’ve no idea whether Meryl blogs, but I’m partial to photos of classy women with great skin having a smoke.

Posted at 12:15 PM in Books, Food and Drink, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Canada, Dave Winer, Firedoglake, Google Wave, I.F. Stone, Jay Rosen, Judith Jones, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, Julie Powell, Knopf, Meryl Streep, Rebooting the News, State of Play, The Julie/Julia Project, Thomas Jerrerson, tweet, Twitter  

 

11/23/2009  Blogging 101 (or is that 1.0?). Can I get advanced credit?

Once in a while I am overwhelmed by a sense of just how new I am to blogging – this even though I’ve been writing for a living for my entire adult life.  When I check my dashboard (as I just did) and note that I’ve fired off 62 posts in 2 months, my first inclination is to tell myself (for who else would care?) that a post a day, on average, is not bad for starters.  Still in view, however, are the other stats flickering on the dashboard screen:  lifetime pageviews, average pageviews daily, and comments.  And I admit that the last of these, the modest figure reflecting the elusive comments, sometimes gives me pause.  Are these just so many virtual messages in virtual bottles, destined only rarely to wash up on a distant virtual shore?

 
At times like this I occasionally turn to experts in the field (self-styled or peer-designated), for example the folks behind the ProBlogger forum. Through my (reluctantly) paid subscription, their new posts arrive in my inbox periodically, and yesterday’s missive, entitled “Why Nobody Cares About your Blog,” interrupted my train of thought on what I was planning to write about (a consideration of Carlin Romano’s piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on why “We Need ‘Philosophy of Journalism,'” which we’ll set aside for another day).  This guest post was written by David Risley, who, according to the note appended, is “a 6-figure professional blogger who got his start as a tech blogger.  His blog David Risley dot com is a pull-no-punches account of the business of pro blogging and what it takes to earn a living as a blogger.”Within the limits defined by the blogosphere, who am I to quarrel with someone of that stature and accomplishement?  Particularly when the prose in his post is so good-humoured, so accessible.  Here is a sampling:

Are You Talking AT or Talking TO Your Readers?

If I walked into a crowded mall, went into the food court, stood there in the middle of it and just started talking, what do you think would happen?Most people wouldn’t see me.  then, a few would and they would probably think I was crazy.  At the end of the day, I’ll just be that crazy guy they saw at the mall.

Now, imagine if 90% of the people in the food court did that.  They just got up and started talking into space.  It would be one big din of noise.  Now, all of those people want to feel as if they are famous, so they start competing and trying to out-talk the other people.  The volume increases, but few are being listened to.  The ones who are listened to are the ones at least saying something useful.

And that is the blogosphere.

Most new bloggers go out there and start talking, then hope somebody notices and listens.  Chances are, it won’t happen that way.

According to Risley, the solution to this predicament (in which I obviously share) is what he terms “true communication,” which entails talking to rather than at your potential readers (here he draws on personal experience involving his wife, who, in trying to convey something to him, makes the mistake that so many bloggers do, talking at rather than to him, and presumably pays the price by taking out the garbage herself).  And it isn’t successful communication “unless the idea being said fully ARRIVES on the other end and is understood.  To complete this process, an acknowledgement of some kind would need to take place to show that the information was indeed received and understood.”

Underlying all of this is, of course, the importance of saying something that people want and doing it in a likable way.  When you combine being likable, speaking within a reality that your audience will click with, along with actual communication where your thought actually gets to your reader, that’s when people will most definitely care about your blog.

Even before Risley “applies” this sage wisdom to blogging, I’m asking myself (and not for the first time) whether I really care whether people really care about my blog, if this is what I have to do to win “readers, fans and more traffic than you’ll know what to do with” (to say nothing of making money with my blog….).

When Risley finally get around to “Applying This To Blogging,” we read:

Blogging is a communications platform.  Personal human relations still apply.  If you just talk to yourself on your blog and hope people listen, it won’t work very well.  That’s not communication.

In other words, talk TO your audience.  Your job is to have something worth saying, then communicate that in a fashion which works for THEM.  Do it in a reality which works for them.  Make sure the idea arrives in their head by getting them to talk back to you.  Without some acknowledgement from the audience, you don’t have true communication taking place.  The cycle will be incomplete.

Your job with your blog is to create a relationship with your audience.  You want them to know, like and trust you.  That is done by forming true understanding between yourself and each of your readers.  You want them to see you as an authority in your market, but also a trusted friend.  The key to do that will be what I said above.

Blogging isn’t all about yourself.  It isn’t about just blurting words into WordPress and hoping people listen.  It is about talking TO them and having them talk back.

If you are new to blogging and hardly have any audience yet, the same principles apply.  You want to have these interactions with other people.  So, you go out onto social media and you do exactly the same thing.  In other words, go where the people are and strike up a conversation.  Then, with some form of understanding formed, you direct them to your blog.

Build a tribe of people who know, like and trust you…who you routinely talk to (in both directions), then you’ve made it.  The rest of your goals as a blogger become a piece of cake.

Enough already.  Let me just say that this post is to the effective use of language as the film Dead Poets Society is to teaching literature.  If the terms of that analogy suggest that I am talking at you rather than to you, perhaps you should take time to read them again, and think twice.  Or you could come up with your own analogy. Or you could go ahead and read (again) an earlier post from this blog that can stand as my response to David Risley, professional blogger, and his ilk (I’m sure they’re nice people, some with nice beach houses).

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From “Cards on the Table,” first published October 9, 2009

At this stage, I might feel more than a little discouraged at the time and energy it takes to gain a foothold in a medium that claims to allow for the lightning-quick, for transmission and exchange in what is termed “real-time,” were it not for two figures that I hold out, each in his way, as exemplars.  I think first of Walter Benjamin, whose work I have been reading for most of my adult life; in this context, I return to his essay “The Task of the Translator, written in 1923 as an introduction to his own translations of Baudelaire.  Here is its notorious first paragraph, as translated by Harry Zohn:

In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful.  Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such.  Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response.  No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  [emphasis added]

http://www.scribd.com/doc/12733233/Walter-Benjamin-the-Task-of-Translator

Certainly this weblog lays no claim to the status of artwork – though there is an argument to be made for blogging, and tweeting, as artful pursuits.  But I did not embark on this project for the sake of my potential readers, or with the purpose of building a readership – that will either happen, or it won’t.  What prompted me to begin blogging (cards on the table) was the prospect of a regular, disciplined practice of writing, to dislodge my habitual modes of research and more research, voluminous note-taking leading to drafts and more drafts, revisions galore and eventually, should all the stars align, publication within two years of manuscript delivery.  What I’m doing instead (or at least on a parallel track) in this still-experimental space, is essentially posting pages from my notebooks.  Which brings me to my second exemplar, the blogger who writes under the name Salam Pax.  As I indicated a few posts back, Salam blogged earlier this year about finding a notebook that had served as a diary during the months after the invasion of Baghdad, and that had gone missing in the ensuing chaos.  Five years on, he told his readers the story of the lost notebook, and added “I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you… I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”  http://salampax.wordpress.com

While my notebooks, some of which date back more than five years and have likewise been retrieved from a chaotic period, can’t hold a candle to Salam’s – they have survived neither siege nor bombs, and chronicle no such experience, bear witness to no full-fledged historical events – I humbly follow his example in posting pages from them anyway.  But I’ll hang on to the originals, at least for a while.

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Hey, this is the first time I’ve copied and pasted stuff from my own past post onto a new one.  Either I’m picking up the threads of a semi-coherent narrative, or I’ve degenerated into a virtual stutter.  Either way, I won’t be seeking David Risley’s input.

Posted at 01:23 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: “The Task of the Translator”, Baudelaire, blog post, blogging, blogosphere, Carlin Romano, chronicle of Higher Education, dashboard, David Risley, Dead Poets Society, Harry Zohn, ProBlogger, Salam Pax, Walter Benjamin, WordPress

11/20/2009  Clay Shirky on “How social media can make history” (via TED)

In the spirit of my last post, which sought to align Twitter’s revised question – “What’s happening?” – with the materiality of historical events, here is a link to video footage of a talk that Clay Shirky presented in June 2009 (contemporaneously with the aftermath of the Iran election), under the title “How social media can make history.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

What follows is the transcript of that talk, copied and pasted from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html , where it is available in an interactive format.

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Clay Shirky on “How social media can make history,” June 2009

I want to talk about the transformed media landscape, and what it means for anybody who has a message they want to get out to anywhere in the world. And I want to illustrate that by telling a couple of stories about that transformation.

I’ll start here. Last November there was a presidential election. You probably read something about it in the papers. And there was some concern that in some parts of the country there might be voter suppression. And so a plan came up to video the vote. And the idea was that individual citizens with phones capable of taking photos or making video would document their polling places, on the lookout for any kind of voter suppression techniques. And would upload this to a central place. And that this would operate as a kind of citizen observation. That citizens would not be there just to cast individual votes. But also to help insure the sanctity of the vote overall.

So this is a pattern that assumes we’re all in this together. What matters here isn’t technical capital. It’s social capital. These tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It’s when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.

And so we’re starting to see a media landscape in which innovation is happening everywhere. And moving from one spot to another. That is a huge transformation. Not to put too fine a point on it, the moment we’re living through, the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history. Now that’s a big claim. I’m going to try to back it up.

There are only four periods in the last 500 years where media has changed enough to qualify for the label Revolution. The first one is the famous one, the printing press. Movable type, oil-based inks, that whole complex of innovations that made printing possible and turned Europe upside-down, starting in the middle of the 1400s. Then a couple of hundred years ago there was innovation in two way communication. Conversational media, first the telegraph, then the telephone. Slow, text based conversations, then real-time voice based conversations. Then, about 150 years ago, there was a revolution in recorded media other than print. First photos, then recorded sound, then movies, all encoded onto physical objects. And finally about 100 years ago, the harnessing of electromagnetic spectrum to send sound and images through the air, radio and television. This is the media landscape as we knew it in the 20th century. This is what those of us of a certain age grew up with, and are used to.

But there is a curious asymmetry here. The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations. If you want to have a conversation in this world, you have it with one other person. If you want to address a group, you get the same message and you give it to everybody in the group. Whether you’re doing that with a broadcasting tower or a printing press. That was the media landscape as we had it in the twentieth century.

And this is what changed. This thing that looks like a peacock hit a windscreen is Bill Cheswick’s map of the Internet. He traces the edges of the individual networks and then color codes them. The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. Where as the phone gave us the one to one pattern. And television, radio, magazines, books, gave us the one to many pattern. The Internet gives us the many to many pattern. For the first time media is natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations. That’s one of the big changes.

The second big change is that as all media gets digitized the Internet also becomes the mode of carriage for all other media. Meaning that phone calls migrate to the Internet. Magazines migrate to the Internet. Movies migrate to the Internet. And that means that every medium is right next door to every other medium. Put another way, media is increasingly less just a source of information. And it is increasingly more a site of coordination. Because groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well.

And the third big change is that members of the former audience, as Dan Gilmore calls them, can now also be producers and not consumers. Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape a new producer joins as well. Because the same equipment, phones, computers, let you consume and produce. It’s as if, when you bought a book, they threw in the printing press for free. It’s like you had a phone that could turn into a radio if you pressed the right buttons. That is a huge change in the media landscape we’re used to. And it’s not just Internet or no Internet. We’ve had the Internet in its public form for almost 20 years now. And it’s still changing as the media becomes more social. It’s still changing patterns even among groups who know how to deal with the Internet well.

Second story, last May, China in the Sichuan province had a terrible earthquake, 7.9 magnitude, massive destruction in a wide area, as the Richter Scale has it. And the earthquake was reported as it was happening. People were texting from their phones. They were taking photos of buildings. They were taking videos of buildings shaking. They were uploading it to QQ, China’s largest Internet service. They were Twittering it. And so as the quake was happening the news was reported. And because of the social connections, Chinese students coming elsewhere, and going to school. Or businesses in the rest of the world opening offices in China. There were people listening all over the world, hearing this news. The BBC got their first wind of the Chinese quake from Twitter. Twitter announced the existence of the quake several minutes before the US Geological Survey had anything up online for anybody to read. The last time China had a quake of that magnitude it took them three months to admit that it had happened.

(Laughter)

Now they might have liked to have done that here, rather than seeing these pictures go up online. But they weren’t given that choice. Because their own citizens beat them to the punch. Even the government learned of the earthquake from their own citizens, rather than from the Xinhua News Agency. And this stuff rippled like wildfire. For a while there the top 10 most clicked links on Twitter, the global short messaging service, nine of the top 10 links were about the quake. People collating information, pointing people to news sources, pointing people to the US geological survey. The 10th one was kittens on a treadmill, but that’s the Internet for you.

(Laughter)

But nine of the 10 in those first hours. And within half a day donation sites were up. And donations were pouring in from all around the world. This was an incredible, coordinated global response. And the Chinese then, in one of their periods of media openness decided that they were going to let it go. That they were going to let this citizen reporting fly. And then this happened. People began to figure out, in the Sichuan Provence, that the reason so many school buildings had collapsed, because tragically the earthquake happened during a school day, the reason so many school buildings collapsed is that corrupt officials had taken bribes to allow those building to be built to less than code. And so they started, the citizen journalists started reporting that as well. And there was an incredible picture. You may have seen in on the front page of the New York Times. A local official literally prostrated himself in the street, in front of these protesters. In order to get them to go away. Essentially to say, “We will do anything to placate you. just please stop protesting in public.”

But these are people who have been radicalized. Because thanks to the one child policy they have lost everyone in their next generation. Someone who has seen the death of a single child now has nothing to lose. And so the protest kept going. And finally the Chinese cracked down. That was enough of citizen media. And so they began to arrest the protesters. They began to shut down the media that the protests were happening on.

China is probably the most successful manager of Internet censorship, in the world, using something that is widely described as the Great Firewall of China. And the Great Firewall of China is a set of observation points that assume that media is produced by professionals, it mostly comes in from the outside world, it comes in in relatively sparse chunks, and it comes in relatively slowly. And because of those four characteristics they are able to filter it as it comes into the country. But like the Maginot Line, the great firewall of China was facing in the wrong direction for this challenge. Because not one of those four things was true in this environment. The media was produced locally. It was produced by amateurs. It was produced quickly. And it was produced at such an incredible abundance that there was no way to filter it as it appeared. And so now the Chinese government, who for a dozen years, has quite successfully filtered the web, is now in the position of having to decide whether to allow or shut down entire services. Because the transformation to amateur media is so enormous that they can’t deal with it any other way.

And in fact that is happening this week. On the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen they just two days ago announced that they were simply shutting down access to Twitter. Because there was no way to filter it other than that. They had to turn the spigot entirely off. Now these changes don’t just affect people who want to censor messages. They also affect people who want to send messages.

Because this is really a transformation of the ecosystem as a whole. Not just a particular strategy. The classic media problem, from the twentieth century is how does an organization have a message that they want to get out to a group of people distributed at the edges of a network. And here is the twentieth century answer. Bundle up the message. Send the same message to everybody. National message. Targeted individuals. Relatively sparse number of producers. Very expensive to do. So there is not a lot of competition. This is how you reach people. All of that is over.

We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global. social, ubiquitous and cheap. Now most organizations that are trying to send messages to the outside world, to the distributed collection of the audience, are now used to this change. The audience can talk back. And that’s a little freaky. But you can get used to it after a while, as people do.

But that’s not the really crazy change that we’re living in the middle of. The really crazy change is here. It’s the fact that they are no longer disconnected from each other. The fact that former consumers are now producers. The fact that the audience can talk directly to one another. Because there is a lot more amateurs than professionals. And because the size of the network, the complexity of the network is actually the square of the number of participants. Meaning that the network, when it grows large, grows very very large.

As recently at last decade, Most of the media that was available for public consumption was produced by professionals. Those days are over, never to return. It is the green lines now, that are the source of the free content. Which brings me to my last story. We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign.

And I don’t mean most imaginative use in politics. I mean most imaginative use ever. And one of the things Obama did, was they famously, the Obama campaign did, was they famously put up My Barak Obama dot com, myBO.com And millions of citizens rushed in to participate, and to try and figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, He said, “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk.

It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. Please get FISA right. Within days of this group being created it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com. Within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially, “I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.”

This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take to off the site. They had understood that their role with myBO.com was to convene their supporters but not to control their supporters.

And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media. Media, the media landscape that we knew, as familiar as it was, as easy conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs, is increasingly slipping away. In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap, in a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants, in that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.

And the choice we face, I mean anybody who has a message they want to have heard anywhere in the world, isn’t whether or not that is the media environment we want to operate in. That’s the media environment we’ve got. The question we all face now is, “How can we make best use of this media? Even though it means changing the way we’ve always done it.” Thank you very much.

(Applause)

Thank you, Clay.

Posted at 01:43 PM in Books, Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: Bill Cheswick, books, Chine, Clay Shirky, Dan Gilmore, Europe, FISA, Great Firewall of China, history, Internet, magazines, media landscape, movable type, myBO.com, New York Times, Obama, printing press, radio, Revolution, Sichuan earthquake, social media, TED, telegraph, telephone, television, Tiananmen, Twitter, US Geological Society, Xinhua News Agency 

11/20/2009   “What’s happening?” Indeed.

Something momentous appears to be happening, or to have happened.  Fleeting signs of this occurrence have emerged over the course of the past several months, but yesterday an unmistakable signal was sent, loudly and clearly, in a post by @Biz on the Twitter blog.  With a conscious nod to ReTweet 1.0, I have copied and pasted the post below.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What’s Happening?

Twitter was originally conceived as a mobile status update service—an easy way to keep in touch with people in your life by sending and receiving short, frequent answers to one question, “What are you doing?” However, when we implemented the service, we chose to leave something out. To stay simple, Twitter did not require individuals to confirm relationships. Instead, we left things open.

People, organizations, and businesses quickly began leveraging the open nature of the network to share anything they wanted, completely ignoring the original question, seemingly on a quest to both ask and answer a different, more immediate question, “What’s happening?” A simple text input field limited to 140 characters of text was all it took for creativity and ingenuity to thrive.

Sure, someone in San Francisco may be answering “What are you doing?” with “Enjoying an excellent cup of coffee,” at this very moment. However, a birds-eye view of Twitter reveals that it’s not exclusively about these personal musings. Between those cups of coffee, people are witnessing accidents, organizing events, sharing links, breaking news, reporting stuff their dad says, and so much more.

The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates. Twitter helps you share and discover what’s happening now among all the things, people, and events you care about. “What are you doing?” isn’t the right question anymore—starting today, we’ve shortened it by two characters. Twitter now asks, “What’s happening?”

We don’t expect this to change how anyone uses Twitter, but maybe it’ll make it easier to explain to your dad.

posted by @Bizat 10:47 AM 

Trust me, Biz, it won’t make it easier to explain anything to my dad, and that is really beside the point.  Here (on the Twitter blog, which has time and again proven to be a productive point of departure for fledgling) we have Twitter catching up to what has already happened, to and through Twitter – and more specifically, one could argue, roughly five months after the fact.  The fact, that is, of the Iranian election and its convulsive aftermath, when Twitter confronted history, and helped make it.  A handful of folks have begun to take account of this pivotal moment, what it means and portends for social media, and for Twitter in particular.  In a Q&A on Twitter and Iran conducted on June 16, 2009, Clay Shirky remarked on the stakes of this historic juncture.  You can read it here  http://blog.ted.com/2009/06/qa_with_cl_sh.php ; I have copied the text below. 

 16 June 2009   Q and A with Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

 NYU professor Clay Shirky gave a fantastic talk on new media during our TED@State event earlier this month. He revealed how cellphones, the web, Facebook and Twitter had changed the rules of the game, allowing ordinary citizens extraordinary new powers to impact real-world events. As protests in Iran exploded over the weekend, we decided to rush out his talk, because it could hardly be more relevant. I caught up with Clay this afternoon to get his take on the significance of what is happening. HIs excitement was palpable.

What do you make of what’s going on in Iran right now.
I’m always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that … this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is really extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It’s Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams)and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it’s easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I’m sure it wasn’t conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it’s had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook’s model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people around the world who’ve made it their business to help keep it open.

Do you get a sense that it’s almost as if the world is figuring out live how to use Twitter in these circumstances? Some dissidents were using named accounts for a while, and there’s been a raging debate in the community about how best to help them.
Yes, there’s an enormous reckoning to be had about what works and what doesn’t. There have been disagreements over whether it was dangerous to use hashtags like #Iranelection, and there was a period in which people were openly tweeting the IP addresses of web proxies for people to switch to, not realizing that the authorities would soon shut these down. It’s incredibly messy, and the definitive rules of the game have yet to be written. So yes, we’re seeing the medium invent itself in real time.

Talk some more about the sense of participation on Twitter. It seems to me that that has spurred an entirely deeper level of emotional connection with these events.
Absolutely.  I’ve been saying this for a while — as a medium gets faster, it gets more emotional. We feel faster than we think. But Twitter is also just a much more personal medium. Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement. We’re seeing everyone desperate to do something to show solidarity like wear green — and suddenly the community figures out that it can actually offer secure web proxies, or persuade Twitter to delay an engineering upgrade — we can help keep the medium open.

When I see John Perry Barlow setting himself up as a router, he’s not performing these services as a journalist. He’s engaged. Traditional media operates as source of information not as a means of coordination. It can’t do more than make us sympathize. Twitter makes us empathize. It makes us part of it. Even if it’s just retweeting, you’re aiding the goal that dissidents have always sought: the awareness that the outside world is paying attention is really valuable.

Of course the downside of this emotional engagement is that while this is happening, I feel like I can’t in good conscience tweet about anything else!

There was fury on Twitter against CNN for not adequately covering the situation. Was that justified?
In a way it wasn’t. I’m sure that for the majority of the country, events in Iran are not of grave interest, even if those desperate for CNN’s Iran info couldn’t get access to it. That push model of one message for all is an incredibly crappy way of linking supply and demand.

CNN has the same problem this decade that Time magazine had last decade. They simultaneously want to appeal to middle America and leading influencers. Reaching multiple audiences is increasingly difficult. The people who are hungry for info on events of global significance are used to instinctively switching on CNN. But they are realizing that that reflex doesn’t serve them very well anymore, and that can’t be good for CNN.

Do you get the sense that these new media tools are helping build a global community, forged more by technology and a desire for connection, than by traditional political or religious divides?
You can see it clearly in what’s happening right now. And it cuts both ways. The guy we’re rallying around, Mousavi, is no liberal reformer. But the principle of freedom of speech and fair elections and the desire for reform trump that.

So how does this play out?
It’s complex. The Ahmadinejad supporters are going to use the fact of English-speaking and American participation to try to damn the dissidents. But whatever happens from here, the dissidents have seen that large numbers of American people, supposedly part of “the great Satan,” are actually supporters. Someone tweeted from Tehran today that “the American media may not care, but the American people do.” That’s a sea-change.

Posted by Chris Anderson | Permalink| | Comments (32)| TrackBack (0)

For now I will simply note that Clay’s palpable excitement comes through most, uh, palpably in his iteration of phrases like “this is happening” and “what’s happening right now,”  language that registers the event-character of history.  He alludes to the messiness of Twitter, aligning it in effect with the messiness of events as they unfold – a messiness only partially, provisionally organized under the user-adopted hashtag #IranElection.  It’s not too late to search it, and see what comes up.

Posted at 01:29 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: @Biz, Ahmadinejad, Biz Stone, Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, CNN, Evan Williams, Facebook, hashtag, Iran election, John Perry Barlow, retweet, Time Magazine, Twitter, Twitter blog 

 

11/20/2009   P.S. #SaveReTweets (ReTweets 1.0, that is)

Since I posted yesterday on Twitter’s effort to impose a new regime for retweeting, there has been a good deal of related activity on Twitter and in the blogosphere generally.  Here are a few notes on how things are unfolding.

Last night I found myself in something of a frenzy of retweeting (in the user-generated way, of course).  Many on my Twitter feed were complaining about the new RT function.  Here are some of my RT’s from yesterday: 

RT @joshtpm Twitter RT function:  ingenious new way to have a bunch of randoms I don’t follow show up in my feed.  AWESOME! 

RT @kootenayrev:  thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature.  A wretched feature #saveretweets  http://act.ly/er [the link is to a petition to save the user-generated RT format] 

Lessons of Faust:  RT @joshtpm  thinking that Twitter’s embedded RT function may be part of partnership deal with Satan 

There are many more such tweets and retweets, searchable through the #SaveReTweets hashtag.  And a number of bloggers are likewise aggrieved.  One example is the Dennis Van Staalduinen, who weighed in at http://www.begtodiffer.com/2009/11/twitterloo/.  I’ve reproduced his post of November 12 below (I’m all about cut and paste since Twitter’s effort to circumvent it further endeared it to me). 

Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT.

Dennis Van Staalduinen, November 12th, 2009

Soldiers at attention: awright Twitter conscript, you’ve probably heard that Twitter has finally enabled a feature it calls “Retweet”. Well, after years of hacking together manual ReTweets – cutting and pasting, editing, shortening, and workarounds by Twitter partner applications like TweetDeck, you’d think this would be cause for great rejoicing among the weary soldiers of Twitterland…

We Beg to Differ.

The invention of the ReTweet: Napoleon at Waterloo 

What’s an RT?

For those new to Twitter (or with no patience for it), basically “RT” is a convention that arose among Twitter users as a way of sharing and amplifying content from other people that they agree with, find interesting or funny, or that adds to a discussion they’re having in some way. Here’s an extreme example of one message from last night:

“zchamu Me three! RT @DenVan RT @brianlj: I disagree with just about every point of  @ev”s on http://is.gd/4SyqZ #SaveRetweet  >Me: Ditto!”

Here’s a translation of the post:

  • @brianlj read a blog post by Twitter CEO Evan Williams @eV, and wanted to share the link and to let others  know  he disagreed with it.
  • He added the hashtag #Save ReTweet which made it part of a public discussion.
  • I wanted to share his thought with my followers (I’m @DenVan). So, I copied it and pasted it, and added “RT ” at the beginning, then added a comment at the end “Ditto”.
  • Then, my friend @zchamu did the same, crediting me and adding her comment “Me three!”

Think about how incredible that is. Four people’s thoughts are contained in the tiny, tiny space of just 140 Characters. That’s the power of the RT.

The revolution is ugly, but it works

Now granted, to the untrained eye, it looks a bit messy – okay really messy – so we’ve been hoping for some clean-up from the good people at Twitter for a long time. You know, a few simple tools that would respect the power and intent of the RT but would make it easier to use and scan.

But what happened instead? RT activist Dan Zarella puts it well when he says:

In a stunningly disappointing move, Twitter has threatened to completely eviscerate most of the value out of ReTweets by “formalizing” a feeble version of a format that was already well understood and functional for all users involved.

The leader on a high horse

On Tuesday, Twitter head Evan Williams wrote his first blog post since March, “Why Retweet works the way it does”, with these ominous words:

I’m making this post because I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial. People understandably have expectations of how the retweet function should work. And I want to show some of the thinking that’s gone into it…

Uh-oh. Bad sign. When a CEO runs to the battlements so early in a communications piece, you can just smell the restlessness in the troops – and not just in the Twitterati, but among the people working at Twitter as well.

He goes on to describe RT as cool, before listing off a number of “problems” that currently exist with the RT convention that, as he puts it, “emerged organically from Twitter users as a way of passing on interesting bits of information”.

The problems Evan Williams lists (in brief):

  1. Attribution confusion – hard to tell who the “owner” of the originally tweeted content was.
  2. Mangled and Messy – formatting makes message hard to read and author’s intent may be lost.
  3. Redundancy – lots of “RePeets”.
  4. Noisiness – RT @sycophant RT @wanker Blah blah blah
  5. Untrackable – hard to collect RTs of a person or post in one place.

The solution from Twitter :

  From book, Kittens:  “As has already been mentioned, cats, and particularly kittens, are tremendouly appealing to look at”

Let’s say that in the new Twitter RT universe, I wanted to share the incredible insight that Evan Williams actually posted last night (at right), with my followers.

  • A single “Retweet” button would appear under his tweet.
  • By clicking this, I would instantly create an exact verbatim copy of the original. My followers would see this exactly as @ev had written it, and what’s more, his name and avatar would appear beside them – even if my follower wasn’t following him.
  • As the Retweeter, my name would appear in a small footnote on the bottom of Ev’s tweet, but not in the actual Tweet.
  • Without any opportunity for editing or commentary, I couldn’t add context for my followers like “Can you believe this?” or “Me too!” or “What is this dude smoking?”.
  • No “RT” or other prefix will indicate that the is a ReTweet. Only that small footnote will make it appear different from any other tweet….

Our take: the new ReTweet “feature” needs Re-bwanding

Sorry Evan.

You’re a genius, and we all owe you a tremendous debt for creating this Twitter thing, but this new feature you’ve created is not ReTweet. I’ve called it “RePeet”. Or maybe it’s “Copy” or “Clone”, or as one wag called it “Exact Tweet” (ET – and it phones home to Twitter).

Whatever it is, it’s broken.

And we’re not alone in saying so.
(this list is growing, so please send us more!)

To the battlements! What you can do soldier:

  1. Don’t use the new button! Just keep doing what you’ve always done.
  2. Use the hashtag #SaveReTweets to register your displeasure.
  3. Inundate @ev and @twitter with negative traffic.
  4. Sign the petition Dan Zarella has put together.

And from the ranks of mainstream media, the WSJ was prompt to weigh in, with a brief article entitled “Twitter’s Retweet Feature:  Love or Hate?,” which characterizes this juncture in Twitter’s evolution by citing users as well as one of Twitter’s co-creators.

Until recently, retweeting was decidedly low-tech:  Twitterers copied and pasted the original post, adding “RT” and its author’s name.  As with many aspects of the microblogging service, it evolved from Twitter’s users and wasn’t an official feature, but it quickly became a way of noting someone’s influence online, and die-hard users encouraged their followers to RT their updates.

Now, Twitter is offering an automatic retweet option that, when selected, asks “Retweet to your followers?”  When a user confirms, the tweet is reposted to the user’s account.  A link on Twitter.com’s right column lets users see a record of their retweets as well as retweets of their posts.

One of the problems, writes Outspoken Media’s Lisa Barone, is that retweeted messages now appear under the original Twitterer’s name, so your followers may not recognize that it’s coming from you. 

“When I see someone else’s avatar, I’m thrown off and confused.  Will I get used to it?  No, I’ll simply learn to ignore things from people I don’t know.  They’re now ads that I’ll tune out.”

The new retweeting feature also removes the ability for Twitterers to add their comments to a reposted update, something many users did to editorialize, mock or otherwise riff on someone else’s posts.  That why people retweet, Ms. Barone adds — “to share the link but to also add their own sauce and flavor.”

“I suspect some of the most diehard Twitter users would revolt if they were confined to the new Retweet feature, wherein edits are not possible, writes Andrew Mueller.  “The new Retweet feature is not what Retweet, as a cultural convention, has evolved to be.”

Twitter, for its part, has acknowledged that the redisign is a controversial one.  In a blog post, Twitter Chief Executive Evan William writes that the way 1.0 retweets were formatted made it confusing to figure out who wrote them, and that their potential redundancy and inaccuracy weakened their appeal….

The new version “offers something new and powerful,” he adds, and the original way of retweeting is still available for those who want it.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/19/twitters-retweet-feature-love-or-hate/

Yes, thankfully, it is.  But the fact that users can decide to swim against the current, to stick with the “cultural convention” they created, will not prevent the intrusion of unfamiliar and unwanted avatars into my Twitter feed.  And as to the ways in which @EV has characterized “1.0 retweets”:  Newsflash.  We’ve been intelligent enough thus far “to figure out who wrote them,” to forgive “their potential redundancy and inaccuracy” and get over their lack of “appeal.”  We’ve been RTing all this time because hey, we thought of it, and we like sending them out, with or without commentary, and receiving them, from people with whom we’ve decided to interact.

I’m with @joshtpm:  “ingenious new way to have a bunch of randoms I don’t follow show up in my feed.  AWESOME!”  And with @kootenayrev:  “thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature.”

Posted at 11:11 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: @EV, @joshtpm, @kootenayrev, Andrew Mueller, Dan Zarrella, Dennis Van Staalduinen, Evan Williams, Faust, Lisa Barone, retweet, TechCrunch, Twitter, Wall Street Journal, WSJ

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Filed under Books, Culture, Current events, Death, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

fledgling’s archive, september 2009

09/30/2009 Red-letter day 

  

Perhaps this will go down as a red-letter day of some sort: I just noted my fledgling blog’s first batch of visitors arriving via Google. And it showed up on my own search. Now I really must make these posts presentable.  

For the moment, though, I just want to (red) flag a matter for future consideration: the ascendancy of the term ‘friend’ in the context of social media. It is an easy thing to overlook, or simply take for granted, but given the richness and variability of the writing on friendship in the history of philosophy, this certainly warrants further scrutiny.  

Posted at 05:00 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4)    

 

09/29/2009  Hectic presumptions 

In the belief – a wager, certainly – that thinking can proceed in part via stepping-stones of thought made accessible by those who have gone before (even just before), let me cite (as I have more than once) an account provided by my friend and mentor Werner Hamacher in an incisive essay entitled “Journals, Politics”:  

Many years ago – it might already be twenty – Max Horkheimer recommended a little experiment during a television interview. He suggested reading newspapers a few weeks or months after their publication. With this he bent over to pick up a stack of rather gray papers that lay next to his chair. I cannot recall his comments on this piece of advice. But one can imagine that the effect he had in mind was supposed to be both philosophical and political. Indeed, the effect of this small postponement on the reader, on his perception of time and on his attitude to news and published opinion, should be considerable. The reader of these old papers will notice that the imperatives, attractions and threats heralded in them reveal themselves as such only to the degree that they no longer directly affect him. The judgments that the newspapers imposed on him at another time can now be dismissed as hectic presumptions. In the future he will no longer so easily obey the regulations of the newspapers and their time…. Horkheimer’s is a piece of political advice that looks forward to the suspension of coercion and to its transformation for another way of life.  

Users, students and teachers of social media stand to gain, philosophically and politically, by conducting for themselves an analogous experiment that would introduce a small postponement in the hectic reverse chronology and “real-time” updates that govern these media, and exercises their own forms of coercion.  

Posted at 12:01 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/28/2009  ‘The pulse of the planet.’ Perhaps.

  

 Twitter’s coveted prize is its real-time search engine and its global collection of users. What Twitter has done is add a new and important variable into the dissemination of information equation [Man this is badly written – Ed.]. When the user experience is centred around receiving information, they want that information to be relevant, and that’s what search engines are good for. But Twitter’s contribution is to introduce the variable of Time into the equation. With the integration of Twitter’s engine and its users, who provide a stream of real-time data, consumers will get answers to their queries that are relevant – Now. That’s why, as Twitter positioned it, they’re going to have the “pulse of the planet.”  

http://www.searchfuel.com/2009/07/twitter-will-be-the-pulse-of-the-planet/comment    

Posted at 12:13 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/25/2009  Pray for – make that on – the newspapers

  

In my last post I touched in a preliminary way on the materiality (and hence biodegradability) of newspapers over against the virtuality (and reverse chronology) of Twitter.  From the first, this blog has been dedicated to thinking through the temporal and material aspects of these media as instruments of historiography in our time.  

As it happens, the materiality of newspapers made them serviceable on at least one recent occasion, duly reported by Robin Wright for Time.com on July 27, 2009 under the title “Iran’s Protesters: Phase 2 of their Feisty Campaign”:  

‘The new cameraderie of resistance was visible at the July 17 [2009] prayer sermon given by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at TehranUniversity. Non-religious Iranians turned up for political reasons. The devout showed them how to carry out the rituals, with strangers handing out newspapers as substitute prayer mats for overflow crowds.’  

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1912941,00.html

Posted at 05:13 PM in Current Affairs, Religion, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/25/2009  #IranElection

  

I released my first innocuous tweets in April and May. But in June the stakes changed for me (and so many others) with the advent of the Iranian election and its harsh aftermath. To be part of a virtual social network during the unfolding of these events – and their extraordinary chronicling by other participants – could not but galvanize. One of my several “favorite” tweets from this period was authored by @somegirl604 and posted at 12:02 PM on June 20th:  

show a newspaper from the day in films & pictures to verify date VERY IMPORTANT 4 CNN BBC etc #GR88 #IranElection RT  

At the time, after first saving it to favorites – rescuing it from the obscurity all but guaranteed by the hectic reverse-chronological feed –  I replied directly in succinct tweetspeak: “Great practical advice that also speaks volumes about this historical moment.”  I will likely revert to her formulation more than once in the work to come. (By the way, @somegirl604, have you found a job yet?  Thanks again and best wishes.)  

Posted at 12:11 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/23/2009  ‘I tweet, therefore I am.’

It was a journalist’s post-Cartesian musing about Twitter and mortality that propelled me from the relative safety of theoretical interest and observation into the riskier business of practice. In late March, 2009, The Globe and Mail ran a feature by Ian Brown under the title ‘Give Me Twitter or Give me Death’ (March 28, 2009, F1, F4). Zeroing in on what he termed the Twitter dictum – ‘What are you doing?’ – Brown sought to align questions of temporality, language, technology and mortality:  

‘…the discipline of compression is part of Twitter’s charm. Brevity and the management of candour are essential. One must, as Mark Twain advised, “eschew surplusage.”‘  

Or again,  

‘The lure of Twitter is the lure of Right Now. There is no death in the moment of Right Now: There is only where/what/why/who I am. If you are tweeting or tweeted, you are not dead, yet.’ 

While such conceptual claims resonated with my own thinking to date, I was struck by Brown’s readiness to take a further, very practical step: to seek in these terms to initiate a discussion about Twitter on Twitter. And so he did, generating a lively response:  

‘People had a lot to say, it was more like tossing firecrackers than writing…. It was exhausting, like climbing into a dryer for a ride.’  

He also reproduced, among others, a response from participant ‘gordonr’: ‘Twitter is phatic communication: I exist, you exist, the channel is open, the network if flowing.’  

Then and there, I signed up.  

Posted at 11:31 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/21/2009  George Clooney and I have something in common  

This post’s sole mission is to reproduce a remark by George Clooney that a) made me laugh and b) is tangentially related to this blog project.  In town last week for TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, Clooney was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t active on Facebook.  According to multiple sources including The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s, he responded that he “would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.”  

 As far as I can tell, he had nothing to say about Twitter, to which I will return shortly.  

George_Clooney_9  

Posted at 02:54 PM in Current Affairs, Film, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  log   

 

09/20/2009  Prelude to Twitter 

With zero readership at this stage, I can probably risk an autobiographical start without fear of losing anyone.  Suffice it to say that I have a longstanding investment in matters of language, literature, aesthetics, media, technology and history, in their various permutations.  So I was of course aware of the advent of new social media, even while I kept a certain critical distance in terms of my own practices (I’m still wary of Facebook, truth be told, and monitor it vicariously through my daughters’ accounts).My initial interest in Twitter stemmed from two decades of reading, teaching and writing about literature, and was more formal than material:  What sort of writing could and would emerge within the constraints of 140 characters? This was a version of questions I had considered in the past, for example with regard to the sonnet as form.  I was intrigued, but not yet hooked.  Then, in March 2009, I came across a feature article in my local newspaper, The Globe and Mail, that altered my thinking and impelled me to register and begin tentatively to tweet.  More about that article and its transformative effects in my next post.  

 Posted at 01:40 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/19/2009  Fledgling foray  

Let me begin, as I often do and will, by citing someone else:  in this case my old friend and colleague David Bromwich, who offers succinct advice to fellow bloggers, novice or expert:  “A good post is a single thought or observation or anecdote, clearly expressed and directly conveyed.  An essay may cover several topics; a post easily grows tiresome if it aims for more than one” (The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, 91).   I cleave to this counsel as I ask myself whether cyberspace (to say nothing of any number of situations on the ground) needs another mind brooding in public about the impact of so-called “social media” – and Twitter in particular – on the history and historiography of our time.  My wager is that while my two cents will likely drop unnoticed, they won’t do any damage as they fall.  So I will undertake at least to chronicle my own involvement, practical and theoretical, with Twitter as an example whose value remains to be determined.   

BluebirdFledgling_052308   

Posted at 11:10 AM in Books, Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)     

 

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