Analysis and thoughtful writing not endangered after all…

I like this take from Clive Thompson on how the blog, once a literal log of Websites, is now becoming a forum for longer, in-depth analysis once reserved for magazines and newspapers. His thesis is that Twitter and similar tools have replaced the quick link-sharing function once served by blogs, and that these social networks also provide a more appropriate place for instant reactions to news and stories — the “short take,” as he calls it. So more thoughtful analysis has moved to the blog. What really suffers, he posits, is the “middle take,” once provided by weekly newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek, but probably unnecessary in our wired world.

I see this at work in my own blogging and online sharing. I tend to confine links and thoughts “of the moment” — such as breaking news and reactions to it, or something that’s momentarily funny — to “short-take” forums like Twitter and StumbleUpon. I reserve more thoughtful pieces for sharing on my blog and preserving in Delicious.

But for truly long-form writing, such as essays, short stories and book-length writing, I return to paper. I still can’t stomach reading anything much longer than a typical blog post on the computer screen. Maybe if I had an iPad?

Read: Clive Thompson on How Tweets and Texts Nurture In-Depth Analysis | Magazine.

Is there any point to blogging anymore?

I enjoy blogging so much that I maintain several of them, but I have to wonder if there is a point. To be honest, it often feels like I am shouting into the void only for the privilege of hearing my own voice.

Many web tools have arisen that do certain jobs better that I originally used a blog for since I started blogging. For instance, the purpose of the first blog I started was to keep notes and recipes while I taught myself to cook. Now I use Cookbooker to organize my cookbooks and to make notes on the recipes I have tried. Not only does Cookbooker maintain a searchable database of cookbooks and recipes, but it allows me to connect to other people who own the same cookbooks I do and see what they think of recipes I haven’t tried yet. I can’t do this with my blog.

I also originally started a book journaling blog to keep track of what I had been reading and post book reviews. Now I belong to LibraryThing, which maintains a searchable database of all the books in my library with my book reviews plus lots of other useful information. And it makes recommendations for other books I might like based on what I read. My blog can’t do that.

An original purpose of blogs was to share links, and I often do that on all my blogs, especially this one. But let’s be honest: There are more effective ways to share and organize links, such as Twitter, StumbleUpon and Delicious, all of which I use heavily.

So why do I keep up my blogs? I will admit I don’t post as frequently as I used to, but I try to post something on each blog at least once a week. The blog is still best for long-form writing, especially the kind of writing I’m doing now, when I’m just spewing random thoughts onto the blank page to help me sort them and reflect on them. And the blog really excels at functioning as a kind of electronic notebook, organizing everything in one place: links, random thoughts, longer essays, even media like photos and videos.

So I probably will keep posting to my blogs, even if it feels a little like masturbation from time to time. But I will keep on using those other tools, too, where I do feel like I more genuinely connect to other people, because — let’s face it — more people are on those sites than are visiting my humble little blogs. My blogs will probably continue to be my catch-alls from those other sites as well as a handy place to post my original thoughts that can’t really go anywhere else.

And that’s really what the blog is best at: a place for original thoughts. I need a place like that.

Practical uses for blogs: Journals and research notebooks

The blog has become so popular because it is a format that has a wide variety of uses. Generally, web surfers are used to seeing blogs used in one of the following ways:

  • to present information and news on a narrow subject in small, manageable chunks, generally supported by advertising
  • to communicate news about a service, product, organization or program
  • as a diary, detailing the daily life of the writer, which may or may not be of interest to anyone else
  • in its original usage, as a place to post interesting links (although I think other tools have surpassed the blog for this purpose)

Or as some combination of the above.

I have found the blog to be a useful format for another purpose: as a notebook or journal. I keep 6 blogs (5 public, 1 private), which I grant you, seems like a lot. But to my mind, they are the virtual equivalents of 6 notebooks I might have once kept or did keep before I discovered blogging. Yet they are so much more powerful.

I think of my blogs as journals or research notebooks. Journals differ from diaries in that diaries typically focus on the mundane day-to-day events in the life of a person. A journal, on the other hand, is a record of a person’s thoughts and learnings, often about a particular subject. For instance, you might keep a journal recording your thoughts about the books you read, as I do. Or if you are teaching yourself to cook, you might keep a journal of tips, recipes, ingredient notes, etc. (again, as I do).

A journal can also be the equivalent of a research notebook, although I differ between the two because I tend to keep more clips, quotes, pictures and other people’s writing in a research notebook, while a journal is usually all original writing. For instance, one of my blogs is my notebook of post-apocalyptic research. It contains photographs, lists, article summaries, poetry and my own thoughts, all mixed together.

Blogs have it all over physical notebooks, though. Here’s why:

  • Links - you can link to articles of interest, research sources, related pieces, etc.
  • Media - it is relatively easy to incorporate graphics, photographs, audio and media into a blog to enrich the content.
  • Search - a blog is fully searchable, making it a simple matter to locate whatever you’re looking for.
  • Tagging - enables you to quickly categorize your work, cross-reference related items and visually see patterns emerge over time.
  • Unexpected feedback - Blogs can be public or private. But if you make your blog public, you are inviting comment, which allows others to contribute their own ideas, other resources, questions and support to your work, which may enrich your work in unanticipated ways.

Whenever I start a new project from now on, I intend to start a blog to accompany it. Whether it amounts to anything is not important. What is important to me are the tools that blogs offer to help me plan, record, organize and — yes, this one is important, as well — share my work and what I’ve learned.

On blog titles and band names

I was idly looking through the search terms that got people over to this blog when I found the perfect blog name: Shannon’s Blog of Knowledge. Too bad that other Shannon got to it first, but I will not rip it off, even though I love it. I am still dissatisfied with my own blog’s name, but I suspect that when I find the perfect name, I will actually have figured out what I am going to do with my life. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Also among the search terms were two great band names, which you may feel free to rip off, with my compliments: Vampire Children and Bill Clinton Superhero. I’m partial to the latter myself.

If you want to generate a random blog name or band name or baby name or iguana name or whatever, head over to Name Thingy. Pretty cool.

The micro-blogging stream

As I mentioned in a recent post, we are using Yammer in our organization to share what we are doing with a geographically dispersed team. It started out really strong, but participation has fallen off somewhat, unfortunately. I am still hopeful that this will prove to be a worthwhile way of forging connections between dispersed co-workers, but I am worried that like so many of these sharing initiatives, it will just fizzle out.

Part of the problem is communicating the value to our colleagues who don’t want to just jump in and start participating. It is very hard to communicate the value of micro-blogging tools like Yammer and Twitter to people who aren’t using them. They tend to make fun: “Why do I care what someone had for lunch today?” I know I made lots of fun of Twitter before I started using it.

But when you do start using it, you do realize the value. I suspect the value is slightly different for everyone, again making it hard to communicate. But also it is rather Zen. It has to do with being in touch in a new way with the rest of the world and making unpredictable connections as a result.

There are two things I do know about using Twitter, Yammer or any similar type of social networking tool:

1) You can’t treat it like email. In other words, don’t even try to keep up with everything that is said. Instead, think of it like a constantly flowing stream. Every now and then, you dip your foot in the stream and see what’s happening. You are likely to find something of value then. But you can’t worry about all the stuff flowing by that you are missing because you are focusing on something else. This is the only way I know of to make these tools work for you, instead of adding just one more source of information overload.

2) You have to participate in the conversation. Sitting back and watching the stream flow by won’t cut it. The connections won’t form. When you take a moment to dip your foot in the stream, always say something. I have three suggestions for what to talk about:

  • Say what you are working on right now. Don’t worry that your activities are boring. Your co-workers or colleagues will likely be interested. At the very least, it reinforces connections between you and the people in your network.
  • Ask a question. You may be surprised who has the answer.
  • Share something you’ve learned or a great link or resource you’ve found. That may be just the thing that someone else in your network is looking for.

What are blogs? And how can we use them? Resources list

This is a list of resources I have collected to supplement a presentation I’m giving at work on the subjects: what are blogs, how can our nonprofit blog effectively, and what is Web 2.0 anyway? These resources include many of the examples in the actual presentation as well as supplementary reading materials.

View the presentation

About Web 2.0

Blogging Tools

Nonprofit Blogs

Blogs About Nonprofits Using Web 2.0 Technologies

The Blogosphere (finding blogs of interest)

Into Web 2.0

  • Tumblr – microblogging site
  • Twitter – microblogging site that integrates with text messaging and instant messaging (IM)
  • del.icio.us – Tag, organize and share bookmarks
  • Stumble Upon – review and rate web content
  • Digg – read and vote on web content
  • NGO Post – read and vote on web content discussing social welfare initiatives
  • Flickr – share, view and comment on photos
  • YouTube – share, view and comment on videos
  • SlideShare – share, view and comment on presentations
  • Wikipedia – world-famous collaboratively written encyclopedia built with a wiki
  • Wikibooks – collection of collaboratively written textbooks written using wikis
  • Facebook – well-known social networking site originally focusing on college students
  • LinkedIn – professional networking site
  • Dogster – social networking site for dogs
  • Causes on Facebook – nonprofits using Facebook to promote causes and raise money
  • IntraHealth Informatics’ Flickr site – nonprofits can share interesting photos to generate interest

Why I blog: Some method to this madness

I saw a couple of posts recently on “why I blog,” and since I had been thinking about this myself, I thought it would be worthwhile to write about it. Like any other post on this blog, the primary intention of this post is to work something out for myself. In this case, I am working out my motivations for keeping this blog and what I hope to accomplish with it. For any readers who may stumble across it, it serves as a kind of mission statement for the blog.

In order, here are the top five reasons why I blog:

  1. Work out my ideas: The primary reason I keep this blog is to give me a place where I can capture all the flotsam and jetsam floating around in my brain, and work out my ideas on paper, so to speak. By actually writing down what I am thinking and creating a post — or a “story” — around the kernel of a thought, I am transforming ideas into potentially actionable items. For example, I recently posted on results-oriented work environment; this was a first stab at capturing and working out an idea that I hope to turn into a policy for my team, which I might even bring to my organization once it has solidified enough.
  2. Get motivated: For me, there is a real difference between writing ideas down on a pad or scrap paper and writing them in this blog. I believe it’s the potential of having someone read my posts that motivates me. Rather than just jotting down some incoherent or incomplete notes that are bound to get lost or forgotten, I must write something that has a beginning, middle and end, that is readable and (I hope) interesting, and that is aimed at an audience. This forces me to more thoroughly flesh out my ideas than I probably would otherwise. That, in turn, makes it more likely that I will actually turn my ideas into something more concrete.
  3. Practice writing: I used to be a professional writer. When I took my current job, I stopped writing as much. I knew I didn’t have the time or energy to work on a big project like a book while working a full-time job, but I missed writing every day. I have never been so good at keeping a personal journal. Blogging is just more satisfying than journaling for me, and thus easier to do regularly, again because there is the potential for readers, as well as the sense of completion and even publication when hitting the Publish button.
  4. Spark conversations or feedback: Almost everything I post here is something I’m working on, whether it’s managing software at work or figuring out my supervisory style or just getting better at organizing my email. I hope that by putting my ideas out there, I’ll spark conversations from anyone stopping by that will then lead to more learning and more ideas, that will make what I’m working on better. All too often I am flying solo at work, so I can always benefit from different viewpoints, perspectives and experiences.
  5. Keep a record: This blog is a catch-all place not just for my ideas, but for useful links, interesting things I read and whatever else is going on in my work-life. I record those things here so they don’t get lost. I sometimes return to past posts to revisit a compelling video on Web 2.0 or an inspiring article. But more importantly, I can look back through past posts and see how ideas evolved, the thought processes I went through and the evolution of my learning.

The next question I’m going to be considering is: Why should my organization blog? Because I really think it should.