Boards on Quora: A new way to blog or manage projects?

One of my favorite websites, Quora, has launched a new feature called boards, which may put yet another nail in the blog’s coffin. Boards enable you to organize in one place Quora questions and answers, web links, notes and pictures on any subject you like.

It immediately occurred to me that boards were perfect places for project planning and management, kind of a virtual bulletin board where you can pin up whatever you like on a particular topic. That inspired me to start my first board: Learn to Draw and Paint. This is one of my goals for 2012, in an attempt to expand my creative outlets.

Boards would also make effective mini-blogs, on a subject as narrow or as wide as you wish. With tools like Quora’s Boards and Google+, it almost seems like we don’t need the blog anymore. However, the blog is still a great way to organize your stuff under your name on the web, all in one permanent place that can easily be searched, tagged and linked. Although I don’t update my blogs as much as I used to — and often, I am reposting content from another site to the blog — I still find the blog to be a handy way to keep a “home base” on the Internet.

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.

Twitter vs. RSS: How Twitter has freed me from hours of blog reading

I used to subscribe to all my favorite blogs and read them in Google Reader. But no matter how much I tried to stay on top of them, I always ended up subscribed to 100 or more blogs, which were collectively posting hundreds of times a day. I was spending hours skimming through blog posts.

There is something about the RSS feed reader that makes a completist like me feel like I have to at least look at every post that shows up. Maybe it’s that bold number at the top. I have to get it down to 0 each time I open up Reader. It’s like my email Inbox — it must always be empty. And it feels like cheating to mark everything as read when I hadn’t actually read it.

Another problem was that I was reading about the same things 5, 6 or 10 times over in different blogs. There aren’t that many blogs that consistently post new content. Usually, they just react to the same bit of news as everyone else.

So one day, not too long ago, I unsubscribed to most of the blogs in my Reader. And I started following the bloggers on Twitter instead.

Almost everyone who blogs is also on Twitter. And they usually tweet about their own blog posts as well as other interesting bits of news and links. So everything in their RSS feeds also shows up on Twitter.

But I don’t have the same need to have to catch up with everything on Twitter that I do in my RSS feed reader. Twitter is like a river of information flowing by (I know that New York Times columnist used the same metaphor in his Twitter article but he stole it from me — he must have overheard me making this observation in a Starbucks or something). Every now and then, when I have a few minutes, I dip my toes in the river. Google Reader, on the other hand, is more like a dam, and all the new information flowing in backs up into a lake that I feel compelled to empty.

But what if I miss something? Well, so what if I do. The Internet is so vast, and there is so much interesting stuff going on all the time, that I’m bound to miss many things. Besides, the truly interesting things get reposted so much that I will see them sooner or later. By doing most of my reading through Twitter, I have found that I am more in control of how long I spend surfing. Whether I want to stop in for a few minutes or hang out for an hour, when I am done and ready to move on to other things, I just close the page and walk away.

Twitter lists are the new feature that have made this really possible for me. I obviously don’t want to follow thousands of people — too much noise. I tend to follow just the people who are consistently interesting. But I can add anyone I want to a list without having to follow them. So when I want to dip into a particular subject of interest, such as the world of book bloggers or minor celebrities, I open up my list on that topic.

I still use Google Reader, but it’s a much more targeted use now. RSS is a very handy way of keeping on top of news that really interests me, such as local events or personal friends’ FriendFeeds or Google alert results. And there are still a very few blogs where I want to see every posting. For instance, I know if it’s interesting, eventually it’s going to show up on MetaFilter, so I still subscribe to that feed. But now when I open Google Reader, the bold number that faces me is usually less than 20, which is a lot easier to zero out.

This is yet another reason why Twitter is so much greater than people generally think it is. And it’s not at all addictive. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find out whether Justin Bieber is still trending.

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.

I am a blogging fool

So, I write two other blogs besides this one. I bet you didn’t know that because you never look at the stuff in the sidebar. Nobody ever looks at the stuff in the sidebar, even though I spend so much time on rearranging it and getting it to look just right. Oh well, I don’t look at your sidebars either.

Both of my other blogs are basically  journals of my hobbies (and both get a lot more traffic than this blog). One is a journal of what I’m cooking, gardening and eating; it has recipes! The other is a journal of what I’m reading — mostly science fiction — and it’s where I get to geek out over my favorite books and authors.

I made the mistake (?) of saying I would accept review copies on my books blog, because after all, getting review copies makes me feel like a “real” book reviewer, and who doesn’t like free stuff? (Nobody ever gives me free cooking stuff, by the way, which I would really love, hint hint.) I didn’t realize how desperate publishers’ press agents were to give away free copies of books, though. It took just a couple of crappy books to make me real choosy about what I requested for review (although, to be fair, I’ve gotten a couple of really nice books as review copies too). But what irks me most is that these PR people shoot out offers of review copies like a shotgun, hoping something will stick, without regard to what the potential reviewer is actually interested in reading. So now my email inbox is filled every day with offers of the latest political baseball thriller or chick lit romance.

Here is an actual quote from one of these emails just so you know I’m not exagerrating:

In a departure from his gritty, in-your-face style, the author of God is a Bullet and The Creed of Violence, which are both being made into motion pictures, has written a sensitive dog story destined to rank with Edgar Sawtelle and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Here’s another (just the headline):

New novel examines potential doom of housewife’s selfish desires

Guys, I read science fiction. I do not read sensitive dog or doomed housewife stories of any kind.

Using Google Reader’s trends to find blogs of value

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Someone on Twitter yesterday asked about how people use Google Reader‘s Trends feature. I had a quick reply then, but I thought I’d blog about it as well.

I subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds in Reader. If I see an interesting website, and it has a feed, I tend to subscribe, because only by reading over a few days can I really determine if the content is of value to me. (All websites should offer feeds for people like me, by the way.)

While I’m reading my feeds, I use Google Reader’s features to share articles I find particularly interesting or star them for later reference. I may see something I want to blog about, for instance, so I’ll star it. I also email articles quite frequently if I know they will be of interest to someone in particular. Google Reader’s Trends captures all of this activity.

When the number of feeds becomes overwhelming, and I need to winnow them down — usually about once a month — I’ll check the trends. The feeds I keep are the ones that Trends shows I’ve been sharing, starring and emailing. I’ll also check the posting activity. Feeds that are marked inactive, or haven’t had new posts in over a month, I’ll definitely drop.

If you use Google Reader, do you check the trends?

Check out my shared items on Google Reader.

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