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.

How to get started in the Web 2.0 world

Web 2.0

Image by Daniel F. Pigatto via Flickr

I have a colleague who’s interested in bringing some of our organization’s knowledge management efforts into the Web 2.0 world, and she wanted to know how to get started. My advice was, before getting an organizational blog or setting up a wiki or something like that, that she — or ideally everyone on her team — get involved on a personal level. Because I don’t think you can get Web 2.0 — and therefore your organization can’t get Web 2.0 — unless you’re doing it. It’s all about participation and collaboration, and that means you have to dive in.

So here are my suggestions for the steps you should take before you even think about setting up an organizational blog or wiki or anything like that.

1. Start bookmarking. You are soon going to be touring all over the web, and you need a way to remember the best blogs, videos and other stuff you find. You can use your browser’s bookmarks feature, but the Web 2.0 way is to share. So I suggest getting an account on a social bookmarking site. I recommend Delicious because it is so clean and easy to use, but StumbleUpon is also a good option. Both provide toolbar buttons so you can bookmark as you surf. Get in the habit of bookmarking the sites that interest you and tagging them in meaningful ways.

2. Read some blogs. Blogs are the heart of the social web. Somewhere out there, someone is writing about something you’re interested in or working on. Use Google’s blog search to find 5-10 blogs on those subjects and start reading them. Take a look at their blogrolls or the blogs they cite often, and start reading them too. Of course, there’s an upper limit to the number of blogs you can read, but you do want to be keeping up with at least 20, probably more if you can handle it.

RSS feed readers make it a lot easier to keep up with all those blogs, because they deliver new content to you, instead of you having to go out on the web to get it. I like Google Reader myself, but there are many  other choices. Both Firefox and Internet Explorer have RSS feed readers built in, as well. To find the feed, look for the orange RSS feed icon and click on it: RSS feed icon

The most important thing, though, when reading blogs is to comment on what you read and like. Web 2.0 is all about participation, and commenting is one of the main ways to join in. Once you start commenting on blogs in your niche, you’ll meet the bloggers and other commenters and begin getting to know the community that you’re joining.

3. Jump into Twitter. It’s time to up the interaction a notch, and Twitter is a good way to do it. You can start out small and build up as your confidence increases. Find a few people to follow; first check the blogs you’re reading, as bloggers are typically on Twitter too. See who they are following and follow any of those people who seem interesting, as well. There are plenty of Twitter applications that make following tweets easier.

Why are you on Twitter? You will get in the habit of sharing: what you’re working on, what you’re reading, links, whatever. And you will have a ready-made community to ask questions and get feedback from. What’s more, it’s fun.

4. Get a blog. It’s now time to join the conversation. And I don’t mean starting an organizational blog. That should come later. First, you should start your own personal blog where you can write in your own voice. You may choose to write about your work or about some other passion. What matters is that you’re adding your voice to the conversation.

Starting a blog is easy and takes less than five minutes. I recommend WordPress.com as the best free blogging platform, because even if you don’t know the software, it’s easy to learn and get started on right away. If you’re intimidated by having a full-fledged blog or don’t have the time, you can start a “micro-blog” on Tumblr and share interesting links, video, quotes and other short snippets. Remember to keep commenting on other blogs and leave a link to your blog when you do. You’ll soon find that folks who read your comments are stopping by your blog and commenting on what you’re writing.

And before you know it, you’re part of Web 2.0.

If you follow these steps, more or less, and get involved in the online community on a personal level, you’ll probably find it much easier to think of creative and worthwhile ways your organization can get involved.

How to use tagging to make connections in the nonprofit web

A tag cloud with terms related to Web 2.

Image via Wikipedia

Probably one of the best innovations of the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon is tagging. A tag is “a non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information” (source). Tags can be used to identify blog posts, bookmarks, photos, videos, presentations, events, etc., and are supported by pretty much every Web 2.0 tool. Tags are generally assigned informally and without regard to a structure of categories; they are more like annotations and are often assigned in addition to categories, such as on blog posts.

The genius of tagging is that it organically builds connections over time between seemingly unconnected content. If my blog post and your video and his bookmark and her photograph all have the same tag, then we can start to see how they are related in some way. This leads to a bottoms-up classification system for web content that is often called a folksonomy.

The problem is that tags are arbitrarily decided on by the content creator, and with language being what it is, one tag can mean many different things to many different people. Take the word development, for instance. In my own little industry, it can refer to the process of creating software or giving aid to low-resource countries. In other contexts, it might refer to child development or personal development or a large and ugly subdivision.

The nonprofit field has bypassed this limitation by coming up with some unique tags to identify our content. If we use these tags consistently, we can easily locate a wealth of content in our particular niches. Here are some of the most useful tags I’ve come across:

nptech: Short for “nonprofit technology,” this tag refers to nonprofits’ use of technology, mostly internally rather than as part of the program offerings.

Examples:

ict4d: Stands for “Information and Communication Technologies for Development.” Refers to groups that are using technology in their development programs, usually international development.

Examples:

web4dev: Using Web technologies, mostly Web 2.0, for supporting international aid and development.

Examples:

km4dev: Stands for “Knowledge Management for Development.” Using knowledge management tools and techniques to support international development.

Examples:

m4dev or m4d: Using mobile technology to support internatonal development.

Examples:

I’m sure I haven’t discovered all of the tags being used by nonprofits using technology, especially in international development. If you know of any other good ones, please leave a comment.

Identifying a personal brand

I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do next. I think I’ve been trying to figure this out for years. One tool I am using to help me answer this question is blogging. I have a semi-private blog that I use as a journal, where I can record my ideas, wants and frustrations in relative safety, since it isn’t widely read. The purpose is to try to sort out what I really want to do.

The Web 2.0 Wednesday post this week at the Bamboo Project Blog was about personal branding. I think I am one of those people who doesn’t really know what my personal brand is, or what I want it to be. One of the exercises suggested was to put my blog into Wordle to see what brand emerged in the tag cloud. Well, I didn’t like the results. I think that’s because this blog reflects what I am doing now, rather than what I want to be doing.

Then I put in my freeform ideas blog, and things became clearer.

Try it yourself, and see what emerges.

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