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31 Years Ago – Oxford 1982 on video

Fig.1. The author/auteur with his Sony Betamax out. My study, Staircase 11, Balliol College, Trinity Term 1982

31 years ago I was an undergraduate at Oxford University.

In my second year, eager to develop my interest in TV production I managed to get myself a Sony Betamax Camera. It was semi-portable – a backpack and cable. I’ve had the 20 tapes digitized. The pleasure for me and for those featured will be to see themselves and their friends in a way that will have quite escaped them. You are faced with the spatial disjointedness of seeing and hearing yourself as others presumably saw you and the temporal disjointedness of seeing a 19 or 20 year old from the perspective of a fifty-something. There’s some 17 hours of content. I got through it at x18 in a few hours yesterday afternoon.

Fig.2. Rehearsing in the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) production of Taming of the Shrew. I played Baptista.

These are the obvious observations:

  • How young we looked. Look at the fashion (hair, clothes) and the cars.
  • Did I really look like and talk like that?
  • Even an idiot could see that I couldn’t grow a beard, so why did I try!
  • Why did I buy that shirt?

The more nuanced thoughts and realisations are:

Fig.3. The Oxford Lightweights Crew, Henley. My purpose had been to video them in training.

How amazing it is that watching a blurry clip of a team of rowers an image no bigger than a pea tells me quite quickly that I know one of these people, a few moments more and I have their name. The ability of the human brain to identify faces is remarkable. (The above is far closer and clearer than the silhouette tat initially gave me the location, purpose and person).

There are events I covered, even moments where I appear, that I simply cannot recollect at all.

Being behind the camera can do this … you’re cut-off from the moment slightly in any case as you should be tending to the camera (on a tripod), lighting and sound. There’s a good deal that I didn’t cover – the camera often went out with others.

Then I see a person, and it does ‘come flooding back’ – this personal emotional tie to a person or event is vital.

Just a few seconds of a person and I feel warmth and longing for a lost love. I know the name, when we met and the times we spent together. But what unintended hurt might I cause even these decades later? Or others who had no inkling of my interest? Or is this just part of being who and what we are at that age? And we have, of course, move on … so far beyond that the past really is a different country. And we are not those people who populated it.

Getting myself back into the head of a 20 year old feels like a kind of lobotomy – it had might as well empty my head of everything that has happened since. The perspective makes you realise just how naive and inexperienced you are even at that age.

There are inevitable technical issues:

  • The tapes, stored for three decades, are damaged.
  • The lighting, anything in doors or when it was dreary, is atrocious.
  • The sound, through the directional mic on the camera is pretty dreadful too.

Fig. 4. In conversation somewhere, with someone – but I don’t know with whom, and can’t even tell what was on our minds.

What next?

Just a screen grab shared with a handful of the participants has produced glee. It is a reminder of how friendships are formed, a bond and trust that slips into place between strangers after they’ve got to know each other and then spend more time together doing things and making fond memories. This is its value if nothing else. None of the video will go online. I’m even reluctant at this stage to store content online and offer a password to people. I know that it is too easy for content to ‘leak’ which at this stage I feel is too unfair to those concerned. I’ll start just by sharing the moments with them.

  • How much do we need or want to remember?
  • Doesn’t the brain, for those of us who are and remain physically and mentally well, do a perfectly adequate job of forgetting?
  • Is it not better to see the past through the prism of narrative, anecdotes and recollections. To feel, either good or bad about people and moments rather than getting this ‘in your face’ absolute?
  • Twice I spotted people who were lovers.
  • Twice I spotted people I ‘fancied’.

Is it not healthier and correct to reinforce my marriage of twenty years with memories of equal strength of her and our children?

Wherein a wedding and some holiday video footage may have served a purpose. On graduation I never, or very rarely, have ‘gathered’ amateur footage like this. Perhaps understandably I want to work with a team of professional broadcasters and filmmakers.

There are fictionalised stories I want to tell about this age group.

This content is an invaluable record and reminder of all that we are at that age. It is also noticeable, even in the streets of Oxford on May Morning, how the student population dominate, while of course cast and audiences of students productions are for the most part students too. For a period, or for some weeks, you live away from your family, without a family – most people around you are your age and possibly, its weakness in the 1980s, amongst those from a white caucasian middle class background. This too would reflect the bias of whoever was behind the camera, and the events covered.

Fig.5. Oxford Theatre Group (OTG) rehearsals for the Oxford Review. I have several hours of footage of setting up, the hall and rehearsals for three out of the five productions: Titus Alone, Edward II and the Review.

Best of all, and the fullest record, is the Oxford Theatre Group on the Edinburgh Fringe in August and early September 1982. As well as our edited highlights from this, behind the scenes, rehearsals and productions, there are several hours of ‘rushes’. There is also coverage of an Eight’s Week (College Rowing Event), the Oxford & Cambridge Ski Trip to Wengen, one May Morning (May 1st, 1982 I presume) and Lightweights and Woman’s Eights at Henley … and some ‘Student News’ from a single edition of ‘Oxford Television News’. I didn’t need three tapes of rushes for an English Language School for Japanese Students.

In a world where such images are so easily gathered are we even more inclined to bin or wipe them?

Do most young people live in a world of image overload where the recording and broadcast of content is instantaneous so little thought needs to be given to what is recorded, how it is stored, how it is shared and who sees it? In thirty years time will my children be able to look at content the way I can?

At my mother’s funeral my God Father presented me with a couple of DVDs containing digitized 16mm footage of my mothers age 17 from the late 1940s. Would this have lasted sixty years on tape? In sixty years time will people want to or need to see clips of themselves in their youth? Isn’t it too easy, even expected to dip back and forth through your timeline?

Fig. 6 I know the people in the line and the person who recorded the footage – rain damage put the camera out of action for several months, perhaps worth it for several minutes of frivolity during May Day celebrations, May 1st 1983 (or 82?)

How will people change if they cannot forget and are not allowed to forget?

I’m sure we’ll become more accepting of the human condition – that politicians who ‘had a life’ may be preferred over those who did not? That we will be accepting of a good deal more of what we do and how we were and how we change, that we have different personas in different settings and at different times.

Fig. 7 My study – second year, a study with separate bedroom. In College. The key to this era, should I wish to explore it, is the diary on the shelf in the background. Whilst the video record is selective and patchy, the daily journal is complete.

What though the value of keeping a diary? I understand the academic value of reflection, but a record of what you did, what you read and maybe who you saw and most especially what you thought back then? Digitised, a process I started patchily two decades ago, others insights – some best left in the past. Devices that capture your day, sensecams and wearable devices … how much more are these a record if the data they provide can be analysed for you or does a memory need and deserve the filter and effort of being recorded as you experienced  and felt it?

Several edits into the above I realise I have failed to sate the obvious – after a part-time Masters Degree in Distance and E-Learning (MAODE) I am now applying to undertake doctoral research. The youth of these images didn’t have postgraduate study on his mind largely because he didn’t understand who he was – deeply curious about people and learning. If an education is wasted on youth, then I’d say this is even more the case with postgraduate study.

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‘If you’re not lost and confused in a MOOC you are probably doing something wrong’


Photo credit: Robin Good

 

‘MOOCs indicate that we are seeing a complexification of wishes and needs’ – so we need a multispectrum view of what universities do in society. George Siemens, (18:51 25th March 2013).

 

A terrific webinar hosted by Martin Weller with George Siemens speaking. Link to the recorded event and my notes to follow.

I took away some key reasons why OER has a future:

 

  1. Hype between terrifying and absurd.
  2. State reduction in funding will see a private sector rise.
  3. Increase in rest of world’s desire for HE OER
  4. Certificates growing.
  5. The Gap
  6. Accelerating time to completion
  7. Credit and recognition for students who go to the trouble to gain the competencies.
  8. Granular learning competencies and the gradual learning and badging to stitch together competencies.

 

And a final thought from the host:

‘If you’re not lost and confused in a MOOC  you are probably doing something wrong’.  Martin Weller (18:45 25th March 2013)

Which rather means I may be doing something wrong!

I posted to Linkedin, I am neither confused, nor lost. Indeed I have a great sense of where I am and what is going on, have met old online friends and am making new contacts and enjoy using two of my favourite platforms: Google+ and WordPress.  (All the fun’s at H817open)

 

A selection of papers are proving enlightening too:

 

1) John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health OpenCourseWare (2009) Kanchanaraksa, Gooding, Klass and Yager.

 

2) The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources (2010) Conole, McAndrew & Dimitriadis

 

3) A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. Report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

 

I’ll post a 500 word review of the above shortly as per H817open Activity 7.

The value is both expanding the reasons for OER as well as having a handful of objections, negatives and concerns. Like all things regarding e-learning, they is no panacea for putting in the time and effort.

And a couple of others that look interesting:

 

Disruptive Pedagogies and Technologies in Universities (2012)  Anderson and McGreal

 

Open education resources: education for the world? (2012) Richter and McPherson

 

The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

Where do I stand academically? Where and what next? And the madness of being.

Master of Arts  in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) with the Open University, UK (OU)

H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes

H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students

B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change

H808: The e-learning professional

This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013

Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.

H809 Practice-based research in educational technology

I joined the #H817open MOOC for one part of this module. I will register for 2014

H817: Openness and innovation in e-learning.

I am applying to undertake doctoral research in education – using learning technologies.
 
H809 will help prepare for applications starting in January 2014 for an October 2014 start. Most are now a 4 year programme, with a Masters in research to begin. WebSciences at University of Southampton is an interesting option – I attended an Open Day in January.
Too many active interests was a stated issue on childhood school reports. Nothing’s changed.
 
I am looking at an MA in History with the University of Birmingham which would give me the opportunity
study the First World War. (I have written extensively about this through my late grandfather’s memoire ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele’)
There is more.
 
I attended the School of Communication Arts, London. A full-time programme in copywriting, art direction and design and have worked in the ‘creative’ and ‘communications’ industries all of my career.
And ‘EAVE’ (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs)
 
My first degree (BA, Hons, Oxford), MA is in Geography.
My dissertationn was on demographics. I love maps. Perhaps I should try to match maps, e-learning and the First World War. Animated it all and add some interviews and ‘drama reconstruction’.
See what happens when you let something fester and wake up in the middle of the night.
 
Neuroscience and long-term memory are fascinating too.
I need my life over. I need to split into three and start again. I need a coffee and a long walk on the South Downs. (I need to go back to bed)
And then there’s Fine Art.
 
And Creative Writing. And cooking. And the garden. There’s teaching, and moderating … and blogging. There are movies. And sailing and swimming coaching. There’s family and friend … ah. Friend? I knew there was something missing in all the above.
Scrap the lot and have a belated 50th birthday to celebrate 20 years of marriage, parenthood and the madness of being. Then sign up to crew in the Round the World Yacht Race.
And if that doesn’t kills me …

 

Women have ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Loose Talk’, men have ‘Top Gear’?

Woman also have ‘Loose Women’, surely the female version of ‘Top Gear’. But do men have an equivalent of ‘Woman’s Hour’ or are we supposed to get that from GQ or Esquire magazines 😦

I don’t make a point of listening to Woman’s Hour, but as I’m at home and have done years on and off as househusband it becomes a regular feature of the day. The radio goes on in the kitchen and in the car. I need to be in one or the other.

Is ‘Woman’s Hour’ a party broadcast for the female gender or fascinating issues presented in a radio magazine that mix topicality, with feature and fiction?

Actually it was this late Friday morning I was running out in the car to walk the dog on the South Downs.

Friday 8th March is one you need to download before it comes off air in a few days time.

Fig. 1 Listing on BBC Website – you’ve got 4 days within which to download this.

BBC RADIO 4 WOMAN’s HOUR – PODCASTS

Topics covered:

  • Women Coaches -(worth keeping)
  • Alice Walker – author of the Color Purple (very worthwhile)
  • Vicki Price and the law
  • Women in parliament – could they job share?

The one that had me stop what I was doing …

Loss of a mother

I’m the boy whose favourite place as an infant was on my Mum’s hip and as I gew up on the kitchen counter learning to cook, taking her tuition as an art teacher (MA in Fine Art from University of Durham). Our parents split up when I was eight and she only remarried in her 60th year. She died a few months ago.

Fig. 2 Women’s Hour, Friday 9th March 2013 A 43 minute programme.

On loss of Mothers – if you only have 12 minutes sping through to 00:30:00

What is the impact of losing a mother?
Alice Walker
What is happening here and why?

Paul Mcartney was 14 when his Mum died of a brain tumour. If he had a time machine he would go back and spend time with her.

A speaker Jane Tilly about her mother when she died when she was 17.

At significant transition moments, having no one to share it with.
A role model

The guests:

Maureen Fearon – Therapsit

Lucy Gannon (Playwright, television writer, plays, shortsand ‘Soldier, Soldeir’ and producer)

Lucy Gannon

  • Lucy’s Mum died when she was eight.
  • Know who you are, what diseases you’ve had, so you lose some of your identity.
  • Children need to know that they are at the centre of someone’s world so that they know they are
  • Your life is going on, try to get continuity.
  • You lose your place in the world – she was in care though.
  • Keep that child in the centre of the world they know.

Maureen Fearon

  • Her mum died when she was 29.
  • Look at the grandparents, look at the average, and she’s going to be at least that = 89/90.
  • Deeply tearful because of trigger music.
  • That overwhelming, ‘I want my Mum’.
  • Smells. Going through the tough times in life. Through challenging times that smell comes and floats away. When there is no smoke there. In our minds, or where it is.
  • Took 12 years of real pain, neurolinguistic exercise … did it once and fixed.

The mention of how the mind brings back smells is intriguing.

Maureen Fearon is a therapist, not a neuroscientist. There is a phenomenon where we see people we love who we have just lost, it might be the end of a close relationship or the death of someone close – our mind sees them in other people. I relate to this idea of lucid reconstruction of specific smells.

Fig. 3. From ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’ – not as stupid as it sounds!

I can, give me a moment, smell the mothballs in my late grandmother’s spare bedroom, and while she smoked them the Benson and Hedges cigarettes which surely made her knitting honk? Other smells I can call up include the silt and rotting fish heads of Beadnell Harbour in the 1960s … and a Christmas tree, and Christmas Pudding, marshmallows roasted on an open fire, melting butter on toast with Old English Marmalade … and our pet dog as a child, Morag the black labrador, wet and warm from being out in the rain …

Fig. 4. Sheila Vernon (nee Wilson) 1931-2012 with her son Jonathan c1973/1972 ?

My Mum’s parents where 83 and 96 when they died, so an average might have been 90?

She died a few months ago age 81. She had planned to beat the Queen Mum. We all thought she’d do so. But as my even later grandfather kept saying having reached 90, ‘I don’t mind when I go, I’ve had a good innings’. He was in his 97th year – we thought he’d make it to a hundred, but at trip to the Western Front to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Paschendaele where he had served as a machine gunner had left him ill (and heart broken).

All you need to know about blogging that you can’t be bothered to research for yourself because you’re too busy blogging …

Fig. 1. Passion at work: Blogging practices of knowledge workers (2009)
by Lilia Efimova
Doctoral thesis published by Novay.

I’ve come to this thesis for a number of reasons:

I’ve been blogging since September 1999, sometimes obsessively so, such as the couple of Blogathons I instigated in 2002 and 2004 where participants had to post 1000 words every hour on the hour for 24 hours – words were meant to be written during the previous 60 minutes. Three of us made it to the end.

I’ve posted regularly since 1999, with several years never missing a day – that’s the diary writer in me. We created ‘circles’ in Diaryland a decade before Google used the term for those with 100, then 500, then 1000 posts.

I know of one blogger from that era who is still there, plugging away ‘Invisibledon’. 

I’ve written on a theme, typically creative writing, parenting, swim coaching and e-learning.

And added to this typed up entries from diaries. There are some 2 million words ‘out there’.

My credentials therefore are as a participant, as a player.

Perhaps I am too close to the hubbub to see what is going on?

I blog as a means:

  • To learn
  • To collate
  • To share
  • To test and practice my knowledge (or lack of … )

Fig. 2 It helps that I’ve kept a diary since I was 13. Blogging since 1999. On WordPress since 2007.

I’m used to gathering my thoughts at the end of the day or logging them as I go along. And learnt that a few succinct sentences is often enough to bring back the day. My first blog was NOT assembled in ‘reverse chronological order’ – I posted to a set of 32 themes. It works better that way.

  • One diary covers my gap year working in the Alps.
  • Another diary covers a few weeks of an exchange trip to France.
  • A third covers a year with the School of Communications Arts.

I personally value blogging to form a  writer’s journal and as a student’s journal, particularly over the last three years during which time I have successfully completed the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE).

  • I read everything I can on blogging. 
  • I’ve just read this engaging PhD thesis by Lilia Efimova. 
  • She is Russian, works in the Netherlands and writes perfect English.

Her supervisors were:

Robert-Jan Simons
Robert de Hoog

My interest is twofold – blogging and methodology, as I am doing a postgraduate module on research (H809 : Practice-based research in educational technology)

The methods used (Efimova, 2008. p. 1):

  • Use of unconventional research methods
  • Cross boundaries
  • Define and defend choices

Blogging can support a variety of knowledge worked activities to:

  • articulate and organise thoughts
  • make contact with people interested in the same topics (like minds)
  • grow relations with other bloggers
  • work on a publication

Caveats

  • personal
  • crossing boundaries passions and paid work, private and public.

I read ‘Uses of Blogs’ for the second time. Edited by Dr Axel Bruns and Joanna Jacobs. I had a OU Library copy so bought another through Amazon. A book on blogging that only exists in print. I far prefer eBooks. I’ve posted on that elsewhere. (Versatility, notes and highlights in one place, search and having as Lt. Col Sean Brady described it a  ‘university in my pocket’).

My take on blogging – who does it, is based on Jakob Nielsen’s 2001.

I can’t find figures that suggest that this has changed in the general population, though research with undergraduates might give a split of 5/35/60. The problem is, what do you define as a blog? And can your really say that someone who posts once a year, or once a quarter is blogging at all?

Fig. 3 For everyone 1 person who blogs, some 90 don’t and the other 9 are half-hearted about it. (based on stats from Nielsen, 2006).

According to Nielsen (2006) most online communities show a ratio of creation, commenting and simply reading of 1% – 9% – 90%. With blogs, the rule is more like 95% – 5% – 0.1%.

Introduction

I agree with Efimova that we learn from the edge. We come into everything as an outsider.  She cites ‘legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and moving from being an outside in a specific knowledge community to a more active position. I would John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. (2007)  Awareness, as a starting point of this process, comes through exposure to the ideas of others and lurking at the periphery (observing without active participation), learning about professional language and social norms. Efimova cites (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003). I would add Cox (1999).

As the thesis more reason to blog, or reason not to are offered. Efimova also commits to looking at blogging in the workplace, amongst Knowledge Workers. Efimova (x.p )  In 2000 we used the term ‘infomediaries’  people who dealt in information and knowledge on behalf of others.

Worker use of blogs to

  • develop ideas and relationships
  • inspire conversations
  • work on specific tasks

Early adopters experimenting with the medium. Here I think a full consideration of the diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2005) would be beneficial too. Efimova offers some ideas from Gartner, though without offering the self-explanatory chart that I offer below.

Fig. 4 . Gartner mid-2005 projection (Fenn & Linden, 2005)

I know of all three company types. Whilst a very few at A can be hugely successful, the safest approach is to come in at C – as Virgin do, time and time again, letting others make mistakes. On the other hand, for example in e-learning, if you aren’t willing to behave like a Type A you may find your clients start speaking to companies down the road. Ditto advertising and social media.

Efimova talks of the  ‘peak of inflated expectations’ and the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Fig. 5 Evaluation criteria for this research

This is where I need to put in a good deal more scrutiny. Whilst I don’t question the validity of the approach, I do wonder if a more ‘scientific’ approach would have produced something more revealing that observation of 34 work related blogs – which is how this thesis plays out. We wander into the questionable arena of informal interviewing and participant observation as central way to generate ‘ethnographic data’.  This smacks of anthropology to me. Of social anthropology. But perhaps such qualitative techniques are as valid, and may be the only way to study subject if you are going to take the challenge of researching it at all.

The best answer I have read and give myself now when asked, ‘what is a blog?’ is to say ‘electronic paper’. That is how broad it has become, in 2001-2002 a handful of us in Diaryland set out and shared our standards:

  • A minimum of 250 words
  • Post every day for a least a year.
  • Fact not fiction (unless expressed as otherwise)


At the time it was rare to post images and you wouldn’t and couldn’t include video. Today a blog might be a stream of images or streamed video. It can be multiple users too, posting on the hour for a year in a team of six if they wish, which can be the way Andrew Sullivan (2013) posts to ‘The Daily Dish’ which gets a million views a month.

Efimova uses a technique called ‘triangulation’ to help validate her research – this is the use of multiple sources and modes of evidence to make findings stronger, by showing and agreement of independent measures, or by exploring and explaining findings (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Schwartz-Shea, 2006).

i.e. Triangulation by study – studying blogging practices from three perspectives using a variety of methods.

She also used ‘data triangulation’ – including in the analysis different types of data ( e.g. text and statistics), data sources and data collection methods. So including non-elicited data (Pargman, 2000) from public sources (e.g. weblog text) as well as recorded interviews.

I can’t fault Efimova (2008) introduction to Blogging

‘Since their early days, weblogs have been conceptualised as personal thinking spaces: as an outboard brain (Doctorow, 2002), a personal filing cabinet (Pollard, 2003a) or a research notebook (Halvais, 2006). In fact, the first academic publication on blogging (Mortensen & Walker, 2002) discusses uses of blogging in a research context, particularly in relation to developing ideas, and the weblog of its first author, Torrill Motensen, has a telling title: “Thinking with my fingers”.  I soon discovered that a weblog worked well that way, but also that this “thinking in public” provided an opportunity to show how ideas, my own and those of other bloggers, develop over time.

Pacquet 2002 discussed the use of blogging in research.

Fig. 6 Number of weblog posts per month

Blog analytics are mystifying. We count the undefined.

What is a blog?

What is a blog post?

A group of us asked these questions in 2000 then got on with it. We had our guidelines to post at least 1000 words every day, with no post less than 250 words. We did this as others flooded online and in the race to have 100 or 500 posts would put up a random string of letters and post every few minutes. As it become feasible and easy to post images was a picture worth a thousand words?

Was it still a ‘blog’ in our sense of the definition if it had no explanation behind it. And in my case, by storing by category not date in defiance of conventions could what I do still be called blogging?

And if used to archive diary entries was I now an archivist?

Looking at the fall-off in posts in Efimova’s blog I also see that when things get more interesting, when there is more to say – we post less. From an earlier generation I stopped keeping a diary when my fiance and I moved in together.

Had I found what I was looking for?

Around this time, 1998, Ellen Levy featured in the Washing Post for keeping a ‘blog’ (not called this) for a year – writing up business meetings and how attended, even adding photos. She struggled to post when she was ill. Over time knowing when we fall ill can start to explain why. And if, as we can now do, our daily life is captured automatically, is that a blog? To what degree must the blogger select, frame, write and edit what they have to say rather than a device, like your own CCTV camera hanging around your neck does it for you?

Fig. 7 Using a Weblog to store information  (Efimova 2008. p. 58)

To understand the mind of the blogger should we look at the reasons why people in the past have kept a diary? Or is keeping such a record, a journal simply one strand to something that has become extraordinarily multifarious? The 17th century diaries of Lady Anne Clifford and Samuel Pepys, the 20th century diaries of Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin, the audio-cassettes of British MP Tony Benn …

Surely to say you want to study blogging in 2013 is akin to saying you want to study printed matter in the 17th century. That the field is too diverse. In a way we have gone from the mechanical era of print, to the organic era of the blog. Even to study one facet of blogging, such as the business or corporate blog,  would be like studying the ecology of a meadow in order to understand the interplay between different plants and creatures.

Efimova speaks of ‘sense-making’ (2009. p. 70)

‘As with writing, blogging is not simply formulating in words an idea already developed in one’s mind. It is also about connecting, developing and redefining half-baked ideas. When writing, I often go through the weblog archives to explore connections with what is already there. Reading and rereading what I wrote before shapes and changes what I’m about to write: I often find something unexpected or see patterns only in retrospect’.

And others some reason to blog … and just one reasons not to.

  1. Somewhere to “park” emerging insights until the moment they are needed. Efimova (2009. p 75)
  2. Doesn’t require much effort
  3. Somewhere to park ideas
  4. Reading and engaging with others to become aware of issues and themes
  5. Topics accumulate and connections grew and things become clearer.
  6. A set of sense-making practices
  7. “Everyday grounded theory” Efimova (2009. p. 75)
  8. Connecting multiple fragments
  9. Getting into the writing flow
  10. Strengthened by readers’ feedback
  11. A channel for distribution
  12. Publication additional motivation to document emergent ideas
  13. A legitimate place to share thinking in progress
  14. -ve when the need is to be extremely selective and focused. Efimova (2009. p. 80)
  15. To collect in one place the fragmented bits relevant to my thinking Efimova (2009. 3.5.4)
  16. Clusters of conversations
  17. Conversations unfolding
  18. A personal space and a community space simultaneously.
  19. A personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. (conversation with self. p 90?) around 4.3
  20. An example of hypertext conversation. Efimova (2009. p. 129)
  21. Weblogs provide a space that helps both to develop one’s own point of view and discuss it with others.
  22. Bloggers present their ideas to the world, readers learn from them. Efimova (2009. p. getting things done. staying in touch)

This would make a good topic for debate.

And if I post multiple entries on my personal life is this content less of a blog when it is locked, then when made available publicly or in a limited way by password?

Eight functions of corporate blogs are offered (Zerfab, 2005, Juch & Stobbe, 2005)

  1. Public Relations
  2. Internal Communications (knowledge transfer and contract negotiation)
  3. Market communications:
  4. Product blogs
  5. Service blogs
  6. Customer relationship blogs
  7. Crisis blogs
  8. CEO blogs


Fig.  9 Conversations with self. Efimova (2009)

To mean something plotting ‘conversations’ requires annotation and even animation for it to start to make sense.

It is also very difficult, even unrealistic, to isolate activity on a website from other forms of synchronous and asynchronous ‘conversation’ – the dialogue in a forum, through email, even on the phone or Skype. This is why as a metaphor I return to the notion of an ocean, in which all these digital assets, this ‘stuff’ is floating around, mixed up by the currents of search engines, micro-blogs and social networks, churned by new Apps, software and kit and made dynamic as it is remixed, shared and transformed through translation, borrowing, plagiarism or mash-ups.

In this way an ocean of content is thrown into the cloud, circulated and recycled like a virtual water-cycle.

Others will see it differently, many talk of an ecosystem, of something organic going on. Would a zoologist or ecologist make more sense of it? Or a biologist, mechanical engineer or psychologist? Some of these questions, and this eclectic mix of folk have been gathering at the University of Southampton for the last three years under the umbrella title of WebSciences – a cross-disciplinary faculty that works with computer scientists and educators, with the health sector and social sciences, with the creative industries, geographers and historians. It’s as if a mirror has been held up to our off-line world and by translation, as Alice through the Looking Glass, transformed the real and explicable into the surreal and the unexplainable.

The history of blogging at Microsoft, Groundup from 2000 to 7000 internal and external by 2005. What it brought and what was hoped for:

  • Humanizing the company.
  • Visibility to its author (Efimova 2008. p. 187)
  • Recognition as an expert
  • Communicating about product
  • Reader expectations and visibility-related risks shape the content. Efimova 2008. p. 191)

‘Employee blogging creates tensions by crossing boundaries between work that is paid for, regulated and controlled, and personal passions that enhance it, passions that could be recognised and appreciated at work, but couldn’t be easily specified in a job description.’ Efimova 2009. p. 199)

For 11 months I worked in a business school in social media.

My efforts to support those who didn’t blog to do so, or to encourage those who said they blogged to post something more often than once a quarter or a couple of times a year failed. If they had wanted to be journalists or politicians and got up on a soapbox they would have done so in their youth. They saw no individual value or purpose to it so wouldn’t. As academics they have readers and their pattern of research and writing is long set. Some do, some don’t. Some will, some won’t. And it would appear that those inclined to share their point of view online are just a fraction of the online population, and just a fraction of that population who read blogs – i.e. 1% (Nielsen, 2006)

‘On the downside, blogging requires an investment of time and effort that could be a burden. Although potentially useful, work-related information in employee weblogs is highly fragmented and difficult to navigate. Although the visibility of bloggers, their work and expertise, can have many positive effects, it may also result in undesired communications overhead, time spent dealing with high reader expectations or with taking care of negative effects.’ Efimova, 2009. p. 200)

  • Lack of control of the company’s message
  • Dependence on personalities
  • Challenged hierarchies and communication flows

Efimova (2009. p. 201)

  • To illicit passion for knowledge (Kaiser et al., 2007)
  • Change the image of the company in the eyes of others (Kelleher & Miller, 2006)

It’s easy to blog, so more should do it.

  • low-threshold creation of entries
  • a flexible and personally meaningful way to organise and maintain them
  • opportunities to retrieve, reuse and analyse blog content
  • opportunities to engage with others.
  • fitted in while working on something else
  • providing a way to keep abreast of others ideas
  • capturing ones’ own emergent insights
  • clarifying matters for a public
  • over time ideas on a topic accumulate and connections between them become clearer.
  • feedback from readers turns blogging into a sense-making practice
  • eventually an ideas is ‘ripe’ and ready to become part of a specific task.

Efimova (2009. p. 208)

The reality, if Nielsen (2006) has got it right, is that only a tiny fraction of any population want to go to the trouble or has the inclination to post something. Better that those with something to say and a voice to say it do so that everyone is obliged to express themselves online. I liken it to cooking on holiday. I disagree with obliging everyone to cook on a rota, for some it isn’t a chore, it’s a joy and if they do it well encourage them. With the proviso that others make their contribution in other ways – laying on the entertainment, doing the drinks … it’s what makes us human?

Conditions for a weblog ecosystem Efimova (2009. p. 232):

  • Scale and reach
  • Readership
  • Visibility
  • Feedback
  • Lowering thresholds – a tool for everyday tasks
  • Making it accessible
  • Crossing boundaries

Ecosystem suggests that blogs exist in something organic – they do, the Web is fluid, shifting and expanding. What value would there be in studying blogs in a way that is somehow ‘scientific’ as if blogging were a natural, evolving feature? Like trees in a jungle?

What other metaphors might contribute to such understanding and how, if at all, can they be justified in research?

Could I look at the Web as a water cycle, as oceans with clouds, as currents and climate? Or is this shoe-horning systems we understand in part to explain one that we do not? Is it presuming too much to look for a natural rather than a machine model for the Web and where blogs fit in?

FURTHER LINKS

Plant CPSquare : communities of practice in the blogosphere.

REFERENCE

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