Social Media Weblogging

Quiet times

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

My nephew’s graduation was today but I decided not to drive over to it. This last week was a long week, capped off with my roommate receiving some very difficult news last night. It will be a quiet weekend this weekend, which suits me. Perhaps I’ll get out for some photography tomorrow.

I received a surprised chuckle when reading AKMA’s coverage of the Digital Genres conference, and saw the following:

Trevor characterizes blogs as stories, whether in pictures (he cites Burningbird and Rageboy, an unnerving combination) or words.

Now, contrary to popular myth, I am not Rageboy in drag — his eyes are blue, mine are green, and he’s really much prettier than I am.

The Corante Social Software weblog folks — Clay Shirky. Liz Lawley, Ross Mayfield, Sébastien Paquet, Jessica Hammer, and Hylton Jolliffe — have kindly asked me to guest weblog this next week. I was both touched and honored by this request, and have planned a series of posts about the social aspect of social software — what happens when you throw cruddy old human behavior at shiny new social technology. Hopefully the social software folks won’t regret their invitation.

Out and about, I saw that Andrew Orlowski from The Register does seem to dislike webloggers from his recent article. He writes:


Well, primarily because blogging is a solitary activity that requires the blogger to spend less time reading a book, taking the dog for the walk, meeting friends in the pub, seeing a movie, or reading to the kids. The reason that 99.93 per cent of the world doesn’t blog, and never will, is because people make simple information choices in what they choose to ingest and produce, and most of this will be either personal and private, or truly social. Blog-evangelists can fulminate at the injustice of this all they like, but people are pretty smart and make fairly rational choices on the information they process.

Interesting people run interesting blogs, but it’s remarkable how few of them there are.


I’m not sure how big weblogging will be. I had recent exposure to the fact that most people really don’t have an interest in maintaining a journal, online or off. Most people really don’t care for writing that much, or even have that much respect for it. I am finding that even something like writing a technical book can lose technical brownie points rather than increase them.

Having said this, though, I do find that there are people who want to connect and communicate, and who like the idea of a weblog or a wiki, and usually have something to share — whether it’s an interest in books, poetry, movies, music, photography, travel, technology, and yes, even everyday life. And I have grown from this exposure, though sometimes the growth isn’t without growing pains.

I have to laugh at Mr. Orlowski’s statement about weblogger’s spending less time reading books, because my exposure to poetry and literature, cultures and new technologies, and interesting people has doubled since I started this weblog.

I still get a kick out of being called a ‘poetry’ weblog, when my interest in poetry arose from works such as Loren’s recent writing about William Carlos Williams. I found through Loren’s discussion with Language Hat that I also favor the ‘romantics’ among the poets — and now I actually understand what this means, rather than being a memorized term I can pull out to impress people. Too bad Mr. Orlowski spends so much time with the weblogging A-List folks such as Dave Winer and Polish teenage girls, rather than the people I read daily — he might be pleasantly surprised.

As for the socialization — that’s also a chuckle as I read in weblog post after weblog post of people attending this conference or that get together. I think I’m the only person who hasn’t met other webloggers in person and that’s primarily by choice, being the reticent, quiet, and shy person that I am.




Social Media Web

Guest Blog #1

Originally posted at Many-to-Many, now archived at Wayback Machine

Software developers have traditionally used one phrase when testing text output in a new programming environment — “Hello, World!” We need to devise a new form of “Hello World” when testing unfamiliar weblogging software because every weblog post we write is a form of “Hello World!” Our words are recorded and literally thrown out, bounced against the aether, hanging brightly on the page like lures to little fishies. Except the little fishies are people like me, and you. Come here fishy, fishy, fishy.

I wrote once, long ago, that sometimes you have to stop in the middle of writing a weblog post and realize exactly what you’re doing: You’re writing into this void, hoping that someone wanders by and is interested enough to stop and read what you’re saying. It’s equivalent to being in a big room full of walls, and you’re shouting at the walls and faintly you hear other people shout at their walls and every once in a while, someone hears you crying out “Hello? Hello?” and answers back. Contact!

“Hello? World? Is that you?” “Yes! Yes! I hear you! “By the way, your taste in poetry really sucks. Did you know?”

What a unique out of body experience. You can take the voice out of the body, but you can’t teach it manners.

I guess this writing, this post (a word I dislike) is my equivalent of a weblogging “Hello, World!” — a rambling, disjointed shout out on nothing in particular into the threaded void. A tap at your monitor to let you know I’m in the neighborhood and tomorrow, I’ll be by with something useful. Or not.

Social Media

Social software: Mr. Rogers’ Evil Twin

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

We’ve had problems this week trying to manage Renaissance Web discussions at Yahoo Groups. It would sometimes take hours for a reply to post, which tends to short circuit a lively discussion.

Roger Benningfield set up a JournURL Renaissance Web community and I’ve been playing around with it this morning. One very impressive community discussion forum! What I particularly like is how one can attach URLs, keywords, and annotation to each discussion item, making them more accessible with intelligent searching.

Roger has also incorporated one very interesting feature: Hot Issues. With this, if a discussion thread gets too heated, moderators can snip the thread and move it to Hot Issues for continuation. According to Roger:


I don’t believe in fighting flames with deletion, moderation, or
banning. If you’ve got a capable forum app, you don’t need that kind
of thing. My approach is to watch a discussion, and when it gets
heated, snip off the relevant thread and move it to a “Hot Issues”
section where it can proceed unabated. Arguments may get silly at
times, but trying to actively stifle them just keeps things
simmering forever. I’m a “get it out and over with” person.

So much of social software comes off sounding and acting like a badly wired Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. “Good behavior” is positively reinforced, while “bad behavior” is ignored or shunted aside, out of the light, like an unmade bed or a stack of dirty clothes. However, instead of promoting open discussion, this just results in more of the bland harmonization that is starting to typify so much of our online interactions.

Social software should adapt to all human behaviors — the good and the bad. Sometimes people get angry, and sometimes the greatest creativity can begin with this anger.

True, most likely anger just leads to more anger, and amazing feats of pettiness, but social software needs to provide the means of dealing with anger, and other so-called ‘bad’ human traits. It needs to conform to human behavior, not force artificial constraints on people’s behavior in order to conform to the software.

If a discussion gets heated, move it to a separate area, but don’t shut it down. That way, the people in the disagreement can continue, happily, angrily, and others don’t have to watch, or read.

(But what do you want to bet, others do watch, and do read. We love nothing more than to gawk at a car wreck in the making.)

I think Roger’s software is one of the most ‘socially aware’ examples of social software I’ve seen, and not because it uses lightspeed technology, or AI, or even RDF (horrors!). It’s because he’s done something I’ve seen few other social software people do — look and listen to the people who are going to use it.

Social software enthusiasts could learn from this, rather than persisting in creating a digital version of the New Age feel good self-centered hockiness that infested so much of the last few decades.

Not that I have strong opinions one way or another on this.

Social Media

Dripping with irony

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I have always wanted to use the phrase dripping with irony. It reminds me of a stack of fluffy pancakes, topped with melted butter and pure maple syrup. The soft, slightly salty slightly sweet golden butter meets and melds with the rich, woodsy syrup, flowing over the top of the stack and slowly dripping down the sides. One can’t help picking up a fork and digging in; it becomes a moral imperative.

Dripping with irony. Lovely phrase.

So I was incredibly thankful when I saw the photos from the invitation-only Social Software Summit held by Clay Shirkey. Photo after photo showing this homogeneous social gathering made up almost exclusively of white, educated, upper-middle or upper class, 30-50 year old males. Why, I bet they even come from the same areas of the United States — San Francisco, Boston, New York. Extraordinary.

Particularly when you read the writeup for the event:

CBIers Rudy Ruggles and Geoff Cohen will join approximately two-dozen shapers of the world of social software for this landmark event. As described by organizer Clay Shirky, “We are living in a golden age of social software. Only twice before have we had a period of such intense innovation in software used by interacting groups: once in the early 70s, with the invention of email itself, and again at the end of that decade with Usenet, the CB-Simulator (the precursor to irc), and MUDs. This is a third such era, with the spread of ‘writeable web’ software such as weblogs and wikis, and peer-to-peer tools such as Jabber and Groove greatly extending the ability of groups to self-organize.

“Every time social software improves, it is followed by changes in the way groups work and socialize. One consistently surprising aspect of social software is that it is impossible to predict in advance all of the social dynamics it will create. Recognizing this, the Social Software Summit seeks to bring together a small group of practitioners and theorists (~25) to share experiences in writing social software or thinking about its effects…The big bet behind the gathering is that if we get a bunch of smart people in a room and ask each other the questions we’ve been asking ourselves about building software for groups, Good Things will happen.”


Every time social software improves, it is followed by changes in the way groups work and socialize. Dripping with irony. Excuse me, but I have to go make some pancakes.

(Thanks to Scripting News for links.)

Political Social Media

Verbal weaponry in the war against terrorism

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I knew something was up when I kept getting all these hits from Josh Trevino’s weblog. Seems Josh has been using me for an adjective again.

(I do seem to generate all these strong feelings, don’t I? How nice to know that I generate such love/hate – leaves me all warm and tingley all over, as if I’ve been rubbed down with a loofah sponge, or licked with a particularly rough tongue.)

Since Josh was kind enough to open up a conduit to this weblog from the bible totin, gun packin, flag wavin, war lovin, All American crowd, I thought that now would be the ideal time for me to roll out the first installment of The Bird’s Tips to being a Good American: Verbal Weaponry in the War Against Terrorism.

Before proceeding with the tips, it’s essential that you keep one thing in mind – a Good American has a duty to find and root out evil; to correct the misinformed; to stifle disagreement; and to do all that’s possible to prevent the weakoning of America’s resolve in this our War Against Terrorism.

Now, pay attention:

Tip 1: Never whisper when you can shout

Never use clash, when you can use near-riot. Never use near-riot, when you can use riot. Try to work violence into the mix if you can.

Whatever degree of adjective is used by the neutral, up the ante by adding at least five decibles (plus or minus) of noise when describing the event.

Don’t leave your audience confused about possible viewpoints and opinions – if you yell loud enough, they won’t be able to hear themselves think, a state preferred for Good Americans.

Tip 2: Never retreat – Attack! Attack! Attack!

When your opponent uses reason, use passion. When your opponent disagrees, no matter how gently, use extreme prejudice and take him or her down. Grab the person by the privates, trash them, bash them, and make them bleed. Verbally, of course.

If you respond mildly to another’s writing, your reading audience may assume that the person has a legitimate opinion. This might lead to your audience listening with an open mind. Do not allow this! Good Americans do not have Open Minds.

An Open Mind might lead to people questioning the government’s current actions, and other subversive, dangerous activities.

Tip 3: Degrade and Mock

The most effective weapon against respect is to degrade and mock. This is also an effective way to make the opponent seem less human, and therefore less sympathetic.

If you feel you’re losing the battle, resort to a personal attack, and don’t forget to add a sneer to your voice – do a good job and you get bonus points.

Tip 4: What facts?

Why use fact when innuendo will do?. Nothing better than a cold rumor presented as argument stated as heresay published as fact.

As a precaution, use one of the following phrases to cover your butt:

– could be
– rumor to the effect
– a reader passed this one to me but I haven’t been able to substantiate it yet
– someone ought to look into this
– it seems to me
– where there’s smoke…
– I was there

And if you’re caught out, say “…I’m just a weblogger expressing my opinion”. Works everytime.

Tip 5: If you’re not Pro, you’re Anti – If you’re not with us, you’re ag’in us

This one is my personal favorite because it’s practically indefensible. If a person says, “Well, I don’t support all of Israel’s moves”, you label them anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist. If the person doesn’t support Bush or Ashcroft, you call them a bleeding heart liberal and anti-American. If the person just plain disagrees with you, call them a moron or an idiot (interchange these or people will catch on that you’re using a script – note this is interchangeable with Tip 3).

And if the person says “I want to understand all the issues”, then you bring out the big guns and say (all together class, you know what’s coming):

Moral Equivalency!

Since no one knows exactly what “moral equivalency” is, they can’t fight the term, and you can’t be sued. Slick, eh?

That’s it for the tips. Study them. Use them.

Sadly for all Good Americans, there is one defense against all of these verbal weapons, and this was provided by Mike Sanders, a long time ago, in a universe that’s now far far away:

It is impossible to be objective about ourselves. Others can see things that we never can. If we want to improve our writing and thinking it is helpful to be judged by others. If what they say is valuable, we can apply it. If it is without merit, we can ignore it.

Remember: Only You can prevent Moral Equivalency