Notes from "A Look into the World of Blogging"

These notes are a best effort based on my memory of the evening. Blog your corrections and commentary (nudge, nudge) or contact me.

The outline of my presentation is available.

The discussion about blogging actually began before my presentation. Several people asked me questions during the social hour beginning at 5 pm. Shortly after sitting down for dinner at a large round table with other program attendees, people began asking me about blogs and feeds. Almost everyone in the room quieted down while I responded to people’s inquiries. Although I was afraid people wouldn’t get as much out of the talk if they asked such good questions beforehand, that didn’t seem to be the case.

In front of about sixty professionals and students, I began the discussion by asking some basic questions about people’s knowledge of blogging, whether people are blogging, and if people are using aggregators. Only a few people acknowledged that they blog. More knew what blogs were. A few brave souls admitted not knowing anything about the topic. (I hope my talked helped them at least a little on that front.) I think only three people acknowledged using an aggregator.

I encouraged people to ask questions and make comments as I went along. I knew from the conversation during dinner that many people were interested in blogging and using feeds in their work. I prefer interacting with the audience instead of giving a straight lecture with questions at the end. Understanding blogs and feeds can be difficult. When people ask questions or make comments, I get a good idea about the level of knowledge in the room and what kinds of things people would like me to address. Many people had excellent questions. At times, the format was more like a discussion than me droning on and on ad infinitum. I hoped more bloggers would have chimed in with answers. From the hands that responded to questions at the beginning, I knew some people knew a bit about blogging already. I’m not sure if audience members were just shy or if fewer people could chime in than what I thought.

I think I need to figure out a better way to explain feeds and aggregators because a few people in the room seemed really puzzled by them. I explained them several times and took many questions about them before I felt like the audience was comfortable enough for me to proceed. I showed the feed for j’s scratchpad. I also loaded two Web-based aggregators I use, the one on j’s scratchpad and the one on moose’s orchard, to illustrate that there are different kinds of aggregators. I explained the idea of syndication and talked about the difference between reading a source via its feed and on the site itself.

When people still seemed confused about how feeds work and what they are, I used e-mail as an analogy. It’s not an exact analogy, but a few people didn’t seem to understand that the source generates a feed, the aggregator goes out and gathers feeds, then a person can use the aggregator to read the feed, so I was trying to think of ways to explain it using technology they already understand. A site’s feed is like an e-mail. In order to receive and read that e-mail, someone has to use an e-mail client. That may not have been the best analogy because a few people in the audience thought I said you can receive feeds in your e-mail client. (A man told me after the program about a way to do that. I don’t remember the details now, though.) I also tried explaining syndication using an analogy of a discussion list. People subscribe to feeds like they might subscribe to a discussion list. The site’s feed is then sent out to subscribers. That didn’t work very well, either.

Someone wondered if aggregators already have feeds coming to them or if you have to set them up yourself. I briefly explained that aggregator users usually have to subscribe to the sources themselves.

A woman asked about restricting a blog to certain users. I explained the privacy options I knew of: some blogs allow the blog to be locked down (I showed an example of this early in the presentation), other platforms allow restricted access to certain posts, and these privacy options seem to be growing. There’s definitely a demand for them.

Over dinner, we talked about blogs and copyright law, focusing on whether bloggers obey copyright law. Like with any Web site, some bloggers obey copyright law and others don’t.

We talked a bit about what it takes to choose blog software, mostly because someone asked me to make a recommendation without any knowledge of her needs. I joked that it wasn’t that easy. I refrained from making any concrete suggestions. I’m only really knowledgeable about three platforms and have a familiarity with other blogs’ features. I refered her to the long list of considerations I wrote about choosing blog software and the links to lists of blog providers on that page.

One excellent question that is not easy to answer is what the benefits of blogging versus having a Web site are. I began by saying it has a lot to do with what you’re doing with the Web site or blog. Since the biggest difference between the two is the software enabling easy posting without any particular knowledge of HTML or direct access to a server, another piece of why someone might choose a blog over a Web site is technical knowledge. Some librarians might be blogging, too, because of political issues with their server administrators. In some organizations, the librarians might have to battle with the admins to get anything done. With a blog, they may be able to circumvent the problem.

While I was showing people Feedster, a search engine specializing in feeds, we noticed that was Feed of the Day. I plugged Jessamyn West’s site and mentioned I would blog that later. I also used her as an example of networking through blogging because I’m not sure I would have ever met her were I not blogging. Near the end of the presentation, someone asked the right question, so I took the opportunity to make that blog post to illustrate how to post on a blog.

As if that wasn’t coincidence enough, before the talk, I was trying to add some links to blogs related to the Wisconsin library community and the School of Library and Information Studies, my host. When I technoratied the scratchpad, we found a link from a SLIS alumna whose blog I failed to find earlier. (She blogs somewhat anonymously and no one remembered the name of her blog, which complicated my efforts to find it.)

Someone also asked me to explain why I have so many blogs. It reminded me of many recent conversations I’ve had with people about my out-of-control habit. I wouldn’t want to combine the four group blogs to which I contribute with this blog. Because I use this as a professional development resource and I hope some of my colleagues will, I refrain from adding things to it that aren’t related to the mission of this blog. One of my readers recently told me one thing she likes about my blog is that I don’t put a lot of personal, off-topic posts in this space. I don’t think she’s alone.

The presentation was most definitely not bringing coal to Newcastle, although I did place a pile of coal in front of my laptop and gave a chunk to the program planner and offered it to others.

I had a great time giving the presentation. The audience was very attentive and people had well-reasoned and insightful questions. I could tell some people have been thinking about blogging for quite a while. Perhaps some of them will be inspired to start one.

After I spoke, I spent some time with Ryan along Lake Mendota talking informally about blogging. Discussing some of the concerns many bloggers have about what to post was a nice follow-up to my talk. We also talked about posting photos of people on our blogs and whether and how we choose to name people. He sort of blogs anonymously and isn’t exactly sure how anonymous he wants to be at this point in time, but he did say it’s okay for me to attach his name to his blog.

I want to thank the six women who let me sleep on their couch this week, Louise Robbins for letting her class out early so her students could come to the talk, Amy Disch for asking me to come out to speak about blogging and for her hospitality while I was out there, Ed Cortez for allowing me to explain to his class what a nontraditional librarian like me does, and all the students and professionals who hung out with me and asked really good questions. I also appreciate Ron Larson and Amy letting me job shadow them at the Wisconsin State Journal/Capital Times library for a little while Tuesday afternoon. I’m already pondering when I can return to Madison so I can eat frozen custard, hang out by the lake, go to the zoo, walk down Lakeshore Path, and do about a hundred things I hoped to do but didn’t in less than 72 hours there.

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