Do Dashboards Make Any Sense?

Over the Summer we had a student intern working with us in ETS. She was a very talented artist working to build her digital skills. In addition to all of the Adobe tools she was working with, we asked her to help us build some new styles for the Blogs at Penn State. We wanted her to make some things that would better appeal to students in some very specific contexts and disciplines. A couple of examples included something that would be more generally representative of a digital portfolio and a note taking blog. She could easily do the design work, but a larger, perhaps more important conversation emerged from her work with us. Blogs are too hard.

For quite some time Brad Kozlek and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to reduce the friction in using any old school blogging platform. For this post, I am calling any platform that generally separates the content creation from the content presentation as old school. I know it is hard for those of us used to blogging that the notion of the Blog Dashboard is confusing as hell, but it is. When you add to it that the URLs are sometimes so wildly different between where you go to write and where you go to read and things get even crazier. Our platform requires me to not only remember that to create content you need to go to http://blogs.psu.edu, log in, navigate a content management system, find the right menu that allows you to create a new post, create the post, and publish it but also to view that content I then have to point my browser at http://personal.psu.edu/cwc5/blogs to view it! When you step back it is bordering on crazy town. I then have to go back through that process to edit a post. I think that is out-moded and may be keeping people from getting it.

Service_personal

It honestly reminds me of the gripes I have had with tools like ANGEL and Blackboard for so long. Why force people into interfaces to accomplish tasks that should be so much more fluid and straightforward?

Clearly it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine a platform that still gives power users the ability to manage from the Dashboard, but one that also eliminates the need to ever see or travel to the Dashboard. In the World of the One Button Web it is easy to never really have to see the Dashboard to publish once a bookmarklet is setup … but again, that is a concept that is lost on most. Furthermore, the emergence of Twitter and Facebook as a place that allows users to both create and consume their own content at once has created a pattern of interaction that is 100% different than that of the Dashboard to Blog paradigm. New bloggers aren’t raised on Dashboards, they are raised on simple boxes within the flow of the content that allow them to publish.

To that end, we are embarking on a project that could eliminate the need to use or see the dashboard. A personal publishing space that allows its owner(s) to instantly create from the context of the site without ever moving away from the content itself. I’m sure people think this is crazy, but what we are moving towards is something that we feel could get us over the hump of people really embracing the blog as a real platform for personal content management. What we are thinking about is below.

Blog_with_compose

Simple, but really different. All you do is remember where your website is and once you have logged in most of what the Dashboard is used for (composing, editing, and deleting) is available from a Quick Compose right on your blog. If it is a class blog, any member of the class can instantly publish to the space without the overhead of the Dashboard. Simple but very different.

Long term the vision is to offer this as really a one button solution. Students would arrive at their personal space for the first time and with a single click they have a blog space sitting there that they can instantly start publishing to. After they get comfortable with the notion, they may decide to dive into the Dashboard to mess with styles, templates, and all the power that a content management system like MoveableType has to offer. But then again, they may just enjoy the ability to type, read, and share instantly. Anyone have any thoughts?

Seeking Emotions

Occasionally we encounter emotions at random. More often, we have no choice, because there’s something that needs to be done, or an event that impinges itself on us. But most often, we seek emotions out, find refuge in them, just as we walk into the living room or the den.
Stop for a second and reread that sentence, because it’s certainly controversial. I’m arguing that more often than not, we encounter fear or aggravation or delight because we seek it out, not because it’s thrust on us.
Why check your email every twenty minutes? It’s not because it needs checking. It’s because the checking puts us into a state we seek out. Why yell at the parking attendant with such gusto? Teaching him a lesson isn’t the point–no, in that moment, it’s what we want to do, it’s a room we choose to hang out in. It could be something as prosaic as getting involved in a flame war online every day, or checking your feeds at midnight or taking a shot or two before dinner. It’s not something you have to do, it’s something you choose to do, because going there takes your emotions to a place you’ve gotten used to, a place where you feel comfortable, even if it makes you unhappy.

An interesting thought from Seth Godin in a post titled, “The places you go.” Makes me think about my daily patterns of interaction. Do I do things that make me unhappy because they are safe? Do I need to walk into these “rooms” (as Seth calls them) out of some need to generate an emotional state or do I actually need to go there because of my work/life demands?

It may require a little more conscious effort to better understand my own behavior. I think at times I am seeking some sort of emotional experience in an unconscious state — even if those reactions are negative in general. I can say that lately I may not be seeking out emotions on the positive side of the equation … and at the end of the day I know that without balancing the equation things get out of whack.

My Last Google Wave Post

Damn Google Wave, I hardly knew you. After all the hype it is now gone. Google canned Wave about two years after they first showed it off to cheers. I recall watching the demo while on vacation and being blown away. The pieces that were shown were literally transformative in their execution. Too bad people just didn’t get it in a mainstream sort of way. Not that I really did after I finally got into the developers’ sandbox. If I am honest, I haven’t even logged into Wave in the last six months. It never made its way into my workflow and it never solved any sort of problem for me.

At the end of the day it failed to fill any sort of void for most people and I think that has to do with the fact that it wasn’t built to fill a void. It was built to be transformative and mind blowing. I am convinced that aspects of Wave will make their way into Google Docs, Sites, Gmail, and their other properties — you know, the tools that were built to do specific things. Imagine Docs with a Wave like panel that allowed teams to dialogue in real language while co-authoring something. That’s a feature I could use right now.

I am actually really impressed that Google killed it so quickly (and sad) … sort of restored my faith in the fact that they release stuff as beta and in this case saw it just wasn’t happening. I need to eat a little crow at how much attention I paid to it in its pre-release days, telling everyone how much this was going to change things. In the end it did a ton of stuff, just not for a ton of people. Again, seems amazing to me that Google could just kill it. Maybe that is the transformative lesson to learn here?

My Pre-Blog Challenge

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the long-term value of this space since my six year post last month. The thing I have been thinking about is how to bring “pre-blog” work back to life within the context of today, but with the original content of yesterday. I know that sounds really odd, but as I have been thinking about how killer it is to have six years worth of writing and sharing available in this space I have come to the conclusion that I have neglected things from the years prior to that.

My friend and colleague, Scott McDonald, and I are constantly talking about how important it is for us to become curators of our own content — sort of like personal librarians. Not really to expose the work more widely, but to have it in a way that it is organized and managed. With all this in mind I recently went through a couple of boxes of 3.5″ floppies left over from middle school, high school, and college to see if anything is still living. What I found was disappointing in that very few of the disks were still readable … to my point, I let all that go away. What I did harvest I tried to make sense of and organize in new digital archives.

Stack of Floppies

Yesterday, Brad Kozlek and I were talking about some of these ideas and I mentioned that I might start putting some old content here to work it into this space. I want to find a way to bring it into the larger story this space tells about me … and that story certainly started well before my first post here in 2004.

So, with that in mind, the month of August will be my Pre-Blog Challenge month where I will attempt to get as much old stuff in here as I can. At the moment, I am using the category PreBlog to organize all of it. I am also dating back to the original date that the files themselves have on them … so my archives now stretch back into the 1990s … I am hoping to find some even older items as time goes by (I might even have to retype some stuff). My only rule is that I cannot edit the content (as much as I might want to) and have to let it simply hang out as it was when written. I’ve already discovered some interesting things about myself by reading my own words 15 years later. I am also sure as I go along some of what I post won’t be text, but might include old video, pictures, or audio. Who knows. Anyone else doing something like this and want to join in my new one something a day challenge?

Six Years

It seems sort of amazing that today is the six year anniversary of this blog space. Amazing because that is such a short time … I always honestly feel like I’ve been here for a heck of a lot longer. I started publishing with “modern” blog software using Blogger back on 7/28/2004 and have been writing mostly in one place since. I’ve been through Blogger, WordPress, and am currently enjoying TypePad to manage my writing and posting. Funny thing is that 2004 wasn’t my first trip around the blogging track, but it marks the time I started to take the idea of managing my own content seriously.

Prior to 2004 I was publishing online in lots of ways and places, scattering my content into spaces that I had no real control over. I set up blogging-like tools as early as 1998 when I first got to Penn State using UserLand Frontier. At the time it wasn’t blogging per se, but I was using a toolset that I built on the Frontier framework that allowed me to do two things with relative ease for the time — automate creating updates for my projects and to create eLearning course materials with the push of a few buttons. I remember showing it to people and most folks looked at me like I was crazy … they were all using Claris HomePage (or something like that to create visual layouts) and pushing them via FTP to webspace. I had been through the rise of the early days of HTML first hand rolling everything (remember hand coding image maps?), then moving into WYSIWYG tools, and finally arriving at the notion that the content was so much more important than the layout. A lesson I still have trouble sharing with people.

This space has represented quite a bit to me over the last six years. It has given me an online time machine that I can get in to see what I was thinking about and working on in the recent past. It has given me an outboard brain to store thoughts, images, and conversation starters unlike any paper notebook ever has. Most importantly it has given me a place to practice my writing with an audience in mind. The notion that when I type here I have the power to publish, share, and engage the Internet is still an amazing feeling. I don’t write as much as I used to and I know I have a very small readership compared to many others, but the notion that what I say here has the power to reach any corner of the unfiltered web is astonishing to me.

The last six years have moved quickly and the web has grown into the ideas I first learned about by reading the Cluetrain Manifesto. I am proud of this space even though it could be viewed as a relatively insignificant contribution to the larger conversation happening all over the Internet at any given time. It is my space and that is all that matters.

The emergence of Twitter and Facebook has challenged and changed the way I write, what I write about, and where I do my sharing. But even in today’s one-button hyper connected web, I know there is a void that is filled with this space. I haven’t been as active here for lots of reasons, but I find myself constantly thinking about writing here and for the most part that is almost as important as actually doing the writing. This blog has taught me how to engage myself in an internal dialogue before I write, it has taught me how to think about engaging people in online conversations, and it has made me a much better communicator. I believe this blog has helped me grow in my career in some very serious ways and I certainly believe it has helped me grow as a person. This space has helped me take more risks — and those risks are calculated and reflected upon in deeper ways because of this space.

At the end of the day this space was started as a place for me to better understand the emergence of the read/write web and it just clicked with me. Many of the initiatives I have pressed forward the last several years are a projection of my own growth through the use of personal publishing platform for expression, reflection, and engagement. I hope the Internet keeps changing and I keep taking advantage of it as a platform to help track my own growth.