A Tale of Two Sites

This is just a quick post to share something I found very interesting and well written — even if it does come from the (fake) Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.  The post, “Why the mainstream media is dying” shares a tale of how the blogosphere can go after a story unencumbered, while someone as powerful as the NY Times can simply move right on by.  Not sure I totally agree that once the newspapers are gone we won’t notice, but I will say that the landscape is moving so quickly under our feet that we may not have time to care.  I don’t know, but I thought it was a terrific illustration of what is happening.

Every once in a while you get to see a mainstream outlet cover a story right alongside a blog, so you can put them up against each other and see why one was so much better than the other. This week TechCrunch and the New York Times photo provided just such a lesson.

via The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: Why the mainstream media is dying.

Mobile WP Blogging

I just downloaded the WordPress 2.0 iPhone app and am writing this post on it while I sit and watch the Penn State game. A couple of quick thoughts:

  • The first thing I notice is that it seems like it is less about blogging and more about managing things. Comment modertion seems to be the big feature. They’ve added gravatar support to help identify people. They may have done this because blogging in long form on this might be tough.
  • The other thing I am noticing is that they don’t seem to want you to add pictures after you start writing. I can’t for the life of me find a button to add a photo once I start a new post. That is less than ideal. As a matter of fact, I can’t see where to do a photo post at all.

For quick posts it seems strong but the lack of photo integration seems odd. I must be missing something.

The Long and Short of It

I’ve had a really hard time deciding how to use this space lately. I’ve not had the energy for much long form blogging the last few months. Long Form Blogging is the stuff I’ve almost always done here in this space — I’ve used it to explore my own ideas and to invite conversations about the things I am thinking about. I’ve still been posting content, it just seems to be happening in other places. For the past month or so I have been posting quite a bit into the Stuff multi-author space we’ve been playing with in ETS. It has been sort of liberating just posting things I am seeing/reading into a place where I am not the single voice. This Short Form Blogging has lots of potential and it does seem to get me posting more, but I’m struggling with if it is right for this space.

I’m always thinking about where my content should go … I’ve always been a strong supporter of the idea that my text should live right here. For some reason I think I’ve let my own notions of what this space is about limit my use of it. That’s crazy. With my new obsession with the One Button Web, I can’t seem to get enough of finding interesting things and quickly sharing them.

Now that Twitter and Facebook have come of age in terms of adoption, I can publish Short Form items right here and have the headlines pushed into the various networks using simple plugins to amplify what I am writing. At the same time the content is starting here … it allows me to preserve and manage my content long term while still letting it hit the networks as if I were publishing it there. So I think after all that I am going to try and use this space much like I have been using the Stuff space. I am going to use the post bookmarklet a heck of a lot more and share more of my content into this space on a much more regular basis.

It would be nice if this were a little more customizable.

It would be nice if this were a little more customizable.

An awfully long form post to say I’ll be posting a hell of a lot more short form stuff. Now if I could only figure out how to customize the quick post interface a bit.

A Little Google Help

A call for a little help from those out there in the World who have moved to the Google Apps for Education in the higher education space.

I read stories all the time about people moving to Google Apps with the focus on email or in K-12 environments, but what I am really interested in are stories about how people have promoted the notion of collaborative authoring across the Google Apps suite of tools (Docs, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Sites, etc) and have focused primarily on the pedagogical side of the adoption. I’d be curious in hearing any stories related to how these tools may or may not have changed what one can and can’t do from a teaching and learning perspective beyond what I can read at the Google run community. Here at Penn State we have a handful of faculty really taking advantage of these tools, but are doing it without us having any official relationship with Google — that means no real identity tied to their use and a less than clear idea of policy. I think these tools can be part of a huge shift in teaching and learning and I could really use some help by hearing some real world stories. Comments, emails, and Twitter responses are all welcomed and much appreciated.

Wave as LMS? I’ll not Say Never, but …

Today I saw a post on the Chronicle’s blog about Google Wave as the next LMS and its pushed me to revisit that line of thinking. BTW, the money quote from the post was,

“Just from the initial look I think it will have all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond,” wrote Steve Bragaw, a professor of American politics at Sweet Briar College, on his blog last week. Mr. Bragaw admits he hasn’t used Google Wave himself …

Does the Wave have “all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond” as Steve Bragaw says? Well … in a lot of ways it does contain most of what many of us dream of needing — a way to really easily connect with students. What it lacks are the tools that lots of our faculty rely on … Dropboxes, Quizzes, Roster Management, and Teams come to mind instantly. Wave won’t do the classroom management piece. As far as I can tell.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a developer account (although my real invite is still not active) and have spent time writing about my thoughts and reactions to what Google Wave might mean for us. This afternoon after getting another pointer to that Chronicle post I thought I’d go back and revisit my own early thoughts. This quote is what jumped out at me from something I wrote in June:

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I still stand by that assessment and I am not ready to jump into the Wave as LMS conversation quite yet. I am also not willing to dismiss it quite yet either. As a member of our Institutional committee reviewing CMS/LMS futures I am aware of the challenges ahead for teaching and learning with technology — especially as they relate to centrally managed mega-systems like our course management environment. I know they cannot live up to the hope and hype that emergent technologies can. I know they can’t do real time collaboration like google docs (or Wave for that matter) and I know they don’t offer the open publishing space that our blog platform does. They just can’t and won’t ever be as sexy as the things that matter to us the most in this moment. The One Button Web is taking over in every single web interaction I have except perhaps in the CMS space. We can argue that that is a good or bad thing until the end of the Internet, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.

Do we like the functionality of the “old systems?” Not really. Are we enamored by the emergence of what is happening outside the walls of EDU? Absolutely. Our job is to find elegant ways to bring the learner management stuff together with the agile stuff so we can suit the needs of most of our constituents. As more of us get our hands on Wave we’ll start to unravel the real potential here. BTW, if I were Google I’d make sure instructional technologists at as many Universities as possible had accounts so the real work could start … we can’t even do a Hot Team here to kick the tires. So with all that I am still hanging out over by the fence waiting to see how well Wave does empower new pedagogies. Because when we add it all up, the emergent tools we work so hard to understand need to usher in new classroom practices. The Wave will be no different — another tool that challenges and then changes pedagogical practice.

The One Button Web

This post is really a guide for a conversation Brad Kozlek and I are having with colleagues in our Consulting and Support Services group. The point of the meeting is to open new conversations related to the role of the centrally supported and managed personal webspace. Lots of what is here is being thrown out as conversation starters and not as an intended direction. It does represent a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing related to not the real time web we are coming to expect via new definitions, but more in the context of providing instant publishing options that are one button simple.

The One Button Web

While Anil Dash has a very interesting case for the Push Button Web, I am thinking about our ability to generate a One Button Web (OBW) here at PSU and encouraging thinking like this in education in general. I am going to define the OBW in our environment as the ability to publish content to the PSU webspace with little more than an access account, an active personal space, a blog, and the press of a button. With the bookmarklet approach built into the Blogs at Penn State we are so close. I think it is of critical importance that we empower personal publishing in as simple a way as possible.

The One Button Web

The One Button Web

When people want to share content across the web they do so with single clicks into social networks. The ubiqitous “share on facebook” links we see are changing behavior at an amazing rate. If you spend time in facebook or connected to twitter you have surely seen the incredible amounts of links, stories, movies, etc being shared within (and outside) the network. The people doing this aren’t copy and pasting content, they are pressing buttons.

This behavior is important to understand. I’m not sure if this metaphor works, but we no longer tune our televisions to specific stations — we press a button to get the desired results. In a lot of ways I think the ability to post new/original content as well as reposting content needs to follow that path. The personal higher education web has to get simpler and we should be thinking about how we empower that movement. The Blogs at Penn State sit on top of a powerful infrastructure that is centrally managed. Accepting the realities of the OBW is a critical next step in moving the potential of personal content management and portfolios in our spaces forward.

Our audiences should be using their own spaces to share into the social networks — and I believe they will if we help them understand it. Nearly all of my content originates in one of my blogs and it sends it to Twitter and Twitter sends it to Facebook. That is critical because those other guys don’t like to give my content back. If we make our spaces as easy as those other guys we have a huge advantage … we like to give ownership and empowerment to our users — we give their stuff back.

Network Amplification

Network Amplification

Everything is Miscellaneous

This leads me to another thought … our audiences (by and large) no longer browse directory structures. They simply publish content into giant stores that they find again via structured or unstructured searches, through profiles, or in other similar user interface driven approaches that completely ignore where an asset is living. As an example, when a student uploads a picture to facebook they do it via a simple one button approach and they really don’t care where it lives. They don’t care because they don’t need to. They are working to share that asset and it is tied to a greater representation of who they are, not based on a directory structure. They don’t browse the directories to get the asset back — at most they drag it out of the browser to the desktop, at the least they just leave it there. Why should we encourage them to care?

I think the answer within our environment is to let MoveableType be the gateway to our own implementation of the OBW. They log in via WebAccess to their dashboards to do all the same things — share writing, upload files, and the like. Let the environment manage it. They don’t care about directories and I think that is fine. I’m not saying we take away directory level access … I am saying we no longer focus on it. Just a thought.

The rest of this post is really just a bunch of links as jumping off points for our discussion this afternoon … most of it makes little sense outside the context of the face to face meeting. I am eager to hear reactions to the stuff above though!

Website Examples

Mashup Blogs

Things to Discuss

Simple Repositories

Say the word repository and watch any ed tech geek roll their eyes. Why? We’ve been there … and not just once, but over and over again. Structured places to put things by a large community is tricky and very complicated business … at least that’s what everyone tells me. I’ve honestly not seen a repository that really seems to work. I guess there are lots of reasons for that and if you asked one of us who has been involved in a repository project we’d rattle of a dozen or more reasons for you — people don’t want to share, meta data is hard, the environments are overkill, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying they aren’t useful when you have very clearly defined goals and data. They get messy so quickly when you start to think about them in a general sense. With that in mind, I have an ultra simplistic thought that I want to throw out into the wild to see if I get a “you are crazy” style response.

For the past week or so a few of us in ETS have been taking part in a little experiment in multi-author activity blogging within the Blogs at Penn State to see if we could replicate the joy in sharing things quickly across the web into our own space. The idea is to do simple push button publishing, but instead of dumping it directly into Twitter or Facebook, we’d drop it into a common and simple blog right here in our own environment. We have been calling it, “Stuff” for no real reason. All it is a blog with a nice little push button bookmarklet that Brad Kozlek threw together for us. As you hit a site you highlight the text you want and press your “Stuff It” bookmarklet to post it. No different than the things lots of people do everyday with fb, tumblr, twitter, etc.


There are limitations, but they are easy to overcome. The first is that you have to ask to join and one of us needs to add you. We’ve already talked about how to overcome that … and it is easy. Comments are a little limiting in that there isn’t any layered social opportunity with them — no rating and threading is a problem we’ll also address.

These things aside, I see lots of potential. Here is the crazy idea — why not just launch a blog that has features like this as a repository? Have something to share, use the bookmarklet to post it quickly. There is plenty of meta data for the built in search to pull from — post title, body, tags, and categories would provide a great context for searches. In this scenario I am thinking it is 100% open with a CC attribution license on it so all content that goes in is sharable. If you wanted to provide something, just go and log in with your account once to add yourself as a member to the environment and you are good to go.

It gets even more interesting for another reason … not only could you contribute content to this blog/repository space directly, but using tag aggregation within Blogs at PSU you could contribute to the repository by posting at your own PSU blog using a shared tag. That way one could make decisions about how content flows into the space. The past week or so working with the Stuff space I am seeing an even more powerful role for our publishing platform — a platform that can actually host applications on top of it. Adding a simple self registration options provides us with a whole new piece of software that isn’t really a whole new environment to manage. So that’s it … call me crazy, but would an environment like this give us something important?

Rolling Your Own

This past week I watched as older versions of WordPress were compromised. I was instantly concerned about my own installation as a few years ago my blog got hacked and someone embedded a whole bunch of pop ups to porn sites — not exactly the kind of thing one likes to have attached to his name. In the most recent instance I was safe as I’ve learned to always upgrade my personal version of WordPress that I run here, but it got me seriously thinking again about why I feel the need to pretend to be a sys admin when all I really want to be is an author. That thought always leads me down a second path related to why would I want to press people at my Institution to do the same when we should be spending our time on teaching and learning.

These are different, yet related issues. I’ve convinced myself over the years that it is better to have total control of my online space than to hand most of it over to a company that would do it for me. I’ve blogged on my own domain since 2004 and its always just felt right, but it has not been without major headaches at times. I do it so I can manage my own plugins and use (and hack) my own themes. Now with that said, I am growing tired of dealing with any of it and the realization that this stuff is just not that secure is catching up with me.

I bang around with all sorts of tools and I end up liking a lot of them a heck of a lot better than I do my self-hosted WordPress install. I’m thinking of Tumblr, WordPress.com, and most recently TypePad as examples of places I think I would much rather be leaning on. The problem is that I can’t help but worry about the overall staying power of these spaces. I want a space attached to my online identity that I control, so getting content out is just as important as elegantly getting it in. The big question is can I control my online identity (perhaps at my own domain) while leaning on someone else’s infrastructure completely. Right now I don’t run the servers that this site is hosted on and I don’t write the software, but I do for some odd reason feel compelled to manage it all. If I were starting all over again today I wouldn’t. I might pay for my domain and map a TypePad blog to it, but that’s about it.

So if I follow this down the path towards the second part of my thoughts I need to ask if PSU should be playing in this game as well. The answer to that may be different than my own personal conclusions — at the University we actually have system administrators who know what they are doing, we do run our own infrastructure, and we do have lots of smart people whose job it is to keep things secure. But still I must ask why not outsource it all and focus on the teaching and learning? We use MoveableType here at Penn State for lots of reasons, but one is the static publishing model into our personal webspace infrastructure. Could we envision a scenario where our students write at TypePad and publish their static files here? Other than the realities of authentication, infrastructure, and Institutional identity I can’t see why not — and I bet all of that is solvable. At the end of the day we want our students to have same goal I do — to be authors.

With all that said, let’s be honest — rolling our own is always more fun. I’m just not sure I need to be having my fun in that way anymore. Confusing to say the least … If I can get peace of mind at TypePad or WordPress.com then I may be on my way. If I can’t you can forget it. I wonder what would happen if we asked our students and faculty the same question? I wonder how they would respond …