I Feel Like I Should Have This Figured Out

With all the drama around claims that blogging is dead I find myself more confused than ever about content production, sharing, and everything in between. As someone who embraces the whole idea of sharing stuff, you’d think I wouldn’t be at such odds with myself over a few basics. I find myself constantly struggling with the notion that this blog can be the home for nearly all of my stuff … yet I go out and start a photo blog, start pumping content into Tumblr, and ignore posting to the one place that is under my control.

photo_blogI’ve been really trying to figure out why I find it so difficult to use my own space right here to post one liners, links to interesting things, pictures I really want to share, and these longer posts. Blogging is not dead in my mind as there should always be a place to track ideas and share thoughts. But as I engage in more and more online communities I wonder why I can’t just settle on something instead of continuing to fracture my online identity across Facebook, wordpres.com, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and on and on.

I understand the value of the embedded community, but at the end of the day everything I post here automatically finds its way to Twitter and everything that finds its way to Twitter finds its way into my Facebook profile. Those are probably my two largest sources of visitors and consist of the people I am looking to share stuff with (other than the handful of people who either show up here every now and then or subscribe via RSS). So, I ask myself again and again why can’t I see this space as a place to just drop pictures, videos, links, and random short thoughts? I just can’t seem to figure this one out. Anyone else in that boat?

Community Question: Identity

After last week’s experiment with crowd sourcing the definition for “community” I was curious to see if we could keep the momentum going with a new community question.  This week I am hoping to hear from you as it relates to the concept of “identity.”  This is another one of those terms that we all throw around quite a bit — does it refer to a role you play in a particular social context, is it a mash-up of all the stuff you do on and offline, or is it something all together different?  I’ve written and struggled with this concept in the context of the web and learning design for quite some time and could use some help. I’d love to hear how you define identity in 30 seconds or under.

Ideally you’d post this as a video comment over at the youtube page the video below is embedded from.  If you need to know how to do that, I’ve uploaded a screencast showing how to post a video response.  Please help me keep this going and lend your voice to this week’s community question!  Thanks in advance.

My Identity. Some New Thoughts

I am seriously conflicted about the state of my own digital identity. On one hand I am thrilled to see the wealth of social sites out there filling specific niches, giving us new ways to share and express ourselves. But, to say that I am a bit underwhelmed by the lack of meta connections these sites afford is an understatement. I have a few thoughts that are really beginning to pull me in new directions.

I’ll start with Twitter as an example of my overall frustration. I use it, not as much as some, but I am usually paying attention to the stream and even update a handful of times each day. It is what it is and I know I have written many times in the past about how much I do really like it. One problem is that there are new services that are moving beyond it and people are noticing. Maybe the features it doesn’t have is what keeps people there — there is something to be said about simplicity. But the only thing that keeps me from jumping ship all together are the people. So the community is the only feature of Twitter that really keeps me there. I know it has provided a tangible result in the binding of the learning design community, but it is missing some of the things that could really make it powerful. The second thing that bothers me is that I am investing a lot of 140 character identity pieces on a daily basis. These things disappear and are not long-term artifacts. No matter, the people keep me there.

Flickr is another example of a place I post pieces of my identity on a regular basis. The features are nice and I really like the simplicity of the environment in general. In this case it isn’t so much about wanting to leave to try out new environments (only because I still think it is the best social sharing photo space), it is that my established network is there. I would never be able to drag them out. So, again, the people keep me there.

I could go on with other spaces, but I’ll spare the review of these other environments. At the end of the day I stay because of the people and the connections.

But, help me envision something that looks a little different. I have a blog — I am guessing you know that as you are reading this post here. I use my blog to act as a bit of a hub to my online identity, but I am very concerned about where all this leads. I am still willing to pay $25.00 a year for my Flickr Pro account, but when they go, so do my pictures and my network. I found out the hard way that Twitter doesn’t keep real historical records of my old Tweets … I wanted everything I Tweeted during class last Spring to use it as part of my research. The network remains, but the pieces of it that I want are gone — the evidence of community growth no longer exists. So, what I am proposing is to not abandon the social sites, but to leverage the network while using my own blog (or personal publishing platform) as the place where everything begins and ends.

So if I post a picture I do it at my blog and my blog also posts it to Flickr — it grabs the meta data, uses my post preferences, gives it a title, and all the other things that would happen at Flickr but in this case the photo still lives in my personal space. Same with Twitter, Facebook, status, and so on. What if it started in my space and ended up in those spaces? I could even choose to show or hide that content in my own blog space, but I would have overall ownership of my stuff — in one place. I’m not asking the network move, I am moving my content from my space to the places where they are. As I want to explore new environments, I can still keep it all flowing from my blog out to those places. It can’t be that hard … who knows how this could help keep our content for the long haul. As I try (and leave) more and more environments I am depositing small identity artifacts that I can no longer track and I am feeling like I am fracturing my it more and more along the way.

Tell me why this is ridiculous and why it won’t work. At the moment I can’t figure out why we wouldn’t want it to work this way.

Life Streaming

About two years ago I was hooked on the idea of building a social life stream application … I went so far as to email a few of the smart people I know, sharing diagrams, and video chatting with said smart people to see about building something. After I spent hours and hours drawing sketches and driving myself crazy I sort of gave up on the idea. My idea was to not only stream my stuff into one place, but to organize all my friends stuff based on the social network/online spaces they publish in. We’d all have accounts with our own stream in them, but could pull together everyone else in a nicely organized way. FriendFeed was close enough, so I gave up on building something.

That hasn’t stopped my intense interest in powerful aggregation and life streaming options. It is so important for so many things. We are all spreading our identity across several sites and having a place to assemble the meta identity seems as though it is still an emerging and powerful need. When you think about teaching the notion of powerful and well organized aggregation gets even more critical. Think of a class where all 350 students have blogs and are writing on a regular basis … now that we disaggregated the content management by moving outside the LMS/CMS, we need new ways to pull it all back together (sort of ironic). Here is another killer use for a solid life stream style application.

This past spring my colleague, Scott McDonald, and I used Pligg to aggregate all of our students’ posts into one place. It worked well, but Pligg was not ready for non-technical folks to administer. It has to be easy.

This morning I came across my next tool du jour … SweetCron. This life stream application is the first one I’ve come across that I would use to replace the front of my own site. It is a very slick open source solution that looks great and (so far) works really well. It needs work as it is a pre-one dot zero release, but it is still a breeze to use and great to look at. I took 15 minutes this morning to get it installed and to add a few of my feeds. The admin side is easy enough and with a few tweaks to the css, the end user version looks really nice as well. My own SweetCron powered page is sitting over on my colecamplese.com space.

My Life Stream

My Life Stream

I will be working to look at this more so we can understand the affordances, but right out of the gate I am impressed. On a professional level, what I am really looking for are several options that could be used for teaching and learning and for events. This seems so much more powerful than simply showing a Twitter stream at a conference — tags could be subscribed to from all over the web to really a paint a killer picture of what people are saying about an event. As a matter of fact, the TechCrunch 50 conference is using it. So for now, take a look and help me think about how this could be used within a teaching and learning context.

A Day Lost

Not in any real sense, just reacting to the fact that my host, StartLogic, had me down for a full day. I spent the better part of an hour with them on their support line to find out that there was, “an issue with my server.” Great insight. They assured me that I would be back up very shortly and that my “datas” were safe. Well let’s just say that they were telling half truths. Clearly something big melted down as I was offline for a full day and when I did come back my post from last night was gone. I was able to grab the post from the RSS feed, but the downtime is what bothers me. Even when you think you are working to control your own online identity all sorts of stuff happens. At any rate, it is good to be back.

My Twitter Community

I have been writing and talking about how Twitter has seemed to re-emerge in my life recently. I can’t seem to shake my re-found need to connect and share with the vibrant Twitter community. As a matter of fact, we spent quite a bit of time talking about it on ETS Talk 41 this week as well … So much of it has to do with the extended network I can connect to, but recently I am finding myself really engaged in my local tweets. As my friend Scott McDonald remarked at lunch the other day when I was saying I haven’t been this plugged in since this time last year, “its the energy leading up to the Symposium.” He is right on several levels, but I would contend that it is more than that. Let me share a couple of recent examples.

The first started on Wednesday evening when I decided to post the Symposium Tag images that were created for the people tagging at the Symposium. I made a simple post over at the ETS site that explained the tags and provided a simple download for the whole group. The ETS site is setup to send an automatic tweet, so it hit the Twitter stream. After that I decided to change my Twitter icon to one of the tags and wondered out loud if others would do the same.

Twitter Change

Within minutes I was getting tweets from every direction … and a strange thing was happening, people were changing their icons. Then I jumped and used CafePress to make myself a tag t-shirt. I let people know via Twitter and several people wanted one. I made a few more and shared the link and some amazing things started to happen — several people Tweeted back that they too bought some of the “Tag Swag” right then and there. The more amazing thing was the flow of the whole thing … people firing Tweets back and forth all getting hyed up for the Symposium next week. It felt like it was the kind of thing Twitter is designed for. At the end of the evening, people were recounting their purchases and expressing how much they enjoyed the interaction … the community had emerged, come together, and was ultra engaged.


When I got on Twitter the next day I was amazed at what my Twitter stream looked like … nearly all the PSU people (and I follow a heck of a lot of non-PSU people as well) with Symposium Tags flying around as icons.

Twitter Stream

Now on to the second example — and I promise I will make it quick. Thursday is the day Scott and I teach our “Disruptive Technologies” course … about half of the class is on Twitter and they all went through the Alan Levine Twitter Curve cycle … started with “this is the stupidest thing I have ever done …” and have ended up with, well, I’ll let their tweets tell the story.

Class Tweets

I know this is a long and twisted post, but if you’ve made it this far I’d love to hear if you are finding similar things in your environment. I know that Twitter started to make me ultra aware of how lucky I am to live and work in such a vibrant community like PSU … now I am seeing how amazingly connected and interesting all of them are. Being able to push the walls of a class out by several hundred miles and also push beyond the normal roles our identity assign us (teacher, student, staff, faculty, etc) has been an amazing eye opening experience.

Symposium Tagging

One of the nice new additions to this year’s TLT Symposium are the beautifully designed Tag stickers. These were designed by Audrey Romano in ETS — I think the overall idea was a joint venture between the Symposium project manager, Allan Gyorke, and all the members of the committee. What I like is that they focus on the idea that people all over our campus are doing really interesting things with the platforms we are working on … in a lot of cases, many of these people don’t get the chance to talk directly with each other about what they are doing. So one way to overcome that was to take the idea of people tagging to a new level and let people use these stickers to indicate what they are into by sticking them to their badges. Hopefully conversation will occur with people informally sharing their interests and ideas. Here are a few samples:

podcasting tagblogging taggaming tagsocial tag

The stickers are produced by the people at moo.com and they are of the highest quality. Last year we did Moo Cards and they were a real hit, so this year we embraced the idea that we should use some visual design in a more obvious way. I’ve started to integrate these into the ETS website as well to indicate project groups … we also make heavy use of the concept at the ETS Community Hub.


Life Stream

So its been over a full week since my last post (as a recovering Catholic, that phrase sounds really familiar) … I have been on the road and have had little time to pull thoughts together in any real sense, but that doesn’t mean my head hasn’t been working overtime. A while back I was invited to give a talk at the University of South Florida, so I jumped on a plane and headed to Tampa last Thursday to talk to a group of faculty, staff, and students about student expectations and the tools we are looking at to engage them. It was a blast — right up until I had to come home. Let me put it this way, my plane took a nose dive towards the approach at the tiny State College airport — that was not fun. We hit a wind sheer that dumped us into a dive that set alarms off in the plane. Ten minutes later and the captain told us we were not going to be landing in State College, but were heading for Baltimore, MD instead. Once in Baltimore we were given the option to get off there or head back to Atlanta. Given my relative expertise in geography I chose to stay in Baltimore because as I saw it, Maryland is closer to Pennsylvania. That’s what I thought until they told us they were taking us home in taxi cabs — long ride, short story, but I made it home around 4:30 AM. It was a mess and has me thinking very seriously about ever traveling in or out of State College in the months of December, January, February, or March. Home is a good thing.

The other thing that is tormenting me are the god damn voices in my head. I am dealing with all sorts of thoughts related to identity management at the moment. A lot of it is coming from conversations I have been having with colleagues at work, but some of it is emerging from the online space. Talk of the PLE and more recently, David Wiley’s posts about his blog as the center to it all have pulled old thinking out into the front of my head. I am struggling with owning/shaping/building identity in ways that I haven’t in quite some time. I have been thinking about how we go about creating new identities all over the web all the while rebuilding our social networks and profiles in an attempt to get them all up to our expectations. What I mean is that each time I want to investigate a new environment I have to beg others to join me just to see how the social structure works … this makes me uncomfortable. What I prefer is to have one identity that I assert into new spaces and when I do, my netowrk and profile rolls along for the ride. I think as we move further and further down the social web path we’ll need to figure out what it really means to own our online identity. My thinking has not yet jelled (but that voice keeps talking to me), but I do think there is an opportunity here to ignore the need to recreate one’s self over and over again in multiple environments and instead just really focus in on honing it in one place. Is that too flaky? Is it to needy? Is it too much to ask?

I have been spending a lot of time recently talking about meta identity — you know, all these small pieces of identity add up to a real identity. FLickr, del.icio.us, my blogs, twitter, and all the other little places I express myself online create my meta self. I’m not sure anymore. It feels very unsophisticated to me … why not let me craft my identity and simply assert that credential into all the new spaces online. When that happens I simply gain a new attribute in my identity keychain (or whatever) that says something to the effect of, colecamplese can now log into Pownce and bring his whole network along for the ride (if they so choose)? Does that make any sense?

I have been watching a lot of these social “life stream” apps hit the web 2.0 space and am wondering why I have to actively add yet another account only to bring my identity back together. Why am I disaggregating myself only to maintain yet another profile to bring it all back together? I’m not sure of the answer, but I could sure use some help in thinking about it. Maybe the voices are really the just voice of the terrible winter we’ve had, or maybe the voices are right … I’m not sure. What do you think?