Personal publishing takes lots of forms … a personal publishing platform (like SB You) is a great way to hone a voice and develop confidence in writing for an audience. I think any sort of personal publishing is a step towards writing with a real purpose.
“Self-publishing used to be synonymous with unprestigious “vanity publishing,” where well-off authors who couldnt get their books into print by traditional means paid small, independent presses to publish them. But with the advent of e-books, social reading sites and simple digital self-publishing software and platforms, all that has changed. An increasing proportion of authors now actively choose to self-publish their work, giving them better control over their books rights, marketing, distribution and pricing.”
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?
I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts on the progress of our Blogs at Penn State project with everyone. We’ve been at this for quite some time and it is starting to really feel like it is catching on. Measuring a service’s success at a place like PSU is tough. Is it measured through the number of users? Is it measured through positive feedback? Perhaps through novel uses of the service? No one can really tell me one way or the other … so for the Blogs at Penn state, I am using my own metrics — and they are probably flawed, but that is why I am saying they are my metrics.
If we are measuring success with numbers alone, I am thrilled with the growth this semester! Since the first week of August there have been about 2,700 new blogs created by about 2,900 new users. That is exciting, but the fact that there are now nearly 24,00 entries with about 9,400 comments makes me think people are not only writing themselves, but engaging in the kind of social discourse a platform like this affords. If we’re measuring on unique uses, then I am floored — student and faculty portfolios are springing up, alumni pages are being developed, and departmental websites are coming to life. The uses are nearly unlimited and people are getting it.
For the start of the Spring semester we have a few new ideas to drive greater adoption of the platform. One of the things we’ve been working on is a new page that is created automatically when a user gets their webspace activated. Every faculty, staff, or student who activates their personal webspace gets 5 GB to do whatever they want with it. At PSU, only about half of the 93,000 students activate their space and only about 25% use it for academic purposes. We think by promoting the service as a web publishing platform suitable for blogs, portfolios, class notes, or really anything we’ll see those numbers jump. The new page is beautiful and shares a very simple message — “Create. Reflect. Connect.” It was designed by our webmaster, Audrey Romano, and really begins the effort to tie the service to its affordances.
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If you’ve visited the Blogs at PSU site lately, you will see a striking resemblance. We are working to bring the ideas of web publsihing together under the use of the Movable Type environment. One of the coolest features of the new personal page shown above is a promotional video created by one of our multimedia developers, Zac Zidek. Zac took the text from an old screencast and set it in motion. As far as I am concerned, it is first rate.
So starting this Spring, when a student gets their webspace and visits it for the first time they’ll be encouraged to dive in with a single click to “Create. Reflect. Connect.” We’ll see, but I am vey proud of the team effort on the Blogs at PSU — from across lots of our organizations. What do you think?
My friend and colleague, Ken Udas, had asked me earlier in the Summer to contribute to his excellent Terra Incognita blog but I kept blowing deadlines and missing obligations. Ken gave me an extension and has been gracious to allow me to squeeze a guest post in between a few very smart people. I had a good time working up something that was very different than what usually shows up at his site and I hope he isn’t too put off by it. My post addresses the changes in big media and their evolving and emerging interest in embracing the social web. It looks at big media and their amazing move into allowing us to embed their property — legally! It asks what it means for us in higher education and how we should be addressing this move.
I would really appreciate it if you took the time to bounce over to read the post and leave a comment for us to chew on and discuss. Besides, if you are interested in open content and learning then you should be tracking Terra Incognita. Thanks!