Blogging

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Appendix ?: A Weblog Primer

It seems my dissertation has as many appendices as it has chapters. Well, not really, but my committee wants me to do three of them, one of which is a primer on weblogs. It was my idea to do a primer, as most people on my committee are just starting to learn the technology, and probably won't ever be heavy users of it; the idea is just to communicate the meanings and significance of certain aspects of the technology, especially the implications for writer-audience interaction. Derek's CCCC presentation might be useful here. I didn't know where I should put the primer, though, and my committee suggested that I include it as an appendix. Here's a list of terms I know I need to include; can you think of any others?

  • History of weblogs (can be moved to the intro later)
  • Weblog (for which I'd draw upon Jill Walker's canonical definition and Dave Winer's definition as well).
  • Significance of tools (I'd discuss how some tend to think of LiveJournal and Xanga sites as something other than weblogs, and my own opinion of that distinction, which is still in formation.)
  • Network literacy
  • Networked rhetoric(s)
  • Blogger stereotypes (Self-indulgent egomaniacs, plagiarists, etc. I have a great collection of a week's worth of Doonesbury cartoons that ran in Fall 2002 that illustrate these really well.)
  • Comment (what makes it different from a post, also comment spam)
  • Trackback
  • Referrers (If you link them, they will come.)
  • Sitemeter
  • Technorati (as a tool to find out who's linking to you)
  • Ranking tools (Technorati, Truth Laid Bear, etc.)
  • RSS
  • Blogroll
  • Timestamp
  • Permalink
  • Categories and searchability (indexing)
  • Content management system

By the way, the other appendices they want me to do include one on the implications of my research for composition pedagogy and one that's a reflexive essay on my methods and my location as a woman, a blogger, and a blog researcher. I already have a good bit to say on that one. Then there's also the miscellany; hopefully I can work some of the interesting things I find into the bodies of the chapters, to tell more of a story, but I want the miscellany to be in there somewhere, even if it's in an appendix.

MOO: I finally get it

Last night I participated in a MOO for the first time as part of Lennie Irvin's presentation for the Computers and Writing Online conference. Actually, it wasn't an old-school text-based MOO, but a web-based MOO running on enCore. I ended up learning a lot about MOO from talking to the experienced MOOers in there. For a long time, I was one of those people who had only a vague sense of MOO as synchronous chat. I thought, what makes these any different from, say, AOL Instant Messenger? Those I talked to before said something to the effect of, "Well, you have these rooms in the MOO, and the rooms are saved -- always there when you go back." I didn't at the time understand the meaning of that; it didn't seem like a good enough reason to continue to study MOO or to use them in writing courses. So I continued with my view of "The MOO is dead. Long live the blog!" (Kairosnews inside joke.)

But I now see that MOO still has much to offer rhetorically and pedagogically if people continue to use it. What struck me the most were the connections I saw to a post from a while back on Collin's blog in which he linked to Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In it, Pink argues that in the emerging "conceptual age," the following five skills are becoming very important: "design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning." From what I learned about MOO last night, I'd go as far as to say that MOO is an ideal technology that could be used for bringing out these skills. Of course, writers must learn visual design and how to tell stories with images and sound, which means learning not just how to use tools like PhotoShop and iMovie, but fundamental design principles like line, color, texture, and form. But with MOO, users are forced to provide rich descriptions of rooms, objects, and ways of interacting with the objects. It's design on a different level, and I would argue very creative.

Consider Alex Reid's list of what should be in a writing program (I don't list them all here):

  • some creative writing courses, which offer opportunity for experimentation, for practicing poetic language, for thinking about character (psychology/affect) and narrative, for crossing genres, and for addressing audience in a unique way;
  • courses in poetics and rhetoric as the underlying theories/philosophies of writing, which is something often absent from creative writing courses that tend to naturalize the writing process (and here I'm NOT thinking about the conventional rhetorics of a FYC handbook, not a pragmatics/how-to of process and audience-awareness, but an encounter with the aporias of symbolic behavior--again, the point is to develop the creative, conceptual "right-brain");
  • courses in other professional genres--technical writing, business writing, and so on--that are not taught in the traditional positivistic manner, but rather in the context of creative writing and rhetoric/poetics;
  • and, of course, coursework in new media, the practical but also its aesthetics, poetics, and rhetorics, which is not to say that technology isn't infused throughout this curriculum, but that you actually have to have a place where students experiment with the media.

It's not that I don't think weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc. aren't great technologies, but MOO makes a lot of sense to me in meeting these objectives, and I'm ready to get behind efforts to keep them in use.

Dissertation Fellowship Proposal

What follows is my fellowship application. I know a lot of you have been wanting me to post my prospectus here, and this is a short, readable version. I'm still working out the chapter outlines...and, well, plenty of other questions and puzzles about my dissertation, too.

GENDER, PUNDITRY, AND WEBLOGS: BLOGGING’S CHALLENGE TO CURRENT UNDERSTANDINGS OF POLITICAL DISCOURSE

ABSTRACT

In the last three years, blogging has gained recognition as a phenomenon in online communication, offering ordinary citizens a platform to publish their ideas and a space for deliberative political discourse. However, the majority of the most influential and widely-read political bloggers are men, and issues of concern to women are often not given equal attention, a disparity that has been discussed in the “Where are the women?” debates. I argue that these debates reveal disruptions of assumptions surrounding political discourse. Identifying these points can enrich our understanding of gendered rhetorical practices and the way they are constituted on weblogs.

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Announcement and Conference Program

I know I've blogged about this before, but I'm on the organizing committee of this conference, and I'm going to promote it; that's just the way it is. This is the big announcement, with the long version of the conference program below the fold (I copied and pasted all the abstracts here, which the Attribution-NoDerivs-Noncommercial Creative Commons license encourages me to do, I might add).

Computers and Writing Online 2005
When Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and Collaboration

The 2005 Computers and Writing Online Conference begins on Tuesday,
May 31, and runs through Monday, June 13. This is the first-ever
online conference in our field to be open-access, Creative
Commons-licensed, and hosted on a weblog, and it promises to be
innovative and insightful. We set out to perform the concepts and values of the conference theme -- networking, community, and collaboration -- in our review process, which was open to the public and emphasized group
interaction and helpful, supportive feedback. The responders have done
an excellent job engaging the authors' ideas, and the authors'
responses to the feedback they received have really demonstrated how
enriching this public, collaborative model can be for scholarly work.
The conference organizers would like to extend a big "Thank you!" to
the authors and the responders. Included with each abstract in this
announcement is the link to the original; we strongly encourage you to
read the comments.

As with the abstracts, the presentations are accessible to anyone with
an internet connection, and anyone with an account at Kairosnews
(registration is free) can leave comments. For more information, visit
the CW Online 2005 weblog: http://kairosnews.org/cwonline05/home

Drawing upon the conference's theme of exploring the increasing value
of the network and collaborative practices within it, presenters
examine the role(s) played by social networking applications and other
technologies that are intended to foster social interaction,
community, and collaboration. Alongside studying the technologies
themselves, presenters will observe and describe the ways that
writers and users are engaging the technologies and how such
engagement is changing our ideas about writing and teaching writing,
and, more broadly, the concepts of rhetoric and composition
themselves. We very much hope you'll get involved by leaving your
comments, or, if you prefer, respond on your own weblog and leave a
trackback! Or write a response on your wiki! Or tag presentations on
your del.icio.us or de.lirio.us list! You get the idea. This
conference is meant to be networked.

=============================================

CONFERENCE PROGRAM (SHORT VERSION):

May 31: Charlie Lowe and Dries Buytaert: It's about the Community
Plumbing: The Social Aspects of Content Management Systems

June 2: Cathy Ma: What's so special about the Wikipedia?

June 4: Olin Bjork and John Pedro Schwartz: E-service Learning

June 6: Bob Stein, Kim White, Ben Vershbow, and Dan Visel: Sorting the
Pile: Making Sense of A Networked Archive

June 7: Traci Gardner: From Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine to The
Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez

June 8: Lennie Irvin: MOO-the Second Decade? 7:00-8:30 p.m. CDT ProNoun MOO

June 9: John Spartz: Web Accessibility and Its Impact on Student
Learning: A Qualitative Study

June 10: Matt Payne: Digital Divides, Video Games, and New Media

June 11: Marina Meza & Susanna Turci: Desiging an Electronic Bilingual
Dictionary for International Trade

June 12: Collin Brooke: Weblogs as Deictic Systems

June 13: Erika Menchen: Feedback, Motivation and Collectivity on del.icio.us

Pundit v. Life Bloggers: Two Visual Representations

Yeah, I've been thinking way too much about this. Seriously, I thought it would be good to have an appendix to my dissertation for these little finds, as they might not fit exactly into my analysis. I'd appreciate any comments you have, or any other visual representations of categories of bloggers.

The following are two possible results of a quiz on blogthings.com. I saw the quiz on Frogs and Ravens; Rana had taken it and gotten “Life Blogger” as a result. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but I did take the quiz myself just for fun, and I was a little surprised by my result:


You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few
.

I still didn't pay attention to the representations in Rana's and my results until the next day, when I really looked at the image and noticed that this was a young, white man, upper-middle class judging from his trendy metrosexual look: He's thin, probably goes to the gym, has a haircut that looks carefully styled with product, hip little glasses, and a turtleneck that might have come from Barney's, Banana Republic, J.Crew, or the like. He has a flat-screen monitor, suggesting that he can afford relatively up-to-date technology, and while, admittedly, we can't see his whole desk, it looks like some I've seen in Pottery Barn and HoldEverything catalogs, whose merchandise is not that cheap. This isn't a guy who has to find an old door at a yard sale or in someone's trash and lay it across two metal filing cabinets, as some graduate students I know have had to do. His apartment is in a large city, as evidenced by the view, and he has a lovely view from a large window up high, suggesting a penthouse. He sits at his desk, supporting his chin with one hand but not really leaning into it. His gesture, as well as his facial expression with lips pursed, is that of a critical, thinking skeptic who is humoring the writer he's reading and who might soon turn that writer's argument upside down. The position and facial expression remind me a lot of Joshua Micah Marshall's blog photograph:

Then I went and looked at the “Life Blogger” image again.


You Are a Life Blogger!

Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.
If it happens, you blog it. And make it as entertaining as possible.

The scene reminds me a little of Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” who sits with her laptop at her desk, or sometimes in bed, often with a cigarette, musing and writing her column while we hear her voiceover saying something like: “I couldn't help but wonder: Can women have sex like men?” Or, “Is old the new young?” This woman, like the pundit, is attractive according to mainstream cultural conventions, young, and white. She's also well-coiffed, suggesting that she either got her hair blown out at a salon to get that perfect little Jennifer Aniston-style flip or that she has plenty of leisure time to style her own hair. Its rich auburn shade could be natural, but could also be the work of a professional colorist. Her eyebrows look deliberately shaped, and she's wearing lipstick to match her hair. Like the pundit, her clothing could have come from Banana Republic or J.Crew. The Life Blogger's laptop has the look of a newish iBook (just like the one I'm typing on now, I must point out), and her leaning-back, arms-behind-head position suggests that she's just written a post, hunched over, and is now stretching out her arms, neck, and back, as I do myself periodically as I work. Replacing Carrie Bradshaw's cigarette are two aromatherapy candles, possibly sage and fig or sandalwood based on the colors, and the scent moves around the woman, touching her nose as it wafts away. Her facial expression is calm, serene, and satisfied. Her blogging is therapy just as her candles are. Her body is willowy and feminine.

In sum, these images are firmly raced/classed, and deeply gendered. The artist seems to be having fun with twenty/thirtysomething middle-class “Friends” stereotypes. I'd love to be able to talk with him or her to see if everything I've pointed out in these images was deliberate. Noteworthy too are the captions underneath the images. The pundit's blog is “smart, insightful, and always a quality read.” The life blogger's is “a living diary,” and is “entertaining.” I also think it's telling that the pundit's blog occupies a position, a rank in an implicit hierarchy much like the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem or the Technorati Top 100: it is “truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few” (emphasis mine).

Blog-to-Book, Hybrid Genre(s)

I think the writing Jodi has been doing lately is outstanding, and just now in a comment I told her I could imagine her as one of those people who gets a book deal from his or her blog. Which reminds me, I've been meaning to post for a while now about the book-deal-from-blog phenomenon; I'm interested in several aspects of it. I want to:

  1. Compile a list of bloggers who have gotten book deals
  2. Think about what kinds of writing these bloggers are doing, what these blogs have in common (for example, the writing on all these blogs is acutely personal)
  3. Keep track of what the generic conventions are: What will the book-from-blog hybrid form look like?* Of course specific books will vary, but for the most part, will they be epistolary memoirs? How will they be arranged? Will they keep reverse chronological order (a blog expectation), or invert to chronological order for continuity (a print memoir expectation)? Or will the blog posts be used as raw material, with the intention that the end product will be a seamless narrative? How will the generic expectations merge to create a hybrid? Will one or the other -- blog or book -- prevail? What will happen to the comments readers leave? Will the blog be taken down after the book is released?

I know these questions aren't new, that plenty of other people are wondering the same thing and have probably already written about it. If you know of such writing and can point me to it, please do so in the comments. Also, here is a list of blogs I know of that are going to be released as books, or already have been. If you know of more, please alert me to them.

  • The Julie/Julia Project, book here
  • Where is Raed? (Salam Pax), book here
  • Baghdad Burning -- looks like the blog is still up. Actually, there's an excerpt of the book in the most recent issue of Ms., and it looks like they've kept the post format; the excerpt consisted of dated entries ending with "Posted by River @ [time]." Must buy that book.
  • The rumor is apocryphal, so I don't want to say for sure, but I heard that Ginmar's blog might become a book. (She's in the U.S. military and was stationed in Iraq for a long time, but is back now. Great writing there.)
  • UPDATE -- found some more: Diary of a London Call Girl
  • Wil Wheaton (his writing speaks for itself, and his weblog was what got his writing noticed, so I'm counting him here, but his celebrity prior to starting the blog certainly helped)
  • Mimi Smartypants, book here

* I want to be clear about my terms here: I don't mean to suggest that "book" is a genre. "Memoir" might be a genre, but I consider "book" a form and a technology, much like "blog."

UPDATE: Should have done the Amazon searching first. Looks like in every case, the weblogs have stayed up after the publication of the book.

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Respond to Abstracts!

I'm on the organizing committee for the Computers and Writing Online 2005 Conference, and this year we're doing something that has never been done in our field, or I believe any other: We're having the whole conference on a weblog, including the review process. Actually, we're calling it a "public feedback process," and if you read the guidelines below you'll see that we're less interested in a thumbs-up/thumbs-down accept/reject model and more interested in an abstract-as-conversation-starter, knowledge-making-social model. Anyone with a username at Kairosnews can respond to an abstract (registration is free*), so please provide feedback by May 13.

In keeping with this year's CW Online 2005 conference theme--"When
Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and
Collaboration"--conference organizers invite you and other interested
parties to read and respond to the proposals submitted for this year's
conference. These proposals can be found at

http://kairosnews.org/cwonline05/blog

Should you choose to participate in this process, we ask that you
consider the following suggested guidelines:

--Before jumping into the response process, look at some proposals that
already have comments posted and get a feel for what's being done.

--Read the proposal carefully and consider what you think might be
improved, extended, re-focused, clarified or otherwise revised.

--We suggest avoiding a lengthy commentary or review. Instead, introduce
some talking points and engage the author in a conversation about the
topic.

--Gradually, as the dialogue unfolds, bring in the points you'd like to
see addressed.

--Treat your responses as part of an ongoing dialogue with the author,
your fellow respondents, and casual commentators. When possible,
consider referring to previous responses.

--Generally speaking, we are not looking for responses that are overly
evaluative or argumentative, but rather those that encourage dialogue
leading to clarification and understanding.**

* If you're registered here, you don't have to register at Kairosnews. You can login using whateveryourusernamehereis@culturecat.net as the username, and the password is whatever your password here is.

** This isn't to say you shouldn't be critical of an abstract or feel like you can't disagree with something an author has said; we're just, as I said before, trying to get out of a terse, accept/reject mode. Also keep in mind that it takes courage to put one's work out there for public feedback, and many of these people aren't bloggers, so we're trying to make it more supportive and not so snakepitty.

Opt out of ranking!

I don't have time to comment right now, but I do want to make a suggestion that I haven't heard anyone make thus far in the take down the blogroll discussion, to which Lauren, Prof. B., PZ Myers, Krista, and many others have responded. I'm not planning on getting rid of my blogroll; as I said at Prof. B.'s, I'm not really convinced by the arguments to get rid of them. Some people have said my site is a little confusing because it's got a lot going on, and I want it to be reader-friendly, so I might put my blogroll on a separate page one of these days.

Anyway, here's my suggestion: If you don't like the hierarchy and rank of the 'sphere, how about opting out of the ranking systems? I just did: Go to the Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem, search for your blog, under "Rank" click "request a change to this blog," then check the radio button that says "Remove this blog from the Ecosystem." It will then give you some code to paste into your header tags.

This seems a more appropriate way to protest hierarchy than getting rid of one's blogroll, IMHO.

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