Monday, August 27, 2007

School Daze

Wow, Amy Makice is stressing me out with her story of a second-grader stressed out in the first two weeks of class. I'm looking forward to hearing the resolution as I don't doubt I have similar experiences ahead - and of course, there are also the ramifications of putting the story online for everyone to see. My incessant questioning of a kindergarten teacher got my wife called to the principal's office at registration time, I think to reassure her that it was all going to be OK. I don't know if that was the direct result of the blog entry or not, though. But, my unsolicited advice, Amy, is to do all you can to resolve the issue before putting it online, just in case the subject of your entry ever has to read about herself on the net. People who aren't in the habit of writing for public consumption can be unreasonably angry when that happens!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Deconstructing the Wiki Decision

Educator Christian Long writes on using Wikis in the classroom. I'm not an educator, and my kid isn't one of Mr. Long's students, but I sure would like to see similar tools used in my kid's school. I'm not sure how particularly useful they would be in kindergarten, but editing that linked article as a class project would be fun.

That said, how likely is it that students are interested, under their own power, in editing a wiki? Based on my experience that only about 5% of readers tend to be contributors, I think it might be difficult - but of course, the percentage in an English class might be higher. Students around here are asked sometimes to edit Wikipedia or Bloomingedia as a class assignment; for example this article:

was obviously written by a local teen. But if you look at the contributor's history, he copied in the bulk of the article on March 30th, came back and fiddled with it a few days later, and then never came back again.

Now, Mr. Long isn't having his kids put their essays on the wiki - at least not yet! But if, or when, it occurs, I wonder whether an English class discussion wiki would really work on its own terms without constant prompting by teachers. I suspect it could, if it is linked to the real world somehow. I'll be following the experiment with interest.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bloomington not yet a'Twitter

Lots of interesting stuff going on in the Bloomington scene this week. James Boyd, who I've written about before, sat down to watch and interpret the 36 hours in three days of Monroe County budget hearings, and posted them on a dedicated comment thread on the newspaper's web site...I mentioned that on Twitter. Some of my coworkers wandered off to the Agile2007 conference and sent reports back on speakers they liked; I added a couple of people to my Twitter list and blogroll due to that. My kid started kindergarten, so I've been ramping up my list of educators as well (too bad there are no local ones as of yet!).

While James was posting his updates, I tried to follow along with his numbers on a Google spreadsheet, with only a fair amount of success. (Of course, my job was easy since all I did was read the comment threads. James had to try to interpret everything and post and try to keep up with details on the numbers - all in real time.) My goal was fairly self-centered: I wanted to understand exactly what they were voting on and why. But certainly if what I was doing was useful at all I wanted to share it - why keep it private? (A former boss asked me that once. Why did I blog about my trip instead of putting it in an email and sending it to the six or seven people in my group? All I could do was stare at him blankly.) All in all, I'd say that my, and probably a lot of other people's, information stream had gotten a lot wider this week.

Thinking along many of the same lines, only way more articulately than I could ever be, Kevin Makice wrote an piece on the future of local social networking. Kevin wants everyone to center around Twitter, which I doubt will happen. The Herald-Times has taken a real leadership role in this process, and they of course have a vested interest in bringing people to their site instead. Councilmember Sophia Travis pointed out that it was way too tough for her to actively participate in the discussion as well as listen to the issues, although she did manage a couple of notes.

So where do we go from here? Here are a few things I notice:

  • It took a professional, not a blogger, to (a) generate interest and (b) pull off the budget updates with the right amount of elan to keep everyone interested. Is this a requirement? I'd say no, but the fact is that I wasn't about to take several days off work to go down there and watch. It's a lot easier to do it if someone will pay you.
  • With the exceptions of Councilmembers Travis and Marty Hawk (who posts to the HT occasionally) there are few enough politicians in the general conversation, to expect that there will be many in the live conversation (by which I mean Twitter, or the running comment thread). It would be nice if this changed.
  • I had to ask early on in the process for copies of the spreadsheets the council was using. Apparently the auditor was running around with them on a thumb drive, handing out copies to whoever needed them. It would have been nice to just stick them on a web page at the beginning.
  • I want a budget expert available to answer questions from the public. I probably had a dozen questions over the three days - granted, I always have questions, it's because I don't know anything - but many of them James couldn't answer, and probably many he could have but didn't because he didn't have time. Wouldn't it have been cool if the auditor's office could have somebody sit and monitor the thread and explain stuff?
  • Let's not wait for next year's budget to do this again. Send the junior copy editor to update us on the Redevelopment Commission meeting. Let's get a volunteer blogger to liveblog the Planning Commission. Let's keep the government exposed!
  • Budget hearings are a really moronic way of doing things. A bunch of exhausted people sitting in a room voting yea or nay at random on a couple of grand so they can get it over with and get some lunch? Tell you what, next time let's get all the line items out on a nice wiki page and hash it out that way. I realize I'm text-centered and maybe others prefer the face-to-face, but then how about over NetMeeting or something?
  • Now, I'm not trying to grouse and say that things should have been done differently. Or to be more precise, of course they should be done differently, but we never know precisely how until afterwards. This has been a great learning week for me, and I hope, for everyone else as well.

Sorry, Kevin, I didn't get that Bloomingpedia article on the budget written; the hazards of citizen journalism :) But maybe now we all see a little bit more of the possibilities that are opening up before our eyes. Hey, follow me on Twitter!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dare Obasanjo on Open Social Networks

Dare writes on Open Social Networks. One thing he doesn't bring up, though, is the existence of specialized social networks and how they fit into the whole. He uses Flickr and YouTube as examples of sites that have good API's for getting and setting data, but part of the point of those is that they exist solely to allow users to push around specific types of content: images on Flickr, movies on YouTube. Facebook and MySpace have lots bigger fish in mind, wanting to take over your whole mindshare. It's an interesting evolution, isn't it? For a long time we talked about Microsoft and how they wanted to control everything on your desktop; then Google came along and we talked about how having everything in your browser was better than having everything in your desktop. Now it's not enough to have everything in the browser; we have to have it all on our social networking site. The one thing this really points out to me, though, is the fragility of these sites - for a while MySpace was the hot toy, but now it's Facebook. Is there any reason to think Facebook will be the place to be in six months or a year? I don't see one.

I learned via TechMeme, though, that Jeff Pulver is leaving LinkedIn for Facebook. I think it's a mistake, Jeff. LinkedIn is specialized; it exists for business contacts. It will probably be around in a couple of years, linking up business contacts. Facebook will probably be gone as people move on to the Next Big Thing.

To sum it up, it appears to me that the real evolution of social networking is going to be LinkedIn for business contacts; Flickr for pictures, LibraryThing for books, and then maybe a few small sites like Facebook and MySpace that aggregate all this data into a coherent whole for people who aren't interested in creating their own websites that aggregate all this data, or are nervous about being outside of the walled garden. But Facebook ain't the future. Don't expect it to be.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Your code is suboptimal!

Check out Eric Sink's blog for a nice, and almost free, T-shirt. Eric runs SourceGear, a version control company, which I'm sure is very nice software, but I've never used it. But the T-Shirt is good quality, and the package comes with a copy of the SourceGear comic book, which is hilarious. And like I said, it comes almost free. In payment, take a picture of yourself wearing the shirt in an appropriate pose, post it on your blog, and give them permission to use it, which I hereby do. This picture is on the Indiana University campus alongside a statue of chancellor Herman B Wells, who, as you can see, is doing the comic book pose too. Thanks, Eric!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Out of the Theater, Into the Courtroom

Boy, doesn't this stink? (Thanks, Vorlath). As a rule, I don't like commenting on outrageous stuff; yes, it's outrageous, yes, those darned company/government/media droids, there oughta be a law. Or a law repealed, or something. What makes this one a bit different is that there oughta be protests. Can't someone get a group together outside the theater and picket, or something? This is a clear clase - assuming the facts in the Post are correct - of an overreaction and the movie theater in question ought to be the target of a big negative publicity blitz. That's what I'd be doing if I were the girl's lawyer. I hope Indiana movie theaters have more sense, though.