Discussions, Comments and Digital Community

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, editor extraordinaire and the creator of Making Light (one of the best blogs I’ve ever seen) is not only the author of many fine posts, she also curates a thriving, active, intelligent and interesting group of readers who actively comment on the entries and on each others’ comments. A lot of that community involvement is because of Teresa’s interaction with her readers as a moderator. She offers excellent advice that is right on target for those desiring to use blogs or discussion boards for teaching and student interaction.

Is Apple Joining the List of Corporate Bloggers?

Apple seems to be experimenting with “student blogging” on the Higher Education section of their website. Here’s the initial post:

We’d like to welcome you to a new community site for students to hear from other students about their observations and Mac-related stuff.

We’re starting off with a recent graduate from the University of Colorado, Dave Morin, who is now working at Apple. We will introduce a couple of student bloggers soon. Every few months we will welcome new student blog authors as they share their experiences.

The main blog page is here. While I’m glad to see Apple’s experimenting with web logs, a sensible thing to do for many reasons, including the presence of a web log server host in Tiger Server, I’m not sure that, based perhaps unfairly, on the two entries posted, Apple, or their initial blogger, really understand blogs, student bloggers, or corporate blogging. It’s not like Apple doesn’t have some good internal models to follow. Still, it’s a good sign.

Moving to MoveableType

No, I’ve not quit blogging about Instructional Technology, I’ve just been distracted with one thing and another. I’ve returned to technical editing; one of the books I worked on, Dennis Cohen and Bob Levitus’ excellent
iLife Bible
, is out. I’ve been teaching, first composition, and now, English 10A, English Medieval and Renaissance literature, 800-1660. That’s a fair amount of blogging time right there. Secondly, I realized that I really don’t want to keep using Radio Userland. It’s just too awkward, clumsy, and crude. It has almost no real documentation, certainly not the sort you’d expect from a commercial product, it frequently fails to perform various tasks related to server communication with Userland, it’s unbelievably slow, it has an astonishingly poor interface, and it doesn’t even attempt to follow the basic HIG guidelines from Apple, or intelligent web interface design. Since I serve from my own domain, Radio really isn’t worth another $40.00 renewal fee, particularly since the support is non-existent. Userland hasn’t fixed long term bugs, and promised features from a year ago are still not implemented.

Given the elegant interfaces possible with Apple’s Cocoa tools (take a look at Nisus Writer Express, or Brent Simmons NetNewsWire, or even the somewhat quirky Mac OS X-only iBlog), I see no reason to stick with Radio. Indeed, the new Blogger supports Safari, is simple to set up, and though Blogger lacks Categories, it’s superior in every other way to Radio. Yes, I know, Blogger isn’t a news aggregator, but Radio doesn’t approach the efficiency, ease of use, and sheer elegance of NetNewsWire (which now also posts to Blogger, Bloxom, LiveJournal, and MoveableType).

I’m going to install Sixapart‘s MoveableType, and eventually, I’ll probably try Rael Dornfest’s Bloxom, which looks intriguingly spare. Then of course, I hope to be able to try Dean Allen’s interesting TextPattern, and then there’s the intriguing possibility of TypePad, also from Sixapart, the makers of MoveableType.

In the meantime, I’ll still be posting to DigitalMedievalist: Scela, and to my class blog. I’m going to be trying a new ISP as well, so wish me luck.

Blog Rolling

I’ve finally gotten around to taking a look at the free (donations welcomed) Blog Roll creation and management tool suite created by Jason DeFillippo.

“Blog roll” refers to the links that frequently run along the right or left sides of web logs, pointing to recommended or frequently read blogs. Blogrolling.com offers a suite of tools that allow you to quickly and easily create your blog roll, and see which blogs in your list have been recently updated. Once you establish an account, it’s pretty simply to fill out a web form with the title, URL, and description of the blogs you want in your list. The information is stored at Blogrolling.com, and updated on the fly when your blog page is refreshed. You set various preferences regarding the display and update notification (there are more options if you donate, or subscribe, but even the free ones are pretty good). There’s good documentation, but look for the link on the left that says “start here.” Jason has made it about as simple as possible. Once you’ve made you blog roll (you can go back and edit later), you’ll want to click on the “Code generation” link to copy and paste the preferred kind of code (javascript, OPML, PHP, RSS) in the template for your blog. There’s even documentation about using CSS to customize your blog roll’s appearance. If you want to add an OPML blog roll to Radio, take a look at Jake Savin’s instructions. Take a look at some of the nifty tools to help display and manage your blog roll, including a bookmarklet for adding new blogs to your roll, and a “blog roll me” script to allow your loyal readers to add your blog to their Blogroll blog roll.

Even if you’re not terribly comfortable with editing your blog template or messing about with HTML/XML/CSS, and the like, blogrolling.com is a very easy way to create and maintain your blog roll. There’s enormous potential for this tool for teachers and students with blogs.