Preparing for Tomorrow’s Talk at Orton

Tomorrow I venture down to Manchester, Vermont to talk with the Orton Family Foundation about social software, multimedia applications and podcasting. It will be my first WEBEX presentation, and the first time that my audience will be non-techie types outside the education world. As I prepare for this talk, I become more and more convinced that these applications can play a significant role in the business and non-profit worlds, and just as is true in the educational world, you have to root the technology work in the goals of the organization. In other words, effective use of social software depends on careful planning, vision, and creativity. The tools themselves do nothing–it’s all about how you use them.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF SOME OF THE TOOLS AND THEIR USES

A. SOCIAL SOFTWARE

BLOGS

Description: An easily edited, frequently updated website arranged chronologically (usually in reverse order). Dave Winer gives an in-depth description of the features and Alex Halavais discusses blog uses.

Examples:
Bud Gibson’s The Community Engine
Lawrence Lessig
Steven Berlin Johnson
Richard Sambrook

Why Use Blogs?

1. The absolute ease of publishing makes it simple to get your message out.

2. The layers of connectivity and interactivity link you internally to your previous postings, and to the world through links, tags and trackbacks. You know who has been writing about you; you can find out who is writing about what.
Discoverability through Tags and Feeds
(Technorati,
Pubsub,
del.cio.us,
Flickr.)
An example: BBC

You can gather statistics (Statcounter);

Dialogue and Conversation is enhanced within an Organization, or a Group of Thinkers
The blogger joins the fluidity of knowledge spaces and collective intelligence a la Pierre Levy,
connectivism a la
George Siemens
,
Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice, James Martin’s Institute
Collaborative Blogs:
(Many2Many,
Cognitive Architects
The Guardian Editors’ Blog,
Berkman Center,
Urban Cartography)

Invite the world in through comments and “Blogging Invitationals”
(Arts Journal)

Create cross-site, richly linked conversations via Trackback (Denham Grey)

Build a history of the conversation, of your thinking through Archives and Categories. It becomes a tool for reflection and evaluation.

3. Through Syndication, your message goes public, and you keep up with the field through site aggregation
RSS: For a definition, see Elise.com
<a href=”Bloglines,
Feedster,
NewsGator)

4. Through Creative Commons, you decide how much copyright control you wish to exert over your posts.

5. Blogs humanize an organization
–They invite the world (or your own staff) to see who you are outside your formal
pronouncements. A CEO or staff member with a strong voice and personality, can draw people
to the organization, its programs and its goals through a lively blog.

Other Useful Blogs and Posts
Green Media Toolshed
Nancy Schwartz

Important Considerations for the Blogger

1. Post regularly to create and maintain the energy;

2. Develop your posting voice–the absolute formal academic voice comes off as stiff on a
blog. If the blogging is not authentic, then it will fail;
(Robert Scoble at MicrosoftThe Corporate Blog Manifesto);

3. Weave a rich tapestry of linking to connect with the larger conversation. Blogging is all
about participatory culture, the give-and-take of the extended, asynchronous dispersed discussion:
think letter-writing between writers;
(Ross Mayfield’s Blog)

4. Consider carefully why it is you want to blog and what use it will be to your target audience:
Are you essentially link-blogging, capturing the interesting bits of conversation from the rest of the
blogosphere? Pushing out information? Synthesizing the ideas swirling about out there and
articulating your own vision? Stimulating thought and inviting further discussion?
(Planetizen,
Roland Tanglao)

5. If you want people to leave comments, you have to go out there and leave comments on the blogs you
read.

WIKIS

Brief Description: Designed for collaboration, this software allows users to create and edit webpages freely, easily and continuously. Jotspot gives a good definition and a helpful introductory tour.

Why Wikis?

1. As software intended to build individual or group projects, it enhances collaboration and efficient
knowledge building;

2. Tracking an idea from conception to implementation provides insight into the process;

3. Examining the way a dispersed group works together leads to improved communication;

4. Tapping into the evolving ideas of the group fosters group synergy and trust, yet because it
is asynchronous, it allows for the careful development of projects as well as the immediate dynamism
enabled by allowing multiple editors to edit from their own screens during conference calls or online
meetings;

5. Its privacy features allow control of each page–what is viewable to the group cqn be changed page
by page;

From Lee Bryant’s Headshift.com, some
wisdom about wikis in their post, Gettin’ wiki with it:

In the planning meetings – which can last hours – we can very quickly record our technical discussions and create agreed minutes in the meeting itself, as we go along. The only tools needed are a web browser and, ideally, a projector, and the attendees can see the meeting notes (and the plan itself) developing in real time.

This also helps keep the meeting focussed : you have an identifiable goal ( “ok, by the end of this meeting we want to have sections X, Y and Z done…” ) and everyone can see the progress towards that goal as it happens. Even non-attendees can see the progress of the meeting while it’s taking place, either by viewing the in-progress Confluence page or via RSS.

Also, as the deliverable outcome of this process is a step-by-step plan, the same idea is going to prove equally valuable while the plan is being carried out – i.e. in the actual deployment.

For each step, we’ve made rough estimates of timescale, and at each step of the way, we compare progress to the schedule, record it on the Confluence page, and revise estimates of the total downtime accordingly. If after, say, a third of the tasks have been performed, we’re running behind schedule, then we’re aware of that as we go along – and if we hit really serious snags, at any stage we have the information we need to make a decision as to whether we continue, or we abort and reschedule for once the snags have been addressed.

The important thing here is commnuication. Confluence makes it very easy to log progress as we go along, and record any relevant details. Just little interface niceties like the shortcut (y) producing a thumbs-up image – – make the updates an absolute breeze. The wiki ethos means that anyone can quickly add any notes or details as and when required, and all parties can be kept informed of progress just by viewing the web page or picking up updates via the RSS feeds – crucially, this happens without having to distract the techies to ask for an update.

Three key staff were involved in the preparation of the plan, and as with anything this complex, in the time between documenting the plan and putting it into action, each one of us has cogitated some more and thought of some small-but-significant little detail that we missed in the meeting. With this collaborative wiki approach, all we have to do is just record it in the appropriate place on the Confluence page, and all relevant parties get automatically notified.

And that’s it – so much easier than the bad old days… so anyone out there who’s still struggling with the Internet v1.0(tm) way of collaborative document development –
# E-mailing Word documents round every individual person, generating a huge list of replies, comments and revisions, which then have to be applied to the document and emailed round again, so no-one’s ever quite sure if they have the latest version, and some people say they never got the e-mail, or their question wasn’t answered because it got lost in the e-mail trail…. discussions and suggestions can take place through the blog-like comments system, and the latest version is always the visible one.

# Mysteriously disappearing detail that some people swear was there yesterday, and others don’t remember at all – each update is logged and versioned off, and notified via RSS.

Considerations for Wiki Adopters

1. Develop the organizational framework, the ground rules for the structure–wikis can develop
hapharzardly due to their inherently organic structure

2. Keep it simple and make it usable for the entire group.

Examples:
Davis Community Wiki
University of Minnesota LIbrary WIki
Confluence

PODCASTING

Brief Description:

Why Podcasting?

1. Creating internal podcasts gives staff access to information and meetings even when they are out of
town and away from computers;

2. Another voice for the organization is presented to the target audience;

3. Podcasts allow the listener the choice to listen to the broadcast repeatedly, streamed from the
computer or downloaded to an iPOD or MP3 player;

4. Podcasting o-ffers opportunities to combine real-time webcasts/skypecasts, chat rooms and
archived podcasts;

Example:(Inside Digital Media)

5. Regular podcasts facilitate pointed, publicized conversations and debates

Examples: Edtechtalk.com
Berkeley Science Groks
ITConversations
podblaze)

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One Response

  1. Barbara – Great summaries! Especially useful to see this from a perspective outside of higher education.

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