Thursday, September 27, 2007


What's in a Blog?

Presented by: Kevin Champion, Hale Library

Stream the video of this talk with Windows Media Player

If such key phrases as "web 2.0" or the "democritization of the internet" are appropriate for our internet lexicon circa 2007, then blogging must be a part of the conversation that got us here. This talk explores the concept of the blog in real examples, from creating a blog, to basic blogging, to expanding the definition of what a blog is. From community portal, to dynamic database, to collaborative organizer, along the way we will find out that a blog is not just a "web log" anymore.

Blog As Presentation

At some point along the way of preparing myself to give the Techbytes talk about blogs, I decided that the best way for me to approach the topic would be to create a blog about blogs. This is also an attempt to extend the possibilities of a blog to make it a presentation tool as well. I have seen Dr. Mike Wesch create website interfaces as teaching aides, instead of powerpoint, to great effect. So, I felt like something similar was in order. Additionally inspired by Dr. Wesch, I have for some time wanted to extend the possibilities of academic work onto different mediums. Instead of writing a paper, I would like to make a website, or a video in Dr. Wesch's case. After thinking about Marshall McLuhan's concept that the "medium Is the message", using new and different mediums (especially to talk about new mediums) may be much more than just a creative venture.

I also immediately realized that one hour is not even close to enough time to touch on all the points I would want to touch on. I wanted to extend the one talk into the future by giving people a place to go to learn more and to get ideas. Lastly, I created this simply as demonstration to inspire people to think about the possibilities of blogs and blogging.

Check out what tools and hacks I used to create this blog below:

Slides Play Click to view in larger window

What Is A Blog?

A blog is webspace.

What interests me is free webspace and what I can do with webspace I can get for free.

This means that what I want in a blog service is:
  • freedom to customize
  • freedom to innovate
  • freedom to make it look nothing like a blog
  • freedom to extend the meaning of "blog"
In order to get these things, the service must allow me to write (aka copy/paste) html/javascript code. In order to do really cool things, this has to happen at the level of widgets and at the level of at least some of the source code (css etc.)
In order for a service to be useful it must have an intuitive design and a customizable interface.

When I started out, I knew nothing. I have no formal training in this subject. And now I'm giving a talk at a university about blogs...

The blog environment is a perfect sandbox for learning
  • the internet
  • html
  • javascript
  • css
  • web 1.0
  • web 2.0
  • web 3.0
  • rss
  • importance of aesthetics
  • importance of functionality
  • realization that aesthetics and functionality are one

Instant Message

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Blogging Story

My Blogging Story begins a couple of years back with a friend telling me over the phone about this thing called MySpace he got invited to. He said it was cool cause you could write things and share them with your friends. So, he invited me and I started my first blog. Uncertain of what to do with a blog, and worried about privacy, I decided I would only post philosophical musings, not wanting to submit to some sort of narcissistic endeavor.

Realizing how easy it was to publish online for free, I started thinking that I should create a blog for my notes from classes and the papers I write. This way I could share them with others and point others to my work. Through a web search I stumbled upon Blogger and set one up.

Somewhere along the lines I got involved with Students for Environmental Action and became the club webmaster (with no webmastering knowledge whatsoever, but an eagerness to learn). I subsequently found out about RSS and decided that I hated email and listservs. Specifically I hate news and other writings being sent via listservs because I think the motivation to share is one born of a desire to have dialog, something that is very cumbersome via email, and especially listserv. So I created another blog for the club, and made it a collective blog by adding club members as authors.

Through the efforts for the SEA CoBlog, I found out about the Blogger hacking community. I specifically found out about some hackers creating ajax blog templates, making the interface lightning fast and smooth. After pondering the issue, I decided to try to turn a blog into a database (project still underway). The first application of this was the Manhattan Buyer's Guide, a project I had been working on over a year and had already created a static website for.

Extending that application, I wondered if a blog as a library catalog would be a far stretch. I played around with the idea of creating an annotated bibliography of the Dow Chemical Multicultural Resource Center (DowMRC) reference collection (project still underway). In the meantime I found out about someone already doing this with Wordpress, scriblio.

Learning from the experience with the SEA CoBlog, I began thinking that a blog would a good tool for management. It could make communication in a work environment transparent and inclusive, and it could give voice to certain entities and situations. So, I helped setup a blog for the DowMRC for exactly this purpose.

Lastly, I was invited to give a Techbytes Series talk about blogs. So, I created this blog to demonstrate the extension of a blog as a presentation tool, and to provide a resource for a vast array of tools and information that would not be able to be covered in a one hour talk.

A Brief History of Blogging

  1. From coding to writing, easy web publishing
  2. From publishing to real simple syndication
  3. From privileged to democratized
  4. From personal to social
  5. From social to post-social
  • Coding to writing sees services being created to allow users to write and publish without knowing much html.
  • Publishing to rss sees the advent of what collective minds think of as a blog. A web log, journal, that can be subscribed to so that it updates the reader just as a newspaper or magazine does in the real world. This releases the reader of the obligation to check blog sites and makes email newsletters unnecessary.
  • Privileged to democratized sees services developing easy to use interfaces and offering free hosting.
  • Personal to social (stage 4) sees individuals sharing their writings and content with others. It sees services emphasize the social aspects making it easier to share and easier to find people. The services try to create the social networks within their service. The focus here is a sort of worldcentrism making it possible to share with anyone, anywhere. The reality is a sociocentrism, because the user can't share with anyone, just anyone using that service.
  • Social to post-social sees people creating the networks the services try to create in stage 4. The user says, "I've already got the people, I just need the tools and location to be able to share with them. I have a friend using service 'x', other friends using service 'y', and I'm over here using service 'zzz24c'." So, the user goes out and integrates 'x', 'y', and 'zzz24c' so that s/he can share with her/his friends and network. The emphasis here is a sort of sociocentrism, focusing less on the novelty of sharing with anyone, anywhere, and more on the reality of sharing with the user's real life networks. The hope is that the reality of this focus is a worldcentrism, because the user can see the whole world and chooses to focus on what s/he can actually affect.

While stages 1-4 are fairly clear and empirically based, stage 5 is purely conjecture, hope, and foresight to be questioned rigorously.

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Education Community

This is another example of a blog in disguise because of its use and functionality, not necessarily its structure. Edublogs is a Wordpress installation that is attempting to create a community of educators and students utilizing all that blogging has to offer. In this way it is promoting the use of the internet, and blogs, to teachers all over the world. In so doing, it is also trying to extend the definition of what a blog is.

The most unique part about this interface is that the individual blogs that anyone can create are share among all the others using edublogs in order to collaborate and innovate new teaching approaches, techniques, and integrations of blogging. Beyond that, the interface for teachers is tauted as a collaborative one, allowing students the ability to influence the direction that the class takes by commenting and posting. In this way it is promoting a decentralized and democratized form of teaching and learning.

This website functions much the same as, in that edublogs is hosting a Wordpress install for you.


Kiva is included here for two main reasons:

1. To draw attention to what is in my opinion the coolest use of what is possible online nowadays

2. It has built in blogs throughout its interface, making it a blog in disguise

Kiva is a website that is bringing together as many non-governmental microloaning organizations and as many concerned individuals about the amount of poverty in the world and putting them together. Over the last forty years microloans have been the greatest revelation in the attempt to aid underdeveloped nations, and specifically, the impoverished people within. One of the first microloan institutions, the Grameen Bank, won the noble peace prize in 2006 for its effectiveness and innovation. The concept is simple, instead of giving aid to people in need, they are given small loans in order to start a business or improve their situation. This approach has been incredibly successful earning near perfect repayment and default rates.

Kiva applies a web 2.0 interface to this concept in what may be one of the most important uses of the concept of bringing together people from all over the world. Anyone can create an account and a profile on the Kiva site and make a microloan to an entrepreneur in need. The entrepreneurs are found by the NGO microloan institution in their country, at which point the NGO posts a profile for the entrepreneur, takes a pictures, adds a description of why they need money, and how much money they need. The blog part comes in because each entrepreneur has her/his own blog to report on progress of the project, repayment, and additional loan requests.

Lenders to the site get to choose who they lend money to using this profile (bloglike interface) and then loan up to a maximum of $25 to them (due to the overwhelming amount of lenders, Kiva is currently setting a max of $25 so that more people have the opportunity to participate, they plan on extending this in the future). Then, when the entrepreneur repays the loan, the lender gets the money back to either reinvest or remove from Kiva. This is all done in a paypal-like way free of taxing and interest making the money transfer and interaction very smooth. Remarkably, just like the Grameen Bank, the repayment and default rates have been close to flawless.

This is the opportunity that blogs and the web have created to help people help themselves, which is the best we can hope to do.

Library Catalog

This is one of the most exciting manifestations of a blog in disguise. A library science student at Plymouth State University named Casey Bisson recently won a Mellon grant to develop an online catalog based on Wordpress open source blogging software. The first test of this Wordpress install, called scriblio, is up at the Cook Memorial Library and the code has recently been released to the public.

This is really important because it adds incredibly to the value of a library catalog by making it easier to browse for books and resources. It also adds the ability to have user generated content on the catalog via commenting and even ratings. This means that patrons can have discussion about a book they just read from the library, or they can help fellow students by noting what resources were useful for a particular subject or research.

Lastly, this is very exciting because this type of framework is the direction that many larger university libraries, including K-State Libraries, would like to head with their catalogs. And to think, at it's very core is a blog (but not quite your 1999 blog!)

Transparent Worklog

This blog is in disguise because of its content and functionality, not necessarily its structure. This is a Typepad blog, created and maintained by K-State Libraries. I work in the Dow Chemical Multicultural Resource Center (DowMRC) in K-State Libraries and one of my duties is ensuring that the Center runs smoothly. A large part of that job is managing student workers. Before I started working in the DowMRC, the students would fill out daily work logs on paper along with weekly work details. The Center is open 64 hours a week, so there are many hours in which students are working without supervision. Thus work logs are our way of holding the students accountable. However, the paper work logs never worked because students did not consistently use them and the supervisors did not consistently provide consequences for not using them.

Therefore I, along with my colleagues, decided to try out making a blog into a virtual work log with student workers and supervisors as authors. This format is much easier and more enticing for the students to follow (being internet savvy and technologically capable, students often disdain having to use physical paper). For us as supervisors it does many things:
  • All work log information is in one place
  • Transparency, all students and supervisors can see each others posts
  • Communication, supervisors can ask questions of students to hold them accountable
  • Students can ask questions of supervisors
  • Supervisors can keep track of students remotely
Since its inception a few months ago it has been very successful.

Need Help?

In order to better help other people, I would like the opportunity to provide my services, advice, opinions, and knowledge on the subject of blogging to others. I am more than willing to help you set up your own blog, the way that you want it. The only potential problem is that I may not have time to help everyone all the time. However, this stuff excites me so much that I relish the opportunity to help others. I also look forward to collaborating with others to come up with new ideas about what we can do with this interface, and I am thrilled by the prospect of being challenged to create something new.

With a lot of this stuff it is very easy and quick for me to help you, already knowing what probably can and cannot be done. So, with my help you don´t have to do the ground work to learn about all the possibilities... you don´t have to reinvent the wheel!

In the same vein, many of my projects are far from complete. Specifically I need help with the Buyer's Guide project and a couple more projects that have not fully seen the light of day. Therefore, if you want to help, collaborate, or brainstorm, I encourage you to get a hold of me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Academic Blog

This blog is in disguise, not because of its structure like many of the other examples, but rather because of its content. I created it as an undergraduate student in order to post the extensive notes I was taking in a particular class of interest. I wanted to make the notes easily available to me and to anyone I wanted to share them with. This idea was to evolve to the point where I would be posting my academic essays, papers, and other works. However, since I graduated it took a different direction. Because I am not writing many papers these days, it evolved to be a place where I post all the little gems I find in my reading. At some point I got in the habit of writing down little paragraphs or quotations so that I could refer back to them, and this blog is an extension of that practice. The most important part about this for me is that once posted, I can share them incredibly easily. I can also just point people to this blog to get an indirect idea of who I am based on what I am reading.

For the above reasons, I have done significantly less structural hacking to this blog, however it still exhibits quite a bit of uniqueness and customization. See what tools and hacks I used...

Slides Play Click to see show in larger frame.

Buyer's Guide

I created the structure of the Buyer's Guide (it is very much a work in progress) to see if I could extend the possibilities of a blog. One of the Blogger hackers, Ramani, who hosts the blog Hackosphere created an ajax based template which uses a lot of javascript to accomplish previously unattainable navigating speed and efficiency. Taking his brilliant work and hacking away at it to obtain different functionality, I have attempted to transform a blog into a dynamic database.

The key to this project is functionality. The idea is to make the user-end interface as quick and easy to use as possible. The goal is to create "designed" serendipity in the user, so that s/he can find what s/he didn't know s/he was looking for. This application is a stretch, but has currently made it over the majority of the obstacles.

Take a look at the site and then see what tools and hacks were used below.

Slides Play Click to open the show in a larger window.

SEA CoBlog

I created the SEA Coblog as a place where people involved with SEA could share news, opinions, and potentially collaborate. Initially it was an attempt to stop misuses of email and listservs. I thought, "I hate email and I hate getting articles via email!" I want to get my news from a feed. So, this blog was an attempt at making a blog for SEA, with as many authors as wanted to contribute. To this day it has undergone at least 3 full scale redesigns and now it functions as a community portal of sorts. It is a bringing together of a vast array of different aspects that make up our presences on the internet nowadays.

Watch this slideshow displaying all the various hacks I have employed and the various tools I have used to create the SEA Coblog (the slideshow is not exhaustive, but gives a good account of the resources I have utilized)

Slides Play Click here to see the slideshow in a larger window.

Blogger Hacks Story

One of the most exciting parts about Blogger when it was redesigned and released by Google was the community of hackers that sprung up immediately. In my estimation there was a core group of some twenty hackers who worked to customize Blogger Beta, making sure that all of the good things from the old Blogger were preserved and expanding on what Blogger can do. These hackers created blogs and test blogs posting tutorials on them about how to do a certain hack. In my time playing with Blogger, I have used upward of 50 of these hacks to make my blogs anything but your ordinary blog. Here is a sampling of the main hackers I have benefited from and collaborated with.

The reason I use the world "community" to describe this group of people is because by all accounts it was a very collaborative effort. One person would figure a trick out and then someone else would add to it and a third person would polish it. I also say "community" because I experienced this community first hand by requesting and receiving anonymous advice and support. Not only that, but at a certain point (armed with a critical and inquisitive mind) I got to a level of knowledge where I was able to make my own variations and contribute to some of the hacks the community created.

At this point Blogger has gone out of Beta and this community of hackers has largely ceased created new hacks. However, the large body of information and tutorials left in their wake is more than enough to get someone a long way into the Blogger world before needing hacking support.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blogger Hacks

  • Blogger bought by Google

  • Redesigned and released as Blogger Beta

  • Community of hackers hacked away unleashing the possibilities

  • Blogger went out of Beta, hacker community slowed

  • Tutorials created are still here

For more about the Blogger story and Blogger Hacks...