Finding the Tools to Sing – A Reflection on Big B Blogging

Quote on tools from Austin Kleon

I started writing this post a few months ago but did not get around to finishing it, subsequently my initial notes have lay waiting. I was reminded of it by recent posts from Jim Groom and Alan Levine reflecting on the purpose of blogging. Here then is my contribution to the conversation.


In the March edition of the Loose Learners podcast, Mariana Funes and John Johnson discussed the difference between small b and big B blogging. In part, this was a response to a post by Tom Critchlow on ideas and the power of the network.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale.

Although big B blogging maybe associated with link blogging and ‘interesting ideas’, the focus is on broadcasting, rather than connecting and commenting. The notion of big B blogging is usually associated with those like Jason Kottke, John Gruber and Richard Byrne.

In a recent interview, Kottke shared how his blogging has developed over time. He explains in particular how advertising and making money from his site has changed. What is interesting is the connection between big B blogging and making money. Although he shares his workflow and intent, what comes through is that it is still a job. I wonder if there is another possible definition of ‘Big B’ blogging that goes beyond advertising?

When I think about blogging, there is a cross-over between technology and the way it is used. Big B bloggers are those who take each to their extremes. Content is important. But so is process and product. It is something personal, stemming from our changing circumstances and intent.

For me, blogging is about utilising the various features and affordances available, but also trying to push the boundaries in understanding how they work. In Martha Burtis’ keynote for Domains17, she argued that Domain of One’s Own is more than just learning WordPress, rather it is about learning how to “publish online in an open-source Web application”. As she explains,

Every moment in which we walk a student through a fix is a deeply teachable moment — a moment not just to provide step by step instructions but to narrate for them what each step means. When we bring meaning to the breaking and the fixing we are pushing beyond the boundaries of the merely practical.

For some this experience is distributed across several spaces, such as a space to collect ‘breadcrumbs’ and a main space for longer forms. For others, it is about creating spaces specific purposes and then syndicating back to one place.

I think that this is what interests me about the IndieWeb. The focus is not just about content, but how content is presented. This focus on what and how stems from a why of developing a ‘demonstrably better web’.

So big B blogging to me is about allowing growth and development both personally and collectively. Although some spaces may have subscription accounts, this is not necessarily what keeps the lights on.

So what about you? What does blogging mean to you? How do you find balance between creation and construction? As always, comments welcome.


Also posted on IndieNews


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Sharing Data is Easy with QUERY

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

There are many challenges to sharing specific data in Google Sheets, some of these can be overcome using the QUERY formula.


I attended a day recently continuing the look into ongoing reporting. One of the focuses involved reflecting on various points pf data. Something that stood out was the willingness of teacher to share data. Whether it be with students, teachers or parents, for some providing access can still be a challenge.

I discussed this with a principal attending the day and one suggestion made is that it can be hard to share particular data, without sharing everyones data. This is especially the case when talking with parents or conferencing a student. An answer is using the QUERY formula.

With Google the chosen platform, a lot of teachers store their data in Google Sheets.

QUERY combines a whole lot of functionality into the one formula. As David Krevitt explains:

QUERY combines all of the capabilities of arithmetic functions (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE) with the filtering abilities of a function like FILTER.

It is a language developed by Google, using the principles of Structured Query Language (SQL).

For example, you may wish to share the results of just one students:

To do this, you select the columns you want to copy from the MASTER tab and which value you wish to filter by:

=QUERY(MASTER!A:F, "SELECT C,D,E,F WHERE A = 'Donna'", -1)

If you wished to quickly create a tab for each student, Alice Keeler has created a script for generating tabs from a list. This personalised information can then be shared with students (see Jake Miller’s explanantion). Another thing to consider is to protect formulas by adjusting permissions at a celular level, as well as prevent others from copying the file, therefore getting the information that way.

The other option is to create a dynamic selector involving either a name:

Or even a whole form:

These options might be used when working with colleagues or talking with parents. You are able to bring up just the information required. Depending on the data, you can also create dynamic charts. One other benefit to using the QUERY formula is that it allows you to quickly and easily reorder the representation of data. So lets say ‘F’ is associated with literacy testing and you would like that at the start. Rather than writing SELECT C,D,E,F you would write SELECT F,C,D,E.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what the QUERY formula can do. For more information, see posts from Ben Collins and David Krevitt. Collins also ran two webinars, which you can go back and watch. One on the basics, while the other getting a bit more complicated.


One thing to note when using Google Sheets to store data is what sort of information you are collecting. In some districts and regions there are issues raised about storing ‘sensitive data’ in platforms like Google.

Reflecting on Class Dojo, Ben Williamson explains that ‘sensitive’ can be the consequence of collecting data:

The ‘sensitive information’ contained in ClassDojo is the behavioural record built up from teachers tapping reward points into the app.

This same concern needs to be considered in regards to Sheets, especially with the changes being brought about by GDPR.


As always, comments welcome. Webmentions too.


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