Comments are the power of the village

What does it mean to be caring in online spaces and how is this related to sharing?


I recently came across a message on a blog that stated ‘sharing is caring’. This was placed next to buttons for the various social media silos. This had me stop and think. Is this this in fact a lie we have been sold? I have spoken before about paying ideas forward and feeding back into the stream, but I wonder, are there means of caring that do not involve sharing into somebody else’s backyard? This then involves stopping to reflect on two questions: what does it mean to share and care?

Sharing

I love to share. It was one of the things that really drew me to Twitter and then blogging. It offered the ability to post short snippets, telling a story over time. This though touches on the first consideration, what should we share?

I often share quotes, visual creations and links. In the past, this was straight to Twitter. However, over time this seems to have become about something else. Although I was backing up my Tweets, my contributions seemed conflicted.

Recently, I have taken to posting everything on my second blog – Read Write Collect – and syndicating from there. This often involves capturing a quote or a short reflection. The question I have is, when I share out, whose link do I share? If I share a link to a bookmark or like then it will bring back all the responses using webmentions. However, then the question is about whether I am sharing for the original author or myself? Should I instead by retweeting a tweet from the author or share out the original link? This then leads to the second point of caring.

Caring

I imagine caring can come in many shapes and sizes. When sharing out on social media, I have long made the effort to mention the original author in the post to indicate to them that I care. Sometimes this also involves attaching a graphic or a quote that caught my attention. Although this is good, I wonder if there are better ways to show care?

A step beyond sharing a tweet is posting a comment. I am not sure if it is the effort involved or the process behind it, but I have always valued a comment more than a tweet. In recent times, this has included posting comments from my own site (where applicable) or pasting in.

Another part to this is linking to ideas when I know that they have come from elsewhere. I think this is often overlooked and I really like the latest change to the webmentions plugins that allows you to turn mentions into comments.


Maybe it is just me. Maybe sharing online just works? However, I agree with The Luddbrarian that where we need to start in regards to Facebook and social media in general is ‘expand our imagination’ in this area. I think that this starts by asking questions. What does it mean to be digital? How are we really caring in online space? Does it have to involve sharing? As always, comments welcome.


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Often we talk about ‘being digital’ but what does this imply in reverse? What might it mean in today’s day and age to be analogue?


In a recent post reflecting on Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital, Mal Lee and Roger Broadie discuss what it means to ‘be digital’. The authors reflect on some of the changes, especially in regards to learning. They also explain the fluid nature of ‘being digital’.

As the children within digitally connected families grow, mature, develop their cognitive, inter and intrapersonal abilities, become sexually aware, build relationships, socially network, operate at a higher order of thinking and continually attune their ways to the evolving technology so they will develop their own form of being digital – and will continue doing so, in subtly different ways, at the various stages of life.

This all begs the question, if being digital is such a thing, what does it mean to be analogue in today’s world? Assuming that is the opposite? Is it even possible anymore?


I recently watched the film adaptation of Into the Wild, a story about a student, Christopher McCandless, who goes off the grid after finishing his tertiary studies. In some respects, it reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, where the main protagonist wanders around search of a sense of self and identity.

What was interesting was comparing it with Dave Eggers novel The Circle. A fictional social media company that makes the argument for radical transparency. As things unfold in the world that Eggers creates, it becomes impossible for anyone to go off the grid, to start again, to forget the past.

SECRETS ARE LIES SHARING IS CARING PRIVACY IS THEFT

Through the power of the crowd, there are no more ‘Alexander Supertramp’s’ (the psuedonym taken by McCandless), there is only truth and power.

The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do. TruYou changed the internet, in toto, within a year.

What then does this all mean for being analogue? For identity? For memory?


There are some in Silicon Valley, like Tristan Harris, who talk about ‘aligning technology with humanity’. If only we have a little more humanity in it all then everything will be ok. The problem with this is that this perpetuates the belief that technology and humanity are somehow distinct and can be harmonised.

In a recent interview, George Seimens suggested that our focus should be on ‘being skills’. Jenny Mackness summarises this conversation as follows:

Technology can ‘out know’ us, artificial intelligence is taking over human roles, and that in the future technology will become a co-agent rather than an enabler; you, me, colleagues, algorithms and robots will all work together in a techno-socio distributed learning model. George tells us that learners (humans) need to learn how to participate in this and that this will be through ‘Being skills’ which, as yet, machines can’t succeed at. He says we are necessarily entering a ‘being age’ because the technological systems around us are more intelligent than we are.

What is intriguing about this is that although Seimens tries to focus on what separates us, we are led back to the work of mindsets and behaviourism. Interestingly, Mackness extends her reflection by exploring the notion of living things and machines. Maybe then being analogue is merely living?


Just as Steve Brophy stops and questions 1:1 computing, I think that sometimes it is important to stop and consider the world that we are buying into. Today this meant stopping and wondering about being. As always, questions and webmentions welcome.


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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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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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Quote from Doug Belshaw's book on digital literacies

Responding to Holly Clark, I explain why I cringe when the concept of digital literacy is replaced with fluency, subsequently overlooking the plurality of digital literacies.


There has been a lot written about digital literacy of late, much of the conversation stemming from the Engagement in a Time of Polarisation MOOC and danah boyd’s keynote at SXSW. Holly Clark enters this conversation explaining why she chringes when she hears the word ‘digital literacy’.

In Clark’s post, she states that literacy is about the ‘competence of knowledge’. It is that thing required to make meaning. She then goes on to argue that what is at stake is not necessarily the competence to make meaning, but rather the ability:

What students don’t possess most often is a not digital literacy, but rather digital fluency. As educators if we spend our time talking about literacy – and what feels like ONLY literacy – and we leave out the more educationally important idea of fluency we might be doing students an injustice. Fluency is the term that SHOULD be at the heart of everything we are talking about. It is where the transfer of knowledge happens, where kids apply that literacy they developed without our help, and get past the making meaning stage to a place where they are transferring knowledge on their way to becoming effective digital citizens and learners.

I agree with what she is saying, it is not our knowledge of these things that matters, but rather application of such knowledge. Therefore, I can know about two-factor authentication, which by her definition would be a part of being ‘digitally literate’. Tick. However, unless I actually apply two-factor to each of my accounts then it is of little use.

The particular example that Clark gives is that of searching. As she explains, you cannot have an knowledge of a search (or a query) unless you understand the consequences and to do so you would need to be fluent, not literate.

The question we should be asking as educators is – are they fluent in search? Do they know how to craft a search that will deliver to them a page of really meaningful and purposeful results – results that come from mostly credible sources? Do they have the fluency to evaluate the information the search produces. I promise you the answer is no in 98% of cases. There is a fluency to search, to knowing what happens when you add quotes, or the minus symbol, or keywords and how this all affects the end result. This is the digital fluency of understanding the intended message (or query) you are delivering to Google.

As Clark highlights, simply knowing to use quotation marks is not enough, we need to understand why this is the case.

Although I am not as confident as Clark to call out ‘98%’ as the number, I think that this difference between knowing and understanding is a consequence of a tick-box approach to many of these things. There are great programs like eSmart’s Digital License, which help build knowledge. However, like many licenses in life, it can be a means to an end. The question is often what happens once they have their license that matters. Again, if they find out about the importance of two-factor and security, but continue to use their dogs name as their password, then it is to little avail.

My concern with Clark’s argument is that she puts ‘digital literacy’ to the sword, replacing it with ‘fluency’. This is problematic on two fronts. Firstly, the concept of literacy is not fixed. Secondly, we are better considering the plurality of digital literacies.

In The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, Doug Belshaw suggests that literacy involves using a tool for a particular purpose.

Before books went digital, they were created either by
using a pen or by using a printing press. These tools are technologies. Literacy, therefore, is inextricably linked with technology even before we get to ‘digital’ literacies.

This use is always a social process that is contained within a context, for “in isolation, an individual cannot be literate at all.”

Adding the ‘digital’ modifier increases the ambiguity associated with the situation. Instead of providing an overarching definition, Belshaw provides eight elements to make sense of the different incidences of digital literacies.

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed.

What is important here is that we cannot meaningfully consider all these elements at once. Each offers the possibility of digging deeper or stepping back.

Take for example searching online. We can confidently search for information. This is what Clark captures with her discussion of ‘fluency’, However, this does not necessarily capture the critical side of search and algorithms. Interestingly, Clark makes mention of the plurality of literacies, but never quite explains what she means.

In the end, what is needed in this area is more conversation. It is complicated. It is contested. As always, comments, criticism and cringing welcome.


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A quote from Steve Wheeler on the importance of the village and support networks

Life can get busy, when this occurs, should leaders stand aside or do we need to stop and recognise that sometimes leadership involves the support of wider support networks?


In a post reflecting on leadership and the self, Paul Browning identified three aspects that great leaders are able to manage:

  • Emotions
  • Health / Sleep
  • Ego

The question I am left with is what happens when a leader can’t keep these aspects in tact? Not for the lack of trying, but rather that life does not necessarily allow for it. Maybe it is raising a young family, suffering from illness or balancing life situations. Should leaders stand aside or does it sometimes take a team?


Discussing the challenges of balance, Corrie Barclay shares a number of tips associated with raising a family while also being an assistant principal. These include doing what you say you will do, learning to say no, making time for you, mindfully moving around and living life to the fullest. Barclay’s post was a response to a post from Eric Sheninger on the same topic.

For Sheninger, worklife balance can be broken down into three areas: professional, family and personal. Some of his strategies for answering each of these areas is to consciously block out time for things, think about eating patterns and cut back on social media. He also states that sometimes you need to be selfish.

Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life.

When Sheninger was a principal he would leave early in the morning in order to fit in a gym session before the start of the day.

Chris Wejr provides his own take. His answer has been to remove email, as well as schedule his family into his calendar.

For Steve Brophy the challenge is the transition from one mode to another. He does this through the use of a routine when he arrives home, where he gets his clothes ready for the next day, writes a few notes and leaves his phone in the bedroom. This then allows him to give his best to his family.

Taking a different approach, John Spencer has his own solution to the personal problem. He and his wife give each other one night a week to pursue other interests. This means going somewhere else, whether it be Starbucks or a microbrewrey, and focusing on something unrelated to teaching.

What each of these situations and suggestions demonstrate is that there is no quick fix to finding balance. Whether it is food, scheduling or space, each approach is based on a particular context. Having said this, there is one thing that ties them together. The part played by our wider support networks.

Other than John Spencer, there is little mention of partners and their part in the play. Although Eric Sheninger identifies family as an area that is a part of the balance, he does not touch upon their particular influence. Steve Brophy recogises his wife’s role on his ‘learning board of directors’, but not necessarily what this involves.

Like Sheninger, I too used to exercise early in the morning. However, I now choose to help out at home, before dropping my children off at childcare. My wife is in leadership and I feel that it is important to help out where I can.


Returning to the beginning, Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.

Reflecting on guilt of not always being their for her children, Pernille Ripp recognises the role played by her husband in allowing her to do what she does. Maha Bali is another who explains the need to say no to various requests because she is also a mother. While when she does present, this often involves a team of carers or her daughter actually attending various events. Although neither are explicit leaders of schools, they are still leaders in their own spaces.

I wonder then if the greatest challenge we face in regards to leadership is realising we cannot do it alone and recognising those who help out to make it possible? As always, comments, criticism and communication welcome.


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Tufekci on Informed Consent

There have been a lot of discussions lately about Facebook, social media and connected society in light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Here are my thoughts on what it might mean to be more informed consent.


Secret and Safe?

At the start of Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins inherits a ring from his cousin, Bilbo Baggins. He is unaware of the power it holds. After leaving Frodo to find out what it is, Gandalf returns. He promptly askes Froddo,

Is it secret, is it safe?

Still unaware of the ring’s power. Gandalf explains to the hobbit the gift he has been bestowed and the journey he must go on.

I think that connected education and social media pose us with the same challenges. There comes a time, when after signing up and dipping our toes in, we need to stop and ask ourselves,

Are we secure, are we safe?

Our responses to this can go in a number of directions. On the one hand we can don our silver suits like Chuck in Better Call Saul and become possessed by fear.

via GIPHY

Or we can become completely paranoid like Elliot in Mr Robot, where we always think the worst and react accordingly.

via GIPHY

We need some sort of compromise. We need to, together, demand better.

Informed Era

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw made an attempt at mapping the internet. He divided it into five eras:

  • 1993-1997: The Information Superhighway
  • 1999-2002: The Wild West
  • 2003-2007: The Web 2.0 era
  • 2008-2012: The Era of the App
  • 2013+: The Post-Snowden era

I have been thinking lately, with fake news and data breaches, maybe we are entering a new era, what Belshaw mooted as an ‘informed era’.

Although there has been a call for companies to improve the clarity of their terms and conditions and governments to put in place policies to protect citizens, I think that ‘informed consent’ needs to go beyond that. If we are to demand better then the conversation needs to go beyond the features and affordances of digital technology. For tools themselves are just one actor in a larger play.


“EdTech Enablers – Modern Learning Canvas” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

A useful framework for making sense of technology is Belshaw’s Eight Elements of Digital Literacies. Split between four mindsets (Critical, Civic, Confident and Cognitive) and four skillsets (Creative, Communicative, Constructive and Cultural), these elements provide a means of appreciating the complexity at work.


“The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

These elements though do not provide a checklist to tick off, but rather the start of a richer conversation. They should not considered all times, but they help in realising that there are always other aspects to consider.

Take for example an application like Hapara. It provides an added layer of control on top of GSuite, which allows teachers to organise and manage learning in the classroom. Using digital literacies as a lens provides an insight into a number of aspects which help to inform our use.

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely responsible for creating the conditions for learning.
  • Cognitively, it involves new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, if you have been using GSuite, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating their learning.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process depending on how it is deployed.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider why there is a need to manage learning at all and the consequences associated with such actions.

What this example highlights is that you cannot meaningfully consider all these elements at once. Each offers the possibility of digging deeper or stepping back to develop a wider perspective.

Becoming Informed

One of things I have noticed about the current discussions around Cambridge Analytica, fake news and polarisation is that there are no quick fixes or simple solutions to any of this. As Seth Godin points out,

Advertising has shaped our culture. Not the ads, but the money. And Facebook’s woes are a symptom of that.

Being informed is not some sort of process where one day you wake up certified. This is a problem with things like cybersafety programs. They are often designed to get everyone to a particular level of knowledge, but fail to address the mindset and ongoing practice. The real problem that needs to be addressed is what next?

The challenge as I see it is to understand that consent is something that we inadvertently give each time we tap into an application. I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed. Here then are some strategies to start with.

Critically Reflect and Ask Questions

I think that the most important thing we can do is wonder. This helps go beyond the how-to to the how-do-they-do-that. Ian O’Byrne has written a useful series of posts with questions to consider in staying safe online. He touches on issues such as passwords, backing up and protecting your connection. In part, I think this a part of the push for computational thinking.

Learn from and through others

For me, being informed takes a village. If we are to ask questions, then it is useful to have people to talk about them with. Dean Shareski wrote a post a few years ago that that has really stuck with me. In it, he spoke about leaving conferences with new connections, not just new content. I think that this is important. Meeting people beyond your own context helps extend your thinking and develop new ideas.

Engage in new challenges.

Reflecting upon his digital workflow, Clay Shirky talks about each year getting rid of perfectly good habits. He fears that if he doesn’t he will stop noticing the ever changing digital environment around him. For me, such change starts with reading widely. There are so many places to find content these days. Whether it be on social media or reading books. I am an advocate for feed readers. All you need to do is find a few interesting sites, add the feeds and you are away.


So to come back to the start: “Are you secure? Are you safe? And are you informed?” Maybe the answer is actually the question itself? As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


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Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

With the move to platforms like Patreon, it leaves me wondering about the impact on the wider community.


I opened my feed today to find Doug Belshaw has made the move from Gumroad to Patreon. After the recent glitch involving fees, it seems that there is a growing move to the platform within the group of people I engage with online.

Adi Robertson explains how:

Patreon offers individuals the opportunity to provide a more profound level of support: donors aren’t just supporting art; they’re supporting a person, an art style, or an idea.

While Cory Doctorow argues that:

The measure of Patreon’s success isn’t creating an army of full-time creators with middle-class incomes where none existed before: it’s ensuring that the money generated by art goes primarily to artists.

My question is the consequence of depending on patronage. As Seth Godin states in What to do when it’s your turn?:

When you overstate the obligation of the audience, of course they’ll let you down, and when they do, you don’t have to show up again. What a great excuse to stop making art, to hide …

It’s not your turn to win, or your turn to be picked, or even your turn to be guaranteed gratitude … it’s merely your turn to give a gift.

For me, this comes back to Bill Ferriter’s warning about chasing wider audiences. However, it also touches on his idea of ‘bringing your own audience’. For Belshaw, this allows him to provide a more uncensored side to his patrons.

In Show Your Work, Austin Kleon makes the case for giving stuff away and instead focusing on selling art and services:

Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

A part of this process is the production of a mailing list:

I know people who run multimillion-dollar businesses off of their mailing lists. The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email. You’d be amazed at how well the model works.

Cory Doctorow has reflected on the benefit of giving away his books, discussing how it has led to an increase in readership, people actually buying the books and opportunities:

This “market research” of giving away e-books sells printed books. What’s more, having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans’ tireless evangelism for my work doesn’t just sell books–it sells me.

Although Doctorow does have a place for ‘donations’, it is so that you can buy a copy for a library.

This approach to giving stuff away is an approach I have taken. I blog, I help out where I can, I share, inspired in part by Kleon and Belshaw.

I started a monthly newsletter. This is as much about connecting ideas within the community as it is about promoting my own work. Maybe one day I will have something else to offer, then I will reach out and share with my supporters. Until then, I will keep on giving stuff away.

I have also taken this mindset to the way that I engage with others. Rather than become a patron, I try and buy what they are selling. For example:

  • Micro.blog: I do not pay for Micro.Blog and did not support the Kickstarter campaign. I neither want my blog hosted on Micro.Blog, that is what I pay Reclaim Hosting for, nor do I want to use Micro.Blog to syndicate, I use SNAP for that. However, I am happy to pay and support Manton Reece’s book once he finishes writing it.
  • Visual Thinkery: I paid for Bryan Mathers stickers. Truth be known, because I love his work. In a strange way, it made me feel a part of the Visual Thinkery tribe. I am yet to use most of them though. However, I use the sketch he made me in my signature, as well as for my newsletter. To me, how I use them is not necessarily the point. It supports Bryan to do more work, that is what matters.

  • Ben Collins: I read Collins’ blog and subscribe to his newsletter/mailing list. He gives away a lot and is always willing to clarify any technical queries. Subsequently, when he announced that he was developing a self-paced course on Pivot Tables, I was there. I started it, but got distracted. I know that I will get back to it eventually, but I also know that I am supporting Collins in a small way to keep on doing his work.


Maybe this is just me? Maybe it merely reflects my privilege of having a contract, rather than living from one gig to the next? Maybe my stuff is not worth selling? Maybe I am just missing something? As always, comments welcome.


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Doctorow on demanding better technology

One of the challenges with the web can be managing content across multiple sites, one answer, create canonical links and share from there.


In a conversation on Twitter discussing the archiving images and canonical URLs, Amy Burvall explained that much of her work was simply stored on Instagram, which can be problematic. She asks whether I had any other suggestions:

This had me reflecting on all the spaces (or ‘cafes’) where I have seen Amy’s multimedia output,

I am sure there are more I may have missed, but it paints something of a picture. Added to this, not only does she frequent these social spaces, but often in different guieses as well.

One of the things that interests me about Amy’s work is that there is not necessarily a central space. If anything, I would say that it is her WordPress.com blog, but there is not a space where all the different parts are collected together. Although she also has her main site – amyburvall.com – this is more of a landing page design to connect, rather than collect.

Here I am reminded of a recent piece by Cory Doctorow where he reflects on the choices associated with technology. He states:

You don’t have to be “protech” or “anti-tech.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how someone could realistically be said to be “anti-tech” – your future is going to have more technology in it, so the question isn’t, “Should we use technology?” but rather, “Which technology should we use?”

Douglas Rushkoff recently made the case against social media being used in schools. I agree with this and wonder we more schools do not create their own spaces. However, I also think that schools on the whole should do more to own their presence. What if they actually collected together their media story in one space. I think that Burvall faces that same conundrum.


There seems to be two schools of thought on this:
PESOS: Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site
POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere

Dries Buytaert’s graphic provides a useful breakdown of the differences.

I remember when I started down the POSSE path, my focus was simply on my long form posts. I would use Jetpack to share links to Twitter and Google+. This approach however has its limits.

Firstly, Jetpack only provides a certain amount of social media sites provided. Secondly, it does not allow for much nuance in regards to content and how it is shared, particularly with media. The template is set within the code of plugin, with links sent out automatically. There are some ways to manipulate this, whether it be in the text box provided or by adding an excerpt, (an optional field in WordPress.) However, it is neither clear nor consistent.

Having spent some time with Edublogs/Global2, I learnt that Jetpack can be modified. I am not aware though how much you can adjust the code associated with sharing links nor anyone who has done this.

Another automated approach to sharing is through the use of a third-party platforms. The easiest and cheapest of these is IFTTT. It allows users to set up ‘recipes’, connecting various services together. These simply run in the background.

Although IFTTT provides more choice, this can still be limited. There are times when you have to work with the options available to rethink what is possible. I am also sceptical how IFTTT are making their money and whether they will pivot like Storify.

A similar third-party platform is Zapier. What is good about Zapier is that it really breaks down the various options clearly. The only catch with Zapier is the cost.

An alternative that does not rely on a third-party platform is SNAP (Social Network Auto-Poster). This WordPress.org plugin connects with a range of applications within your own site. Although the setup is not as simple as Jetpack or IFTTT (you are required to get your own API Keys), there are clear instructions provides to walk users through connecting each application.

Where Jetpack is fine for sharing links, it quickly becomes frustrating when trying to use your blog to share different forms of multimedia. SNAP provides an array of ingredients that can be used to create templates:

  • %TITLE% – Inserts the Title of the post
  • %URL% – Inserts the URL of the post
  • %SURL% – Inserts the shortened URL of your post
  • %IMG% – Inserts the featured image URL
  • %EXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (processed)
  • %RAWEXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (as typed)
  • %ANNOUNCE% – Inserts the text till the Continue reading

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Automation image

Although many talk about the power and potential of automation to aid us, sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves what this means and where the limits lay.


In a recent episode of Loose Learners, John Johnston and Marianna Funes discussed web generators. These are applications designed to automate a part of the creative process. As I listened I realised how many of these generators I myself either use or have used in the past:

iMovie Movie Trailor – I have used these templates myself and with my students. What is useful about them is they provide a clear structure to riff off.

Lumen5 – I have made a few videos with Lumen5 to summarise longer posts. It reminds me a bit of Haiku Deck.

Adobe Spark – Made up of a suite of apps, Adobe Spark makes it easy to generate quick and easy images, posts and sites. In regards to video, I like that you record the audio for each slide, rather than one file across the whole video.

Each of these application works within a particular set of constraints, that make it simple to just make. In part, this reminds me of Tom Barrett’s point about knowing what is possible to work at the edges:

Not to be confused with restraint which is much more about self-control, constraint is about finding the edges of the page before you begin, it is about knowing what limits you have in terms of resources.

The challenge with all of this is being thoughtful about how these generators are used.

Johnston touches on this in regards to Micro.blog and using his site to syndicate to various social media siloes. He shares how although some tasks take a little bit longer, however he feels that he has inadvertently approached things with more care. I too have taken this approach recently. I have taken to using SNAP to send out links and have them syndicated on my site. This all involves a semi-autonomous setup.

I sometimes wonder if the best generator at times is in fact ourselves? Fine, we might use various tools to offload the physical labour, however they are associated with dynamic choices and actions. This is what I do with the creation of my images. I could probably automate this, especially with the addition of add-ons to Google Slides. This would then involve populating a spreadsheet or even a Google Form and applying this to a template. However, I feel that I have the process downpat that there is something in the generation that I actually like. Therefore, the automation in this situation comes in the form of process.

In a recent article, Antone Martinho-Truswell discusses automation and the way in which it seperates us from other animals. What stood out from his piece though was that automation has two parts: mental and technical.

There are two kinds of automation: those that are energetically independent, requiring human guidance but not much human muscle power (eg, driving a car), and those that are also independent of human mental input (eg, the self-driving car). Both are examples of offloading our labour, physical or mental, and both are far older than one might first suppose.

Too often the focus of automation is on the tool, yet there are infact other components that are overlooked. To me this is the ‘human’ side of things that people like Douglas Rushkoff and Kin Lane touch upon.

Take for example, reading online. There are some who advocate for the Chrome App TLDR as a way of improving comprehension. The problem with this is that it has its limits. Firstly, the tool does not teach you how to summarise, nor does it address every piece of text on the web. Instead, there comes a time when you have to draw on your own questions and protocols to help make sense of things.

Generators are good, but they have their limit. What is important though is that we never let go of the ability to think through things from scratch. This is the key to embrace both sides of automation, the physical and the mental. For sometimes all elements are needed to find the edge of the page and work from there.


So what about you? What are your experiences with automation or online generators? As always, comments welcome and webmentions too.


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