Archive for the ‘Why use social media?’ Category

For those who question the value of blogging and other new Information Technologies, I recently read about and visited a blog written by a quadriplegic man who writes with a ‘mouthstick’ on a PDA (palm computer), as well as having his own podcasting show: ‘Life Kludger‘. David Wallace, now employed as an IT coordinator, was seriously injured in a car accident 25 years ago. Now, he writes about new technologies and ideas that can help people lead better lives.

Lately we’ve been talking a little about the pros and cons related to the Blogosphere as well as other social software. For someone who has had some experience firsthand with the stigmas often related to people with disabilities, I think this is a great example of technology actually giving ‘voice’ to a minority who often may be ignored or simply forgotten by so-called ‘normal’ society.

Using his own mechanical ingenuity, Mr. Wallace has invented new tools that could help others with similar conditions to his own, as well as dedicating a blog to the discovery of other helpful creations for people with one of many types of challenges and obstacles in their lives. Read his blog and find out what a ‘kludge’ is.

Can you think of any other obvious (or not-so-obvious) ways in which blogging helps people to live better lives?

Wheelchairs gave some physically disabled people their mobility back. Computers, the Internet, and blogging are giving some a ‘voice’ that more people can now hear.

Jesse S. Somer knows that all disabilities can’t be seen from the outside.

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How many of you want to change the world for the better? Stupid question…Well, besides reading blogs, I also love to read books (I’m sure most other bloggers are the same). Although my blog’s main focus is on the Blogosphere, we have to remember that the Blogosphere can encompass just about any subject. People write about just about everything. Or, they soon will be. One topic I’m sure you’ll all be interested in, is on how we can make the world a better place, one small step at a time. We are each only one person, but every action in our day leaves a ‘footprint’-both ecological and social, and so we can make a lot of difference when together our efforts have a cumulative effect. I bought a paper book recently (not very ecologically friendly I admit, but I love them) called ‘365 Ways to Change the World’ by Michael Norton. You have got to check it out.

I really think every human being should have a copy of this book. The basic concept is that there’s a page and an idea for every day of the year. Themes are Community and Neighbourhood, Culture and Creativity, Democracy and Human Rights, Discrimination, Employment and Enterprise, Environment, Globalisation and Consumerism, Health, International Development, Peace, Volunteering and Citizenship, and Young People.

For example, today’s (December 13) subject is ‘Hunger Banquet’. It starts out with the proclamation, ‘Our planet produces enough food to feed every woman, man, and child-and with some left over. There’s some topical information, a short story about a woman in Mozambique, some number facts (always effective for creating understanding), and most importantly-related links on the Internet (On this page: Act Fast: Oxfam America‘ and ‘Oxfam America.org‘.) This is a very interactive book; reading it while on the Internet brings about a whole new learning experience.

At the start of the book there’s a 20-question checklist for you to measure where you fall on a scale ranging from ‘eco-sinner’ to ‘socially-minded saint’. Here’s some sample questions: Do you regularly fill up your kettle with only as much water as you need? Do you regularly turn off the lights when you leave the room? Do you buy local and support local small businesses? Do you do things for others or for the community-volunteering at least 2 hours per week?

I’m sure there’s something you see others do that you don’t approve of. Tell me about something that you do to help the world. Better yet, tell me something that you’d like to improve on in your own life. There’s supposed to be a website related to the book at ‘365 Act‘, but when I checked it was down. Hmmm. Could it be a sign of the times? Man that sounds pessimistic…

Here are a couple of more positive quotes from the beginning of the book:

‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ – Mahatma Gandhi

‘Citizens of the global village unite…You have nothing to lose but your universe.’ – Perminder Singh

‘There is certain liberation in understanding that we can’t do everything. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. – Archbishop Oscar Romero

Jesse S. Somer has a lot to do before he’s considered a ‘socially-minded saint’, but he’s on the road…A turtle with a flat tyre, but he’s on the road baby.

This is a part of the world that I would like my great-grandchildren to know well.

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If you’re reading this blog I expect that you’re a blog reader. That is of course taking into account that your car hasn’t crashed off of the Information Highway resulting in your sudden ‘turning up’ at this web address/homepage/address/home…and what a place to end up it is! Blogspoke: A writer/blogger who writes about writers/bloggers. So, here’s the big question: Have you ever commented on someone else’s blog? Why did you do it? (That’s two big questions…I snuck the other one in hoping you weren’t paying attention. That’s another big question: Are you really PAYING ATTENTION to what you’re reading right now? Are you only ‘half-reading’? Come on, put some effort in! It’s often hard for us humans to give full attention to anything that we’re doing isn’t it?

What makes you feel that sudden urge to make a comment on someone’s blog? Is it because you feel strongly about a topic? Is it because you really relate to what the blogger has written, and you feel the ‘need’ to let them know that you appreciate their thoughts? Is it because you want to take part in a conversation that is based around a topic that you feel passionate about, rather than the same old ‘small talk’ discussions around the water-cooler at work, or the pub afterwards? Could it be that you’re thinking of starting your own blog and you simply want to see what it feels like to have your own ‘voice’ up there on the computer screen, out there in the public domain?

It seems like I’ve gone from one big question to a multitude of more detailed specific ones. Oh well, I’ve seen some blogs that get hundreds of comments on each post; why does everybody suddenly feel the need to communicate with total strangers? Maybe we’re not strangers anymore? Maybe we never were? Maybe we’ve all been starving, even dying, to have our valuable individual opinions heard by someone, our peers, our society?

Have you got a few favourite bloggers that you read regularly? Have you ever commented on their sites? If you haven’t, how will they know you exist, and that you appreciate their efforts? How will they know that their blog is ‘needed’ by others? Not that it matters to all bloggers, but for me it’s good to know others are taking an interest. Are there other ways to let a blogger know that they are appreciated? I know some blogs ask for monetary contributions, that’s one way. What else? Come on and comment. Tell us why you comment.

Jesse S. Somer likes to comment on other people’s blogs to let them know that just about anyone in the world could be reading your words. It’s also fun to occasionally provoke someone by sharing a strongly felt opinion…but in a nice way of course, no need for insults in the Blogosphere. Is there?

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I’ve had some problems in the past with being too critical of others and myself, so I’ve been working at being more tolerant and compassionate. However, when it comes to reviewing blogs one has to put on the cap of the critic and tell the story of how you really think it goes. Thus far on Blogspoke I’ve mainly written quite positive reviews, choosing to steer away from negativity as I feel it usually does no good for the world. Today though, I wish to express my mixed feelings about a certain popular blog written by a movie/TV star named Zach Braff. Check out http://www.zachbraff.com/.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Braff is quite a good actor. If you don’t know of his name offhand, he was in the popular film ‘Garden State’ (I liked the scene where his Grandma sews him a shirt out of excess material from her new curtains.), and plays a lead role in the TV series ‘Scrubs’ (My Mum watches it every week). The thing is, Zach Braff’s blog is quite popular, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think its popularity has anything to do with blogging.

When you go to Braff’s blog, right away you’re hit by the professional graphic design of his blog’s front page. Whoever designed it knew what they were doing. It’s even got cool little icons that move when you scroll your mouse over them, like an RSS blimp link that floats around and even has a shadow underneath it. Very inventive…but what are blogs about? I thought they were about content. Let’s look at Zach’s writing (I hope he doesn’t mind me talking about him on a first name basis). Well what have we got? Almost nothing. Yet each time he does splash a few words on the page telling readers how he’s sorry he hasn’t written in so long, or simply selling us on his new TV show or movie, he gets 500-1000 comments on each post. Why?

Braff was originally on the A-list at ‘Blogebrity’, that controversial list from a few years back that said ‘who was who’ in the Blogosphere. He currently ranks 2,720 out of over 55 million blogs on Technorati…Why is it so? He’s only posted 6 times (and a couple of them are 2-liners) since September 2006. I think I might’ve figured it out. I read some of the blog’s multitude of comments.

Unlike the ‘Dilbert Blog‘ whose creator Scott Adams-famous for his cartoon character, tells us what he thinks about the world, funny anecdotal stories, and never even mentions his work on the cartoon that made him famous, Braff’s blog seems to simply be a place for fans to tell him how great he is. He says a few lines about how awesome his new show will be, and literally bucket-loads of teenage sweethearts (I am assuming) tell him how much they like it, and how much they admire him. If you’re looking for interesting content and comments relating to it, this is definitely not the place to go.

So, is there anything wrong with this picture? I guess not. There aren’t any real rules to what a blog has to be like-it’s one of the newest forms of work/media/fun/hobby in the world today. No one said that blogs from famous people have to exhibit their personality. I just think it’s cool when they do. It’s nice to see the human face behind the red carpet façade.

Zach Braff may know how to act like a doctor on TV, but does that mean he can act like a blogger too?

Jesse S. Somer hasn’t got much of a pretty face or a fan base. However, the few comments on his blog have been related to the content.

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A while back I read an article at Nature.com called ‘Top Five Science Blogs’ about the five most popular science blogs on the Internet (Technorati rated them by counting their links to other sites). It had interviews with the blogs’ creators giving their opinions on why some of their sites are even more popular than some contemporary News sites. However, it seems that if you now go to the above link you have to pay money to read the story. Fortunately, I saved it for prosperity and will now share a few of the quotes that stuck out for me as being important for new bloggers.

‘Weblogs written by scientists are relatively rare, but some of them are proving popular. Out of 46.7 million blogs indexed by the Technorati blog search engine, five scientists’ sites make it into the top 3,500.’

1. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ (Ranked 179): ‘. “Sometimes, I just summarise some basic concepts as I would in the classroom.” But you are certain to fail if you write as if for a peer-reviewed journal. “It doesn’t work on the web,” says Pete Myers. “A blog’s more like the conversation you’d have at the bar after a scientific meeting.”

I like the sound of that, ‘A blog is like a conversation.’ Rather than writing a book, a magazine article, or even a traditional journal or diary-style text, people are literally (no pun intended) having intelligent conversation via this new medium.

2. www.pandasthumb.org (Ranked 1,647): ‘Being a group blog is key’, says contributor Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science. ‘The nature of the topic helps too’, he adds. ‘There is an interest, a hunger even, for thoughtful analysis of the issues related to evolution and creationism.’

Having a group blog can be a great advantage because you can have multiple contributors who specialise in different areas. It should also be noted that if one person is busy or has momentary ‘writer’s block’, there are others there to keep things rolling along. Always having new and fresh content seems to be an imperative for getting readers to return on a regular basis. If your subject is contentious and regularly debated upon that’s all the better! Definitely put effort into honing in on a topic that grabs people’s interest in the public domain.

3. www.realclimate.org (Ranked 1,884): ‘Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist who blogs at RealClimate, puts its success down to the hot topic and expert contributors. It helps to have “a passion for explaining things as clearly as possible, and a hell of a lot of patience to deal with all those comments rolling in”.

There’s a lot to learn in just this small statement. If you do want to become a popular blogger hopefully it’s for altruistic reasons like making real relationships with others, as opposed to simply wanting to become powerful and famous. That raises the strange question: Are any bloggers actually powerful?

Having expert contributors may be a problem for some (How do you find them?), so the next best thing would be to try your best to become an expert yourself. Read, read, read, and find out as much as you can about your subject of choice. If you can then establish yourself, you may then be able to make some connections with others in your field (through comments, trackbacks etc.) who will add more knowledge as well as credibility to your site.

Passion for explaining things clearly is the key to good communication and transferral of ideas, while having the patience to reply to all of your comments will show your visitors that you see them as equals and are interested in interrelating, giving them the feeling that they aren’t just writing for nothing. On the contrary, as things develop further their commenting becomes an integral part of the group learning process.

‘Gavin Schmidt, at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says the blog fills “a hunger for raw but accessible information” that goes deeper than newspaper articles, but is more easily understood than the scientific literature. “Magazines fill a void, but they can’t react or interact as effectively as blogs.”’

4. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/ (Ranked 2,174)

‘Frequent posting of original content is crucial to building an audience, says Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, which is produced by five physicists. But taking “stances that are provocative and make people think” also helps. One needs to become the place to go for a subject, he says. Citing other blogs is a sure-fire way to get their notice and maybe a citation in return, he adds. But he cautions that citation counts and rankings can be a distraction. “It would be a shame if people worried about traffic and not about having a good blog.”’

5. www.scienceblogs.com/scientificactivist  (Ranked 3,429)

‘Nick Anthis, who only began blogging in January, knows the reason for his site’s swift rise to fame. During a political censorship row at NASA in February, Anthis was the first to reveal that a key official had lied about graduating from Texas A&M University. “Before I knew it, it had exploded into a major national News story and he resigned.” After an initial spike in traffic, many stayed on as regular readers.’

So, this last lesson is to try and be the first to find out about something that really gets people excited/interested, not the easiest task to undertake…unless you’re on the front lines. Are you a relative fountain of knowledge standing at the front of a battlefield of important knowledge and information? Get blogging!

Jesse S. Somer once had work experience in a Genetics department. Don’t ask him what the pigs know, there are some secrets that are best left unsaid.

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