Tag Archives: blogging

How Jonah Lehrer should blog

The problem with Jonah Lehrer, like the problem with Zach Kouwe, is not that he was humbled by the insatiable demands of Blog. Instead, it’s that he made a category error, and tried to use a regular blog as a vehicle for the kind of writing that should not be done in blog format. Lehrer shouldn’t shut down Frontal Cortex; he should simply change it to become a real blog. And if he does that, he’s likely to find that blogs in fact are wonderful tools for generating ideas, rather than being places where your precious store of ideas gets used up in record-quick time.

Felix Salmon – How Jonah Lehrer should blog.

Blogs, term papers, and a fear of what’s new

Cody Brown tweeted a link to this New York Times article earlier today about blogs and term papers. It’s a fairly shallow piece with many things I’d enjoy responding to, but I’ll pick one: the patronizing way the old guard portrays newer forms of writing.

Here are two quotes from that article. The first is from Douglas B. Reeves, a columnist for the American School Board Journal:

It doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting blogs. But nobody would conflate interesting writing with premise, evidence, argument and conclusion.

The second is from William H. Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review:

Writing is being murdered. But the solution isn’t blogs, the solution is more reading. We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about themselves and their home lives.

Fitzhugh and Reeves aren’t engaging with the idea of blogs from an academic or evidence-based perspective. They seem to fearful of the new medium and seek to discredit it with all the tact of a gossip writer.

“We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about themselves and their home lives” is a great soundbite, but it is ridiculous. First, are we so sure there is something wrong with giving kids an outlet to write about themselves and their home life? Second, what does it matter what the output is if the learning that happens in the process of getting there is substantial? I think Fitzhugh and Reeves are far too concerned with the potential output of these blogs than they are with what kids may learn by writing in a medium they enjoy.

If you want to say that blogs have, through research, been the cause of decreasing critical thinking among students that is fine. Merely asserting it does not make it so, though. You need evidence to back your claims, just like the term papers Reeves and Fitzhugh glorify.

If, instead, you are going to characterize the only benefit of blogs as the fact that some are “interesting” and imply that “premise, evidence, argument and conclusion” are only achieved through dead tree term papers, then you are full of it.

These two would be better off taking Reeves’ advice and using premise, evidence, argument, and conclusion to analyze writing on the web.

Write more about your newsroom

Last week I followed Lauren’s tweets about the Seattle Times’ move to a new building. It was fun to see the photos of packed up boxes and a newsroom in-flux. Watching all this over Twitter made me realize the opportunity something like this gives a news organization to open their newsroom up.

There are a lot of interesting questions that come up from a 24/7 operation like a metro daily moving to a new building. Here are just a few I thought of:

  • Who is responsible for tracking breaking stories while moving? What type of plans did the Times have in place if a critical story were to break while they moved?
  • In what ways does the production cycle of a news story change when a good part of the newsroom is packing and moving? What challenges is the Times having to work around in the move?
  • How could the workflow changes for efficiency made during the move be applied to the everyday process?
  • What were the goals for moving to a new building? Is the Times using it as an opportunity to re-think some of the ways they’re organized?

Times like this make me wish newsrooms had someone responsible for writing about what goes on behind the scenes. If you want your community to feel like a part of what you do then opening up information like this would be a great move, I think.

And it works…

So why did you make this?

Because I’m a programmer, and this is what I do.

Some people jog away from their house every day, only to jog back. Others walk on a treadmill, expending energy to get nowhere. In both cases, it may appear to others that they’ve accomplished nothing, but they’ve chosen to do these seemingly redundant activities on a regular basis to incrementally improve themselves. And it works.

Marco Arment – secondcrack on GitHub.

Scaling my long-form writing

Earlier Daniel asked me about starting a blog circle of sorts to help each other work on longer form writing that requires research, editing, and more careful thought. I think it’s a great idea. There’s a few things that I’d love to explore in more depth here that I don’t have a good structure in place for right now.

A benefit to attending a liberal arts school like Whitman was the sheer amount of writing I did every semester. Many classes required 4 papers a semester each of 5-7 pages. It meant I was writing something almost every week.

Since graduating the frequency of writing I’ve done has gone up drastically. Whether it’s on this blog or in my work at Automattic I’m writing far more and in far more varied contexts than I ever have before. That’s fun. What I’m not doing is the type of sustained, long-form writing that causes me to dig deeper and push my abilities. That’s also fun but is more difficult to do on a blog than as part of coursework.

There’s a few ideas that have been kicking around in my head that may fit for getting back into the swing of things with research and in-depth writing.

First, I’ve been thinking more about how news organizations need to think of themselves as crafting a product. It’s something I’ve written about before and is something I’d love to dive more deeply into. There could be an interesting line to trace here between the history of news publications and the growth of technology companies that more readily grok what it means to create a product.

Second, it’d be great to spend more time researching how WordPress can play a role in a rebooted school system. I think our current system of schooling is on its way out. Something may take its place and I think WordPress can, and in many cases probably is, playing a role here. Collecting those stories and theorizing a bit about what a more sustainable school system could look like would be fun.

We’ll see how this goes. It’d be a blast to get back into writing pieces longer than 500 words.

Moving to WordPress.com

I mentioned yesterday about how I was moving my site to WordPress.com. If you’re reading this post then it’s now live and my DNS has propagated.

I moved the site for similar reasons that Daniel mentioned the other day. We’re thinking about collaborating on a custom theme that we’d release on WordPress.com as well.

Another reason I wanted to move the site was to consolidate things. I’ve been using 3 sites recently to dogfood various aspects of WordPress. This site used to be a self-hosted installation on Webfaction. Then, I had a photo site hosted here on WordPress.com to use the iOS and Twitter connection tools. Finally, I had a status site that was using some cool behind the scenes stuff to post right to Twitter.

I’ve moved everything into this one site now. Since it’s hosted on WordPress.com I can dogfood all aspects of the product from one site. No need to split up where I publish now which makes a lot more sense to me.

If you’re interested in the technical details it’s running Twenty Eleven in a single column layout. I’m going to post the CSS soon after I add a few more things to it. I wanted to run a default theme so that’s what I’m doing with just a custom design upgrade. No special perks. 🙂

My blog as a commonplace book

Greg Linch likes to talk about commonplace books. It’s even what he named his Tumblr. Basically, it’s a means of collecting and storing all those bits of information that make our lives interesting. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regardless, it’s important information that you want to mark and save for later.

This has long been the approach I’ve taken to this site. Years ago Matt wrote about how asides are useful.  Presenting content in the form most appropriate is something I have tried to make more explicit in the design of this site. It’s why I’ve also experimented with things like the reading list that I now have. Different content requires different presentation but there’s no reason it can’t all live in the same house.

Anil Dash has said, “I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most significant things I create in my life.” I agree. There’s something immensely powerful about taking a corner of the web and saying “this is mine.”

Sharing things in my corner of the web makes them also form a part of my identity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I communicate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday.

As this history of shared items grows there’s also the fun aspect of flipping back through it. Steven Johnson has a great post about the commonplace book where he writes that:

Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession.

Where I can, I avoid farming out my identity. If I do sharecrop I back it up. This is why my blog is my public commonplace book. The collection makes me, me. It’s on my domain. It’s free. That’s all important because if I lose my shared items, I lose a part of that core identity.

The destruction of a sharing service means I would also lose the ability to flip back through a history of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay forgotten and lost to history. Without a commonplace book that you control you’re gambling your ability to learn and grow from your current actions.