Tony Karrer's eLearning Blog on e-Learning Trends eLearning 2.0 Personal Learning Informal Learning eLearning Design Authoring Tools Rapid e-Learning Tools Blended e-Learning e-Learning Tools Learning Management Systems (LMS) e-Learning ROI and Metrics

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Common Questions and Some Thoughts Around Blogs and Blogging

I've had a brief blog conversation with Quintus Joubert - eLearning Blog: Blogs: Engaging the reader. It started when he questioned the blogs cited on Gabe's list of top 19 eLearning blogs as (eLearning Blog: Top 19 eLearning blogs).

His post are good to look at as an example of some of the common questions that people new to the world of blogs have. I thought it was a great spark for some discussion:
Why do "the blogs look like a random collection of ideas, rather than a discussion around a particular topic"?

I think that one thing a lot of people miss at first is that most blogs are really an on-going conversation that the blogger is having with other people in the blogosphere. It's not unlike a conversation you would have at conference in that it covers all sorts of topics. Most people who write blogs do not feel they are "publishing" or "presenting" ... instead they are conversing.

Why do they sometimes include things about their personal life?
Just like any conversation, some people are going to include more stuff about their personal life, some people less. Readers are likely the same. Some people (like me) skip most personal stuff (unless I know them pretty well).

"How to do share your thoughts/lessons learnt without seeming to be the expert"?
Great question. And the answer is that you are free to express your opinions and you should help people by saying they are opinions (but we know that's almost always true already). What I look to get from blogs is lots of perspectives. Personal perspectives.

Why aren't there "more substantial discussion" of the "big issues facing eLearning"?
In some ways, I have the same question, but partly I've come to realize that the the big issues are not well defined. That's also where personal perspectives and personal challenges come in. If you look at the LCB Big Question in December, it's a great exercise because it forces you to define your challenges.

Interestingly, he later said ...


"blogs are about sharing best practices, lessons learned and learning from others"


We agree on this!

But he also said ...
"the main challenge with blogs is to make them entertaining while at the same time sharing something that may be beneficial to a participant in the eLearning industry"
Actually, making it "entertaining" is not really what you are normally going for. Are you trying to be entertaining when you are talking to someone. Not normally.

Finally he says ...


I have noticed that many of the current corporate/business blogs try to cover all the bases i.e. covering news, books, tools, articles, best practices, personal news etc. Sometimes this comes across as a little disorganized and it is hard to filter through all the information to get to the meat. Although I like the idea of a blog, I am not sure that it will be that helpful to people unless there is some sort of structure. A collection of unassociated thoughts and ideas is great if you have a lot of time to filter through the posts, but most people don’t have the time to do this. I guess my struggle at the moment is to come to grips with the blogging format and trying to decide what value I can provide to my audience. The ultimate value of a blog is to get people to engage with you and to share their ideas, rather than it being a static medium. I would love to have your thoughts on how you managed to achieve this.

Fantastic! Yes, blogs are disorganized. Conversations are disorganized.

How do you filter? Lots of ways. Skim quickly to look for interesting things. Use aggregators (human or automatted) who are scanning lots of sources and giving you what they deem relevant.

Overall, I think the expectation about blogging and blogs is way to high from Quintus' viewpoint. If you think of them in terms of "entertainment", "audience", "value I can provide" ... that's way too much pressure. Instead, think of it as conversation and tell us about:

  • Your biggest challenges in eLearning?
  • A recent problem you've faced?
  • A meeting you went to and what you ran into?
  • Or "speed dating" at a business function (which he did)?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I think the big issues are being discussed. I think the Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog (LCB) has helped that tremendously. Also, in terms of blogs, the conversations occur in different places, I am having a discussion with Mark Oehlert that started with the Big Question at the LCB over on his blog but then I add something to my blog and then added something to Stephen Downes blog. Who, by-the-way, does tackle some big issues.

I think, to fully participate and understand the big issues, one needs to "jump around" from blog to blog.

It is the job of the bloggers to help make the links obvious and to guide new learners with something that you have spoken about...the new visitor's guide. Again as instructional designers we can make blogs more friendly with more navigational hints and techniques.

In terms of entertainment, I agree with your conversation analogy. I don't always want to be entertained in a discussion, mostly, I just want to be informed.

Karyn Romeis said...

This is a very good conversation. I have similar conversations with classmates on my MA course around the online discussions that form part of the course programme. I notice that in respect of both blogs and discussion forums, many people struggle with the issue of control. "I posted a question about this, and instead of answering it, people have gone off at a tangent...". That's how conversations go, whether they're held online or not - although it is admittedly easier to drag people back to the point in a real time discussion, if you feel the need.

As to the issue of personal life, I take that as a given. This is the one area in which each of us is truly an expert. We share case studies, personal testimonies, first hand observation. All much more relevant and immediate than impersonal dissertation. With the added bonus that we get to know each other as real people.

Mark Oehlert said...

Bottom line - blogging is in the eye of the beholder. As I say in the prologue to my blog, my primary audience when I blog is me. I love having readers but they are not why I blog. I have been having this discussion recently with several people about how in Second Life, you may actually get a more accurate view of how people think of themselves than in RL (real life). Physical constraints are gone, almost all economic constraints are gone what you see is how people want to be seen. Same thing with blogging at least generically.

Are there people pushing commercial agendas? Duh. Are there people trying desperately to make everyone like them or laugh at their jokes. Duhx2. What does this have inherently to do with blogging? Zippo - its a medium - in large part a fricitonless one. This has got to change the paradigm - conversation is a decent analogy but it doesn;t get me all the way there - maybe it does but there are these elements of time-shifting, place-shifting, scalability and creating a serachable record that aren't present in f2f conversations - does that wreck it?

Anyway - I guess I'm sounding a bit defensive since Quintus seems to be somewhat attacking a new medium with an outdated idea of what we should all be talking about. I need to ponder this (wow, pondering a big question because of something I read on a blog, what a concept).

Tony Karrer said...

Great comments!

Karl - I agree that as ID/IA people we should figure out better help for readers to navigate a blog. I like the Blog Guide for that, but I also think there are some more techniques.

Karyn - I must confess that I've said that exact thing in a discussion group - "I posted a question and the group goes in a tangent." It's funny that in the world of blogs, I expect tangents and understand the control a bit better (you control your own blog, but not the larger conversation nor the participation). In a discussion group, I expect the group to try to provide help for the person asking the question. It's okay to discuss tangents, but I want them to answer the question. They often don't and instead drive the conversation to another question. And, I feel out of control in the discussion group. I'm questioning my discussion group skills right now as I write this, but for some reason blogging has felt much more natural to me.

Mark - your comment "conversation is a decent analogy but it doesn;t get me all the way there - maybe it does but there are these elements of time-shifting, place-shifting, scalability and creating a serachable record that aren't present in f2f conversations - does that wreck it?"

I agree that it's a very differnt kind of conversation with all sorts of interesting aspects to it ... but in most cases it's still a conversation isn't it (in terms of tone)?

There are other types of blogs - product blogs, aggregator blogs, etc., but most of the blogs that I read are "conversational blogs" ... Or am I missing something?

And - Mark - great point about the irony of pondering an issue out of blog discussion!!!

Quintus Joubert said...

Tony and Mark,

Thanks for the feedback on my blog post, both here and on my blog. Mark thanks a lot for your informative post, I do take it in the spirit of open communication that makes the blogosphere work.

Let me start by stating that my intentions were not to attack a new medium and I am sorry if my ideas around blogging seem outdated. My post was self reflective and I wanted to get some ideas on what expert bloggers feel should be discussed in blogs and ultimately what your notions of a successful blog are. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas and I am indeed trying to find my voice in the blogosphere.

As far as entertaining the reader goes, I guess a better word might be ‘engage’. People have limited time and they want something that engages their attention. This applies to conversations because people like to talk to people that are good communicators and this often includes being charismatic and having a good sense of humor. Good conversations are not only about conveying information they are also about creating that human bond. However, I do agree that not all conversations need to be entertaining/engaging. In most cases the tone would depend on the subject matter. In much the same way, I view blogs as a mixture between entertainment/engagement and sharing information. What I was trying to do with my post was to develop a conversation around how this is most effectively achieved in a blog. Even if you write your blog as a self reflective piece, I am sure you would still ideally like to have people respond to you and engage with you by sharing their thoughts.

Mark Oehlert said...

Quintus - Good response for 2 reasons. #1 new information and most importantly because you did it - welcome to Roman coliseum that is the world of blogging!

As far as engaging goes..I'll stand by my thesis that what really attacts people is an authentic voice...when Robert Scoble started, he had no audience and he really just wrote about things that interested him but he did it in an authentic voice from an interesting position (within MSFT). So I hear you about your goal....I just know I don't have the time or probably the skills to design an engaging blog - I can only write about what interests me and hope on some level that other folks find it worthwhile.

Tony Karrer said...

Quintus, welcome to the conversation! It's is ironic that your blog post generated a discussion around an "interesting issue".

Mark & Quintus - In terms of entertaining, engagement, audience - I'd say that if there was no one else blogging and no exchange - I would not blog. So, yes, I'm looking for engagement. But, I don't necessarily put pressure on myself to "be engaging." I'm not trying to be boring either, I'm just conversing like I would during a presentation or during a conversation with colleagues.

Like Mark - I write (and talk) about what interests me. I hope that other people find it interesting and thus will engage.

Frank said...

Participants,

Thanks for demonstrating what blogging is about. Insightful, engaging, and my personal favorite - thought provoking.

Frank

Dave Lee said...

between trying to "catch up" on what's been going on the past week or so and
karl's initial comment got me thinking - maybe rather than a metaphor of a conversation, when we talk of multiple blogs and the blogsphere we should think rather of a cocktail reception.

Seldom do you ever get a long, indepth conversation with one or two people. More often than not, you hop from one conversation to another to another. To meet someone you've wanted to meet, to chat with old friends, because you overheard a topic you just had to chime in on. Or maybe it's your chance to have that 30 seconds with the CEO. Maybe it was the uproarious laughter that ended up spilling into your group from the next group over and now it's one group telling silly stories about "the good ole days."

You come away with a tremendous amount of information. And usually numerous conversations you want to follow-up on (and some you actually have the time to do so.)

I put the question to you this way Quintus. Would you rather be at the really quiet cocktail reception down the hall, or at this noisy, information filled party?

Dennis D. McDonald said...

I think the biggest challenge with blogging is not figuring out what to write, it's figuring out for whom you want to write.

Obviously you have to write for yourself but that will take you just so far if you have serious professional, marketing, or sales interests. Once you realize that blogging is at least partly a social activity, you should probably figure out with whom you want to be "social."

It also helps to keep track of who reads your blog. Even when you have specific individuals, groups or themes targeted, inevitably and courtesy of Google Search many -- if not most -- of the people who visit your blog will be complete strangers to you and your ideas. You need to keep them in mind, too, when managing your blog. Otherwise you could end up communicating with the same old group.

Tony Karrer said...

Dennis - I believe that most bloggers are partially doing it because they have a "professional, marketing, or sales interest" but they also are doing it for the conversation and learning. The exact place in this spectrum differs greatly between bloggers.

If you are doing it for the conversation and learning end of the spectrum, then determining "your audience" may not be that important. Write about things that interest you and you will find others with similar interests. I would suggest that you don't mix radically different interest areas in the same blog, i.e., cooking and eLearning.

Also - I'm not sure Dennis what you are suggesting in your second paragraph around looking at your visitors and how they get to the blog. I do this, but I must say it doesn't help me much beyond high level numbers that show interest in particular topics. If you have specific thoughts on this, that would be great.