A reply to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Why Not Blog?

Replied to Why Not Blog? by Kathleen FitzpatrickKathleen Fitzpatrick (Kathleen Fitzpatrick)

My friend Alan Jacobs, a key inspiration in my return (such as it is, so far) to blogging and RSS and a generally pre-Twitter/Facebook outlook on the scholarly internet, is pondering the relationship between blogging and other forms of academic writing in thinking about his next project. Perhaps needless to say, this is something I’m considering as well, and I’m right there with him in most regards.

But there are a few spots where I’m not, entirely, and I’m not sure whether it’s a different perspective or a different set of experiences, or perhaps the latter having led to the former.

I really like where you’re coming from on so many fronts here (and on your site in general). Thanks for such a great post on a Friday afternoon. A lot of what you’re saying echos the ideas of many old school bloggers who use their blogs as “thought spaces“. They write, take comments, iterate, hone, and eventually come up with stronger thoughts and theses. Because of the place in which they’re writing, the ideas slowly percolate and grow over a continuum of time rather than spring full-formed seemingly from the head of Zeus the way many books would typically appear to the untrained eye. I’ve not quite seen a finely coalesced version of this idea though I’ve seen many dance around it obliquely. The most common name I’ve seen is that of a “thought space” or sometimes the phrase “thinking out loud”, which I notice you’ve done at least once. In some sense, due to its public nature, it seems like an ever-evolving conversation in a public commons. Your broader idea and blogging experience really make a natural progression for using a website to slowly brew a book.

My favorite incarnation of the idea is that blogs or personal websites are a digital and public shared commonplace book. Commonplaces go back to the 15th century and even certainly earlier, but I like to think of websites as very tech-forward versions of the commonplaces kept by our forebears.

I’ve seen a few educators like Aaron Davis and Ian O’Byrne take to the concept of a commonplace, though both have primary websites for writing and broader synthesis and secondary sites for collecting and annotating the web. I tend to aggregate everything (though not always published publicly) on my primary site after having spent some time trying not to inundate email subscribers as you’ve done.

There’s also a growing movement, primarily in higher education, known as A Domain of One’s Own or in shortened versions as either “Domains” or even #DoOO which is a digital take on the Virgina Woolf quote “Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.”

There are a growing number of educators, researchers, and technologists reshaping how the web is used which makes keeping an online commonplace much easier. In particular, we’re all chasing a lot of what you’re after as well:

Part of what I’m after is consolidating my presence online as much as possible, especially onto platforms that I can control.

To me, this sounds like one of the major pillars of the IndieWeb movement which is taking control of the web back from corporate social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. Through odd serendipity, I came across your micro.blog account this morning which led me to your website. A lot of the underpinnings of micro.blog are informed by the IndieWeb movement. In many subtle ways, I might suspect the two had a lot of influence on your particular choice of WordPress theme.

Tonight I’ve also seen your reply to Dan Cohen’s question:

I had previously replied to Dan’s original question, but somehow missed your side thread at the time. I suspect you didn’t see our branch of the conversation either.

Interestingly, your presumption that the replies/notifications stay within their own domains isn’t necessarily fait accompli, at least not any more. There’s a new web specification in the past few years called Webmention that allows notifications and replies to cross website boundaries unlike Twitter @mentions which are permanently stuck within Twitter. Interestingly, because of the way you’ve set up your WordPress website to dovetail with micro.blog you’re almost 90 percent of the way to supporting it easily. If you add and slightly configure the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plugins, the asides and other content you’re syndicating into micro.blog will automatically collect the related conversation around them back to your own posts thus allowing you to have a copy of your content on your own website as well as the surrounding conversation, which is no longer as diffuse as you imagined it needed to be. Here’s an example from earlier this evening where I posted to my site and your response (and another) on micro.blog came back to me. (Sadly there’s a Gravatar glitch preventing the avatars from displaying properly, but hopefully I’ll solve that shortly.)

This same sort of thing can be done with Twitter including native threading and @mentions, if done properly, by leveraging the free Brid.gy service to force Twitter to send your site webmentions on your behalf. (Of course this means you might need to syndicate your content to Twitter in a slightly different manner than having micro.blog do on your behalf, but there are multiple ways of doing this.)

I also notice that you’ve taken to posting copies of your tweeted versions at the top of your comments sections. There’s a related IndieWeb plugin called Syndication Links that is made specifically to keep a running list of the places to which you’ve syndicated your content. This plugin may solve a specific need for you in addition to the fact that it dovetails well with Brid.gy to make sure your posts get the appropriate comments back via webmention.

I’m happy to help walk you through setting up some of the additional IndieWeb tech for your WordPress website if you’re interested. I suspect that having the ability to use your website as a true online hub in addition to doing cross website conversations is what you’ve been dreaming about, possibly without knowing it. Pretty soon you’ll be aggregating and owning all of your digital breadcrumbs to compile at a later date into posts and eventually articles, monographs, and books.

Perhaps more importantly, there’s a growing group of us in the education/research fields that are continually experimenting and building new functionalities for online (and specifically academic) communication. I and a plethora of others would welcome you to join us on the wiki, in chat, or even at upcoming online or in-person events.

In any case, thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts with the world. I wish more academics were doing what you are doing online–we’d all be so much richer for it. I know this has been long and is a potential rabbithole you may disappear into, so thank you for the generosity of your attention.

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

13 thoughts on “A reply to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Why Not Blog?”

  1. ayjay says:

    @kfitz Interesting! I thought about that, but decided that I want to deal with responses only here. Not on blog.ayjay.org, where comments are not enabled, and not on Twitter, which I don’t look at. I’m eager to see whether this becomes a place for conversation.

  2. Chris, can I pester you with a couple of questions? I’ve got Webmention/Semantic Linkbacks mostly functioning, though as you mention there’s a gravatar issue; not only are gravatars not being pulled, but generic ones aren’t being generated either, with the result that if I turn gravatars on in the Webmention settings, I wind up with a bunch of white space where the links should be. So I guess question 1 is… is there anything that I can do about that?

    Question 2, though, is about the ways that mentions are appearing. If you look at https://kfitz.info/why-not-blog/#comments, you’ll see that the first comment is me on Twitter; that one was pulled in using the old Twitter Mentions as Comments plugin. (That plugin has apparently been abandoned, and so I’ve deactivated it in favor of the solutions you describe.) The next two comments are replies to my tweet. Every other tweet that has linked to the post has been treated as a mention rather than pulling the tweet in as a comment, and the mentions link to the authors’ websites as listed in their Twitter profiles, rather than to the tweets. Is that expected behavior for the Brid.gy/Webmention setup?

    Thanks for helping walk me through all this. I’ve been fairly deep in the Domains world for a bit now, but this has been my first introduction to the work being done by IndieWeb!

    1. Kathleen, Happy to help; never fear pestering. And congratulations on taking the leap!

      These plugins are actively being developed and maintained by a group of folks and have updates with new niceties every couple of months. There were some new things relating to local avatars recently, but apparently some of the initial settings weren’t being saved. To fix things temporarily until the next update, go to the Webmention settings page and simply save it so that the Webmentions plugin will save the default settings to show the avatars.

      I hadn’t heard of the Twitter Mentions as Comments plugin before, but there are several similar old plugins which now no longer work or have been long abandoned.

      The links to the author names is another known bug as a result of the system not recognizing an initialization in set up. If I recall, the solution mentioned above of going to /wp-admin/admin.php?page=webmention in your site’s admin UI and simply clicking save should fix the problem and display everything as avatars. Generally most people facepile all their received reactions except for “replies”, though you can obviously pick and choose in the settings.

      Depending on how mentioned Tweets appear, Brid.gy attempts to provide a reasonable answer as to whether it was a mention or a reply. A recent update to the suite now allows you to go in and manually change webmention types if you wish by editing the comment directly.

      I try to document some of the major changes in the suite and write about some of the (hidden?) features. As a result I maintain an IndieWeb Research Collection of posts (mostly WordPress focused though there are some generic pieces as well as some coverage of WithKnown). You may find some interesting tidbits there as you delve in deeper.

      I’m always happy to help, though for convenience, you should feel free to hop into one of the IndieWeb chat rooms (there’s even a specific WordPress related chat), where you’ll find an array of people (including the plugin developers) almost 24 hours a day who can help with problems and issues, which means you may get more immediate help/troubleshooting. You can also feel more than free to file issues (or even feature requests) to the plugin’s development pages on GitHub–the community uses them as much as the developers to track issues and potential enhancements as well as document discussion. You can find links to them on the IndieWeb WordPress Plugin page.

      Once you’ve got these working, you might (optionally) take a look at also adding the following:

      • An h-card to your homepage, so that others receiving replies from you will have your name, URL, and avatar to display your comments properly
      • IndieWeb Plugin (this has a built-in h-card widget as well as help for additional plugins below)
      • Syndication Links (for indicating the places you syndicate your content)
      • Post Kinds (allows you to post a variety of social media-like types of posts: bookmarks, likes, favorites, listens, reads, etc.)
      • WebSub (a notification-based protocol for real time web publishing and subscribing to streams and legacy feed files)
      • Micropub (allows you to use other clients to publish to your WordPress website)

      I and a few others view the DoOO/Domains crowd as an education sub-category of IndieWeb, though in my experience there are more active developers and technologists in the broader IndieWeb side of life. We’re glad to have you tinkering with us.

      Again, I’m happy to help (even via phone or conference call if it’s more convenient).

      Syndicated copies:

      1. Thanks for this, Chris. I’ve attempted tinkering with the Webmention settings and re-saving, but it’s not having much of an effect, I’m afraid. I’ll poke around and see if I can figure out what’s going wrong…

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