📺 Against Blogging | Zach Whalen | Domains 2019

Watched Against Blogging by Zach WhalenZach Whalen from Domains 2019 | YouTube

For the past 15 years, I’ve included blog assignments in my classes as a default, routine, and generally low-stakes assignment. It began with a simple journal where students kept track of their progress through a video game, and through the years, the assignment has ranged from similarly simple logs or progress reports to the more ornate and decorous “features articles” where students seek to emulate magazine writing and engage with a public audience. At times, like when having a platform online was still a novelty and the adrenaline rush of Web 2.0-fueled activism took flight in the optimism of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, blogging totally made sense. As a classroom experience, a blog assignment helped students find their digital identity through written expression. By finding their voice digitally, students found themselves.

But while this will still happen, and while I still see brilliant writing from my students, the era when the exigency of a blog assignment can be reliably vindicated by an authentic external audience has ended. It’s time for something else, which means it’s time to re-evaluate what blogs have been and what we have needed them for in order to find the best ways to meet those goals through other means. In this short presentation, I will offer several suggestions.

This is, however, an aspirational proposal. I’m writing this between semesters as I reflect on the Fall — where blog assignments didn’t always meet my goals or in some cases arguably undermined other goals for my class — and thinking ahead to the Spring — when I hope to implement some new assignments based on this recent conviction about the ineffectuality of blog assignments. Therefore, by June, my expectation is that I will have something new to report: either finding success with an entirely new set of assignments and corresponding tools, or returning to the familiar embrace of blog assignments with a renewed sense of their value.

Most likely, I’ll be somewhere in between, but my hunch is that different forms of discursive content creation will help students take control of their learning and find direction for their digital identities. Whatever I find in the coming semester, I’m confident that I’ll be ready to share some insight into the intents, purposes, and outcomes of inviting students to do intellectual work on the internet of 2019.

Notes as they occur to me while I’m watching this video:

To me blogging is a means of thinking out loud.

Of course having a site doesn’t mean one is blogging. In fact, in my case, I’m collecting bits and pieces on my site like a digital commonplace book, and out of those collections come some quick basic thoughts, and often some longer pieces, which could be called blog posts, but really are essays that help to shape my thinking. I really wish more people would eschew social media and use their own websites this way.

We need to remember that a website or domain is FAR, FAR more than just a simple blog. 

It kills me how many in the edtech/Domains space seem to love memes. It’s always cute and fun, but they feel so vapid and ineffectual. It’s like copying someone else’s work and trying to pass it off as our own. English teachers used to say, “Don’t be cliché,” but now through the use of digital memes they’re almost encouraging it. Why not find interesting images and create something new and dramatically different.  (I can’t help but think of the incredibly unique Terry Gilliam “cartoons” in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the phrase “and now for something completely different…”.

Zach uses the phrase “personal learning journal” but doesn’t quite get to the idea of using domains as digital commonplace books.  He also looks at other social sites like Tik-Tok, Instagram stories, YouTube channels, and Twitter hashtags, but doesn’t consider that what those things are could easily be contained within one’s own personal site/domain. The IndieWeb has been hacking away at just this for several years now. What he’s getting at here, but isn’t quite saying is “Why can’t we expand the Domain beyond the restrained idea of “just a blog.” And isn’t that just the whole point of the IndieWeb movement? Your website can literally be anything you want it to be! Just go do it. Invent. Iterate. Have fun!

Zack should definitely take a look at what one can do with Webmention. See: Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet. I suppose some of the restraint is that most people don’t know that it’s relatively easy now to get one domain to be able to talk to another domain the way social sites like Facebook and Twitter do @mentions. And once you’ve got that, there’s a whole lot more you can do!

Perhaps what we should do is go back to the early web and the idea of “small pieces, loosely joined“. What can we do with all the smaller, atomized pieces of the web? How can we use these building blocks in new and unexpected ways? To build new and exciting things? What happens when you combine Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Blogger, Soundcloud, Foursquare, Flickr, Goodreads, Periscope, Lobsters, TikTok, Quora, Zotero, Flipboard, GitHub, Medium, Huffduffer, Plurk, etc., etc. altogether and mix them up in infinite ways? You get Domains! You may get something as cutting edge–but still relatively straight-laced–as Aaron Parecki’s website, which you might have to dig into to realize just how much he’s got going on there, or you might end up with something as quirky and cool as Kicks Condor’s site or his discovery/syndication channel Indieweb.xyz.

Want to be able to use your website to highlight and mark up what you read? Go ahead and do that! I have. You could keep a record of everything you watch or listen to. Make a food diary. Track where you’ve been. Want to keep collections of chicken related things so your site can have a chicken feed? Go crazy!! 


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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.

3 thoughts on “📺 Against Blogging | Zach Whalen | Domains 2019”

  1. While it grates on me to seeing ‘blogging’ derided, I think it’s a good step if
    it moved away from being homework. One of the ‘generalizations’ in the slides
    is: “Most students don’t read blogs unless required/forced to.” I think you
    would agree that reading is actually the foremost activity when blogging—you
    and I do a ton of reading, all of my favorite hypertexters do. And possibly the
    biggest problem with social media today is how much writing is done without
    sufficient reading. (The term ‘the shallows’ returns to mind—which isn’t a
    good adjective for any of the blogs I really get into.)
    To me, it is the method of reading that needs to be questioned—not the method
    of writing. Express yourself however you want. But now we’ve got mixed media
    everywhere and it’s been very hard for people to adapt to consuming a variety of it. (Certain
    people have adapted to listening to podcasts, others to YouTube, very few to
    blogs—possibly as a result of the complexity of hypertext.)

    It kills me how many in the edtech/Domains space seem to love memes. It’s
    always cute and fun, but they feel so vapid and ineffectual. It’s like copying
    someone else’s work and trying to pass it off as our own. English teachers
    used to say, “Don’t be cliché,” but now through the use of digital memes
    they’re almost encouraging it.

    It seems similar to clip art of previous generations—it prevents the paralysis
    of a blank canvas for many people. It also seems to be part of the movement to
    make text more visual—as seen in Twitter embeds or using screenshot images of
    text—people seem to be getting more averse to just straight text. (This could
    get even worse if VR ever takes off.)
    But I really agree with your point. Even in this video, many poor reasons are
    given for dropping ‘blogging’: it’s not “disruptive” enough, students don’t
    intuitively understand it (lacking a historical context for it), it’s not
    trending any more… But text still has real power. If anyone doubts me
    on this point, go read Nadia Eghbal’s essay “The Tyranny of
    —I thought this was tremendous. Sure,
    she could have done this as a video—but it would have likely taken longer,
    required more equipment, and I think it would be more difficult to review again
    and again. Does text need a performance?
    I think h0p3 is spot on with the term
    antipleonasmic. Which could also be
    rephrased: “the dogged attempt to resist cliché.”

    Syndicated copies:

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