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September 28, 2010

Hoder in for 19.5

It’s hard to muster any enthusiasm for Iran’s sentencing Hossein Derakhshan — “Hoder” — to “only” 19.5 years in jail instead of executing him, as they had threatened.

Maybe the Canadian government can do something for Hoder since he holds dual Iranian-Canadian citizenship. I don’t want to have to wait until I’m almost 80 to hear that he’s free.

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September 1, 2010

OED goes paperless

The Oxford English Dictionary has announced that it will not print new editions on paper. Instead, there will be Web access and mobile apps.

According to the article in the Telegraph, “A team of 80 lexicographers has been working on the third edition of the OED – known as OED3 – for the past 21 years.”

It has been a long trajectory toward digitization for the OED. In the 1990s, the OED’s desire to produce a digital version (remember books on CD?) stimulated search engine innovation. To search the OED intelligently, the search engine would have to understand the structure of entries, so that it could distinguish the use of a word as that which is being defined, the use of it within a definition, the use of it within an illustrative quote, etc. SGML was perfect for this type of structure, and the Open Text SGML search engine came out of that research. Tim Bray [twitter:timbray] was one of the architects of that search engine, and went on to become one of the creators of XML. I’m going to assume that some of what Tim learned from the OED project was formative of his later thinking… (Disclosure: I worked at Open Text in the mid-1990s.)

On the other hand, initially, the OED didn’t want to attribute the origins of the word “blog” to Peter Merholz because he coined it in his own blog, and the OED would only accept print attributions. (See here, too.) the OED eventually got over this prejudice for printed sources, however, and gave Peter proper credit.

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June 22, 2010

More on internal posting

Seth Finkelstein has challenged yesterday’s post on Blogging and public thinking about whether being a blogger has caused us (some of us? most of us? a few of us?) to refashion our experiences in terms of posts we might make. He points to a post by Mark Dery that focuses on what I think is a misguided critique of Jeff Jarvis’ blogging of the “indecent” details of his medical treatment. [Disclosure: Jeff is a friend.] But, Seth’s point has less to do with the particularities of Mark’s critique than with some broader points Mark makes.

I suggest you read Seth’s comments (which are in the comments section of yesterday’s post), but I’m here going to post part of my reply, because it makes a follow-on point to what I was trying to say yesterday, so please pardon the self-quotage:

The idea that public media alter our inner narratives is hardly new. (Stephen Goldblatt’s book on Renaissance self-fashioning is a great work on this topic.) It seems to me to be a coherent history (resorting to coherence in the absence of evidence) to say we are moving from a time in which media structurally gave rise to celebrity (because the media were mass and one-way) to a new medium that gives rise to some Hegelian synthesis of celebrity and actual sociality. That is, in the age of broadcast, we fashioned experience so that we were stars of an imaginary broadcast; in the age of the Web, we fashion experience so that we are bloggers with a non-massive, semi-social, potentially interactive readership. Under this fact-free analysis, the Web’s fashioning of our experience should be understand in _contrast_ to the celebrity-based stories we made of our lives during the Age of Broadcast.

Note that since I don’t have access to the inner thoughts of all bloggers, I don’t have any actual evidence — thus the reference to coherence and fact-free analysis.

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June 21, 2010

Blogging and public thinking

Euan Semple takes a moment to reflect on how blogging has affected how he thinks:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” What do I want to say” “What will people’s reaction be”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get!…

I do find the possibility that I might blog an experience transforms that experience. I begin to compose the post in my head, even if I know I’m not actually going to write about it. I did this to some extent before the seventh day of creation (G-d rested, looked at what He had created, and then we started blogging complaints about i), but I now find myself shaping experience according to how I might present that experience in public: finding the words, deciding what might be interesting in the experience to someone other than me. Blogging has given the public yet more of a grip on the shape of my private experience.

Blogging is not unique in this. I assume we all think about how we might tell others about something that just happened to us, imagining the anecdote told at dinner to one’s family, to one’s co-workers, or to other confidantes. If you kept a traditional diary, you might find that you are drafting your experiences with its blank pages in mind. But, for those of us who write personal blogs, the anticipated reading of your blog by people you don’t know creates drafts of experience — which ultimately become the experience — that are more written than told, more public than social, more composed than expressed.

Is that good? I dunno. I don’t even know if it’s generally true. I’ve worried before that the little homunculus in my brain that is always scribbling away is a personal mental disorder. (Shut up, homunculus! I don’t care what you say, I’m posting this anyway!)

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April 28, 2010

How the Left and Right use blogs

A new paper from the Berkman Center:

A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and the Right, by Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw, and Victoria Stodden

This paper compares the practices of discursive production and participation among top U.S. political blogs on the left, right, and center during the summer of 2008 and, based on qualitative coding of the top 155, finds evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and (among the top half of the blogs in the papers’ sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.

The variations observed between the left and right wings of the U.S. political blogosphere provide insights into how varied patterns of technological adoption and use within a single society may produce distinct effects on democracy and the public sphere. The study also suggests that the prevailing techniques of domain-based link analysis used to study the political blogosphere to date may have fundamental limitations.

To read the full abstract and download the paper, visit http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2010/Tale_Two_Blogospheres_Discursive_Practices_Left_Right

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December 31, 2009

A new year’s resolution: Be a bigger a-hole

I got an email yesterday from someone who was irritated that she couldn’t get a quick read on who I am, what this blog is about, how non-credible I am, etc. She did eventually find the “Disclosure” button that does a bunch of that work, but she would have preferred that I follow the Web convention of displaying an “About me” link. I replied that I’m a little shy, and that I don’t want to use credentials to influence credibility (although I of course do that all the time — I don’t scratch “Harvard” off my business card, for example).

Well, she’s right. I’m putting an About Me link, which will lead to the Disclosure page. It’s a convenience for the reader and it’s a convention for Web pages. And profile pages do tell us something about the person, even if it’s not always what the person thinks.

I’m also going to try to be less shy about posting links to things I’ve written elsewhere on the Web. For example, here’s a list of the columns I’ve written for KMWorld, and when the new one comes out, I’m going to blog it. That’s not too pushy, is it? After all, having a blog is already an assertion that you think someone somewhere might want to read what you wrote.

I may also blog links to interviews with me as they show up. I rarely do that because it seems like bragging. But, if I were a reader of this blog — and I probably wouldn’t be — I might also want quick pointers to places where the writer of this blog is not fully in control of what he says. So, I’m going to try to force myself to blog those links.

Now, if you don’t mind my taking a step out of my awkward little me-centric universe: May you all have happy, healthy, and productive new years!

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September 28, 2009

Sidewiki: Google at the center

I agree with Jeff Jarvis’ critique of Google’s Sidewiki.

Sidewiki is ThirdVoice yet again. Both let you write and read comments on a site — actually on the site — so long as you have the proprietary client. ThirdVoice failed mainly because it couldn’t get enough people to install its client. (Of course, one could ask why enough people weren’t interested in this.) Sidewiki might succeed because it’s part of the vastly popular Google Toolbar. And, as Jeff says, that means it might succeed because Google is using its near ubiquity as a center of the Net. Which is troubling. For example, again as Jeff reports, insofar as the commentary on his site about his Sidewiki post occurs in Sidewiki, Google now owns the comments on his post. Troubling.

I think there are reasons to doubt Sidewiki’s success. As more people add comments, we need good ways to sort through them, to eliminate spam, to decide which types of comments are useful to us. Google is promising us algorithms. But algorithms won’t know that I don’t particularly want to read comments about my friend Jeff’s character, but I am particularly interested in what technologists are saying, or about Net politics, or what my friends are saying, or about how to hack Sidewiki.

Sidewiki has its uses. I’d rather see it connected to social networks, and I’d rather see it provided as an open source browser add-in. But I don’t know who should own the comments and what the control mechanisms should be. This is one of the edges of the Web that defies easy answers because it’sso hard to tell what is the center and what are the sides.

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August 5, 2009

Media Cloud unclouds media

The NY Times has a terrific article about Media Cloud, a Berkman Center project (hats off to Ethan Zuckerman, Yochai Benkler, Hal Roberts, among others) that will let researchers track the actual movement of ideas through the mediasphere and blogosphere.

Data about concepts! What a concept!

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July 25, 2009

Dan Gillmor’s early blogs found

Scott Rosenberg posts the happy news that Rudolf Ammann has found Dan Gillmor’s missing early bloggage for the San Jose Mercury News.

Scott includes a link to Dan’s first post, in 1999. Here are some snippets:

I’ve been thinking about the new ways of journalism, namely the ways the Internet is imposing on all of us. Internet Time has compressed the lives of all kinds of people in all kinds of businesses, and journalism is no exception. In fact, it may be one of the businesses most affected in the long run, both in the opportunities the Net creates and the threat it represents.

So I’m trying one of those new forms. It’s called a “weblog” — and it’s a combination of styles that could exist only on the Web. Text, pictures, hyperlinks and, soon, audio and video are all part of this new form, and I can’t wait to start experimenting with it.

Why do I like weblogs? Because the best ones are windows into the Web, various topics and people’s minds. Rather than trying to describe the form, let me show you several of the weblogs I look at daily (or even more frequently):

There’s nobody I admire more than Dan, for his integrity and his prescience.

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July 19, 2009

The Berkman bloggers feed

Like a fool, until Rebecca Tabasky told me, I didn’t realize that the Berkman Center aggregates blog posts from its fellows and friends and makes them available here.

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