Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Week 7 - Blog networks

Another interesting week. What a lot I am learning in this course! Blogoswhat? I had a chuckle when I saw the word Blogosphere for the first time, what on earth are they talking about now? So after quite a lot of research here goes...

Blogging Networks
I think a Blogosphere or blogging network is a site which lists blogs relating to a particular topic or theme – I considered it like a centralised point of reference for a particular subject. Those contributing have formed an online community within this network. Regular bloggers are recognised for their expertise. Some networks rate their blogs as those most read, highest rated etc, giving guidelines to the members.

Looking in the Wikipedia entry for Blogosphere, I saw that New Zealand’s blogosphere represents an online community which seems to concentrate on subjects such as NZ politics and society in general. I personally found the site perplexing, not for the newbie that I am, it was crowded and confusing, I hated the layout and I got out of it as quickly as possible!

So I decided to find another blogging network that actually interested me (surprise surprise to do with travel again!):
Trusted Travel Blogs Network is a site for independent travel blogs. They state that they are “a community project… self-enforced and user monitored... we believe that through building a community, the problem of unreliable travel blogs can be minimized for readers”.
At the present time only 25 blogs are listed. To be listed the blogs have to have two commonalities:
  • They are recognized for consistently high publishing standards
  • Their content is not influenced by lasting or undisclosed affiliations with third parties.

I quite liked this one, but thought this is obviously a small network - is there a larger alternative? Yes, quite a few actually!

On the other end of the scale is Bootsnall. They describe themselves as “ the place where like-minded travelers come to talk and exchange stories, travel tips and ideas”. On further inspection hundreds of sites were listed. I got thoroughly lost in blogs about Asia, Europe etc. I simply had no idea such sites existed before today. Last week I looked at forums, this was so much more! I think it will be worth a further look when I have more time.

I decided to get away from travel (I do get a bit narrow minded) and find another type of blogging network. Using again my interests as my guide I found the BBC Blogging Network which was just fascinating. This is a network dedicated to those interested in the BBC, regions of the UK (I went immediately to the Northern Ireland section and got engrossed in local issues), Britain, journalism, but also gardening, music, technology etc, bascially anything the BBC has its hand in! Another site to return to for a further look.

Review this course as a blogging network to date. Does it connect out to a wider network, or is it insular?

Because it is on a public site it does connect to a wider network. It is available to anyone with Wikieducator access. However I think there is an element of insularity in our actual FOC course, in that although over 60 started off with a hiss and a roar only those really dedicated to the FOC course (as well as those of us enrolled in the actual paper) are keeping up with the course content, reading, posting to our blogs etc? With extended time others who search or just randomly come across the FOC link may join in, but with the short 18 week "shelf life" of the course will it get the chance?

Does this blogging network have a facilitator or should it need one?

In my opinion yes we do need a facilitator – because this is a learning journey with goals to reach every week or two and someone has to keep us in line!!! However Kay said in her blog something very thought provoking to me: that Leigh has provided an almost personal form of facilitation for each of us – those of us completely new to blogging etc have found someone who does not intimidate us, and for the more experienced I think he has provided thought provoking comments and issues to keep them interested as well. In an online community one method of facilitation definitely does not fit all!

Consider your role in helping to develop this blogging network

Obviously I am a member of this network but have I helped develop it? I don't honestly know. Due mostly to my lack of confidence in this area I don't think I have contributed as much as I should have (or even normally would in a more familiar environment). I am not the kind of person to jump in head first, I watch and wait and learn (I’ve found out I’m a lurker!) until I feel confident enough to contribute. Once that confidence is found I'm fine, and will become vocal. But I so far still cannot just post a blog without reading and re-reading it, looking for areas where it could be criticised or if it does not answer the questions put to us. I haven’t read or kept up to date with as many blogs as I would like, as I get simply overwhelmed. Perversely when I do go to others blogs and see they haven’t posted either, I almost feel a sense of relief that I am not the only one "on the back foot"!

Finally, comment on the strengths and weaknesses as you see them, of a blogging network for online community development

I think for me I have to always remember that blogs are simply people’s ideas and opinions, and are not necessarily always “the be-all-and-end-all”. However blog postings can either have their accuracy challenged or confirmed by other members which helps to weed out the less trustworthy ones. Networks which do encourage challenges by its members and has strict "entry regulations" such as the Trusted Travel Blogs Network mentioned above give credibility to such networks.

This week has shown me the powerhouse that blogging networks has become, where so many people are actively seeking to find out what others think of an issue, a situation etc, to learn from them and to subsequently communicate with others on similar topics. These communities are thriving.

A final comment which I thought was pertinent to blogs and their pros and cons: Steven Downes said in a comment at the end of the article Blogging - Not 'IF' but When and Where that:

"The notion of an authentic audience who reads what I write is a powerful
motivator; however, with it comes a responsibility of care for what I write and
about whom. I work very hard not to betray the trust of my friends and
colleagues as I write. It is very important to play nice and play fair when you
are putting your thoughts “out there” on the Internet. This is about digital
ethics - something I don’t believe we teach enough to our students"


Leigh Blackall said...

Another great post Elaine! You guys are really becoming noticeably more confident with all this, its great to see.

Interesting take on blogoshere. I hadn't considered specific sites that act as a portal to subject based blogs. Makes sense to me, they would be great starting points into a particular arena within the wider blogosphere. I find it interesting that whoever coined the term, wanted to relate the vastness of blogging networks to a feeling of atmosphere.

Those travel blog portals you have found will be very useful to my colleague Hillary Jenkins (who I think you have met once or twice in this very young NZ Tourism Ed blogosphere that might be forming - but Hillary is a complete slacker when it comes to blogging about her work :( I'll forward your post onto her - hopefully she'll find my comment here too ;)

Nice find on the Stephen Downes quote. You can't go wrong following Downes in my opinion.

Kay Lewis said...

Hi Elaine

I enjoyed reading about the tourism blogs and then the BBC and note your comment that you decided to pursue those of personal interest that also encompass the subjects you teach - that is often how we get hooked in ... it 'sows' the seeds and challenges us to consider how we can bring it into our classrooms - as Leigh suggests ... the specific sites that act as a portal to subject based blogs.

It appears to me that we (you and I, for example) as tertiary educators have been distanced from the real(applied) business environment and we are struggling to catch up with this changing community. We actively communicate and collaborate but it has been in a very different environment.

Alongside that, I am beginning to really understand why Leigh has questioned us ... the reasoning (and value) of moving towards the role of becoming a facilitator :-)