13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
...giving birth to learning...


  Sunday, March 28, 2004

  WBC04: selected

"WBC04" people and papers I found interesting, but didn't have time to blog about. Just some quick notes, let me know if you are interested to know more...

Alex Schröder 

A blogger I didn't know :) See his notes on WBC04.

Alex is a developer (of EmacsWiki) who seems to understand users :))) And he knows where to get good sweets in Lisbon. Check for: conversation tracking tool.

Monica Andre

Passionate Portuguese blogger who knows more than she thinks and asks sharp questions.

Bronwyn Stuckey - Sustaining communities of practice and Making the most of the good advice: Meta-analysis of guidelines for establishing an internet-mediated community of practice

I guess titles speak for themselves :) The first one is based on interviews with community moderators, the second one is a literature overview. Good read.

Ken Newman - Using a non-linear narrative framework in an online community

Ken told an amazing story about six month motorbike ride from Singapore to London to engage kids in the hospital into online community (I wasn't at the presentation, but did signtseeing with Ken :)

More about it: See also notes by Alex, Come ride with me project page and another paper, Taking the Community for a Ride.

George Kuk - Selection, cliques and knowledge sharing in open source software development communities

For: literature on "group think" (re: blogging echo-chambers :) and a way to study innovative characteristics of a community (re: innovation in weblog communities).

Alastair Weakley - Web-based support for creative collaboration

About web-Interactive Scrapbook System which makes work in progress visible and shared. For: literature overview on (online) creativity and thinking about the role of artefacts.

  Saturday, March 27, 2004

  Apprenticeship in weblog networks

Radio went off on Friday, so I couldn´t post. Will try to catch up tomorrow, happy that I have saved my notes on WBC...

Good news - extended abstract for I-KNOW04 has been accepted. See Legitimised theft: distributed apprenticeship in weblog networks (written with Sebastian Fiedler, Carla Verwijs and Andy Boyd). Reviewer comments:

The Idea of using weblogs as utility for knowledge "creation" is very interesting, cause it seems to be "unstructured" way of micro articles.

For me the fact of stealing as fruitful reuse is missing in the abstract, so I am looking forward for it in the full paper. (like Garvin cites Milliken: "stealing ideas shamelessly").

I am missing the fact of information overloading and what weblogs can do against this.

Maybe it is possible to insert a pro/cons of discussion boards versus weblogs, cause the discussion board technology is very spread in companies.

Another reviewer asks for empirical evidence... Comments are to the point and hope we can address them within the page limit we have :)

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  WBC04: Learning in weblog networks

Links for my presentation of Learning webs: Learning in weblog networks

  WBC04: day 3 morning

Creating on-line student communities using forum-supported institutionalised weblogs by Anil Pathak et al.

The authors use non-conventional definition of weblogs: based on "diary-like content" indeed of "diary-like format". They used Blackboard discussion board for student's "diary-like" postings. I don't think that this is substantially different from forum discussions. Still, the analysis done is interesting and worth looking at.

Analysis categories

  • Discourse stage: norming – (no storming) - relationship building - collaborating
  • Discourse moves: classification of weblog posts (adapted classification of weblogs by Ford (see the reference below) to classify posts) according to their use (e.g. lifelog describing experience, querylog - asking questions)

From findings

  • correlation between stages and types of posts - would be interesting to see if it's replicated somewhere else
  • no storming stage, no conflict and lack of disagreement - groupthink?

Reflecting on my problem with weblog definition used I'm thinking about distinguishing characteristics of weblogs. I guess the main on is personal: personal space, personal voice, independence. This is missing: as Anil explained you can get a "all postings by author" view there, but it's not used often and people tend not to come back to their earlier posts (may be the case with weblogs as well).

As promised: Ford, R. (2000). Save the robots: Cyber profiling and your so-called life. Stanford Law Review, 52(5), 1573-1585.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  Thursday, March 25, 2004

  Weblog audience: how to you find your own?

There was a bit of interesting stuff during the afternoon session of WBC, but I was sitting on the floor without my laptop. Don't feel like reconsructing it :)

In my news aggregator I found several posts about bloggers and their audiences... I don't have much time on-line to comment in detail, but may be it will catech up with you...

Janine on Invisible effects of blogging:
Though I am -a not very active- beginner, blogging does change my life (well, some aspects of it). I have this imaginary audience in the back of my mind since I started my blog. When I read a book or paper, I do this just a bit more reflective and I articulate my ideas a bit more elaborate than before. Nobody notices, as I do this while thinking for myself. These private reflections and articulations feel good and seem even useful to me. So far, in many instances I do not take the time to write down things in a post. Maybe some day, some of those ideas appear in my weblog, maybe not.

Experienced bloggers, do you recognize above? And do you know of other invisible effects of blogging?

John on What Have I Done & Where Am I Going?:

Maybe I have been hiding my blogging frustrations, my doubts. I want to create something out of my blog, but I feel alone in my struggle, even after a year and a half of work! It seems I've learned a harsh lesson - No one out there is interested in creating a community with me. Not yet any way. I don't think I've been writing enough about all of the times I've felt ignored. That's a serious issue and something that I've been trying and trying to overcome - it's the reason I've sacrificed content on my page, it's the reason I'm always changing the appearance of my blog. Overcoming the feeling of being ignored is the greatest single motivator in my quest to improve my blog.

[...]Who wants to put the effort into writing and publishing work on a blog if no one is going to read it? I'm not writing for my own benefit, I'm not writing to hear own ideas, I'm not writing to document my studies, I'm not writing to archive my thoughts - I'm writing with the hopes of being read. But I feel like I don't have an audience. And that feels like shit.

Carla on (Negative) Weblog experiences:

[...]you want to write for someone who is interested, belong to a certain community. But who is your audience, certainly as beginner? Who wants to read my weblog? I would like to be part of "the" network, but how do you become part? One thing I understood (from our in-house expert Lilia) is that you have to link to others, so they'll find you. Is that how it works?

Janineis also wondering who to write for and about what? I found that I don't write about my big hobby (running). Why is it for my not interesting enough to write about, while it is one of my largest time-consuming activities (next to work). Is it that I don't want to share it with "the audience"? Myself, I think it would be boring to bother you with my results and pains (for that's what runners talk about: what is my time on ... (half marathon, 400 meters etc.), and my ... hurts (achilles tendons, in my case)).

I guess I'm lucky with discovering my own weblog community pretty fast, I don't remember much questions or frustrations about my audience (note to myself - check archives, may be something is there). I guess one of the reasons is that I started to write for myself and finding an audience was a surprising side-effect rather than expectation.

Anyway, I'd love to hear about your relations with your audience. Do you have one? Do you care? Is there something to be done to find people who will read you? Do you think about your audience when you write?

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  WBC04: day 2 morning

Developing bulletin board visualizations (.pdf) by Rehman Mohamed and others

Great presentation: an overview of existing visualizations of on-line discussions, own visualization and evaluation results.

  • First evaluation results: people find it useful, increased participation from lurkers and peripheral participants. Possible explanation: peripheral users tend to loose an overview of a discussion, so it’s difficult to jump in; visualizations make it easier.
  • Further research questions: "Do visualizations raise communication levels over an extended periods? Do visualizations encourage contributions from particular user groups who were previously quite?"
  • This research correlated with our knowledge mapping work. And, of course, I'm also thinking about visualizing weblog conversations…

Using FOAF to support community building, Brian Kelly (check his profile for a collection of FOAF tools)

Good "initiation" overview of FOAF and links to FOAF tools, not much new for me :) Usual concerns: why making your relations explicit, privacy and multiple identities, manual entry… (See also: Clay Shirky and danah boyd on explicit relations).

  WBC04: day 1

I didn’t take my laptop yesterday, so a quick write up of interesting stuff.

Clustering weblog communities using self-organizing maps by JJFernand0 and others (guys, is you paper online?)

The paper is about use of Kohonen maps to map weblog communities (using data from Blogalia, <200 blogs). My first observation – the algorithm wouldn't scale. JJ confirms it, suggesting that if someone wants to use it for a larger sample (e.g. weblogs "out where") they would have to pre-process weblogs to find 100-200 most linked to analyse.

Other points:

  • They talk about "stories" not "posts". I wonder why?
  • Observation: "communities are defined by 1-2 "gurus"" Question: How community changes after you released the results? – Makes me thinking about my own, "participative", research.

Internet habit and addiction in the context of a community website, Michael Mackert (see also summary by Alex)

Survey study of ~900 users of an online community. Distinction between addiction and habitual use. 7 symptoms of addiction

  • From findings: habitual users use Internet mainly for work, while addicts use it for leisure.
  • Open question: those addicted, do they miss Internet in general or specific on-line community and friends?
  • Would be interesting to study when heavy blogging (mine, for example) is addiction and when it's habitual use :)

From bus talk with Philip Laird: "hierarchical thinking" may be more natural to us then we think (during last week talks with Sebastian I got a feeling that hierarchical thinking is pretty much imposed by educational system and ways our work is organised). Example from developmental phycology: when starting in school or kindergarden kids try to recreate hyerarhical relations they experience with parents (e.g. positioning oneself comparing to others in a specific area) and then slowly learning about establishing horizontal relations. Could be interesting to look for more info on moving from hierarchical to horizontal structures and applying that to our ideas of empowering individuals…

  Tuesday, March 23, 2004

  Lisbon connection

I'm on-line from a funny machine in Lisbon airport. Not sure I'll blog much because I managed to pick-up a laptop without  easy connectivity with outside world and because it's so sunny and nice outside :)))

More on: travel 

  Monday, March 22, 2004

  "I'm Blogging This" A closer look at why people blog

Just experienced nice example of backchanneling in blogging. The story:

Robert on Friday

Today I had an interesting discussion with my roommate at work about the blogging phenomenon and particularly about the reasons why people blog. Maybe since our building is crowded with bloggers today ;-)
Anyway, I stumbled upon the unpublished paper "I'm Blogging This", by Bonnie Nardi, Diane Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht and Luke Swartz. Nice paper, from experienced CSCW researchers, which discusses various reasons why "ordinary bloggers" blog.

Carla today:

Robert posted a link to a very interesting paper from Bonnie Nardi, Diana Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht and Luke Swartz, called "I'm blogging this", A closer look at why people blog (submitted to Communications of the ACM).
I'm going to read it instantly!

I have both weblogs in my news aggregator, but if you think that I found the paper via it you are wrong: I saw it on Carla's table :)

Hope you guessed that this was a way to introduce the paper well worth reading :)))

Btw, Robert Slagter is another colleague, blogging about tailorable software. He is trying to find blogs on groupware and groupware design, so let him know if you know any.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

More on: blog research 

  Weblogs: conversations with self and conversations with others

Just thought I would share a piece from the previous post paper (p.9):

In a simplest case, a weblog post is embedded into "a conversation with self", a personal narrative used to articulate and to organise his own thinking. A single blogger could have several of such conversations simultaneously, returning to ideas over time. In a weblog this is usually visible as linking to one's earlier posts, use of related titles, or organising ideas using different categories or topics. At the same time a weblog post can trigger (or be a response to) a conversation with others, sometimes leading to several independent conversations happen simultaneously.

The interplay between personal and public, individual and community, is something that makes weblogs interesting to study... In the same line of thinking (Learning webs, p.4):

Synergies of self-organised and community learning. A weblog provides its author with personal space for learning that does not impose a communal learning agenda and learning style. At the same time learners are not alienated and can benefit from a community feedback, validation and further development of ideas.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  An argumentation analysis of weblog conversations

To continue weblog conversations and follow-up discussion: working report An argumentation analysis of weblog conversations by Aldo de Moor and me.

Weblogs are important new components of the Internet. They provide individual users with an easy way to publish online and others to comment on these views. Furthermore, there is a suite of secondary applications that allow weblogs to be linked, searched, and navigated. Although originally intended for individual use, in practice weblogs increasingly appear to facilitate distributed conversations. This could have important implications for using this technology as a medium for collaboration. Given the special characteristics of weblogs and their supporting applications, they may be well suited for particular conversational purposes, requiring different forms of argumentation. In this paper, we analyze the argumentation potential of weblog technologies using a diagnostic framework for argumentation technologies. We pay special attention to the conversation structures and dynamics that weblogs naturally afford. Based on this initial analysis, we make a number of recommendations for research on how to apply these technologies in purposeful conversation processes such as for knowledge management.

In this paper we analyse actionable sense conversation. It's a bit shallow (we took one week only and didn't follow several interesting lines), but we are working on a proper analysis and better connections with innovation/KM theme. Comments are welcome.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  BlogWalk: artefacts and invisible audience

Just realised that I have two more thinking themes from BlogWalk:

Roles, interplay and affordances of physical and digital artefacts in thinking and communication. This is not a very new one - I have been touching it while thinking about connections between information and knowledgeknowledge traces we leave and apprenticeship... As an illustration - a piece from my paper on knowledge work model (p.13):

...developing knowledge requires filtering vast amounts of information, making sense of it, connecting different bits and pieces to come up with new ideas. In this process physical and digital artefacts play an important role (Kidd, 1994; Sellen & Harper, 2001; Halverson, 2004), so knowledge workers are faced with a need for personal information management to organise their paper and digital archives, e-mails or bookmark collections.

BlogWalk observations and discussions made this theme deeper - thinking of post-it idea aggregators, affordances of digital photography and connections between physical and digital objects.

The second theme is more of a question: what invisible blogging audience does to us? There is something very strange in public blogging where just the probability of someone reading your words changes usual habits and practices... Trying to understand writing for the mix of known audience (explicit subscribers and usual commenters) and invisible "the world" audience is fascinating...

This post also appears on channels BlogWalk and weblog research

  Travel plans: Lisbon, Innsbruck, Munich, Moscow

I'm getting ready for a few weeks of travel. If you happen to be at one of these places let me know Click here to email Lilia  - I would love to meet.

23.03-30.03 Lisbon, Portugal - first at WBC04 (presenting Learning webs: Learning in weblog networks on 26.03 around 15:30 according to the program) then sightseeing around (suggestions are welcome!)

31.03-5.04 Innsbruck, Austria - at OKLC04 (presenting my PhD research during PhD workshop on 1.04 and Discovering the iceberg of knowledge work: A weblog case on one of the days after). I'll be travelling via Munich, so may be there on 4-5.04, but it's still open.

9.04-19.04 Moscow, Russia - can't resist cheap tickets :)

More on: learning event travel 

  Sunday, March 21, 2004

  BlogWalk: if you want more

If you want more of BlogWalk 1.0:

I will be updating this post, so be patient :)

More on: BlogWalk 

  BlogWalk: quiet

Quiet... For me BlogWalk 1.0 came to be a five days long event. It started from meeting Sebastian and Aaron on Wednesday, walking and talking in Utrecht about the power of weblogs for reflective learning, and ended today as Sebastian and Martin stayed over the weekend...

Face-to-face time feels great. You learn more about people, start to recognise their voices, connect with their personal stories that do not get to their weblogs... It feels rich and rewarding. Meeting amplifies conversations, mixing and moulding them better than any post could do, simply by bringing people in a same space. Even when you are not talking to everyone, walls with post-its aggregate ideas floating around. Finally you get something better then posts in your news aggregator, you get an overview that deepens your understanding of connections between ideas and takes you further...

I need more time for feelings, impressions and ideas to settle down, so just outlining two main themes I took from these days:

1. I guess I know better now what keeps me interested in weblogs enough to do PhD research - strong beliefs in empowering people. Weblogs just happen to be a good case to study it :)

2. If you ask my advice about implementing weblogs now I would say start from matching practices. Weblogs disrupt existing practices and this is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time: while introducing weblogs you do not just bring new tools, you change the way people do things. This makes implementation difficult, so I would rather start from finding cases where weblogs would not disrupt, but extend existing practice. For example, thinking of weblog use for reflective learning in corporate settings I would look opportunities to embed them into action learning and coaching programs.

This post also appears on channel BlogWalk

  Friday, March 19, 2004

  BlogWalk has started

I guess most of us didn't have time or connections to write about it, so just to let you know - BlogWalk 1.0 has started. We want reflecting, not reporting, so we didn't arrange for internet connection during the meeting. But you never know when people find an opportunity to blog, so you may be interested to check one of these...

Anjo Anjewierden Andy Boyd Rogier Brussee Thomas Burg Martin Dugage Lilia Efimova Karsten Ehms Sebastian Fiedler Flemming Funch Aldo de Moor Felix Petersen Henk de Poot Martin Roell Janine Swaak Carla Verwijs Elmine Wijnia Ton Zijlstra

This post also appears on channel BlogWalk

More on: BlogWalk 

  Wednesday, March 17, 2004

  Introducing disruptive technologies: Personal webpublishing and weblogs in learning

We are presenting on weblogs and learning in University of Utrecht in a few hours... You can access this post later at http://weblogintro.notlong.com

An overview:

Personal webpublishing refers to emerging technologies that enable people with very little technical knowledge to tap into the WWW as a medium for publication, social networking, and collaboration. One of these technologies, weblogs is increasingly used to support learning in different settings: from enabling self-organizing learning networks between professionals to providing infrastructure for organizing course materials and use as learning diaries and portfolios in educational settings. We will start our presentation from a "walkthrough" introduction of weblogs, demonstrate specific examples of weblog uses in educational settings and discuss impact of weblogs on learning.


Useful links:

Examples of Aaron's work

more to be added soon...

  Tuesday, March 16, 2004

  Expect light blogging

There is much interesting in my news aggregator, but I guess I have to let these bits go: I'm travelling for a workshop today, Sebastian is arriving tomorrow, then Aaron joins us for the presentation on weblogs and learning in Utrecht... And the day after BlogWalk 1.0 participants will start arriving. Three following weeks visits to two conferences and one more trip to Moscow (will be posting travel details in a few days).

Not to mention - BlogTalk deadline on 17th and few other things I have to finish writing... Wish I would have more time to reflect on weblog conversation discussion and to digest previous AOK conversations with David Gurteen (see also archived messaged as .pdf)...

I expect light blogging and lots of face-to-face fun :)

And - as you'll have some free time while not reading my posts :) - make sure you join AOK discussion on Weblogs and Other Social Software for Knowledge Work led by Dave Pollard.

More on: life 

  Sunday, March 14, 2004

  Most common words of BlogWalk participants

Anjo comes up with a study of BlogWalk participants

A little "fun post". I ran tOKo (my text analysis tool; more in later posts) on the blogs of the participants in BlogWalk. According to tOKo these are the 25 most important terms for BlogWalkers:

blog, blogging, channel weblog research, informal learning, knowledge, knowledge intensive environment, knowledge management, knowledge sharing, knowledge work, knowledge worker paradox, knowledge worker, learning, make people smarter, people, personal knowledge management, self directed learning, self organized learning, social network analysis, supporting informal learning, time, weblog, work

I've got a feeling that this list is a bit biased to my weblog :) I also wonder what Anjo did with weblogs of Thomas Burg and Martin Roell - they are mainly in German. And of course I'd love to see more details: which blogs were included (all?), were all posts processed or only a selection, etc...

And a bit more fun:

The focus of BlogWalk is "weblogs in a knowledge management context". Hmm, "Knowledge Management" that must be difficult to spell! Right! The misspellings tOKo found (it is not just you Andy!):

knolwedge, knoweldge, knoweldge, knowldge, knowledges, knowlegde, knowlege, knwoledge, managament, managemant, managment

This post also appears on channel weblog research

Later: see also follow-up from Anjo with more details.

  Saturday, March 13, 2004

  Specialists vs. generalists

Was catching last part of a story of Irish elk extinction on Discovery channel. These animals had evolved to be highly specialised and successful, but then climate changed and their specialisation became a problem - they couldn't evolve fast enough to survive.

Thinking of specialists vs. generalists in fast changing economies :)

See also: other prehistoric beasts

More on: metaphors 

  Friday, March 12, 2004


Fast Company Now

Leadership is the ability to influence a change in another person.

More on: leadership 

  Thursday, March 11, 2004

  Classifications for archiving, search and retrieval

There is a couple of follow-up discussions for Facts on archiving, search and retrieval. As usual in weblog conversations it's fragmented, so I'll do some capturing for myself. 

Anjo Anjewierden suggests that 60% overlap in classifications is not so bad

What is the problem? I would be very happy if Google and myself would overlap 60% of the time.

The rest of discussion is on what/when/why ontologies can support retrieval and a bit on mental models. 

My position (originally in the comments to Anjo's post)

I'm very much biased towards "all things distributed" - simply because mental maps of people are different. Of course, this suggests only that a centralised solution (e.g. ontology) should work if you can find a case where people are likely to have similar mental maps (I can't help thinking about workflows :)))

Andy Boyd takes another angle:

To me this is an important fact why users get so dissatisfied with stored categorised information, i.e. they do not follow/agree with how it is categorised.

One thing automation may do is give us consistency, even if we do not agree with the classification at least by the fact that it is consistent we will have the chance to learn the automata’s logic.

Me (in the comments):

I'm thinking why Google works better for most people than any hand-crafted "knowledge base"... I guess it's not only because of automatic categorisation, but also because:

- it's hidden: internal rankings and categories are not revealed, so we can't see how far from perfect they are

- we know that it's done by machines and we forgive them lack of precision and completeness that we wouldn't tolerate from a human "expert"

See also: What's Your Idea of a Mental Model?

Side note: why TypePad guys do not add comment permalinks to the default templates? why I have to dig them out manually?

  Wednesday, March 10, 2004

  My future job

Now I know what type of job I'll be having in 2010: I will be a fun employee.

Fun employees
In 2002 Easy Jet advertised in the national press for a new position as ‘Head of Fun’. Whilst people naturally smile at such a job, the underlying logic behind such roles is simple and compelling, aiming to boost the productivity of the workforce and reduce the costs of high staff turnover. Fun workers will not be employed to turn the office into a party venue. Instead, they will focus on how to make work more enjoyable and as a result more productive. Clearly many aspects of many jobs can be unpleasant and that is just the way work is, but fun workers will be let loose to discover ways of improving these tasks. More generally, fun workers will aim to identify interesting ways of making all aspects of our working lives more enjoyable, whilst at the same time improving the bottom-line performance of the organisation.

You can choose your own future job from The rise and fall of 21st century jobs (found via Fast Company Now).

  Tuesday, March 09, 2004

  Facts on archiving, search and retrieval

Two bits saying a lot about archiving, search and retrieval.

1. Thanks to David Gammel for pointing out to the summary by Piers Young which I missed while travelling:

Bad news I think...

1. If two groups of people construct thesauri in a particular subject area, the overlap of index terms will only be 60%.

2. Two indexers using the same thesaurus on the same document use common index terms in only 30% of cases.

3. The output from two experienced database searchers has only 40% overlap.

4. Experts' judgements of relevance concur in only 60% of cases.

This is from: JAA Sillince, 1992, Literature searching with unclear objectives: a new approach using argumentation. On-line Review, 16 (6), 391-409.

2. John Moore:

Neat little factoid from the ever-excellent newsletter of ecustomerserviceworld.

"Customers were ten times more likely to buy jams when only six varieties were on display as when there were twenty-four."

- Psychologist Barry Schwartz, illustrating his new research that shows too much choice is making people miserable, and that some feel so paralysed they go home empty-handed. Nothing to do with ghosts and machines, but important.

Going to dig out both sources :)

  Monday, March 08, 2004

  Women's day: being equal while being different

Today is the International Women's Day. I'm not sure it's truly international, but it's a big day in Russia.

It's started as a fight for women rights (thanks Jill for the link), but in "everyday" Russian life it has also became a celebration of being a women. Daughters, mothers, sisters, colleagues get flowers, chocolates, small presents and the whole country gets a day off (of course, being Russian in the Netherlands doesn't mean that I have a day off :))) The best thing is that it's also a very beginning of spring: there is still a lot of snow, but days get longer, sun shines brighter and everyone is running around with flowers...

Comparing to the Netherlands (the "other" culture I experienced most), the position of Russian women is paradoxical.

From one side, in Russian culture men and women are different, they are obviously masculine and feminine, and not something "unisex" in between. It's reflected in the everyday life: for example, in most cases being a woman you'll get help with lifting heavy suitcase in a public transport (this is something you can forget about in the Netherlands). In Russia nobody will think that I'm weak and dependent only because I allow men to take a heavy bag or to open a door for me.

From another side, Russia is said to be most emancipated country with 89% of companies have a female on the board of directors compared to Dutch 27% (of course, it's not perfect at all).

For me this paradox is not a paradox, but the only solution for women's rights: being equal while being different. So, this is what I'm celebrating today - the fun of being different.

See also: Being yourself' rather than 'misbehaving'.

  Sunday, March 07, 2004

  For me blogging is about conversations

I wonder why some weblog conversations develop in a full distributed discussion (e.g. actionable sense conversation), while others die after a few comments. I guess it's not only about the power of an initial topic to keep people active, but also about effort that participants spend locating others and commenting on their input.

A few days back I had a discussion with my colleagues about finding comments to one's weblog post. As many of you know, to find all interesting replies it's not enough to check comments and trackbacks, one needs tools like Technorati as well. Of course I explained it mentioning my morning routine of checking Technorati and referrer logs. The reaction was, uhm, a bit weird, as I was truly addicted... This could be the case, but I don't feel so :) 

From my own perspective, I'm far from looking for popularity. I don't care about my Google rank*, numbers of my visitors or even being mentioned in A-list blogs**. When I check my server stats I don't look at traffic numbers, I check referrers, search strings and countries. I'm not very interested in how many people are reading my weblog, but much more in who are they and what do they say.

If you ask me why, the answer is simple: for me blogging is about conversations.

Conversations are different from publishing, they require listening to others, require investment of attention and energy. My morning check is my way to find out who is talking to me and what they are saying. I don't do it to find our how famous I am, this is just a very human thirst for a feedback and my respect to those who spend time answering my questions, finding flaws in my arguments or developing my ideas in new directions...

So, coming to my original question. I guess some of our conversations die because we do not spend enough energy listening and replying back. In this respect weblog conversations are not much different from all other conversations.

Still, one thing is different: it takes a lot of energy to find others that talk to you. Hopefully we will find a way to make it easier. As David Davies puts it

What I'd find really interesting about this research is recommendations for how weblogging tools need to evolve to support conversations in a more structured way. One of my constant frustrations is not being able to keep track of a conversation when it's spread across weblogs and comments on weblogs. There's an interesting comparison with the traditional published literature where citations allow the reader to follow a thread across many journals. The lack of formal writing structures in weblogs often means that citations are not present and the narrative is broken. There is naturally a trade-off with weblogs as many conversations are social and so being able to follow a thread is probably less important (regardless of how frustrating it might be not to be able to follow them). However in weblogs where an academic debate is developing then perhaps in the absence of tools to properly track conversations across weblogs and comments, more formal writing rules could be used. Then again, perhaps the distinction between social and academic debates in weblog is artificial, all being just conversations.

* Although sometimes I'm saying "just type Lilia and click the first link" to demonstrate the power of blogging :)

** With one exclusion - I was very happy when I got my first link from OLDaily. For me this iwasn't about popularity, but about the quality of my ideas (OLDaily is the only one of my "before weblogs" subscriptions to e-learning news that survived till now).

  Saturday, March 06, 2004

  RSS feeds: PhD progress and weblog research

Radio categories problem seems to be solved, so I can establish properly working categories. So far I'm adding two:

PhD news (RSS feed for PhD news) is for those who want to stay updated with my PhD research without reading all "thinking aloud" of my weblog. I'm going to use it to announce papers and events of my PhD without going into much details.

Weblog research (RSS feed for weblog research) is for those who want to know about academic publications on weblogs. This is my short term solution for making a bibliography on weblog research. I didn't find an existing shared space to satisfy my criteria (shared editing + RSS feed + several active contributors), so before I find it I'm going to do it in a very egoistic way :)

I think that most of posts in these two categories will not be dublicated in my "main" weblog, so make sure that you subscribe to RSS feeds if it's interesting for you.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

More on: blog research PhD 

  Thursday, March 04, 2004

  Weblog conversations are flows in a river delta

Together with Aldo de Moor we are working on analysis of weblog conversations. These are my "thoughts in progress".

In my paper on weblogs and knowledge work I distinguish between two types of weblog conversations: those in comments to a post and the ones "distributed" between weblogs. I guess in most of the cases both types are integrated into a whole, but this distinction is useful to look at mechanics of weblog conversations.

Starting point: technology. At a lowest level there are two ways to react to an earlier argument: using post comments (if initial argument is a weblog post) or commenting in another weblog.

1. Argument (weblog post) -> response using comments

  • connection is symmetrical in most of the cases: it's relatively easy to find responses to an argument and vice versa
  • visibility
    • visible while reading in browser
    • not necessary visible while reading using RSS reader
  • this part of weblog conversations is not much different from a forum discussion or comments that follow an article

2. Argument -> response in a weblog (response post)

  • connection is asymmetrical
    • backwards connection usually exists - response post links to initial argument in most cases (but this is up to the good will and permalink location skills of a response author)
    • direct connection exists sometimes: argument is linked to reaction post via trackbacks
      • this works only if argument is a weblog post and both weblogs are trackback enabled
      • doesn't work is argument is a general web-page or comment in another weblog
  • visibility
    • backwards connection is visible
    • if exists direct connection
      • visible while reading in browser (but reader has to know meaning of a trackback)
      • not necessary visible while reading using RSS reader

To simplify things talking about visibility I refer only to things that you can see in a weblog itself and not using other tools (e.g. Technorati, Blogdex, referrer logs, search on a post title/keywords).

Characteristics of weblog conversations. As a result of technology used for weblog conversations, they are likely to be:

  • fragmented and distributed between several weblogs
  • difficult to trace 
    • need to use multiple tools to do so
    • never sure that everything was found
    • easier to trace backwards (starting from the last post), but then there is a risk of missing branches


Participants of a conversation are likely to have very different views on it (as it's not likely that everyone will trace all previous contributions).

As weblog conversations are not "locked" in one space they are likely to include contributions from different groups of people (as the opposite from a forum conversation, which is usually "within a group").

Because weblog conversations are difficult to trace, the participants tend to write self-standing pieces and often try to summarise (or at least link) previous arguments making it easier for a reader.

Ganges River delta. Source: Website of the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA)Weblog conversations are often compared with academic discussions in papers (of course, they are slower and tend to stay within borders of a discipline). I'm thinking of a better metaphor...

I think of water flows in a river delta: different streams join and separate again, mix, go faster or slower... Some of them are mainstream, large enough to follow by boat, while others are tiny and hidden, so only natives can find and follow them.

Weblog conversations are like that: a complex system of streams that feed the sea of ideas.

This post also appears on channel weblog research

Later: the paper I was writing about - An argumentation analysis of weblog conversations

  Ideas turning into actions: BlogWalk and more

It feels good then plans are turning back into reality: BlogWalk is getting more real. 

BlogWalk is a series of face-to-face meetings aimed to bring together weblog researchers and practitioners for in-depth conversations about their work.

The intention is to complement BlogTalk with smaller scale opportunities to meet and to talk. The idea was in the air for a few months already, but we couldn't start working on it. Then one late evening Sebastian Fiedler came up with this great name and it went rolling. Walk means that we will be "walking" around places and have fun there. It also means that meetings will include walking in and out of pubs and nice places to eat because everyone knows that alcohol and good food fuel conversations. Note: this fun side is about complementing hard reflective work together and not replacing it :)

BlogWalk 1.0 will be focused on weblogs in KM context and will be held on 19 March 2003 in Telematica Instituut, Enschede, Netherlands (this is where I work :). I'm looking forward for this opportunity to meet KM bloggers in a real life next to our virtual conversations.

And, a couple of days before Sebastian Fiedler and me will present on weblogs and learning in Utrecht University. Hopefully, we will also find time to work on a paper on weblog apprenticeship :)

  Wednesday, March 03, 2004

  Bloggers as knowledge animals

And one more colleague with a weblog: Janine Swaak. I have been working closely with Janine since I joined my current job as a researcher (she deserves a credit for being patient while I was learning "academic" style of writing :). We did together studies of CKOs, convergence of KM, training and e-learning, searching for in-house knowledge and lots of brainstorming sessions on all interesting aspects of KM.

Janine's weblog is about knowledge animals and their territories:

The knowledge territories metaphor (KTM) I propose refers to the ways that animals leave traces and protect or show-off with their territory. In short, the notion of knowledge territories emphasises the aspect of 'ownership' and is used to describe how people let other people know about their knowledge and how people share knowledge. In addition the metaphor shed light on reasons why people notify others of their knowledge or not and why they share or do not share knowledge. Similar to information foraging theory, the metaphor of knowledge territories assumes that people are selfish, lazy and want maximal output with minimal effort. But also that people are caring for their territory and offspring and that people are proud and have an enormous drive to survive.

Central in KTM are the concepts 'territories' and 'traces'. When people work, they leave knowledge traces by doing things, writing things and saying things. People may either intentionally ('smell flags') or unintentionally ('foot prints') leave strong and clear (i.e. precise place) traces or weak and vague (i.e. place and is not completely clear like boundaries of territory) traces. People may intentionally or unintentionally leave as little traces as possible or try to remove their traces. Strong and clear traces inform other people about someone's knowledge territory, weak and vague traces leave other people in the dark about one's knowledge territory. In other words, people either hide their knowledge territory or show-off with their knowledge territory by the strength and clearness of the traces they leave.

I guess bloggers are very friendly knowledge animals - leaving lots of traces, keeping their knowledge territories open and even providing RSS feeds to make stealing knowledge much easier :)))

  Tuesday, March 02, 2004

  True knowledge work cannot be automated

Let's continue introduction round of my colleagues with weblogs. Carla Verwijs shares her expectations of weblogs, passion for finding out what motivates people to share knowledge and makes me absolutely happy by posting summary of paper by Kidd (1994) which was in my "to blog" list for ages.

Kidd concludes that computer support for human information processing needs reconsideration. "True knowledge work cannot be automated", is the author's conclusion. Or, when it can be stored it is no knowledge work. I think weblogs can play a role in this new support for knowledge workers, as 'knowledge organiser'.

The reference (in case you care :) - Kidd, A. (1994). The marks are on the knowledge worker. Proceedings of CHI '94. ACM Press: Boston, MA., pp.186-191.

  Monday, March 01, 2004

  Metification and blog certificates.

My colleagues are moving into blogging :) One of them, Anjo Anjewierden starts with a couple of interesting ideas.


So, what is "metification"? Metification is the idea of taking a set of data resulting from a knowledge worker and representing it such that it stimulates new ideas or insights. The term "metification" originates from "meta-ideas" which got contracted to "meti".

I guess the example of e-mail visualisations in my previous post is a case of metification :)

Blog certificates

Such a certificate would present to the user (e.g. potential blog reader) in one glance some fundamental characteristics of the blog, comparable to certificates for movies. In order to avoid that a certificate has to be compiled manually the characteristics must be mechanically computable. An initial selection would be:

  • Frequency (average number of posts per day).
  • Length (average number of words per post).
  • Quotes (percentage of content that is quoted from elsewhere).
  • Self links (percentage of links to own blog).
  • Other blogs (percentage of links to others blogs).
  • Other links (percentage of links to other websites).

If we would have averages for the above and then compute relative values for a particular blog, the result might be useful. For example, a relatively high score on "Self links" points to an introspective blogger, and a relatively high score on "Other links" points to a blog that filters the web (also given in the cited paper).

This is something I'd like to have at least for my weblog. As I said in a previous post: I'm selfish :)

Specific comments:

1. Extracting quotes is not an easy task given that there is no common way of formatting them.

2. Introspection is not necessary revealed by high numbers of links to oneself, someone can write in a very self-reflecting mode without any links. What "self links" probably reveal is use of own weblog for connecting and organising ideas (~ personal information management flavour).

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  Personal visualisations of e-mail archives

Yesterday, taking a break from writing I was reading a paper about effects of visualising e-mail archives, Digital artifacts for remembering and storytelling: PostHistory and Social Network Fragments by Fernanda Viégas, danah boyd, David H. Nguyen, Jeffrey Potter, Judith Donath (try this or this if you don't have IEEE access).

As part of a long-term investigation into visualizing email, we have created two visualizations of email archives. One highlights social networks while the other depicts the temporal rhythms of interactions with individuals. While interviewing users of these systems, it became clear that the applications triggered recall of many personal events. One of the most striking and not entirely expected outcomes was that the visualizations motivated retelling stories from the users’ pasts to others. In this paper, we discuss the motivation and design of these projects and analyze their use as catalysts for personal narrative and recall.

Things to remember:

Example of SNA on e-mail data aimed to support individual and not corporate decision-makers. This makes me thinking about the potential "market" for tools aggregating and visualising data: may be they are more likely to be used by individuals to make sense of their own data, then by "someone" who wants to get a picture of what's going on in a company (example: my struggle to choose between liveTopics and k-collector). People are selfish: I care more about my own archives than about my company's :)

Inside the article there are some strong quotes on our dependence on external objects to think and to remember. I should expand on it one day, this is something that connects information and knowledge and explains why personal information management skills are important for a knowledge worker.

How much could be extracted only from e-mail headers, without any content analysis.

User reactions on interacting with systems visualising their e-mail archives:

  • recalling stories associated with patterns in e-mail change and being eager to share them with others ("Given the opportunity to gain meaningfull access to date about oneself, people want to explore it and then share it with others" p.9)
  • discoveries about oneself: e-mail use patterns, forgotten friends, connections between people, reflecting on relations

The most interesting finding in the paper is the fact that the users feel that visualisations themselves do not reveal stories behind them:

Some of the ways in which our users interacted with the visualizations are reminiscent of how people relate to photographs. People return to their photos to reflect on past experiences as well as to share aspects of their lives with others. Photographs themselves convey limited slices of the events they represent, but their presence allows the owner to convey as much or as little as they want in sharing the event represented. Although our stories are as deeply embedded in our email as they are in our photos, we rarely have access to any sort of "snapshot" of our email so as to have these deep reflections and storytelling opportunities. The higher-level view of our digital experiences is buried deep within the actual data. When users in our case studies began storytelling around the visualizations, we realized that these provided a missing link; they created a legible and accessible view for sharing and reflecting upon our digital experiences, without revealing too much. (p. 8)

© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 6/30/2005; 11:26:42 PM.