The following Long Scroll is a compilation of my very first attempts to blog. Part of a class many staff and members of ALA took in the spring of 2007 at the urging of several librarians who felt ALA was lagging in it Social Media awareness. A lot of these links are defunct as the umbrella Website from which we worked is closed now. I present this as a look into my mind at the time. Here goes:
Return of Die/|\HardIn another online life, back when there was GEnie and Atari made it's second stand on the home computer front, I was known as Die/|\Hard, with the crude Atari symbol in the middle, yes. The communications software available for the Atari ST was so much better than ProComm for Intel-based PCs, it was amazing how easy it was to participate in online conferences and such. Anyone remembering that, please respond! We can scratch ourselves and weep into our steins about what could have been ...
Back then, getting the hang of using a computer and going online was an adventure and, for me, learning was swift and simple. (And mostly due to the simplicity of the Atari ST's user interface.) My wife reminds me that not everyone has the capacity that I had for understanding and doing it. I reviewed software and was fairly good at hammering the edge of the envelopes that were presented. I wrote for several Atari-related journals, including ANALOG, which, at the time I wrote for it, was published by none other than Larry Flynt! (I seem to have lost the photocopy of the checkstub from LFP or I would display it here.)
I was able to bootstrap myself into desktop publishing and because Ventura Publisher provided a way to precode text, preferably using pre-Windows WordPerfect, I was able to transfer (transpose?) skills quickly to HTML, and transition to Web publishing very smoothly. I pride myself on sticking with HTML editors rather than site-development applications (ala Dreamweaver) to create Web sites. Cold Fusion coding has been challenging but mainly due to the lack of enough projects to use it (and not lose it), I've struggled of late to keep up.
More to the point, even on the Atari, we "pioneers" sampled the beginnings of socialware, even proto-blogs with applications that allowed "i-zines," but they never seemed to take off (nor did the Atari platform, sadly). Along came the groupware applications maybe five years later on PCs and I have been a strong advocate at ALA for the kind of community application that we made available last year but is still only slowly taking hold by the membership. I've seen the same slow arc of acceptance building with the WebCT courseware--started about four years ago, but only now seeing fruition with a growing curriculum and more significantly, overflowing registrations!
I think I understand the reluctance to an extent. As the years have passed, I find myself not as adept ... (Master of the VCR when they were monstrous big; now I cannot tape a show to save my life on the new compact units) ... as I once was. It may well be that blogging and RSS are so simple, they elude my understanding ... I don't know. Maybe, having been on committees researching content management systems, knowledge management systems, as well as the online communications application mentioned, I've just reached a geek saturation point. But I'm going to jump in and see what happens.
Bleeding Edge Is an Apt Name
Reacting here to the Wisdom of the Crowd concept that seems to define Web 2.0, I'm going to return to my reminisce about Atari computers. On the surface, this idea that democratic agreement on the value of something is how we judge the quality of information is rather frightening. Most experts agree that the Betamax format was superior to VHS, but the masses went with VHS. The Macintosh computer has always fought this "wisdom," expressed in the 1990's as "no one ever got fired for buying IBM (-based PCs)."
In the early 1990s, the Atari ST computer was an interesting hybrid of the two main brands of computer, Apple and Intel-based PCs. It's main processor was the same Motorola 68-series chip as found in the Macintosh. The graphical user interface (GUI) was called GEM, (see also Wikipedia entry). It was a very good computer and represented, as much as a commercial product can, the "bleeding edge." (It may have competed with the Commodore Amiga in that regard--both were also doomed ...) While it was supported by excellent business applications, including WordPerfect, the wisdom of the crowd was that it was a toy, a game machine.
I'm not really going to belabor the irony of those times, and how, nowadays games drive the PC market far more strongly than business applications. I'd like to write about what it was like to be on the bleeding edge. In short, it wasn't so great. I had hoped to do freelance desktop publishing, but the software I was using, while competitive with what was available on Macs and PCs, was just missing a few crucial formats and font-handling capabilities. There was always some new release or application on the horizon that was going to kick @$$. You could converse with a few other folks on the bleeding edge and pat each other on the back about how kewl we were but it really got depressing when we started to kvetch about how the next release was overdue! Or how the latest patch didn't meet our expectations.
I'm not sure it's been a conscious choice, but since that time, I've been a bit slower on the draw. Our sons had more CDs before I finally broke down and bought a component CD player. They also bought us a DVD player, having gotten impatient with our reluctance to change over. And we finally subscribed to cable service just last year, much to the consternation of two sons who are out of the nest! (How could we pass up standard TV cable service, Internet, and unlimited local/lost-distance landline phone for $90!!)
I think we've seen this at ALA. We've been cut by the leading edge a few times and so we wait. And sometimes, it takes awhile for our efforts at providing more to take hold. I know this sounds like I know who signs my paycheck, but I have to agree with "The Hat" that ALA needs to continuously incoporate new tools and reach out to those who are bleeding on the cutting edge to encourage them as much as to ask their advice.
Still BleedingJust left a comment at Celia Ross's L2.0 blog about creating a tutorial on how I creating my Who Is Where component (at the right of this article). Right away I was using my trusty LView Pro to load and crop screenshots of the various tools used to create my custom component. Two things occur to me: this operation is very straightforward and doesn't require a tutorial, and I was about to take the L1.0 approach to presenting my information anyway.
Let's back up further: I am listening (rather futilely) to the "Talking with Talis" podcast via iTunes as I am creating this article in my Cold Fusion Studio editor. (I distrust most online editors from long experience and this provides backup and a comfortable environment for me to work with what eventually will be an html file anyway.) I have IE and Firefox open to clip URLs for handling useful links for this article. And still prepared to handle clipping screenshots with LView near to hand.
[I've just become sidetracked by a thought about my DieHard status: I continue to resist the "Wisdom of the Crowd." I don't use PhotoShop, I don't use Dreamweaver. I really resist trying to identify myself with the tools I choose to use, but I notice that people shake their heads when I mention I'm using Corel Draw to handle my Web graphics needs or I (used to) use HotDog to code my Web pages. If it works, I ask, why replace it?]
OK. I've switched iTunes to playing a list of downloads from Harmony Central: Guitar Jam forum members. HCGJ is where I became a strong advocate for the interactivity of community applications. Someday, I keep telling myself, I want to meet some of these Web friends ... While I do value these virtual friendships, I also know that I have polished my "on-the-fly" writing skills and developed a sense of conviction that underlies what I communicate. This "conviction" is tempered and instructed by how the community at HCGJ has reacted to what I post. I am convinced that while the forumware may be considered L1.0, the skill being honed is definitely L2.0
[I'll save reflections about a forum where I not only interact physically with other members, but discovered another employee at ALA was a member!]
My comment on Celia's blog also applauded her effort for presenting a four-week interactive online course on Business Reference that RUSA hosted. This course included four two-hour chats with Celia, an abundance of links and ideas about sources for answers to business reference questions, and a "Sandbox" where students were allowed into five major password-protected fee-based sources of business reference. Chats were transcribed so that those who weren't able to attend could read and then post comments on a Discussion thread devoted to that particular chat. Along the same lines, a Business Reference Stumpers thread was also very active, providing asynchronous interactions among students.
I can't show you the course, but I can show you an abbreviated glimpse of the Navigation Tour (feel free to view the second page of the tour as well as the "Primer on Things to Consider" with links on the left-hand menu of the linked page).
Ah! I've given myself away! How L1.0!
Another Online Course Success Story
Still pondering the L1.0 forms of offering continuing education to library staff. Our WebCT-based "The Reference Interview" has "graduated" six sessions' worth of students. The most-recent group was so enthusiastic about the course, they started a Yahoo Group! They named it The_Desk_Set after the movie that sets the bar for portraying librarians in film--at least, that was the consensus during one of the chats! We are looking into sending invitations to the previous five sessions' students for their interest in joining. The chat component of the courses has really drawn students into the course. They've been so well-received that the instructor actually added two more chats to the syllabus, for a total of twelve contact hours over four weeks!
Interactivity is the key any online learning opportunity.
One of the great aspects of attending Midwinter or Annual is meeting members with whom I've become acquainted via e-mail. Chats and threaded discussions only accelerate such virtual acquaintanceships, which is why I hold so much hope for ALA's Online Communities initiative.
News FlashI just ran a search on BlogBridge with "ALAL2 Learning" highlighted in the Guide column. Typed in "Committee" in hopes of a cross-relational discovery but the resulting articles didn't contain the "c" word. I am excited about diving into this 2.0 environment, and every mistake I make tells me that I'm going to learn something as long as I can stand the embarrassment of it all!
It looks like our team is going to look at the ALA Online Communities (AOC) as an enhancement to membership. I hope that we can meld a discussion of what committees are in terms of association membership with a practical matter of documenting how to use AOC to further the ease of doing the business of members. This would appear to me to be a membership enhancement.
AOC is not a 2.0 technology but it could be a bridge to learning some 2.0 skills ... It has been available in "soft rollout" for nine months(?) and still pretty much a mystery to most members as well as ALA staff. It is very feature rich and documentationally impoverished. That's a pretty wicked combo! Last year, we had great expectations that committees and discussion groups would embrace this suite of virtual community tools to get a jump on work before doing face time at Midwinter and Conference. I refuse to believe the tools are so 1.0 retro that members are ignoring them.
If our meeting yesterday afternoon proved anything, it's that a lot of our people aren't quite ready for 2.0 prime time. This is not a criticism. Nor is it an excuse. I would like to see if we can get members to shift paradigms from facetime committee to virtual committee, the blogosphere with training wheels, so to speak. There's room on the Internet for all of this!
The Other Side of the Fire HoseA number of us have exclaimed over how we seem to be drinking from a fire hose with the onset of this course. I've just felt the cold hard suck of the other aspect of blogs: that need to post, to keep the article count up. Not only that, but as more participant blogs come onboard, the opportunities and obligation to post comments mount to a point where the suggestion that we're expected to devote 2-3 hours a week to this project is ... let's put this nicely ... chuckaliscious!
In fact, to satisfy my curiousity about how well we're all coping with Learning 2.0 so far, I thought it might be fun to post a poll!
I may as well take this opportunity to comment on the Powerpoint slide that triggered some steam to rise from my ears during the May 3d session. The ALA 1.0/2.0 comparison baldly states that ALA Staff alone posts to the ALA Web site (I'd have the exact wording if I could access the slide). This sets up staff v. members opportunities for misunderstanding unnecessarily. Yes, there's a barrier to posting since training on the content management system is a prerequisite to gaining admission, but members--many members--post to the ALA Web site. My understanding of my (staff) role is that of a facilitator, and what postings I make to the Web site are updating member-mandated "perennial" information and following directions from members when posting new information. Rarely do I create content.
I want to be very cautious and uncritical here: days go by and I do not post to my assigned stations on the ALA Web site. This could very well be a dereliction of duty or an expression of "radical trust" but I am not always aware of the posting being done on my "turf" by members. (The same would be true of a bloggerized version of same sites.) The dynamics of any Web site, whether static or free-flowing, is dependent of an active cadre of authors. The number of blogs has grown, kinda like the growth of knowledge (see my Singularity Songs links), but how many of those blogs are being updated on a regular basis?
Work-Related Guilty PleasuresThis Learning 2.0 stuff is really cutting into my time at ... uh, my favorite forum ... Er, okay, let's 'fess up if nothing else, for further edification that 2.0 skills can be honed on "lesser" platforms (forums v. blogs). In fact, in light of our team project of promoting the ALA Online Communities (AOC), an article about my forum experiences may be helpful (and serve my rationale that I was doing some of it on "company time" for the good of the "company"). I've referred to this activity in a previous article. (And it took thirty minutes to create this link that takes you to the spot in the article to which I'm referring because the blog editor's clean-up function compounded my own coding errors and ruined the file. Good thing I had my original file!)
Harmony Central was my first encounter with a forum and I soon became comfortable with the environment provided. Registering was very simple, straightforward and efficient. I did need to provide valid e-mail and tend to provide valid profile information. Most forums also allow you a wide range of choices in terms of what to reveal to the "public" (other registered members of the forum, who have gone through the same vetting process) and what to keep confidential. The main, everyday environment of the forum is efficient and usable as well. Yes, there are trolls, some obnoxious, some entertaining. What I have found more often, however, are people who will pray for you, people who can give excellent advice on where to find music tabs or how to properly wind guitar strings, people who have great insights into why Snape may not be the bad guy he seems to be, people who tell great stories ... evidence that the Internet's a spiffy place to hang out and socialize as well as get some work done.
Where online forums really connect is when you then actually begin meeting people you've typed at. You already know this from e-mails and discussion lists, to be sure, but there's something extra about forum acquaintances. Imagine my great surprise to discover that "ChicagoAvenger" on Midwestgaming.net actually works at ALA! We ran into each other at a game tournament and the "aha" moment (ALA! You work where I work!) was just the start of a what's become a fine friendship, beyond our gaming interests. Being able to connect with others asynchronously in these forum enviroments is under your personal control. I can subscribe to a thread and be "pinged" whenever there's a reply, or I can choose not to be "nagged" every time someone responds. Sometimes you turn your cellphone off, right?
These experiences are why I've been such a strong advocate for making something like the ALA Online Communities available to ALA. If you go to our Committee 2.0 Discussion Board at AOC, you can view and comment on a list of ways the forums could be used (these are RUSA oriented, but will give an idea of uses for other divisions and units of ALA). In every one of them lay opportunities to connect, collaborate, and celebrate the relationships that bring us together in cyberspace.
Note: Having experienced it time and again in any number of "sophisticated" applications (ALA's content management system, WebCT's onboard HTML editors, Dreamweaver, Front Page, Word, and now Pingware's Blog editor), I am more convinced than ever that no one should entrust their time to these applications without first using a dependable and basic (meaning code-level, no WYSIWYG B.S.) HTML editor to create the first drafts of anything to be submitted to the Web. (I'm not quite there with the strictly Notepad coders, but close!) I've lost work any number of times to applications that were "just tyring to help" me keep my coding clean. By trying to simplify the process, these applications can cause the user undue frustration and engender a complete distrust of the application. I ask: where is the "radical trust" in that?
Making LemonadeI suppose instead of Die/|\Hard, I really ought to name this blog Whine Hard ... There's been an edge of defensiveness to my posts, I'll admit. I really feel like many times I've been betrayed by technology. In my Atari days, I was always waiting for software fixes and upgrades that were coming Real Soon Now (RSN). But what I learned on my Atari allowed me to bootstrap into the PC world fairly effortlessly and to learn the real meaning of "RSN" when Windows closed down the maverick operating systems that made Ventura Publisher and Word Perfect shine. At ALA, Production Services (ALAPS) was the fist unit to have a network server (followed by Booklist, who didn't like the ALAPS publishing solution (a turn-key operation, by the way). ALAPS threw off the turn-key system as the vendor went belly up, and we rode with Ventura until Microsoft turned the lights out on Digital Research's alternate operating system. Onward to Quark ...
When I escaped the deadlines of paper publications, I was pleased to get in on the ground floor of the ALA Web site. We ftp'd out files to our assigned spaces and the whole thing took shape. I don't spend much time reading the Council lists or other places where apparently members complained about it, but I did spend a lot of time working with staff and members discussing a new way to support the massive number of pages that went into the site. We didn't have a lot of money to work with, but we contracted with a vendor and were handed another opportunity to make lemonade. We could cry about how unfair it is that this promise wasn't fulfilled or we didn't understand this aspect of some process. But for the most part, we plug along trying to keep the lemonade coming.
We learned from the process that failed to bring about the perfect content management system and included more input from more members, and drafted a request for proposals for an online communities environment. This initiative arose from several groups of membership and staff, and we did our best to review various proposals and vendors to meet the wide range of needs we envisioned. We now have the application and a very different set of circumstances that are turning it into another lemonade project. I tried to set the permissions on the Committee 2.0 Chat page and cannot get it configured for members to use it. It's been done elsewhere, so I just sit here feeling betrayed by the technology and my ignorance.
I know, however, from past experience that I can keep pushing through to a solution and then share it so that no one else needs to feel betrayed. We have done this with the CMS and will succeed with the AOC. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
There have been critics "seeing yellow" over this L2.0 group experience ...
When life throws lemons at you, you learn how to make lemonade. You improvise and make do. If you have deadlines to meet, the pressure is not pleasant but when you succeed, there's ice in that lemonade and life is good indeed! It's important to understand, however, that life is not lemonade, it's the process of making it. It requires that some lemons get wasted, hands get sticky, the floor receives some spillage ... sometimes the result is too sweet or too sour ... let's squeeze this metaphor into even more lemonade!
When technology drops the ball, it's not always my fault and it's not always the tech's fault. Even the best carpenter with the best tools has to rework something. Telling him to get a new hammer is just plain silly. I've never had much understanding for managers who think if they just add one more procedure to the list that mistakes will cease interrupting their perfect flow of work! (Unless the list itself is their life's work!) There are ways to ensure that technological betrayals are minimized--and procedure lists are definitely part of the solution, don't get me wrong! That's what we will be undertaking in creating our podcasts for the Team Ten project. But a bigger part of our project is merely learning by trial and error. That takes patience.
An Appendix to the L2.0 ManifestoAN ENNEAGRAM STORY
From: Beginning Your Enneagram Journey, by Loretta Brady
A group of ten people go to an event together. They are walking toward the entrance of the place where the event is to be held. Suddenly one of them trips on a cracked sidewalk and falls. Each of the others reacts differently to this experience.
The #1 person: "It's inexcusable to leave a sidewalk in such poor condition."
The #2 person: "Awww! You poor thing. Let me help you up."
The #3 person: "Here, I'm good at this sort of thing. I'll do it."
The #4 person: "I fell like this once, and I was in bed for two weeks afterwards."
The #5 person: "Isn't it interesting how everyone is reacting differently to the same event?"
The #6 person: "Are you okay? Oh gosh, now we are all going to be late. This is awful. What should we do?"
The #7 person: "Wow! What a fall! Hey, but you'll be up and dancing in no time."
The #8 person: "I'm going to get hold of the building manager and demand that this be rectified immediately."
The #9 person: "Calm down, everyone. Everything's going to be all right. Let's not get too excited."
Looking BackWhile I set forth some of my reservations about the "course" in my early blog articles, there is another confession I must make: I wanted to know what the business model for doing this would be. How do you get revenue coming in for something that ultimately is ongoing and not certified or quantified? In short, show me the money! Forgive my "business interests and mediocrity" ... but there it is. This is where Kathryn Deiss's podcast on Innovation and the spot-on recommendations for how ALA can facilitate "intersection hunting" really take me down, since we started with one set of assumptions and by the nature of the "conversation" wound up with really significant but different, unanticipated results. I still don't have a clue about a business model other than if this "course" were a member benefit, I would think a "twitch generation" Millennial might find it worthwhile to join. Learning is a messy process more often than not, but it is its own reward--how's that for business model?!
I hope that we can all agree that the more tools and venues we have for holding the conversation, the better. We lose if we get into a "that's not true 2.0" conflicts: 2.0 skills can be acquired in any number of ways and that is the essential mission. We continue to lose if we characterize ALA as "ALA Staff" or however the Trolls would have you think. ALA is the conversation. Or at least it should be the instrument through which the conversation takes place. ALA is its membership and the sum should be greater than the whole. Too many members are silent, but we don't know if that's by choice or lack of motivation or what. ALA staff are there to facilitate the conversation--at least, that's when we're at our best.
The best part of this experience was working with members. I get paid to do this; they don't, yet always give so much to the conversation! That's how I can go to work each day. So thanks, Jenny (Levine), Michael (Stephens) and Otter Group!