Will I continue blogging? Most definitely.

There’s something special in seeing my writing online for everyone to see. If I see some pingbacks or comments, it tells me that I provided something that people would want to read, which is good feedback as to what I should and should not include in a post. It also helps keep me in touch with other people interested in the topic, since people who comment most likely have a blog similar to mine. Besides, seeing my writing published somewhere public always gives me a nice fuzzy feeling. I wouldn’t trade that feeling, no matter how lazy I can be.

Will I continue the direction in which my personal blog is headed? That I’m not so sure about. I like the topic I chose, but it can be hard to search for relevant topics and do the research needed since it’s not something that is not often talked about in blogs, at least in ones I’ve seen. What I may do is slowly edge it more towards Mac-oriented material. I will be a Mac owner by the end of this week, and I’ve constantly been searching for new information on the subject. With Boot Camp included on all new Macs, I’m sure there are many, many more people out there like me who would also like to read about this topic. I like the gratification I get from my original topic, but I want to have a blog that is useful to others as well. Maybe what I’ll do is keep the blog like it is and make a new blog dedicated solely to Macs and their features? Another topic I could tackle is old blues music, since I do have an interest in that, as well as many 78’s that are just calling to be put online. (Of course there’s the issue of copyright, but I think that’s a moot point with music that old, which would most certainly be in the public domain by now.) That would be interesting, and it would be something people would go back to. I just have to decide what I want, since I cannot possibly maintain four blogs without either going crazy or dropping any sort of real life or spare time.

I was on getafreelancer.com looking at some of the posts, and it seems that people do include their blogs in their resumes, especially in ones that require some writing in blogs or otherwise. That’s just another reason to continue a good blog: resume padding. A well-developed blog shows employers you can stick with something for an extended amount of time. Usually.

This post was written and on Zoho and posted using their tools. They even have an HTML editor, in case you want to add your own personal touches directly into a word document. Yes, this is free, blatant advertising for them. I don’t like that the spellcheck isn’t constant, but what do you expect for something already as awesome as this? They probably couldn’t utilize the browser’s spellcheck for technical reasons. They’ll probably add it on later. 

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HTML may appear similar at first, but in actuality XHTML is the combination of HTML and XML to allow it to be less complicated for non-traditional browsers (like those on a mobile phone). While it is less flexible than HTML (for example, every bracket must be closed, ie <br> has to be written as <br />, so that the backslash properly closes the element), it is cleaner, so it can be interpreted faster by browsers that don’t have as much resources to calculate odd elements. The article about XHTML from W3C itself is here.

It is basically a streamlining and standards issue. Web standards basically ensure that the site code is as uncomplicated as possible while at the same time making sure that the site can be viewed by as many people as possible (accessible) and will be able to be seen for years to come. The World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C) sets out recommendations as to what language would be most accessible and streamlined. This also fits into accessibility, but it also makes sure that each site is viewed the same way in every browser, and it won’t be like it was 10-15 years ago when each site had a “best viewed in…” statement.

Unfortunately, not all browsers are completely compatible. Internet Explorer is the biggest culprit, which is sad considering they have 76% of the usage share. While they support most standards, they do not support XHTML, and will only show it if it was written similarly to HTML. This will hopefully be fixed with IE8, as elaborated on in Fix the Compatibility Problems with IE8 Beta. Mozilla Firefox does support XHTML, but it does not pass the Acid2 test, which tests for rendering flaws in browsers. Opera does not render the Acid2 test as well (see Unintentionally Blank’s article Opera and Safari Hunt Down Bugs to Pass Acid 3).

CSS is a stylesheet language that defines the page’s presentation, including color and fonts. It is more flexible than defining these elements in HTML or XHTML and it allows for a different type of theme to show up based on the requirements of the browser, allowing for greater accessibility.

Podcasts

May 22, 2008

Podcasts are basically audio files that can be subscribed to. That’s the big thing about them. Any old person could post an audio or video file to a blog, but podcasts (and vodcasts) are specifically those types of files that can be subscribed to directly. Social Media World has a good video about what podcasts are.

I also found an article called Seven Ways that Print Media is Like Podcasting. Not only does it point out why it is similar to print media, but it also points out the faults of television and radio that make a podcast so popular, such as the inability to listen to a radio show whenever you want. In that way, it would make sense for a radio broadcaster to put their show in podcast format so it would be accessible to a broader range of people.

One interesting thing is that many people in traditional media are embracing podcast technology. Because of the ability to subscribe to a podcast, many radio broadcasters use podcasts to supplement their shows and give their listeners the ability to easily keep track of new episodes.

Podcasts are useful partially because they are entertaining. I used to subscribe to a few that were connected to this one site. They not only used it as a blogging tool, using it to give updates on the site, but they also had interviews with people involved in that field. One of those involved fan fiction, so they often had people who maintained blogs on either the fandom or grammar, people who were popular writers, or they had people who were actually involved in the subject, such as editors or artists. One of them had people send in emails and their own audio files, which they either read or played back in the podcast. Basically, it was really good advertising.

(What I didn’t understand was why one of those sites set up a separate RSS feed for their podcast. I’m not talking about the subscription to the actual podcast; these guys had a separate page with all their past podcasts on the site, and that page had an RSS feed. If you clicked on the link in the feed, it would link you to another link, which would send you to the podcast. Could someone explain why they would do this? It just seems so redundant. I would think the feed for the podcast would be plenty and they wouldn’t have to include a separate feed.)

They are also useful because it releases some of the limits that limit solely text-based information. This is felt even moreso with vodcasts. Take, for example, a music blog. Instead of them linking the mp3 files directly into a text-based post, they could have a podcast with either clips or the whole songs that they wanted to show people. That way, all the music is in one place, and the consumer would be able to just download the one file to listen to.

I can think of a specific example of where a vodcast would be very, very useful. If they didn’t actually set this up (and if they had, then I really need to work on my observational skills), then they need their heads examined. I know it’s on YouTube and I could have just subscribed to the author, but that’s a bit different. Anyway, it’s this one show on Youtube called “The Guild”. It’s basically about the trials and tribulations of this one guild in World of Warcraft. If it were in vodcast form, I could have monitored their updates that much more closely. This obviously works with many other webisodes, including Ashen’s work (he reviews old, terrible consoles as well as cheap Chinese knockoffs) on YouTube (he has his own site, but I tend to just pay attention to what he puts on YouTube instead of his site, so he could have a vodcast that I don’t know about).

Screencasting, capturing a video of what is happening on screen, is good for those whose blog keeps track of new software. It helps show the features in real time, and can be subscribed to just like a vodcast.

I’m still not feeling my best this week, so I’m not too happy with how this week’s entry has turned out.

Mashups are web applications that are combinations of other different web applications.

The potential for this is endless. An already good application is used to create bigger, better applications with much more features. The people who make these applications, and whose applications are being used, allow this because it allows for better development of the technology and more resources to use.

One online program that gets implemented into many different mashups is Google Maps. There is a blog that actually tracks what mashups are being made using this application called Google Maps Mania. The latest site featured on that blog is Everyscape, where they incorporate Google Maps into an application that lets you see a street view of a location. The creators of Google Maps allow this because of the uses that can be gained from such sharing. If they were to restrict use of the application, then we wouldn’t have so many other resources out there.

This relates back to the open source movement because people are allowing the code to be improved upon. Just like Firefox lets people view their open source so that they can get greater and more useful user feedback about the equipment, API makers allow their applications to be used so more uses can come from the application.

I personally view mashups as a wonderful thing. There are so many different combinations of applications, you could almost make a mashup that will track your neighbors movements. Almost.

A website I found useful is Programmable Web. It tracks several different mashups that are out there. It’s a very useful tool if you want to find a mashup, or if you want to find an application to be included in your own mashup.

Research Processes

May 11, 2008

If one wants to find something online, they sometimes have to be creative.

Combing through tags at different sites, such as del.icio.us or a blogging site such as WordPress or Blogger, helps find links that other people would consider to be relevant. Even Technorati uses tags, which is very useful when you aren’t sure of what keyword to use.

There are also many other alternative search engines out there, including visual search engines (like searchme, which was reviewed at Techsnack) and searches that search several different search engines (like dogpile). ReadWriteWeb had an article awhile back called Top 100 Alternative Search Engines. There, you can find a search engine for any kind of media, or a certain type of search engine. You want to search blogs? You don’t need to use Google’s Blogsearch, you can just use Blogdigger.com. While those searches vary in quality, it is interesting to see so many of them listed in one place.

WebWorkerDaily also has a list of 8 Alternative Search Engines. They include reviews of the different search engines as well, so you know those are good quality. They even mentioned zabasearch.com, which I personally like because it helps find people that aren’t in the phone books.

You can even use an alternative web browser to help your search. Tech Radar has a list of 8 alternative web browsers that have their own special features. I mention this because it mentions browsers such as Flock and SpaceTime that could be used to streamline searches. Flock connects directly to social networking sites, such as Facebook and even YouTube, so you don’t actually have to go to them to check up on them. SpaceTime is unique in that it lets to flip through sites in 3D. That may not seem like much use, but it could be useful if you’re like me and have a million tabs open while searching. It also has a built in search tool that lets you search a whole list of sites, including Flickr and YouTube.

RSS feeds are another way to search. syndic8.com is a search engine that searches RSS feeds only. If you want to constantly keep up to date. News is Free is a browser-based alert system that keeps you up to date with your blogs and news. They also have a news search tool.

If the site doesn’t have an RSS feed, then page monitors are the way to go. There are many email, online, and downloadable monitors out there, including Google Alerts. There is also googlealert.com. What’s odd about this alert system is that it came before Google Alerts. Its website seems to also have a different target audience, seeing as how the site mentions it as a business tool.

If you want to narrow down your search options, Google has a page where they describe syntaxes to optimize a search online. The link is here: Search Operators. These typically work at any site, not just Google’s search engine. Of course, if you’re feeling Google loyalty, they do have quite a few other programs, some of which would be very good for searches. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the whole range of Google products.

Last but not least, you could search iTunes’s Store. They do have an assortment of Podcasts that may be on the subject you’re trying to search. I’ve even seen blogs with Podcasts.

Communities of practice are social learning. Every person in the network helps one another to get to their common goal. Etienne Wenger first proposed this form of learning in 1991. In the article Communities of Practice on his website, he says it is not merely a network of people, it is a group of people with a common identity working towards a common goal. While this is not a new learning concept, Wenger was the first person to describe the phenomenon.

Those of us who want to go into web design need to be involved in a community of practice. The web provides a good source for us to go to for any information we need to know. Blogs would be the most accessible source, though anywhere where people with similar goals go to talk about their interest would also work.

Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System is another article by Etienne Wenger that was widely referenced by other students learning about communities of practice. It would seem that several professors think that it is relevant to the topic at hand, so I believe it also needs a mention. In it, he cites examples of communities of practice and how they are effective. He emphasizes how it is a group of people with similar goals, not interests. Our class is a community of practice in that we are bouncing ideas off of each other so we can more effectively learn. A group of programmers in a blogsphere is a community of practice. A group online devoted to, say, LOLcats is not a community of practice since, while they have a similar interest, they do not have a goal in mind. A community of practice is more of a team that works together than anything else.

In It’s not how famous you are, it’s how relevant, the author reasons that communities of practice thrive on relevancy and communication from the author. This article emphasizes the colloquialism of communities of practice. It is not how well broadcasted a person is, it is how relevant and accessible the information is to people in the same community of practice.

In Communities of Practice: A Means of Encouraging Knowledge Management, Amy Smith emphasizes that communities of practice are not only networking among a group, but also helping the novices in the community. The level of mastery in a community of practice is not the deciding factor in its success; instead, it is the level of participation amongst all members of the group.

Basically, what I get from communities of practice is that it is informal learning among a group of people. They each want to succeed in their field so they talk to the different members of their community. For us to have a more effective community of practice at school, we need to be able to not only network with those who have been through more of the program, but also effectively participate in not only our but their learning as well. It is a group effort for all of us and, if one of us does not succeed, then the group does not succeed as a whole. It goes back to that saying, we are only as strong as the weakest in the group.

Professional Blogging

April 26, 2008

I will admit, I’ve looked into making money with a blog. That’s why I even started that one blog, though Blogspot is nothing compared to WordPress. Blogging can be so competitive, but making money should not be the reason one should start blogging. Here are some ideas I got from searching around. I won’t post all of them because one of the tips from 10 Blogging Tips suggested making it brief.

Be interactive. Problogger.net has an article called 12 Ways to be a More Interactive and Accessible Blogger. I can tell you from experience that this is an asset. There is a blog out there called Generation Y (those of you who go to sites like digg.com should recognize this one) where, because of political restraints, she cannot post very often. It is basically a blog about Cuban life from the point of view of a Cuban. It is so popular, other than its controversial subject matter, partially because she is so informal in her writing. She is relating to the others, inspiring her readers to comment on her material. Listverse, a blog with lists of trivia, is another blog I go to on a regular basis. Jfrater, the person running the site, occasionally posts both question and answer sessions with her readers as well as lists about the mistakes with the site she’s made in the past. Both of these blogs are made so much more interesting by their interaction. I think that’s what I need to work on with my AI blog, since I felt its first post was a bit flat.

Be passionate about the topic. As problogger said (can you tell I like their blog?) in their How to Choose a Niche Topic for your blog, you have to not only like the topic enough to talk about it for over a year, it has to be a topic people will read and one that has a good amount of information on it. Granted, this is the internet, and weird topics pop up everyday, it’s the really popular topics that get all the hits on the blogs. I think I’ve covered this well myself, though I do have to have more initiative about blogging. Maybe I should make a schedule. “Okay, Nicole, note to self: you can only write to your personal blog after you update the AI one, and you should update the AI one every Sunday, or whenever you feel you need to update your personal one.” There, like my personal note? Got that covered…

That should cover the basics. There are other tips I’ve seen, such as consider blogging if you have good communication skills/writing skills, or are you social enough to start a blog, but I believe those two tips are ones that are most relevant to me as well as the most important in starting a blog. If you want more information, I love problogger’s Blogging Tips for Beginners. It lists several articles they’ve posted that is informative to us newbie bloggers.

I looked into blogging professionally because I needed the money, to be blunt. I am not the business type, but it intrigued me that a person could actually make money blabbing about some topic for a couple of hours a day. Eh, maybe I’ll find a good niche topic and fly with it. Heh, it’d be funny if we made a class blog with Adsense on it that we all contributed to. Anyone game?

My Blog(s)

April 25, 2008

My AI-hosted blog is here: http://np069.aisites.com/blog/. I hope to have my first post by this Sunday. I’ll edit this post if it’ll be something otherwise, or if I change my topic from what I said in class. I’m so bad about leaving comments in blogs generally, so I’m hoping the nice pingbacks I’ll get from my AI blog will help push me to talk with the other people in the field.

I do have a personal blog that I’ve updated for awhile that is on Andean culture. I would’ve used that subject, but I wanted to not only keep that one nicely updated (something I’ve failed with so far), but also have a blog where I can more effectively connect with people. There’s also the fact that there are so few blogs on the subject that are in English, and my Spanish isn’t good enough to get anything more than the gist out of an article in Spanish. It is here: http://andesculture.blogspot.com/ in case you do want to peruse it (I hope you do, cause I want some suggestions on what to do with it). My AI blog comes first, though, so don’t expect this one to be updated that often.

Collective Intelligence

April 19, 2008

To me, collective intelligence is the intelligence of a group. The knowledge of one person is shared amongst the group. This concept is shown most clearly in the form of wikis.

The blog Wikinomics (a great blog that everyone should subscribe to, by the way) had a great article called Wikinomics Applied to Traffic that showed this concept working in the real world. While this is an odd article, and it might be a stretch to reference it for class, it does show how people working together create their own entity, in this case safer streets. As the article says, “It’s a great model for how pushing out central authority and decisonmaking to end users can result in more optimal behavior.” This sort of test is applicable to other parts of real life, including online wikis. Though, in a wiki it is information that is monitored instead of the actions of others. The people gathered their collective intelligence to form what they wanted themselves.

In Expert or Amateur? Both the author reasons that the web is taking a shift from collective intelligence, but not a complete shift. He quotes Tony Dokoupil from Newsweek, showing that while “everyday” people edit Wikipedia, the majority of articles are being edited by experts in the field the article is about. The author reasons that, while everyone submits content to Web 2.0 websites, it’s the experts that really shine through, that, “Today, an expert is someone who is expert in the network; connecting, sharing, sifting, ordering, and always taking the pulse of the wisdom of the experts and the crowd.” This is collective intelligence. The expert lends his knowledge to the group so that they, too can gain such knowledge.

Personally, this shows a much more open way of sharing information. For me, this means that much more knowledge is available to me than would have been years ago. In my PLE, networking is vital. I remember back when I used to always frequent message boards. We would share our knowledge amongst each other, and I learned so much more from them than I would have ever from a book. They would give advice on what to read, what to expect, who’s the expert in the field, as well as information on whatever we were discussing. It was a treasure trove of information. My PLE works in the same way (well, those message boards in a way were my PLE, even though I didn’t think of it that way), where others deal out whatever they know and can recommend and I do the same back. Looking up facts and discussing them among others is a much better way to learn than having a teacher lecture because it forces everyone to know the facts they are discussing (or writing about in a wiki).

When I first read about Personal Learning Environments, the first thought that came to my mind was: why wasn’t I told this before? The concept should be incorporated into every classroom. This would really help limit the hand-holding that many teachers seem to do.

Using a PLE would get me in touch with others out there who are trying to learn the same thing I am, which would help me understand the information that much more clearly. Content aggregators would be so helpful in organizing links involving the class, and would help others find the information. To be really immersed in learning something would be ideal, so I would like to try making my own PLE.

This blogger really goes into detail about what she uses in her PLE. She has such good tools, I think I’ll try to emulate what she has. Maybe. That may be to complicated for a PLE-newbie like me.

I read a blog (here) that mentioned a class wiki. Does that sound like a good idea for this class? It would not only put the information we learned in class into one location, it would also force us to think about the topics. Maybe it could even be an IMD-wide wiki, so that the students who are about to graduate could help contribute. That way, the upper levels would be more likely to network with us who are just starting. What does everyone think?

What about keeping in touch with each other using IM? I would prefer Skype, personally, but some people may be unable to download such a thing. Maybe setting up something that can be used with meebo.com? The problem with that would be coordinating people’s schedules.

What about Flock? Anybody use it? It’s a browser with social networking tools built into it. It sounds like it would be useful to help organize our PLE’s.