Archive for the ‘Required Reading’ Category

Disclosing blog sponsors

November 29, 2004

Now that Marc Canter is spearheading a kind of transparent blog-payola system for compensating bloggers, the issue of full disclosure of one’s sponsors and or influences seems all the more important.
For example, here is the disclosure about the ZeroDegrees sponsorship of the new Operating Manual for Social Tools weblog: About The Project:

ZeroDegrees has agreed to sponsor this site for the next four months to provide a forum for the discussion of rules and expectations for online social networks that will make social networks more useful while respecting the needs and privacy of their members. ZeroDegrees has agreed to exercise zero influence over the content of the discussions. The paid contributors are working for a fixed, non-renewable term. ZeroDegrees has further agreed that if the contributors feel ZeroDegrees has tried to influence them in any way, they can resign from the project but will still be paid.

As for me, no one pays me to write this weblog. Nor does anyone pay me (directly) to write The Power of Many, although you can think of that blog as being sponsored by my book of the same name. Finally, I am paid a retainer to contribute to the Personal Democracy Forum blog, a site for which I am formally a Contributing Editor. No one pays for any product placement, etc., anywhere that I write.
Further, it’s worth noting that from July to November this year I was a paid employee of Armstrong Zúniga, a political consulting firm run by Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong, proprietors of Daily Kos and MyDD respectively. We have parted ways amicably and I am still in a position to refer business or share leads with them, but there is no direct compensation passing between as at this time.
For the record, I am entirely willing to sell out personally, but will only blog about what I want to and will continue to be completely transparent about anyone with whom I have a business relationship.

Diego Doval's introduction to weblogs

November 10, 2003

Diego Doval has come up with one of the better (succinct, insightful) primers on weblogging and syndication in his d2r: an introduction to weblogs in two parts (so far).
They’re canonical!

Where are the bloggers over 50?

October 18, 2003

Janet of out of my mind asks, “Where are the blogs by persons over 50?”
In reply, I’d suggest checking out the ageless project. Currently, the first 23 people listed give birthdays over 50 years before today.
Janet, if you read this, one that jumps out from the list is wood s lot, born only a few months before my sweetheart. Start there.

Weblog strategies for nonprofits

October 3, 2003

One of the students in my weblogs class at Seybold last month was the web administrator of the Community Technology Foundation of California ( They use a sophisticated CMS to maintain the site but are experimenting with weblogs and wanted to see whether they might be more easily customizable, because – we agreed – different communities and groups may have different user interface expectations and preferences. We talked at length till the break was over and since then we’ve had further discussions and I’ll likely be doing some pro bono consulting with them sometime soon.

This got me started thinking about how nonprofits and other nongovernmental, noncorporate organizations should be making use of weblogs, syndication, and the evolving dynamics of the blogosphere, as tracked by such invaluable second-generation services as Technorati.

Wanted: weblog strategy

By coincidence, I was surfing the Craigslist ads for writers and web developers recently (a great way of keeping tabs with job market trends) and saw a very interesting one from a nonprofit seeking a weblogs consultant to help them develop a program and execute it, addressing the question “How can weblogs promote social change?”

The interesting thing about the ad is that they demonstrated mastery of basic weblog concepts, saying

We already know that nonprofits can update their websites regularly using Movable Type. We already know that Blogger can be used to share information internally. We already know about K-Logs. We are interested in going further.

The nonprofit is CompuMentor. What they are looking for is what you might call a second-generation weblog strategy. They want to harness the power of the blogosphere.

My first though was, I need to discuss this with Phil Wolff. Fortunately, he lives nearby and we met for lunch near Lake Merritt one fine Oakland fall afternoon. He was full of suggestions. Assuming that CompuMentor helps people find work with their new computer skills, he said, “Why not give each trainee a blog. They can use it to track their training, their job search, their skill acquisition, and their accomplishments. When they find a job, they can use it to keep track of their achievements.” Phil reminded me how hard it can be to remember what you were doing six months ago without a log to remind you.

We started talking about resume blogging and related things, and I talked about how I thought CompuMentor was looking at the big picture. How about setting up a Technorati for nonprofits and other socially progressive organizations? How about doing some social ringleadering, pied-pipering, or whatever you call it? Definitely, yes, blog each organization externally and blog as many internally as can handle it.

For example, around this same time I was also talking to a friend who works for an environmental nonprofit here in the Bay Area that is dedicated to protecting the bay (OK, estuary). I asked her if their communications strategy had any room for weblogs, and started talking about some of the things you could do in-house or in collaboration with other entities. She averred that it sounded like something for a larger nonprofit, something on the scale of the Sierra Club, even though the 20 plus employees at her nonprofit make it a relatively large one compared to most.

I realized that unless someone kickstarts this and demonstrates the power of a nonhierarchical cellular communications network for publishing, syndication, sharing, commenting, there’s no way to demonstrate the network effects.

Empower as many people affiliated in whatever way with nonprofits to start blogs if they want to. Syndicate and reprint news, analysis, announcements, and alerts.

I did some searching on Google using simple terms such as “nonprofit weblog” and “nonprofit blog.” I didn’t find anyone directly working on the intersection of these two concepts. I did find a number of blogs mentioning nonprofits and possibly a few published by nonprofits. I also found lots of pages from techie nonprofits that mentioned weblogs in passing or published articles about them.

It occurred to me that any subculture or microcosm or market or realm of ideas needs its own pioneers with this medium. I think I’m going to try to convince CompuMentor to launch a pilot program that will plant that stake in the sand so that other nonprofits and ngo’s and progressive organizations can weave their own connections around it.

Dean campaign: A model for organizers

It also became clear to me that the Howard Dean campaign was demonstrating a very savvy understanding of weblogs, syndication, and social software. There are lessons for nonprofits from the Dean campaign and there is an opportunity to network with and through any active progressive campaigns.

Volunteers for Dean have developed an open-source community-weblog tool called DeanSpace (by adding some modifications to an underlying open-source weblog tool called Drupal). DeanSpace offers most of the usual weblog features and the ability for registered site users to sign up for their own blogs. It also has the built-in ability to post entries that come in from outside RSS feeds, which on the fundamental level enables DeanSpace sites to all republish (syndicate) each other’s content, either automatically or selectively. More broadly, it enables a DeanSpace site to include content from anywhere in the universe of RSS feeds, including – of course – RSS feeds from nonprofits.

There’s no reason why the nonprofit community could use a similar model and the most technologically savvy nonprofits most committed to networking and trying to build community online will probably adopt this method of sharing information and keeping a lively conversation of ideas bubbling from site to site.

The RSS-based syndication network has recently become the primary way for people to publish microcontent and communicate on the Web.

So, what steps can a nonprofit take to start engaging in this conversation?

The Foundation: Weblogs

Using a weblog with a nonprofit’s public facing site:

  • alerts
  • news
  • clips
  • human interest
  • personal voice
  • volunteers

Weblogs used internally as k-logs or project logs:

  • Trickier for smaller nonprofits unless it clearly saves work elsewhere (such as in email)
  • wiki alternative

Hosting blogs of associated people:

  • employees
  • volunteers
  • exec director (CEO)
  • board members
The Glue: Syndication
  • Even if blogs aren’t adopted for the public-facing site, add an RSS feed and promote it.
  • Include site updates, alerts, and any other news in that feed.
    all blogs emit RSS (later, maybe, Atom)
  • All email-based alerts duplicated as RSS feeds
  • RSS feeds registered centrally (?) or at local community switching stations, a la k-collector, etc.
  • Encourage other nonprofits to run your headlines on their websites
  • Enliven own website with headlines from other RSS feeds
  • Have at least one employee, intern, or volunteer start using an aggregrator in-house to track many related feeds, both news-filtered, and from weblogs and nonprofit sources)
  • Use trackback, commenting on other blogs, and reposting of each other’s keys stories as a way to strengthen your network and motivate larger groups when issues require attention.
  • Repost content from incoming RSS feeds when it amplifies your own message or provides needed context.

OK, so that’s all good but still generic. Each nonprofit is different. For example, I’m on the board of directors of a literary nonprofit called Watchword Press. As I was getting very excited about the possibilities in this area, I was talking to the publisher of Watchword and as I started regaling her with these ideas, I could hear her eyes glaze over (we were on the phone). It was that blog thing I’m always going on about… So these ideas won’t be relevant for everyone, at least not right away, but the general steps outlined above are worth investigating for any organization.

Promoting Social Change with Weblogs and Syndication

Here’s what I think CompuMentor should do. The interesting thing about the Bay Area is that there are quite a few nonprofits that try to make the benefits of technology available and accessible to ever-wider groups of people. This seems like the natural subcommunity of nonprofits in which to start evangelizing a more aggressive (“second generation”) use of weblogs.

CompuMentor straddles several of these key areas, in that its focus is on “behind-the-scenes technology assistance” that “benefits low-income and underserved populations” but it als offers the TechSoup website for nonprofits, which could serve as a bully pulpit from which to breach the gospel of blogging and syndication.

We’d like to think beyond the utility of a blog for sharing information. We’d like to understand how information can be aggregated and shared using a combination of organizational weblogs and other aggregation tools such as TrackBack, Blogdex, or the daily crawl. How can Mark Pilgrim’s “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” be used by nonprofits? By activists? What’s the most logical and effective way for these tools to be combined?

The steps required to do so include the following:

  1. Publish weblogs with RSS feeds at and
  2. Provide personal blogs to employees and other affiliated people at the nonprofit, make sure RSS is enabled or at least optional.
  3. Run an internal k-log on CompuMentor’s intranet.
  4. Give weblogs to trainees and teach them to self-document.
  5. Establish new NonProfitCentral website:
    • With its own weblog and syndicated feed
    • Hosting weblogs for nonprofits and their associates
    • Republishing syndicated feeds for nonprofits by category
    • Hosting a Trackback or XMLRPC updates sites for nonprofit weblogs
    • Inviting any community to launch satellite weblog/host/syndication sites
    • Promoting the idea of online networking

I’ve also been meaning to talk to David Pollard about these ideas, because it seems like enabling progressive social organizations to network using weblogs, syndication, and other social software tools could be a key ingredient in saving the world.

(UPDATED October 8, 2003.)

Robb's Law

July 21, 2003

NEVER (under any circumstances) publish a weblog to a domain that you don’t control.

– John Robb

I hereby christen the above quotation Robb’s Law or Robb’s Law of Weblog Hosting in full. I suppose it could be broadeneed to web publishing in general. I certainly think owning your own domains and when possible running your own servers is the ideal scenario for any web publisher.
Oh, and an update to my news aggregrator subscriptions: I’m adding John Robb’s Weblog (and removing the subscription to his old address), as well as the MindPlex weblog and the Author’s News blog for John’s Weblog Network concept. (If the posts are redundant or drop off at one of the ancillary addresses, I may unsubscribe later.)

metageneric antiblog spot

May 16, 2003

Heading making clever pun on ‘blog’: i’m a journalist. see my daring posture vis-a-vis blogs: they are too influential to too small a group of people. popular bloggers are bad and the taste of the blogosphere is incorrect or corrupted.
google is making things worse. it’s giving me opinions when i expect primary sources. me not able to linkthrough!
people link to each other. too many people link to the same people. it’s not just unimaginative, it’s unfair to me because i dismissed this for a while but now i want in and all the good blogroll spots are taken.
i hate you bloggers. i refuse to even link to snooty snoot. i hope kottke sees this.

'I get it' meme update

February 18, 2003

We’ve recently started an independent blog conference on the Well, and Salon blogger Bruce Umbaugh reminded me of a klog-related epiphany I wrote about in an entry back in August called I get it.
At time I asked people to link to it as “xian gets it” but while I was correcting the permalink and a few other links in the article (I left the slightly sloppy draft as is), this time I changed the text to request that anyone linking to the article use the entry’s actual title, “I get it.” This seems like a much more interesting and valuable phrase to relate to (I imagine the people searching for “I get it” would be an interesting demographic to be reaching) than some arbitrary assertion about me, with my negative Q rating and all.
Having changed the entry and added an update note at the end, I figured I out to seed the new link. Today Google, tomorrow the world!

Shirky on blogging and inequality

February 9, 2003

Internet pundit Clay Shirky writes about power-law distributions and the popularity of certain blogs. He disputes the idea that there’s a specific “A-List” but says that unequal distribution of readership is inevitable.
Mark Pilgrim mostly agrees. Dave Winer mostly disagrees and thinks that Clay needs to start a blog himself to truly understand the medium.
I’m somewhere in between. Most of what Clay says is accurate, as far as it goes. Dave’s point that blogs create distributed hierarchies around communities of interest is also true. I’m not sure these points contradict each other. Essentially Dave is saying that Clay misses the point, that blogs are not a “winner take all” medium and that relevance within your own community is the most important value.
Clay also points out that the power-law curve is smooth, so there is no real specific cut-off point between any imagined A-List and the rest of bloggerdom. You can draw the line anywhere you want arbitrarily, but there’s no “cliff,” just a steep asymptotic curve.
Ironically, he then goes on to predict a system with three tiers:

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

In doing so, I think he makes the precise same mistake he was trying to correct, arbitrarily slicing bloggers into bands.

Some personal guidelines for web writing

January 24, 2003

Paul Ford publishes a list of exhortations to himself about writing for the web (at his incredible Ftrain site):

This list takes the form of a set of personal, first-person statements (“I do this,” “I do that”) rather than a set of injunctions (“Do this!”, “Do that!”) because these are my guidelines, a set of principles which I am trying—slowly, in some cases—to internalize, not a manifesto.

He includes 20 guidelines, culminating with “The web is my medium of choice, not a medium of last resort.” Bravo.

Have your tickets out and ready

January 6, 2003

I’m so out of it. After returning from a week and a half in New York I’m still reading The Gawker but without that same sense of immediacy (not that it matters where you are when you read about New York, and not that that prevents me from reading the Times, the Nation, the New Yorker, and so on).

untorn ticketSo it figures I’d stumble on Matt Haughey’s latest project, Ticketstubs, a collaborative site designed to collect stories centered around or illustrated with scanned ticketstubs only from catching up at the Gawker.

It immediately succeeds in one of those key measurements of web site liveliness: can you get your readers to contribute the content?

Maybe if I finish my homeland-security blog entry ever I can upload the movie tickets from the Orpheum where my wallet disappeared and then submit the story there.

Matt gibes himself for taking two-and-a-half years to execute on an idea, and credits his friends for their roles helping him refine the idea in what must have been conversations many of us would have enjoyed being flies on the wall for (…which ….that …whomever …tweedle …ee).

I don’t think that’s a long time at all! Ideas are sweat-free. Doing the thing, that’s what really counts. Ability to execute is so much more important than a fecund imagination (sadly for me). I’m encouraged by the groove lazyweb is hoping to lay down to channel some of this wishfulfillment.

One lesson I take from ticketstub is to focus on something specific. I am usually all over the map, when people need a fulcrum, a singularity, to draw them in. The hook of writing about saved ticketstubs, an ideal aid-memoire (I’m afraid we didn’t all chomp madeleines in the crib), gives people a reason to participate and a way to do so.

I’m thinking now about how to apply this lesson to some of my own collaborative-media phantasms.

Corollary thought: It’s all about the database. People have to be empowered to manage their data.

That may mean we all have to learn more about tables and keys and uid and fourth normal form… or it may mean that we need a solid breakthrough in database building and management software interface design, on tailored much more effectively to how people really need to manage their own personal data in real life.

When do people need to capture information? Are there some familiar patterns that can be offered as templates? How do you capture the information? Do you build a hierarchy or a neural net? Is it easy to reorganize, sort, filter, slice, and dice your data store? Can the backend incorporate accepted practices in an automated-behind the scenes way? Can you search on parameters, keywords, full-text indices, pagerank? When and how will people get at their information? Can the system provide privacy, security, concentric (or not) communities of readers with varying access privileges?

I installed LiveTopics last month but I’m not displaying any of the information in my entry template yet, because I want to give the system time to learn how to suggest topics for me well. (There’s another great Monday morning sentence for you.) Marrying an information architecture / shelving and sorting funtion to a blog-journaling interface might provide two pillars of the system I’m envisioning right now, “entry” and “organizing” (yes, I know they are different parts of speech, entry is an event and organizing is an ongoing process). This still leaves the “tell me” part, along with all the other devilish details, from security to device-neutrality to wirelessnosity and so on.

While the idea of a personal network or personal data cloud accessible from anywhere would continue to evolve, the marketplace would still want to see a valuable but affordable product providing enough key elements of this vision to justify its use without getting bogged down in a utopian vaporspace forever. The trick, I suspect, is figuring out what the threshold combination of features that would enable a flooding into personal data self-management the way SLIP and PPP made graphical web browsing suddenly feasible over 28.8 modems and MP3 was just good enough to break the dam on digital music exchange.