Rhizomes and Blogging – public/private groupwork and the establishment of trusted nodes.

This is some draft thinking that is behind the post from yesterday. I’ve tried to think of any number of ways to turn this into something… but, in the hopes of getting somewhere with it… i figured i would just post it for uz to look at.

Blogging, or the combination of a bit of regular content with some form of automated syndication, has become something of a common part of everyday conversation. Whether people dislike the idea, live in their blogs or have casual interactions with them, I now rarely run into people who’ve never actually heard of them. They have been, for many, the heart of their professional work, and the key repository for the work that they are doing in their given profession. We are, however, approaching a critical point (indeed if we haven’t reached it already) where the number of self-selected, personally empowered bloggers are going to start becoming overwhelmed by those who are being ‘told to blog’ for whatever reason. We are now seeing more and more blog posts that are full of members of the same class who’ve been instructed by their professor to ‘go and comment’ on a given post by a well known member of a field.

This transition from fringe community tool, to mainstream working/marketing apparatus is going to have a critical effect on the work that can and will be done with blogging. Already communities are being ‘formed’ out of whole cloth by people are trying to create a ‘community of practice’ through blogging. They are, in effect, trying to replicate the success of existing loosely tied communities in order to turn it’s power toward specific ends. There are several impediments along that road, including the unwillingness of many professionals to release their work online, the difficulties involved in scaling a tool beyond it’s original market and the nature of the tool itself. A new plan for integrating traditional blogs with walled gardens is needed, a plan that will allow a given community of practice to have a private and public face, and will, most importantly, allow a community to work towards a given goal with content that can be both rhizomatic and can last over time. There are a plethora of tools out there right now that are trying to do this… and some communities that are managing, but there are a couple of issues around it that I keep running into over and over again.

Placing myself in the discussion

I came late to blogging, admitedly, I tried a few times and have been blogging consistently from this spot (with one remarkable blip) since mid 2005. I started blogging because i had an idea (the feedbook) that I wanted to record. I had a great discussion with David White at the jiscemerge conference last week about what blogging has done for the both of us. I told a story about a colleague of mine who’d thanked me for the Feedbook post almost 2 1/2 years after it was written while i listened to others talk about how their work got crystalized inside of their blogs, how the professional things they cared about became part of the flow of their personal histories, untainted by the needs and necessities of traditional publishing.

There is something compelling about the idea of history and histories and it’s one of the things that can make blogging so interesting. There is also something compelling about the way that the information can travel. There is a kind of knowledge what’s been called ‘the wisdom of crowds’ that burgeons out of the morass of content that gets put up on the internet. The way that conversations can spread, by comments and by related blog posts from around the net creates what I’ve called elsewhere a rhizomatic web of knowledge… knowledge that can ebb, flow mutate and grow from a variety of nodes as they crop up and as the contents of those nodes grow.

What makes a blogger
There are, however, some implicit assumptions that are holding that system, or, some may argue ‘were’ holding that system together. There was a time when blogging was ‘pure’ self-selection. People began to blog because they had things to say, because they wanted other folks to hear what they had to say, because they wanted to be popular, or for any combination of a variety of reasons… but almost entirely because ‘they wanted to’. We had been told that blogging could jeopardize a career, early last year in a meeting I heard the bloggosphere described as ‘the lunatic fringe’. No longer. The blogging community, while it is still exclusive of those who don’t have the textual literacies, the computer literacies, the free time, is beginning to cross over a wider spectrum of the internet using public.

There is another critical component to the ‘democratization of blogging’ that is more difficult to speak about in North America, and that is about authoritative voice. There is a significant ‘class literacy’ involved in believing that other people are going to be willing or interested in listening to what you have to say. Class here, should be understood not as something related to ‘money’ but to an idea of the hierarchy of a culture. It is, for instance, considered part of the ‘american dream’ that any member of the united states could become the president. How many of us, in the realm of a lifetime could acquire the knowledge necessary to raise that kind of money? How does one act in public in order to have people vote for you year after year? If you disagree with this, by all means, look at the families of the 42 presidents and tell me how many came from a lower socio-economic class. Look to the Members of Parliament in Canada, to our Prime Ministers. It is no accident.

The thing that always worries me, however, is scaling. While blogging, then, has been fantastic for me, and has worked great for many of my peers, what happens when the people who are blogging are no longer self-selecting… where they feel that they ‘must’ in order to compete… when they are encouraged or forced by their bosses or their instructor to share their work/feelings online. This is happening everywhere. At that same meeting in York one of the first comments I heard was ‘we need a private place to do this work’. I don’t want my comments to be permanent, or be part of the larger flow of the internet.

These are not, I would argue, things we can or even should be teaching people. There is something painfully difficult about trying to move someone away from the way they wish to work. I would argue (without foundation at the moment) that this sense of being extroverted and wanting everyone to read your thoughts does not represent the majority of society. Nor do i think we should be trying to move them in that direction.

I do, however, really like the work that is done in a COP and would like to make the internet COPs more available to other people.

Thinking of the content as more ‘permanent’
The other issue I have is with the time dependence of a ‘blog’. I’ve read hundreds of posts over the last few years that have comments from people near the end who are apologizing for coming to the conversation ‘late’. While I do think that much of what we now call ‘knowledge’ is inherently time dependent, I’d like to think that we could make that dependence something that was decided upon by the author and by the author’s community and not by some arbitrary passage of time.

I’d like to see a ‘type’ of blogging that would wrap these ideas into a larger whole. That would allow for ‘posts’ to persist over time, that would allow for the extrovert and overt to interact freely with the private and more conservative. It is a community of practice, in effect, which both allows the bloggers to continue their work public and also allows non-bloggers to work with them.

There’s more… but it gets even more wandery from here…

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

4 thoughts on “Rhizomes and Blogging – public/private groupwork and the establishment of trusted nodes.”

  1. Great points re: class and blogging. I always knew you were a critical philosopher. These are important ideas, and often ignored by teachers who turn to blogging assignments. What’s also ignored is type of personalities/learning that blogging favours. I think you cover in the idea that blogging (or something like it) will be an essential activity for success, or at least one perceived to be, and thus, forced upon many.

    The private blogging structure that you talk about in the first half has always been problematic to me. Not in the sense that it shouldn’t be done, but more so, it seems that part of the motivation for blogging in the first place disappears. This is greatly apparent in student blogging, and I would wager a bet that it is typical of most of the edubloggers you read. So the big question is how to you replace that motivation with something else?

    Great thinking Dave, I’m looking forward to the next part of this.

  2. RE: motivation. Creating a knowledge node that can be a place holder for an idea/ideas… where people work in a public/private partnership to produce good rhizomatic content.

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