Three years ago, at the end of 2007, I took a hiatus. Inspired by Stephen Downes, I realised needed a break from the stream. It’s time I took another one, but for different reasons. This time I’m taking a cue from danah boyd who explains her position well:
Years ago, I realized that there was no way to take a vacation and manage the always-on, always-in-contact lifestyle that technology affords. Initially, I thought that it’d be possible to simply ignore email while on vacation and deal with it afterwards but I realized that this was untenable. It takes months to catch up on thousands of emails and I’d come back and immediately burn out again trying to catch up.
She goes on to add that “disappearing without properly making certain that everyone has what they need is irresponsible and disrespectful.” That’s why I’m giving advanced notice that I’m going on a personal digital hiatus from Friday 17th December 2010 until Monday 10th January 2011.
In practice this means that during this period:
I won’t reply to any email (and any email I do receive will be deleted).
I’m uncontactable via Twitter.
I won’t be blogging or moderating comments.
If you need to get hold of me, there’s two options: phone me (if you haven’t got my numbers already, you don’t need them) or contact me at work (until 21st December / after 4th January)
I’ll keep on clipping the occasional article I come across, but I’m intending to swear off Twitter, email and blogging for three weeks, during which time my wife will almost certainly give birth to our daughter. If that isn’t reason enough, I’ll also be doing the following:
Getting back into shape. The snow has knocked my exercise regime for six.
I realised at the weekend that it’s been about 5 years since I started blogging properly, having got into my groove sometime in November 2005. Back then, as a classroom teacher, I wrote at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about education and educational technology. What got me started was reading and commenting on the high-quality blogs of a small number of international educators, the dilution of which I lamented a few years later.
In the past 5 years I’ve gone from History teacher to E-Learning Staff Tutor to Director of E-Learning to working at JISC infoNet. I’ve also cultivated increasing amounts of stubble, as this video of me as a 24 year-old demonstrates! Hopefully, as I’ve read, learned and understood more about the world, my style of writing has improved. Well, one can hope.
The following are the things that I think anyone with a blog would do well to heed. I’d be interested in your take. 😀
1. Comment count != quality
The quality of a blog post has almost nothing to do with the number of comments you get – and everything to do with the zeitgeist, the way you phrase questions and how you structure your blog.
2. How to get more readers
To get more people visiting your blog, go and comment on other people’s and autotweet your blog posts via Twitter. This works up to a point, after which you can either keep it real or become a cynical marketing machine. I prefer content over style. Most of the time. 😉
3. WordPress and Bluehost rock
I’ve tried lots of different blogging platforms and webhosts, but have found WordPress to consistently do what I want of it and Bluehost [affiliate link] to be cheap, feature-filled and rock-solid.
4. Have an ‘ideas garden’
I’ve blatantly appropriated this term from someone who used it in conversation with me a while ago. Sorry if that was you – I try to credit the sources of ideas I share as well as images I use. An ideas garden is simply a collection of draft blog posts that you come back to, adding pictures, further ideas, etc. until they form whole posts. It can also stop you ranting when you’re in a bad mood. :-p
5. Digital footprint
I used to have a link to my curriculum vitae on my blog but, in fact, the whole thing is a digital portfolio, with my last three positions secured to a great extent because of my online presence. SEO is important, as is attempting to control the first page of Google search results (so that they’re all positive): my digital footprint is more important to me than my credit score. Fact.
First of all we had a bit of a scare with Hannah’s pregnancy. The risk of the baby being born with Downs Syndrome was elevated from 1/1000 to 1/28. She had an amniocentisis (which means she needs to take it easy for a couple of weeks) but everything’s fine. Oh, and it’s a girl! (due late December) 🙂
And then, whilst at nursery on Thursday, Ben decided it would be a great idea to stick a chickpea up his left nostril. Cue my coming home from work early. Two hospitals, three doctors, some pinning down from Daddy and a bloody nose later, it was out! I don’t think he’ll do that again…
Whilst I’m no longer committed to blogging every day, it would seem that being free to post every day (and not necessarily with images) means I might as well be!
I’ve also been experimenting with Posterous, importing this blog to http://dajbelshaw.posterous.com. It was mainly an experiment (took 5 days, worked flawlessly) but it actually looks great and works really well. Hmmm….
Well, not since the BUPA Great North 10k, actually, but I was really pleased that I managed it in 49:30. That’s underneath the 50 minute target I set myself! My main target was to get around the course in under that time and at the end I felt I could have gone faster. I’m aiming for 45 minutes for the next one (although it’s a half-marathon next according to the plan)
Many thanks to those who sponsored me. Overall, including Gift Aid, UNICEF received over double the target amount! 🙂
To me, productivity is always productivity for something. I see no point in being productive simply for the sake of it. That’s because it’s all about outputs. The thing I love about working at JISC infoNet is that I’m ‘measured’ on what I produce, not how I go about doing it. In other words, I’m treated as a grown-up. Read more →
Last week, Mark Warner asked how I put together my Things I Learned This Week posts every Sunday. It’s a week-long process, really, and one that benefits both author and reader. You get links that you may have missed, whilst it motivates me to read more than I would otherwise (and to bookmark and reflect upon it).
It’s rare in this fast-paced world of Twitter and synchronous communications to come across high-quality reflections on how we connect online both professionally and personally. The video below, put together by D’Arcy Norman with contributions from the likes of Dean Shareski, Jim Groom and Barbara Ganley, is 15 minutes long. It’s absolutely worth your time – watch it now:
Connecting with people online is, in a sense, a very strange experience. I can know a lot more about someone that I’ve never (and probably will never) meet in person who lives on the other side of the world than I ever will about a work colleague. In fact, as I’ve often commented to people when doing this, I think meeting people online actually leads to better relationships than if the situation is reversed.
For instance, this might sound silly but I’m always very careful never to wear my glasses when meeting people for the first time. Why? I don’t want them to pigeon-hole me. The next time they see me and I’ve got my contact lenses in I’m the guy ‘not wearing his glasses’. It’s a perception thing.
Meet people online, however, and it’s almost a window into their soul. One thing I find fascinating is people’s choice of avatar on Twitter. Some people choose to have an image of themselves to aid recognition when people meet them in person. Others change their avatar often. The people I’m interested in, though, are people like me: people who stick to one avatar and use it everywhere they go online. Presumably that’s because their avatar says something about them. Here’s a few by way of example from people in my Twitter network – what do you think their avatar and bio says about them?
Primary MFL teacher, ADE, eTwinning Ambassador, speaker and blogger, improving techie and generally enthusiastic gal who loves her iPhone
Changing the node set…
In the video embedded above, Dave Cormier talks about the ‘light’ connections we make with people and how these build up over time. I think this is what D’Arcy Norman (author of the video and, as of last month, no longer on Twitter) and Stephen Downes (a one-way user of Twitter) don’t get about social networking. Yes, 140 characters may be all too brief. But if I connect with you 50 times over the course of a few days, having had to craft each message to fit within the 140-character constraint, I bet we know each other a whole lot more than we did previously. And then you can go and look at my Flickr stream, my blog, etc. for more background. It’s not a replacement, it’s complementary.
Knowing an individual’s personal background and beliefs helps you judge when making decisions on whether to follow their advice and/or lead. But that’s not always best done only on the strength of meeting them face-to-face. I, for example, am much better (in terms of being coherent, understandable) when expressing myself using the written, rather than the spoken, word. Most connections online these days inhabit a world that is partly synchronous, partly asynchronous.* People may respond straight away to something you put online, or they may respond hours, days, weeks, months, or even years later. Because online content is an implicit open-ended invitation to give your opinion and make comment, you can do so at your leisure. This promotes thinking and drafting when blogging, and iterating towards your actual opinion when using tools such as Twitter.
People who haven’t seen videos or listened to podcasts in which I feature are often surprised when they meet me in person. For a start, I’m often younger than they thought (one person commented that they assumed, because of my avatar, that I was ‘a fat, balding, forty-something’ – thanks!) People also don’t tend to realise I have an, admittedly diminishing, Northumbrian accent – replete with the rolling R’s. I’m all for personality and individuality, but sometimes these two factors – my age and my accent – have proved to be barriers in the physical world. Not so online. 🙂
So an ode to the internet and the connections it makes. No, scratch that. An ode to the people who give up their time to connect to people. To those who make my life better by contributing, questioning and criticising my work and my thinking. It’s great to have and to be part of an active audience!
* There’s probably a word for this, but I don’t know what it is!
I’m worried about dying. No, not in terms of my mortal flesh and immortal soul; I’m worried about what will happen to my data when I die. :-p
That may sound a little, shall we say, geeky, so let me explain. There’s two ways you can ‘live for ever’ in this world. The first is to become so famous that people talk about you until the end of time. As that’s difficult for most of us, the second way is more likely. All you’ve got to do with the second way is to pass on your genes (and your surname) to your offspring. I’m doing well with the latter: my son Benjamin Belshaw was born 20 months ago and will, I hope, continue the illustrious Belshaw line. With the first method, however, I’m still struggling.
My problem is this:
Most of my ideas are in the form of writing in the digital landscape (i.e. on this blog or others on the Internet)
Books and other printed matter in the physical realm are a lot more ‘permanent’ at present that writing in the digital realm.
When I die dougbelshaw.com will cease to exist.
Ergo, unless my ideas are so amazing that they become ubiquitous during my lifetime, they will have little impact after my death.
So I’m left with a problem. Should I start writing a book? Is all I’m writing here ultimately futile? Should I be creating static HTML pages so archive.org can index them?
This post was prompted, in part, by a wonderful recent presentation by Merlin Mann’s entitled How To Blog and its horror-inducing first few slides.
I’ve been contacted in the past week by two separate individuals who wanted to place paid advertisements on my sites. The first offered $150 for 6 text-link ads at the end of blog posts on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk. I presume this is because these appear near the top of Google search rankings for certain keywords. The second was simply exploring the possibility of paid adverts on this blog.
I said no to both on principle. You may find that strange, as I’ve had Google and iTunes ads on my sites before.** Well, yes, but I’ve realised the error of my ways! As has been pointed out to me by several people, adverts on a personal blog make people question your impartiality and just don’t look very professional. I’ve taken these points on board. The only advertising on my sites now can be found at historyshareforum.com to help cover hosting and bandwidth costs. :-p
So you can be sure that when I recommend certain products and services, I’m not being paid the individuals or companies behind them. Transparency is key.
The only thing I’m now struggling with now is revealing which school I work at. In the past I’ve made sure I don’t say where I work to keep the professional and personal completely separate. In a connected online world, however, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Take elearnr, for example. This is a blog I’ve set up to share links, resources and guides I create in my new role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. Whilst I mention names of members of staff on there, I haven’t – as yet – said which school I’m talking about. I’m torn between what it will mean for this blog, and being completely transparent with the other.
…themes! Or at least backgrounds and the ability to change the colours on your blog home page – à la Twitter.
<<< Rewind! For those who haven’t come across Posterous, it’s a great blogging platform that just works. You can blog by logging into your account as with normal platforms, but the real power of Posterous comes through it’s ability to ‘intelligently’ deal with anything you send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In fact, sending an email is all you need to do to set up a blog in the first place. I love how straightforward it is to use – it certainly sticks to the 7 Essential Guidelines for Functional Design as far as I’m concerned! Text formatting from your email is retained on the blog post, links to YouTube become embedded videos, PDFs and text files become Flashpaper-like previews, and images become galleries. Check out my test posts here and here! 😀
As far as next year and my E-Learning Staff Tutor role, this is perfect for recommending for classroom teacher blogs. It’s just so easy to get stuff up there and online! For students, however, a Twitter-like ability to change colours, backgrounds, etc. needs to be there before they’re likely to be sold on it… :-p