A Beginner's Guide to Blogs for Instructional Technologists

This is an update of a several year old tutorial on blogs for instructional technologists. You ought to know that there are already a whole host of other mini-tutorials and other beginners' resources. Many of them are linked to throughout; others are linked from those pages. Or, learn to use Google.

Blogs :: Background

By 1997 a new kind of website was emerging which was not a standard 'home page.' It was a sort of an annotated bookmarks list available for public viewing, a glog' of journeys around the fledging web with links and commentaries. Barger decided it should be called a 'weblog' (web + log = 'weblog,' or 'blog' for short; Barger, 1999). As with any relatively new term, there remains some disagreement about precisely what is and what is not a blog. Barger offered this definition:
A weblog (sometimes called a blog or a newspage or a filter) is a webpage where a weblogger (sometimes called a blogger, or a pre-surfer) 'logs' all the other webpages she finds interesting. The format is normally to add the newest entry at the top of the page, so that repeat visitors can catch up by simply reading down the page until they reach a link they saw on their last visit (Barger, 1999).
Winer, another blogging pioneer, provides another definition:
Weblogs are often-updated sites that point to articles elsewhere on the web, often with comments, and to on-site articles. A weblog is kind of a continual tour, with a human guide who you get to know. There are many guides to choose from, each develops an audience, and there's also comraderie and politics between the people who run weblogs, they point to each other, in all kinds of structures, graphs, loops, etc. (Winer, 2002).
Winer argues that in retrospect the very first blog was the web's first site (Berners-Lee, 1992). He traces the early history of the blog from Berners-Lee's site through NCSA's 'What's New' (NCSA, 1993) page to Netscape's 'What's New' page (Netscape, 1995). It was not until 1997 that a group of individuals emerged as a 'personal web publishing community' which identified its own work as separate from other types of web publishing. Garret (2000) provides a list which contains links to the 23 weblogs known to be in existence at the beginning of 1999.

The meaning of the term blog broadened somewhat during 1999, as Eatonweb began creating a comprehensive index of weblogs. The only criterion for listing in the index was that the candidate site contain dated entries. This allowed online diary and journal type of sites into the Eaton index, resulting in dispersion of the broader definition of blog currently in use in 2002.

With the introduction of technology which allows people without HTML expertise or Unix server accounts to be bloggers, the popularity of this type of website has increased dramatically since 1997. Paquet (2002) reports that there were approximately 1000 blogs in 2000, but that number has grown to an estimated 500,000 or more in 2002. Users of Blogger.com, a popular system providing free and easy-to-use blog management tools and storage, create a new blog approximately every 40 seconds. Slashdot (Malda, 2002), one of the web's most popular blogs, has over 350,000 registered users who posted 967,573 comments on the blog's official 4088 entries in the first half of 2002.

Blogs :: Joining the Instructional Technology Blog Scene

This primer is based on advise and counsel kindly given by the excellent Brian Lamb.

Getting In the Game

Take a look around: David Davies, Sebastian Paquet, David Carter-Todd, David Wiley, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, or Trey Martindale.

First things first. You’re going to need an Aggregator. Really. I promise. You’ll drown otherwise.

If you’re using Windows, download and install SharpReader.

If you’re using MacOs X, download and install NewsFire.

There are free versions of both available. Next, hop over to my course site on bloglines and hit 'Export Subscriptions.' Save the XML file in the right pane as blogs.opml and import it into the Aggregator you just installed (if you can't figure this out, search the help). You’ll get something that looks like this:

Voila! You now are subscribed to the blogs of other students in the class, plus a few of my good freinds! Add or remove blogs as you like!

Much of the fast-paced discussion surrounding educational applications of bleeding edge technology is delivered to your door in one easy to swallow capsule. Click around through the feeds in the left pane to see the latest bits published on each site in the top right panel. Click on a title in the top right to see the first 40 words or so of each snippet of content, with the option to link out to the full story.

Lessons Learned

There are really four big things I’ve learned in my first couple of weeks in this community, and the sooner you know them, the better off you’ll be.

  1. This group can movefast. Like, from initial conversations to working code in one day fast. Pin your ears back and get ready for collaborative knowledge development like you’ve never experienced before. =)
  2. You can only lurk so long. For “legitimate peripheral participation” to be legitimate, it should move toward full participation. In other words, you should start a blog of your own! Check out Blogger.
  3. It’s a discussion. Post comments on others’ blogs, link to articles you find elsewhere from your own blog, and use TrackBack whenever it’s available. Shots in the dark don’t get us anywhere… Say what you think, and check back soon to respond again.
  4. There’s a whole new set of technologies here. In my intellectual home town, we’re doing semantic web and web services stuff. These guys (and I believe they are all guys, so far as I can tell… what gives?) are into quick and easy (trans. “actually usable”) stuff. Get over acronym fear and read up on RSS to participate in the latest go-arounds.
Finally, learn what makes some blogs great and other pathetic over at Electric Venom. Best quote from this great article:
I have a browser and I'm not afraid to use it.