09 September 2011

Media, Schmedia

Bishop Alan of Buckingham writes some interesting stuff about social media in the vein of Mashall McLuchan, extending McLuhan's thoughts to things McLuhan never knew, and writes about the uses of Facebook, Twitter and other things. Like him, I haven't quite worked out what to do with Google+, but I like what he says about blogs: Bishop Alan’s Blog: Media, Schmedia:
Where does that leave the humble Blog?

As what people used to call a commonplace book, with occasional comment, it’s unbeatable. I need to invest more in it. Some of the comment threads it stimulates turn are fascinating, and it becomes a focus for a form of community. It’s brought great joy this summer to meet a few of the people whose comments I most respect and like. That and the occasional diary or policy reflection does make it worth some effort.

I think his analogy with the commonplace book is spot on. That is certainly what the best blogs have mutated into. In that way they have combined two different ideas into a third, so the word "blog" is something of a misnomer.

Ten or fifteen years ago years ago there were blogs and there were online journals. There were web sites devoted to journals and journaling, and it became quite a popular pastime. Then there were web logs, which soon got shortened to "blogs" - people kept lists of web sites they visited. Some early blogs were just that - lists of links to sites and nothing more. But then people began to add comments on the sites they visited, and so blogs became a kind of review, and people began readingt the treviews of others to see which sites to visit. In some cases the reviews expanded and became articles on their own, sometimes without any reference at all to another web site.

And so in blogs today the idea of the journal and the idea of the web log have merged into what is, in effect, an electronic commonplace book. Indeed, one of the blogs that I like to read is Notes from a Common-place Book.

So what is a commonplace book?

Wikipedia puts it rather well, I think. Commonplace book - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

"Commonplace" is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek topos koinos, see literary topos) which means "a theme or argument of general application", such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton's commonplace book. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual.

Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests.

Not as personal as a journal, not as impersonal as a web log, the electronic commonplace book has a unique value.

I'm nore aware of this since I'm trying to rebuild my blogroll, after the demise of social blogrolling sites. MyBlogLog was culled by Yahoo! last May. Blog Catalog is waiting for the last rites. And another one spectacularly imploded last week, causing me to delete all my blogrolls.

So now I've lost touch with most of the blogs I liked to read, and am beginning to reconstruct the blog roll, which makes me think of why I liked reading certain blogs. Not that I necessarily agreed with the authors; very often I didn't. But the ones I liked most were usually the ones that were like commonplace books.

Bishop Alan also has some interesting things to say about other social media. He sees Twitter as useful for news, and perhaps it is, if it has links attached. But I find I just do not have the time to wade through dozens of Tweets, so I like the "Daily Paper" digest of the Tweets of the people I follow that have links in them. Its selection sometimes is not brilliant, but it is usually adequate. If you haven't seen it, mine is here.

One thing that Bishop Alan hasn't mentioned is mini-blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous. If Twitter is microblogging, then Tumblr and Posterous are mini-blogging, and if you want a tool for liveblogging at a conference or such, please please please use one of those rather than Twitter. The contextless linkless tweets that emanate from such events are the height of frustration.

But back to the theme of the commonplace book. A blog is useful as a public commonplace book, but not everything I want to keep is really of much interest to anyone other than me, and there is also software for that. One of the best I have found is askSam. I've heard that Microsoft One- Note can do similar things, but it doesn't come with documentation so I don't know how to use it, but askSam might even be a boon to busy bishops.

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