Blogging is dead… here are some tips to manage your online working environment

Blogging is dead. Blogging as an ecosystem of blogrolls, blog rings, blog planets, RSS readers, and writers who link and respond to each other… it is long gone. Most people don’t even know that this network once existed, once thrived, and then was lost.

That being said, I still believe blogging is good. Blogging can be personally meaningful and professionally useful and blogging can still be powerful. Small communities of bloggers still exist in niches, like food blogs.

But in many ways, the once mighty blog post has been reduced to being a fall-back longer form entry that is meant to be carried and shared by social media. Most of my own traffic comes indirectly. Last month a post of mine received over 1000 reads in a day – with almost all traffic coming from Facebook. But as I can’t follow back the trail, I have no idea who shared the link to my blog or why.

I have also seen blog posts being shared from author to reader to reader-once-removed via newsletter. When a particular article resonates, you can sometimes see it appear in a new newsletter every week, each recommendation like a ripple in a pond — a little bit of text pushing the readership of a piece of writing just a bit wider than the original audience.

While I get a rush of serotonin every time something I write resonates with readers who share my writing, I still want to write work that decidedly isn’t mean to resonate with a wide audience. I still want to have a place where I can write and share posts that might be useful to some readers.

What I’m trying to say is, I want to share a boring bit of writing now and I know it’s boring and I want you to know that I’m aware that it’s boring.

I have two recommended practices that I would like to share with those who might find it useful as many of us are now working in a always online environment. These practices have worked for me and they might work for you. (Your mileage may vary. All advice is autobiographical.)

The first practice is one that I saw recommended by Dave Cormier and I was so pleased to see his recommendation, because I do that thing and it felt very validating. That suggested practice is to always keep a window open to a screen – for you it might be a word document, but for me, it’s a Google Document – in which you keep available for any time you need to drop a note or a link or an idea to return to later.

There are many people who have amazing systems to manage their online ‘to do’ lists but I have found that creating a next action for every interest and facet of my person (as a librarian, as a mom, as a reader, as someone trying to eat healthier, as a gardener…) as too much for me. Instead, I have found sustained success in the much more low-key logbook. I have one for work and one for home.

On February 19, 2019, I created a Work Log google doc. I know this because I started with a H2 heading of February 19, 2019 and then added a series of bullet points of what I had done that day. Sometimes I drop links to matters that I need to read or follow up on. And when there’s something that I need to do and I don’t want to forget it, I add three asterisks *** so I can go back and Control-F my log into a Todo list. The next day, I add the new date at the top of the page and begin again. And that’s it. That’s my system. It’s like I’m perpetually stuck on step one of proper bullet journaling.

The second suggestion is a practice that I’m setting up right now, which is why I was inspired to write this blog post in the first place.

On July 1st, my workplace transitions to the next working year. For the last ten years now, I use the year’s roll over as an opportunity to create a new folder in my Inbox for the upcoming year’s work. This year the folder reads .2020-2021

I learned this technique when I accidentally saw the screen of my colleague and saw how she organized her email. I have to admit, I was first sort of shocked by this approach. Why create nesting folders of email by year? Why not work on creating folders by subject? ARE WE NOT LIBRARIANS?

But this is the thing. Even librarians cannot know a priori what categories are going to be useful in the future. Rather than create a file system that works for you for a while but then slowly, slowly grows to become, over the years, a misshapen file tree of deep sub-folders and dead main branches… consider starting new. Considering starting a new inbox from scratch every calendar year. And don’t create a single sub-folder within that folder until you receive an email that needs to be put away, and if doesn’t have a place already that makes sense, create a place for that kind of email.

At the very least, for a new short months, everything will feel findable and understandable and it will feel wonderful. That is, if you live a life as boring as mine.

Maybe this is the real feature that separates blogging from social media: it’s the place where we can be boring.

Could you make history?

It started out with a dab. My son let me know that he dabs on the haters. I retorted that the dab is old news. It’s sooooo old… wait, how old is it now?

I looked up the origins of the dab. And then I made a version of Timeline of dance moves using index cards for for my kids to play.

The game didn’t take long to make and it didn’t take long to play. My kiddos now know that the Macarena is very old but not nearly as old as The YMCA.

Timeline (Diversity) – from Board Game Geek

Timeline is a great game that I recommend to pretty much anyone looking for a simple card game that can be played by a group of people. Unlike many trivia games, Timeline allows players to guess and as most of us are not historians, there is a lot of guessing involved. I have had much success playing Timeline as a casual and fun game with university students. There is some risk that a player might tease another for a particular gap in their knowledge, but all games based on shared knowledge comes with this risk.

The rules are very straightforward. Each card in a Timeline deck has a description of an event on one side and a description and a date on the other. To start the game, players are dealt four cards with their dates sides hidden. Then a card from the deck is played on the table with the date side revealed.

The youngest player begins the game and their task is to select a card from their four and then to place that card either as ‘before’ or ‘after’ the card on the table. After their decision is made, their card is turned over so that the date will show whether the player was correct. If they are correct, the card remains and the next player starts their turn. If the player is incorrect, the card is sent to a discard pile and the player draws a new card from the deck. As the game progresses, the timeline of cards on the table gets longer and playing cards can be more difficult. The first player who successfully plays all their cards wins the game.

Even if you don’t own the game, you can play Timeline for free as there is short demo version of Timeline Classic is available from this collection of Print and Play games made freely available for these unprecedented times.

You can make your own version with pen and paper. Or you can get fancy and using card making software such as nanDeck which allows you to create PDFs of printable cards using a spreadsheet of data and some code to format the cards.

screenshot of my nanDeck generated deck of Windsor-Timeline

I think asking students to make their own version of a game using the Timeline mechanic would make for a good history assignment. I think this for two reasons. First, like many educational games, the person who often learns the most from the experience is the game designer.

The family that playtests together…

And secondly, I think combining all the students different decks of their various history projects would make for a remarkable game of Timeline. That’s because what a good game of Timeline does is to help us integrate our various understandings of knowledge together and surprising us when history brings together disparate events into the same moment of time…

When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.

Prisoners began to arrive to Auschwitz a few days after McDonald’s was founded.

The first wagon train of the Oregon Trail heads out the same year the fax machine is invented.

Nintendo was founded in 1888. Jack the Ripper was on the loose in 1888.

1912 saw the maiden voyage of the Titanic as well as the birth of vitamins, x-ray crystallography, and MDMA.

1971: The year in which America drove a lunar buggy on the moon and Switzerland gave women the vote.

from Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events, kottke.org

Timeline knows this, which is why their packaging asks these questions: Could Darwin drink champagne? Could Queen Victoria take the London Underground? Did Einstein wear jeans? And perhaps, most importantly, Did Cleopatra play cards?

I feel I could create an entire Timeline deck of what happened in 2020 and I still think I would get most of the cards misplaced.

The Provenance of Facts

Brian Feldman has a newsletter called BNet and on May 30th, he published an insightful and whimsical take on facts and Wikipedia called mysteries of the scatman.

The essay is an excellent reminder that if a fact without proper provenance makes it way into Wikipedia and is then published in a reputable source, it is nearly impossible to remove said fact from Wikipedia.

Both the Scatman John and “Maps” issues, however, point to a looming vulnerability in the system. What happens when facts added early on in Wikipedia’s life remain, and take on a life of their own? Neither of these supposed truths outlined above can be traced to any source outside of Wikipedia, and yet, because they initially appeared on Wikipedia and have been repeated elsewhere, they are now, for all intents and purposes, accepted as truth on Wikipedia. It’s twisty.

mysteries of the scatman

This is not a problem of only Wikipedia. Last year I addressed a similar issue in an Information Literacy class for 4th year Political Science students when I encouraged students to follow the citation pathways of the data that they plan to cite. I warned them not to fall for academic urban legends:

Spinach is not an exceptional nutritional source of iron. The leafy green has iron, yes, but not much more than you’d find in other green vegetables. And the plant contains oxalic acid, which inhibits iron absorption.

Why, then, do so many people believe spinach boasts such high iron levels? Scholars committed to unmasking spinach’s myths have long offered a story of academic sloppiness. German chemists in the 1930s misplaced a decimal point, the story goes. They thus overestimated the plant’s iron content tenfold.

But this story, it turns out, is apocryphal. It’s another myth, perpetuated by academic sloppiness of another kind. The German scientists never existed. Nor did the decimal point error occur. At least, we have no evidence of either. Because, you see, although academics often see themselves as debunkers, in skewering one myth they may fall victim to another.

In his article “Academic Urban Legends,” Ole Bjorn Rekdal, an associate professor of health and social sciences at Bergen University College in Norway, narrates the story of these twinned myths. His piece, published in the journal Social Studies of Science, argues that through chains of sloppy citations, “academic urban legends” are born. Following a line of lazily or fraudulently employed references, Rekdal shows how rumor can become acknowledged scientific truth, and how falsehood can become common knowledge.

Academic Urban Legends“, Charlie Tyson, Inside Higher Ed, August 6, 2014

I’m in the process of working on an H5P learning object dedicated to how to calculate one’s H-Index and yet, I’m conflicted about doing so. There are many reasons why using citations as a measure of an academic’s value is problematic for reasons far beyond the occasional academic urban legend:

To weed out academic urban legends, Rekdal says editors “should crack down violently on every kind of abuse of academic citations, such as ornamental but meaningless citations to the classics, or exchanges in citation clubs where the members pump up each other’s impact factors and h-indexes.”

Yet even Rekdal – who debunks the debunkers – says his citation record isn’t flawless.

“I have to admit that I published an article two decades ago where I included an academically completely meaningless reference (without page numbers of course) to a paper written by a woman I was extremely in love with,” he said. “I am still a little ashamed of what I did. But on the other hand, the author of that paper has now been my wife for more than 20 years.”

Academic Urban Legends“, Charlie Tyson, Inside Higher Ed, August 6, 2014