Negative Attention

Another brilliantly lucid Shirky offering: Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software

If you like this article I’d highly recommend Derek Powazek’s Design For Community which details, equally lucidly, much of the thinking and practical development around online communities. It’s a shame that someone has taken down the excerpts of chapters on the site :o(

A few memorable quotes from Shirky:

“It is a deep curiosity of the human condition that people often find negative attention more satisfying than inattention”

(something I often worry about in myself!)

“In economic parlance, weblogs solve the tragedy of the commons [this article] through enclosure, the subdividing and privatizing of common space.”

(I try and try and try to show people that these technologies are as important as the buildings we work in, I agree we do have to look at them from a ‘macro’ level, but there’s a logic & reasoning and significance in the different designs of these that says “LOOK AT ME!”)

“Weblogs and wikis are proof that you can have broadly open discourse without suffering from hijacking by flamers, by creating a social structure that encourages or deflects certain behaviours.”

(I need to think about including this in next weblog paper… y’know I’m not too sure about including wikis though, I’m not sure if they are discourse facilitators or simply collaboration tools once and while the discourse is occurring through other means, perhaps)

“Like Slashdot, he violates the assumption that social software should come with no group limits on individual involvement, and Craigslist works better because of it.”

(No limits = No work… there’s a common belief still apparent in elearning that this technology is great because people can access ‘learning objects’ whenever and how they want to. Doesn’t work. Again, open up unlimited & unstructured communication channels to groups of learners and you’ll be sorely disappointed…)

Update & Objections

Josie over at EdTechUk mentioned something the other day about this whole promoting / supporting / commentary that got me thinking:

“Perhaps we can use this current moment of galvanisation to begin to come up with a coherent community response to the spectre of administrative misunderstanding and censorship.”

Well, a ‘whole community’ response might be a bit difficult, but that’s not to say that individual exponents of weblogs, wikis, webfeeds, open source CMSs and alike couldn’t be better equipped with a set of objections & rebuttals. It would be equally nice to have a set of possibilities of the kind Anne (I think) came up with the other day, but let’s start with the mean & nasty stuff… helps to be balanced… and besides I (and many others) have been writing about possibilities for a fair bit now.

In relation to my job, after some further communication it now seems like I may be able to continue to pursue this area as part of my ‘professional research interest’, which is great if a little unwieldy (as each project I enter into is now going to have to have research / publication outcomes, gulp), but the objection to promotion and support within the University remains the same. This time it’s not down to my ‘commentary’ on the issue or even policy and procedure (which encourages me to think that the implied threat to prohibit my right of expression may not be carried through) but rather that:

-As any projects will be supported ‘only by me’ (i.e. I hold the keys) are not feasible as I may get sick / move off.

-I can only do this with a handful of academics so a. This won’t be scalable, b. Other academics may perceive this as favouritism (as I can’t support this with everyone) & c. This may set up unreasonable expectations of level of support.

-In order for any such exploration and use to take place it would need to happen with clearly established needs, supporting resources, $$$s and people available.

So, forgetting about the ‘policy’ argument (i.e taking it as said that a University should have policy which doesn’t dictate ‘You will use x CMS’) and taking it as granted that I have the right, nay obligation, to speak freely in this area. How can I tackle these areas?

For me it basically boils down to one simple objection, you can’t do anything as central support without full implementation / provision for everyone which, regardless of the technology or processes, leads to a far simpler question, “How can am academic institution be centrally responsible, sustainable and at the same time supportive of innovation?”. I’d argue that while a central body (providing, for example, support, training, consultation etc. ) needs to coordinate and facilitate the provision and use of central systems (such as a CMS), at the same time they should focus on facilitating, through support, the decentralised development of practices which can then inform the centralised operations.

That this support needs to be so clearly couched in institutional processes or heavy duty research projects, however, would seem to be contradictory to the more action-researched, experimental and often serendipitously led nature of innovative projects, especially when related to new technologies which, as Rob Reynolds pointed out very well in his broadcast (link may break – 3 Nov 04 archive) on this issue, we don’t really have any idea about.

I think that you cannot really argue against innovation on the basis of sustainability or even scalability and that the type of managerialism that seeks to control, measure and define these kind of practices is highly counter productive. I think that you can allow space, support, time and the opportunity to mess up while at the same time providing solid centralized sustainable and reportable systems. In fact, I think you should.

What do other people reckon? Is this a reasonable response to this kind of objection or am I off target? I’m also not very well-versed in the field of management / innovation etc. (what, you couldn’t tell ;o) so any papers, resources in this area are v. much appreciated!)

What kind of objections have you faced or can you envisage around institutionally supporting these technologies? How do ya reckon we can shoot ’em down?

Perhaps we could put together a pretty nifty, inter-blog set of issues & possible solutions…

Alex’s Blogging Course

I’m really really enjoying reading, as he goes along, Alex’s approaches to introducing blogs and feeds. Here’s a great bloglines post which isn’t only valuable for it’s content but also (perhaps moreso) for the conversation & questions that follow. A great example and process and one I’m keeping my eye on… is there any chance the series might be given a separate URL or perhaps collated?


WikiNews sounds great, what an amazing idea and what a community going to set it up.

Just one question… what’s the difference between this and, say, the blogosphere where you have people writing news on a daily basis, it getting aggregated, sifted, commented on… Is it a matter of mainstream accessibility? I think that the Wikipedia idea i an amazing one because encyclopaedias work well as wikis… but news is a whole different kettle of fish isn’t it, a conversation of sorts… which is one of the things wikis aren’t good at.

I could be totally wrong (I haven’t read the proposal in much detail) & would be interested to be proved so but am not sure of this one’s future.

Lost for words

I am, genuinely, at a total loss for words as to how to express my thanks and gratitude for your advice, support, ideas and thoughts, not to mention the offers of assistance! This is a very special community we have here, and don’t you reckon it’s just the start…

Today I’m going to reply as constructively as I can with every intent to reach a resolution that works, allowing me to continue my work and writing in this field while at the same time meeting University ‘policy’. I think this is something I already do, but it won’t hurt to get it clarified in black and white.

I’ll keep you informed as to how it goes. In the meantime, somebody try and stop my unsubstantiated, off-the-top-of-my-head waffling on about blogs, wikis, and anything else I bloody well like ;o)


This is a very difficult decision to make and one I’ve been thinking about the last week. Here’s the story.

As many of you know I’m employed by a University, which shall remain nameless (and if anyone does know which Uni it is I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention that at the moment, will become more clear soon), and that in my academic role I do a lot of consulting with faculty staff who are teaching or considering teaching online. I’m a bit like a pedagogical consultant in that sense… although much more of the facilitator really… everything that comes about from what I do is already well established in the people I work with, believe me!

Anyway, the University I work for employs one of the two big ‘Courseware Management Systems’ as it’s central teaching and learning technology. It may surprise some people that I’m actually pretty cool with this. Over the last few weeks I’ve interviewed over 90 students and they love it, it’s great for lecture notes, talking to the lecturer / tutors and getting extra information & links.

However, there are lots of things I believe it doesn’t do so well, such as facilitate effective communication (see my paper of a bit back) . And several that it doesn’t do at all, such as allow people to collaboratively create documents, chat using IM, email etc. So, as part of my research interests, working entirely through 3rd party software & hosting providers and mostly on my own time I’ve been working with several academics investigating the uses of wikis, weblogs and other technologies in educational contexts. With this CMS as the main, focal, authenticated important area which leads to these.

Last Tuesday I received a memorandum from a manager cc’d by am exec. director instructing me to cease supporting and promoting weblogging, wikis or any other technology not officially supported by the University. The basic reason given being that I have, anecdotally, not used the CMS (this isn’t true, I always use it) and that ‘commentary’ on the issue of CMSs (quoted I think from this blog or another I set up for a course) is unacceptable. A set-up for disciplinary action should I not follow instructions.

So I’m gutted. I’m not going to go into the arguments here, I guess that’s not appropriate at the moment, but I am going to reply internally and in essence beg that as part of my academic research agenda and in the best interests of the University I be allowed to continue my work.

The difficult decision has been whether to write about it here or not. I’ve done so because you’re my professional community, my support and in many ways my friends & I don’t think I could keep up what I do here without being totally down the line with where I’m coming from.

I hope I haven’t broken any labour laws or done anything that’ll damage my position here, I’ve tried to keep this as anonymous as possible and will be making every effort to eradicate any indication of who I work for in this weblog (I don’t think there’s any there yet & again, I’d appreciate it if no mention of them was made by anyone else). I’d also like to make the point that my employer is actually a fantastic University and has done and continues to do some amazing things in teaching and learning. If anyone would like me to take this post down or edit it please get in touch, I’ve said my piece.


Unfortunately this is necessary, after I’ve received some professional (and possibly legal) advice there may be some more on this.

“Please note that all of the material in this weblog or any services or support that I may provide through this weblog or are entirely separate from my employer. This is all done through me, at my expense, separated entirely from my 9-5 life and in no way representative of anyone else’s views apart from my own.”