Digital Engagement

Blog vs Blogpost: a note on terminology

I’ve posted about this before, and this formed my contribution to the Guardian style guide but it bears repeating, because so many people seem to muddle them up.


Or, to put it another way:


Got it? Good.

I’m sorry to suddenly become the nomenclature-nazi, but when people interchange words like those above it just gets confusing. Saying “I’ve just finished a giant blog” or “I’m writing a blog about cheese” confuses the container object for the constituent part.

A blog carries with it expectations or overtones of archive, pace, time, multiple postings. Blogs don’t finish. If you’re writing a blog about cheese then I expect to see lots of posts about cheese, exploring dairy products from all angles, not one entry, about Edam.

Likewise, people occasionally say “there are a lot of nice bloggers on my blog” which is nice and everything, but they have a different relationship than you to the content. You wrote it; they responded to what you wrote. You are the blogger; they are the commenter.

It’s a small distinction, but it’s important.

That is all.

PS Some have asked with what authority I make this bold linguistic claim. The answer is: I’ve been blogging for eleven years, since it began with a W.

Rules, approaches and guidelines for social media

A little while ago, I came across this photo, purportedly taken inside Kanye West’s studio in Hawaii.

On the wall behind him, Kanye’s studio rules are plainly displayed. They read:

  • No tweeting
  • No hipster hats
  • All laptops on mute
  • No blogging
  • No negative blog viewing
  • Don’t tell anyone anything about what we are doing
  • Total focus on this project in all studios
  • No hacking focus while music is being played or music is being made
  • No acoustic guitars in the studio
  • No pictures
  • Just shut the fuck up sometimes

Although it’s anyone’s guess what Kanye has against hipster hats or acoustic guitars, the other studio rules provide a helpful framework for anyone visiting or participating in his recording project. You can be under no illusion that Kanye’s priority is the music and that he craves and demands focus on the task at hand – distractions will not be tolerated, and nor will indiscretions. Perhaps my favourite of Kanye’s studio rules is the last: “Just shut the fuck up sometimes”. These are words we could all benefit from attention to, once in a while….

As social media has become more widely used over the last few years, there’s been increasing focus on and interest in different organisations’ social media guidelines. Some are very prescriptive and limiting, requiring employees to caveat everything and/or maintain a (false) sense of neutrality in all things. Others simply say “don’t do it”.

A couple of years ago at The Guardian, I put together a dedicated intranet site (“Really Social Media” – pun intended) which contains training resources, case studies/best practice guidelines for e.g. playing nicely with Flickr, advice (on everything from Twitter ettiquette to how to spot a troll and tips on responding to critical comments), an internal directory of staff twitter IDs (personal and professional) plus guidelines for digital engagement (covering social media, blogging, commenting and so on), to be used by staff in conjunction with established company policies about internet use (we’ve had guidelines for personal blogs for a few years, now).

For the last three years, I’ve been running regular social media workshops for staff in which we talk about the opportunities & challenges of social media tools on and off our site and answer questions about them. In recent months these have been transformed from awareness sessions to “skill-sharpeners” aimed at levelling staff up in social media ninja skills.

As this is an evolving field, we regularly update the guidelines to reflect best current knowledge and to help staff navigate the changing landscape of sites/services, skills and situations.
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Initial reflections on Newsfoo

On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.

Newsfoo notebook

I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.

This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.

This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.

On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*

So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.

In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
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Want to play a game?

I sometimes play a game when I’m reading stuff on the internet. It’s called Commentogeddon – or, if you prefer, Crystal Ballocks. Do you want to join in?

Here’s how you play:

1. Read an article which has comments open. Since most things have comments these days – wisely or otherwise, YMMV – this can mean anything on a blog, news site, content portal or whatever. It helps if the comment count is greater than 0, but don’t read the comments just yet.

2. As you are reading the piece “above the line” (i.e the blog post, article, original content), try to predict the nature of the comments which will follow. Your prediction may concern form, tone or content of comments. For example, you might keep a mental tally (NB this is not the same as a mentalist tally) as follows:
– there will be a comment consisting of just one word
– someone will complain about the topic, insisting that this has already been discussed and concluded
– people will mention (and take issue with) the third paragraph

3. Now read the comments.

4. Award yourself a point for each comment type or form you correctly predicted would occur “below the line” as a result of the piece above it.

Over the years, you will hone your instincts to such an intuitive level that you’ll be able to accurately predict the content of any thread without needing to read it.

Whether you then decide to do so is entirely up to you.

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