If you are interesting in integrating social media into your work practices then a useful place to look for information is the recent Social Media conference held at the CRASSH centre at the University of Cambridge. The conference was the final part of the SMKE (Social Media Knowledge Exchange) programme. It included talks by the SMKE scholars on various social media projects that they have been working on, and other presentations about copyright and ethics, networking, and much else besides.
Last week I presented the Blogging for Historians project to the Social Media Knowledge Exchange (SMKE) conference. I was the first one up on the second day (the only thing keeping the audience and myself from the coffee). A video from this will be made available soon from SMKE, but in the meantime I thought I would share with you a few items from the talk.
1. Slide Show and video
Some of these slides won’t mean much without the context. I’d rather not upload the text from my talk here, simply because it is not yet in a format that is legible to anyone but myself, however I would like to talk you through some of it.
Slide two shows the History SPOT blog (my first ever blog). I began my talk with this blog as I wanted to point out the problems that can occur and stay with a blog if it is not carefully planned from the very beginning. To this day the url and the name of the blog (at least on a superficial level) remain generic and unexciting (see the arrows). This was in part because I didn’t know at the time exactly what the blog would be about or what the name of the project would eventually become. The History SPOT blog has been a success, but the legacy of not knowing the importance of the name, especially for the url, remains with it.
The third slide shows a screenshot of this blog (Blogging for Historians) – an example – I hope – of how far I’ve come in choosing good names (or at least adequate ones). Slide four shows the outputs for this project followed by slide five in which I have outlined the principal types of blogs that I have found being used by academics and practitioners in the History profession.
Slide six is where I introduced all of the blogs and bloggers who were interviewed for the project. Here I broke them down into the categories mentioned in the previous slide. I explained that my selection of bloggers was based on trying to get a wide range of types so that I would get a good understanding from each person I interviewed of best practice, positives and negatives of blogging, and a range of reasons why a blog has been setup in the first place.
The slides that follow highlight two aspects of the interviews:
1) why was the blog set up (it’s reason for existence)
2) how is the blog managed
I went through each in some detail then (as you can see in slide 13) summarised some of the other questions and answers. I then showed a video that is a rough cut taken from the interviews on the question of what makes a good blog post. You can watch this here:
I really enjoyed making this video, although I am the first to admit that it is a little rough around the edges. I think it’s useful. Each of the interviews are 20-30 minutes long – not many people will listen all the way through, if at all I suspect. This video is only a few minutes in length and focuses on just one aspect of blogging but from various different views. I’m hoping to make up more of these in the future from the interviews already conducted (perhaps adding some more illuminating video aspects along the way).
Back to the slide show – slide 15 through to 18. In the talk I now moved on to one part of the project that I felt didn’t work very well – the online survey. I would like to thank all of you who did take part in the survey. Your views were very valuable and useful. However, I only received a little over 120 responses; not enough to truly gain a clear understanding of peoples views and opinions. This is certainly part of the project that I will need to think about more carefully in the future.
The final slides take a look at the upcoming toolkit or guide to blogging, that forms the final part of this phase of the Blogging for Historians project. Here I have just outlined the principal parts of the guide and given an example from the section looking at blog platforms. There will be more about this (and the toolkit itself) on this blog very soon.
I finished my talk by looking toward the future. I’m hoping to conduct more interviews, although for now these will most likely be e-mail based. I’m also hoping to create more videos by breaking up the interview audio into smaller chunks. I will also, of course, continue to add to the Blogging for Historians blog and build up a stronger and hopefully useful resource for anyone considering blogging for the first time (or indeed anyone wishing to learn more about blogs who already has one).
2. Twitter feed
Throughout all the presentations over the two day conference many people in the room twittered online. In this regard I’m still in the pen and paper age, but I might well give it a go at a future conference as the result (which has been stored by SMKE on Storify) is quite interesting and represents well the outline of the two days.
3. Six responses to the Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference
As a light epilogue to the two day event a few of us were asked to comment on the conference and projects which has now been made up on a short video on youtube. Just bare in mind that this was recorded over lunch and we had only a few seconds to compose something in our head before finding ourselves in front of the camera.
For the last two days I was at the SMKE Social Media conference (Social Media Knowledge Exchange). It’s been really great few days, with plenty of interesting ideas raised, concerns and thoughts expressed, and meeting lots of people with interesting areas of research and interests. My deepest thanks go out to the SMKE organisers, especially our hosts the CRASSH centre at Cambridge. Anne Alexander especially deserves mention for coordinating everything so well.
A large element of the conference was the SMKE scholar projects that have been funded over the last year. We had everything from research into computer games and virtual realities, to social media as a tool for protest and organisation. Questions of legitimacy and verification were raised, concerns over ethics and copyright discussed, and thoughts about the benefits and risks of social media mulled over.
As a whole these sessions proved to be much more than showcasing projects, but thought provoking talks that showed off the various benefits and weaknesses of social media and gave a hint as to future ways forward.
First thing on the second day (Wednesday) it was my turn to talk about the Blogging for Historians project. I went through some of the things that were said by the bloggers who I have interviewed for this project, and discussed a little bit about my findings. It was interesting that it was the comment about word length and the style of writing for a blog that provoked the most interest and discussion. How long should a blog post be? Should we be suggesting a minimum or maximum? Is length really all that important or is it the style of the post that really matters? What draws people in and what sends them away? I’ll be thinking about this and other things as I finalise the toolkit for this project and I will try and post here about some of those musings as they begin to take form.
I’m told that the SMKE website will soon display lots of content about these and the other presentations, but for now here’s a link to the conference programme and to the Storify collection of Twitter posts (day one and day two) that they have gathered together. There was a lot of twittering, which is perhaps not that unexpected considering the topic of the conference but it surprised me just how much these 150 character long pieces managed to capture a good fraction of the conference for posterity.
This week (Tuesday and Wednesday) is the Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference. I along with my fellow SMKE scholars will be presenting about our projects in 20 minute sessions as part of a larger discussion about social media and the humanities. I’m really looking forward to this as there are a lot of interesting projects out there and a great amount of opinion and thought about social media in general. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what people have to say about blogs in this discussion, and I’m hoping that that will help to inform the upcoming online guide to blogging for historians that represents the final piece of my initial SMKE project. I’ll write up a summary for this blog as soon as I can afterwards as well.
As for my paper I’m planning on summarising some of the things that came out in the podcasted interviews and laying out some ideas for how to continue Blogging for Historians in the future. I think the session will be filmed (gulp!), but in the meantime here’s a very brief snippet from my paper (as always with these things, subject to change and last minute scribbling on the day!)
There are quite a few different guises that blogs can take. There are project blogs, personal research blogs, blogs intended to promote the work of educational institutions, and event blogs.
But there is still much uncertainty over what blogs are actually for and what use they really serve. Very little research has been done regarding reading practices regarding blogs, for example. Advice about the use of writing blog posts is, by definition, open-ended and largely left to personal opinion.
In the field of History, blogs are often declared as only promotional activities to advertise the work that is being done or an event that is being organised. For example, at a workshop on social media in January I heard many people considering or already producing a blog for that singular reason – to promote their work. One thing that I have learnt during this project is that blogs often fail if the only reason for their existence is advertisement. There needs to be genuine interest behind it.
Blogs are easy to set up and manage from a technical point of view, content is easy to upload, but writing that content and producing it at least on a semi-regular basis is the hard part. It takes commitment, but more than anything else it takes interest in the subject matter, perseverance, and a practical use.
At that same workshop there was great unease about blogging as a researcher.
“There is not enough time in the day to write blog posts regularly as well as do my research.”
“I struggle to figure out what to write on a blog.”
“I feel I ought to do it because that is the thing to do these days to get noticed.”
There is a lot of pressure especially on postgraduates and early career researchers these days to get their work noticed. Blogs are viewed as one means to do this, but because of that they often become tick-box exercises rather than something useful and interesting to both the blogger and the reader. It sometimes seems that for every successful History blog, there is a mass graveyard of dead blogs surrounding them; never updated, uncared for, and existing only as proof that blogging is not for everyone or that at the very least blogs require careful consideration and thought before it’s begun.
For more information about the conference check out the SMKE website. To follow on the day on Twitter use the hashtag #SMKE2013. For those of you attending, I’ll see you there tomorrow!
On a dull rainy Friday afternoon, when work is beginning to become a bit strained, I tend to find myself wondering aimlessly onto news sites or watching youtube videos. Occasionally I rein myself in and instead search out new blogs that I could follow using my Google Reader account. This often becomes a random search for interesting historical topics followed by the word ‘blog’ – depending on the search terms this can quickly become quite a dangerous work activity (you’d be amazed how many sites are out there with dubious content which pop up on a History friendly search!).
I have, however, had quite a success rate by following this random method. I discovered the fantastic The History of Emotions Blog from Queen Mary through this means. Since I began to work on this project, however, I’ve been thinking that there must be better options out there.
Of course WordPress provides its own search engine, but this is increasingly difficult to find (they seem to hide it these days), it is also, restricted only to wordpress blogs. Blogger doesn’t have a blog search as such but its creator and owner Google do. Just as they have a Scholar Search they also have a Blog Search option. This can be found through the ‘More’ and ‘even more’ tab options on Google’s homepage. Scan down the page until you reach the specialised search category and you’ll find it there (alternatively just search Google for Blog Search and they will be almost certainly first on the list!).
I’ve only been trying this search engine for a short while but I’ve already found new blogs that interest me and it seems to be better than some of the other blog search options available (see a list of these on Wikipedia. Indeed, there are not many search engines available specifically for blogs. Of those on Wikipedia only a small handful are still current or searching blogs written and produced on English speaking countries. Google Blog Search is the most obvious one, but there is also ice rocket, regator, and Technorati. I’ve had a quick go at these, but most are commercially orientated (and managed) rather than academic, and orientated toward American results (leaving much UK content hidden). Only Google Blog Search seems to work better, but even then, I’m still not convinced that it offers a better option than random searches on the ordinary web search.
For my period (the early modern) there is a great blog-aggregator project The Early Modern Commons. This site largely works by people submitting their blogs (which are generally accepted if they are on an early modern topic and contain relevant scholarly content). It has various methods for finding blogs of interest (key words, word clouds, searches etc.) and, whilst not complete in its content for early modern blogs, is certainly the best around (that I’ve seen). If we could have more projects like this scholarly blogging would certainly be easier to find and discover. I think, currently, this is one of the big problems of scholarly blogging – how do you shift the good from the bad, the scholarly from the commercial or personal? It is a theme that I suspect will continue to raise its head throughout this project, but it is also one that is of concern. If blogs can become a new outlet for academic writing alongside more traditional forms, then it needs to be easier to find and distinguish from the crowd.