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John Simkin

Blogs and Forums: A Publishing Revolution

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Research carried out recently by Guardian/ICM suggests that a third of all young people (14-21 years old) online have launched their own blog or website. It is argued that this shows that young people are no longer willing to accept the “one-way traffic of traditional media and publishing.”

Only 56% of this group ever read a newspaper. A far smaller proportion ever buy a newspaper. A growing number now get their news from the internet. According to Jupiter Research, the online advertising market will reach $18.9 billion by 2010, compared to $9.3bn in 2004. This is all money that will be captured from traditional media.

I can understand why people are interested in publishing their own thoughts on the world but it seems to me that the vast majority will fail to find an audience for their views. This seems to be the major problem with blogs. Only those who have developed an audience in other forms of media, can expect much of an audience for their writings.

In my view, it is Forums that has the most scope for publishing the views of young people. Forums are a way of outing people together with similar interests. Forums are communities that read and respond to the postings of others.

To my mind, this Forum is like the Sunday newspapers (the ones with loads of different supplements). It has a large number of sections where people read and reply to postings. Except for the JFK section, the audience is fairly small. However, it is a larger audience than people can expect to achieve from their blogs. Surely, the way forward is for bloggers to join forces and form their own online communities.

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We've been using blogs for three or four terms now to put students at Kalmar and Central Missouri State University in contact with each other so that they can work together on composition courses. We've created a series of team blogs (i.e. with named individuals being invited to be able to post on the blogs), where students have different types of tasks, depending on what kind of course it is.

Over the 2 years we've been doing it, there have been some very interesting revelations all round, particularly when rather straight-laced Americans come into contact with very serious Swedes who have a completely different set of social mores. Lots of the Missourans have found it difficult to reconcile the Swedes' religious beliefs (we're in the Swedish bible belt down here) with a different set of social values. One of my inputs was to post a scanned-in wedding photo from our local paper here in Sweden … where the pages and bridesmaids were, of course, the couple's own children. The idea of 'parading illegitimacy' in the local paper caused quite a lot of discussion in Missouri and got them thinking about what's really essential to a society. What they call a 'socialized health service' caused a lot of discussion too.

There aren't any active blogs to look at right now, since we're both near the end of our respective terms, but we'll be starting again in February with some new groups.

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We've been using blogs for three or four terms now to put students at Kalmar and Central Missouri State University in contact with each other so that they can work together on composition courses. We've created a series of team blogs (i.e. with named individuals being invited to be able to post on the blogs), where students have different types of tasks, depending on what kind of course it is.

Over the 2 years we've been doing it, there have been some very interesting revelations all round, particularly when rather straight-laced Americans come into contact with very serious Swedes who have a completely different set of social mores. Lots of the Missourans have found it difficult to reconcile the Swedes' religious beliefs (we're in the Swedish bible belt down here) with a different set of social values. One of my inputs was to post a scanned-in wedding photo from our local paper here in Sweden … where the pages and bridesmaids were, of course, the couple's own children. The idea of 'parading illegitimacy' in the local paper caused quite a lot of discussion in Missouri and got them thinking about what's really essential to a society. What they call a 'socialized health service' caused a lot of discussion too.

There aren't any active blogs to look at right now, since we're both near the end of our respective terms, but we'll be starting again in February with some new groups.

This sounds a very interesting approach. Thus far all the educational blogs I have seen have been totally teacher led. I like the idea of creating them so learners can collaborate - it seems as though some of your American students are also getting a much needed political education in the process.

This of course is the most interesting facet of using technology in education - the unintended outcomes.

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This blog page by Ewan McIntosh is relevant to this discussion:

http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/social_softw...arch/index.html

Ewan works for the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching (SCILT).

Ewan writes on the above page:

"But why blog? Students can keep learnings logs on what they have learnt, what they would like to learn and what they think they have learnt, provided they know the teacher and a wide audience is reading it. I've written about 20,000 words on why students should blog, but the main aspect is audience."

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It seems to me that people create Blogs for the same reasons why they create websites. They desire to communicate. However, as people discovered when they created websites about themselves, very few people wanted to read them. The same goes for Blogs. Is there any point in creating something that no one else reads? That is why I prefer Forums. They create real dialogue. In many ways they are a series of bloggers communicating with each other.

Enough of this, Monterey awaits me.

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It seems to me that people create Blogs for the same reasons why they create websites. They desire to communicate. However, as people discovered when they created websites about themselves, very few people wanted to read them. The same goes for Blogs. Is there any point in creating something that no one else reads? That is why I prefer Forums. They create real dialogue. In many ways they are a series of bloggers communicating with each other.

Enough of this, Monterey awaits me.

This is very true … but we can't all create forums and allow for others to access them freely. Creating a team blog on Blogspot is very much like creating a forum, except that 1) we don't have to pay anything to anyone; 2) we can all access it (i.e. we don't have to ask IT departments to create new users who may well not be people studying at our institution).

Creating a need to communicate is an essential part of a language course, so we can't really do anything without it, including blogging.

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I'm doing a seminar on the subject of using blogs and podcasting in teaching on the afternoon of May 4th at Stockholm University. We'll almost certainly have a Marratech connection the whole afternoon, which would make it possible for forum members to take part.

I've started a blog about the seminar, which can be read at:

http://stockholm-seminar.blogspot.com

If you're interested in joining us via Marratech, just mail me and I'll send you the practical details.

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I’ve had a rollercoaster of a ride in hospital over the last three weeks, following major surgery. Being in hospital was a salutary experience and gave me lots of time to think and to reassess my priorities.

I really appreciated having had a good education and knowing how to pass the time reading books and the quality press for several hours every day. Most of the other patients in my ward just didn't know what to do in order to pass the time. Few appeared to be able to concentrate on reading (mainly The Sun newspaper) for more than 20 minutes and constantly complained of boredom. I had personal access to radio, digital TV channels and a telephone via the excellent HospiCom system, and I watched lots of documentaries and films. I'm very well informed now!

Significantly, I didn't miss the Internet at all. I could have logged on via HospiCom (for a charge) if I had wanted to, but I decided not to. Having now caught up on my emails and browsed the archives of the discussion lists to which I subscribe, I don't appear to have missed much. I now wonder to what extent the Internet is replacing older media and technologies, e.g. the press, radio, TV and the telephone – which I really would have missed. I have just skimmed through a few blogs relating to modern languages. Comments posted to the blogs are all in single figures, and I therefore wonder who is reading them. Maybe there are a lot of lurkers out there – but maybe people are not all that interested. There was only one other patient in my ward who knew much about the Internet and who regularly used email. All the others regarded the Internet as a bit of a mystery or used it occasionally for shopping and booking holidays. Maybe there’s a lesson here.

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I'm only new here at the forum but I thought I'd say a few things.

I have to say that I believe blogs and forums to be highly educational. Even if they are used just so that students can practice their netiquette skills. Also, what needs to be taken into consideration is the sense of acheivement students can feel when they've posted something on a forum, or created a blog. I'm only nineteen, and while I knew that blogs and forums existed I only recently discovered the value of both.

Forums give you the chance to share your point of view with other people about a topic. This can be used effectively within the teaching profession because forums can easily be a rich source of debate. One of the schools I visited had started a forum on their homepage for each class to respond to. The ICT administrator would post topics suggested by teachers and each class could respond or make comments to the posts. Unfortunately the idea didn't really take off but I think it would have been great if the teachers and classes had committed to it more.

Blogs I find less useful but that's probably due to my contained imagination. As part of one of my ICT major courses we had to create a blog for ourselves documenting our thoughts throughout the course. Everyone posted their blog's URL on the course discussion list and we visited each others sites to make comments and ask questions. I found it really useful but I could see that the only responses I was getting were from people in my course. It was difficult to get other people to comment. There's somewhat of a stigma attached to blogs as well, it almost feels like you're intruding upon someone's thoughts but in a forum everything is open for discussion.

Hopefully food for thought!

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I think we all imagine that by posting something on the Web, whether it it via a forum, a blog or a personal Web page, then we are reaching a mass audience. In my experience - dating back to the mid-1980s, when I first joined discussion lists known as "listservs" (sic) in those days - this is not the case. Readership tends to be confined to a relatively small group, maybe comprising only 200-300 people with an interest in the subject (in my case Computer Assisted Language Learning) or, as is often the case with students in a particular school class or following a particular college or university course, even fewer people, maybe 20-30. As I indicated before, reactions/comments posted to a blog or on a topic area in a forum may just be in single figures, and weeks can go by with no new contributions or comments/reactions at all in some fora. The most active forum to which I belong is the Linguanet Forum at http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/linguanet-forum - to date there are 128 messages for March 2006, which is pretty good for a total of 735 members. I maintain the ICT4LT website at http://www.ict4lt.org. This gets around 1000 hits per day, but in the last two months I have received fewer than a dozen comments or questions via the site's feedback form. The information flow is mainly one-way, from the Web to the reader.

On the other hand, when I use Google to search for an obscure subject, e.g. my current medical condition, I often find useful stuff turning up in blogs and fora all over the world, and it's comforting to read the comments of fellow sufferers and to share one's experiences with them. But a lot of what I read in blogs is at worst sheer garbage consisting of personal rants and at best information that I could do without. I still find the daily press and TV better for keeping up with the news and, following my three and a half weeks in hospital, I have rediscovered the sheer joy of reading a good book.

My most positive recent experience from using a forum, namely this one, is that I was discovered via one of my postings by a second cousin, whom I had never met. He found me via Google using keywords relating to my family and their origin. We discovered we had a common interest in genealogy and , by pooling our resources, have traced our common ancestors back to the 1790s.

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I agree we don't reach a mass audience by using the net. More interestingly we reach an audience of people who are sufficiently interested to read what we say and respond. The sense that your audience want a dialogue with you is much more satisfying than the feeling you have put something into the ether and lots of people had the opportunity to read it and might have done so :lol:

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I agree we don't reach a mass audience by using the net.

That might be true of Blogs but not websites. My website gets 6m page impressions a month. In this way I can compete with all the major media outlets concerning the interpretation of past events. One of the major reasons for this is second-generation search engines like Google. Your ranking depends on the number of links your website obtains. It is also based on the idea of providing free material. Once you start charging for your material, search-engines stop indexing your work (spider software cannot cope with passwords). The desire to make money (capitalism) restricts your ability to communicate.

I am not alone in this. Investigative journalists whose work mainstream newspapers won't touch publish their stories via the net. The web has truly revolutionized the process of communication.

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I agree that websites are more effective than blogs: v. my previous comment concerning the ICT4LT website, which receives 1000 hits a day. It's a free site, initiated with EC funding, and maintained by myself as a labour of love.

My three and a half week stay in hospital has completely changed my thinking re the media and the Internet. The press, radio and TV were my main sources of news and information, and the telephone was my lifeline, connecting me with friends and family. Hearing a friendly voice always gave me an uplift. I now realise that I can take or leave the Internet. I have switched off the facility whereby I receive messages automatically from the various discussion lists to which I subscribe and I now just browse those in which I may be interested - including this one. Messages to my mailbox are now down to a trickle and I feel completely stress-free! (Do a search in Google under "email stress".)

Now that I'm back home I'm reading a lot more - but not from the Web. John's comment re the desire to make money may be relevant regarding journalism. However, I guess the authors that I read while in hospital, e.g. John O'Farrell, Bill Bryson and Alex Games ("Balderdash and Piffle", relating to the recent BBC2 TV series) are probably making money too. Good luck to them. They gave me a great deal of pleasure and will probably continue to do so.

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