2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Libraries for netroots activists?

Netroots is a term that describes political activism organized through blogs, wikis, social network services, and other online media. Jerome Armstrong used it first in Netroots for Howard Dean (2002) on MyDD.

The netroots can be a powerful alternative to traditional media and organizations. Often though, the change that activists promote never happens, can’t be sustained, or can’t scale. Netroots talk doesn’t always lead to action.

It may seem to strange to turn to libraries as a solution. Aren’t libraries all about books and old stuff, not the new participatory culture of the net? Aren’t they determinably neutral, both unwilling and unable to engage with the kinds of change activists seek?

In fact, libraries already play a crucial role to support activism of various kinds. And they’re already deeply entangled both with how we go online and with how we find what’s not available there. They’re not only a supplement to the netroots, but a necessary resource to bring netroots activism to life.

If you go to any public library in the US at opening time, you’ll see a group of people waiting to enter. They’re of all ages, ethnicities, and genders, dressed in formal business attire, sports clothes, or old rags. Some may be waiting to check out a book or video, but most are waiting to go online to read their mail, connect with friends, check the news, hunt for a job or apartment, shop, book travel, or do any of the many other functions that reveal how much the net has infiltrated our lives. For them, the library is the face of the net, and the only, or at least the best, way of connecting with it.

Moreover, libraries can provide substantive data, e.g., on the climate, business trends, local history, political processes, art, and more, which is not always available online; text resources, including books, journals, magazines; videos and software; and repositories or archives of local activities. They also offer meeting spaces, and sustainable local points of contact. These resources can expand enormously the knowledge base for netroots activism, something that can turn strongly held views into evidence-based arguments and uncover duplicity in corporate or government bodies.

Libraries also offer reference services, which is important since the deep web holds several orders of magnitude more information than the surface web, and non-web information is much more than that. Libraries also offer instruction on accessing all of these resources, data, and services.

Beyond finding information, libraries increasingly offer opportunities to create and house community-designed or collected resources. For example, a collaboration between Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and the Newberry Library in Chicago led to a student-curated Puerto Rican history exhibit at the Newberry: Puerto Rican History through the Eyes of Others.

As a means of finding information and tools, a venue for creating resources, a place to learn, and access in the first place, libraries can help turn netroots talk about activism into real action in the world. Of course, most libraries are devoted to principles of open access for all. As a result, what they offer is available to groups large and small, but also to groups on opposing sides of an issue. This means that despite all the power and innovation of the net, much of the action is still, if not increasingly, found in the library.

Blog surfing

broulee-surfingAnyone who writes a blog is curious about who’s reading it and is usually interested to read on similar topics. Both of those motivations lead to an interest in blog aggregators, sites that bring together blog posts from around the world.

Some of these are automatic, based on keywords in the posts. In most cases these turn out to be spam sites, promoting a product or service. I suspect that the large number of hits I received on a post about youth may have come from an automatic aggregator.

There are also more intentional aggregations such as blog rolls or blog carnivals. At blog carnival, for example, you can find carnivals on many topics, and submit your own posts to them. You can also create a new carnival on a topic of your choice. Some of the existing ones are elaborate, representing considerable effort, such as Carnival of Education. But even the best of the carnivals have a little of that quality of random listing that one sees in the spam aggregators.

smokeThere are now in between sites, such as Alpha Inventions or Condron. For these, new posts are harvested automatically, but you can also submit a post and categorize it. Visitors to the aggregator site see a slide show like presentation of other sites, often constrained by topic or language. This leads to an enormous boost in hits on blog posts, especially from Alpha Inventions.

Lesley Dewar has been running some experiments on this at No Tall Poppies. I plan to replicate those here, and share the results.

The big question of course, is not whether some scheme can produce more visits to a web page, but what if anything leads people to engage in what they read, to think critically, and to integrate that with their own experiences. My guess is that somewhere in all the surfing, syndication, aggregation, cross-linking, and such, that there are occasional sparks of real connection, but that there’s also a lot of smoke without fire.