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August 25, 2003

Desktop Blogging

Had this pop up in the email box once the network finally started to clear over the weekend. Seems I've been outed.*

I'm Scott Ragland, editor of the University Gazette, the faculty/staff paper here at UNC. I'm working with Anton Zuiker on a story about Tar Heel Bloggers, and he suggested that I contact you as a possible source
for the piece.

If you're willing, would you answer these questions?

1) With faculty, the potential of blogging as a teaching/scholarly tool is readily apparent. But what about staff? Can blogging help them on the job in some way?

2) I've visited your blog, and it's a fascinating look at a diversity of topics. But, along with using it to explore personal interests, do you use it for work-related stuff? If yes, what?

3) How time-demanding is blogging, and why do you think the time is worth it?

4) Would you encourage other UNC staff members to blog? Why?

Gosh, I must remember to thank Anton when I see him again. Nothing quite like alerting the fellow employees to one's participation in the notorious timesink that is blogging by means of a story in the Official Employee Newspaper to ensure their good opinion. Perhaps next issue the Gazette can favor me with a quote in the "The Five Beer Lunch; Are Its Advantages Overstated?"

I'm kidding, Anton. Calm down.

And of course, I would never cut short on the time I spend at work to blog. That would be wrong. Also, it's a lot easier just to stint on the time I spend with the wife and kids.

Here are my answers for Scott so far.

1. People tend to say inane things like "blogging fosters communication" when they talk about the medium. Certainly it could be used in a job atmosphere for that purpose, but the challenge lies in figuring out what blogging can do in the workplace that e-mail and instant messaging don't already do. With email and IM one at least has the notion that one's message will eventually reach its intended recipient, whereas with a blog there's no guarantee that anyone will ever read what has been posted there.

Once a particular snippet has been published, though, it's available to anyone at anytime, not deleted from or locked up in the email account of a vacationing employee.

The information a blog contains persists over time, far more effectively than information contained in the other two forms. At a minimum a workplace blog would allow something like a corporate memory to exist without being impacted by employee changes or schedules. The readily available information in a blog produces a share the wealth/spread the burden effect. If I enclose the solution to a particularly knotty problem in an email, only the recipients of the email benefit. If I post it to a blog, the pool of potential benefitees is much larger, as is the potential pool of problem solvers should I need help.

There are also times when a blog's ability to present a narrative and version of events is a plus when compared to the packet like nature of email. My friends and I take a week's vacation each year to go fishing at Ocracoke, and the blog I set up for the trip has done wonders as far as clearing out the dozens of "reply to all" emails that would otherwise have appeared in my inbox as people worked out the details of who is going when or taking what.

For me at least, blogging tends to be a somewhat more formal type of writing than the other two are, so the greatest impact the practice has had on my job has been in the composition of posts dealing with technical descriptions or problems. The very act of putting a particular problem down in words involves a different part of the brain, allowing me to approach an issue from a new angle. There have been times when the solution to a particular conundrum will pop up when I'm only halfway through a written description of it.

And if one doesn't, then I've at least put the problem out in front of a few hundred other people. Maybe one of them will think of something.

2. I do use it for some work related things, as the answer above implies, if only to force myself to approach things from a different perspective. As well, if I describe one of my solutions to a particular problem, then 3 or 4 of my readers will come up with a more elegant one. It's educational, if a bit humbling.

3. I spend a couple of hours a day writing for the blog, usually at night when everyone else in my house is asleep, or during lunch. It's been worth it in the sense that I now write more effectively than in the past whenever I need to, but also for the thrill of seeing things I've written appear in other places.

4. Sure. First, because it's a new tool, and the more people who use a particular tool the more uses are found for it. Second, because the ability to go back and look at one's thoughts over time is an experience that has become increasingly rare as the practice of keeping journals and diaries has died out. Writing down what one thinks at a certain time, then reading it at a later date was once a very common method of transmitting contextual information that would have otherwise been lost, if only to one's self. The more ways there are to pass on information, the more ways we should use.

*In case the sudden exposure of the blog worries anyone, for some odd reason, my boss is already aware of yet totally uninterested in the fact that Hraka exists. Also, my reviews have been uniformly excellent.

Posted by Bigwig at August 25, 2003 11:19 PM | TrackBack
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Mea culpa - I've been telling so many people about your blog that I've lost track. I admire your writing quite a lot, and I'm still blown away by your amazing effort to share the WWII photos with the WWW. I'll try to let you know about other nosy journalists I point your way.


Posted by: Anton Zuiker at August 26, 2003 01:30 PM

The Scott Ragland you mentioned used to live in the "Burg" just down the street from us. Worked at the college.

Posted by: Yomamma at August 27, 2003 11:28 AM
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