Lessons Learned: Two Hundred Posts


It’s now my 200th post. My hundredth post was a year ago. It took me five months to get to that first hundred. I don’t expect to keep up that pace in the next year. But I have a hunch that many of you– my regular readers, which includes 54 bloglines subscribers— would like me to. I really want to get back to the coding that I put off a year ago. I’m looking to people to help contribute editorial content. I’ll explain in the next part what I’m looking for, but I just want to expend a few words sharing with you how Civilities has evolved. Plus links to thirty-one pieces, some of which you may have missed.

Continuing Constructive Media

It all started with the model I called constructive media. It’s an engineer’s way of thinking about journalism and writing– and if you read that original piece which defines it, it started out a bit too engineering minded. So I write about the theory and software, but also have covered the realms of media, politics (who hasn’t?) and occasionally religion. To narrow my scope, I only write pieces related to a tight set of themes of structure, of access, of consensus. See the outline at right.

Constructive media is similar to another popular term, social media, but not the same. Social media suggests that there are social rewards in participating– you make friends, you have a good time. Obviously, you can’t discount that, which has been notoriously lacking in both Internet and corporate groupware. Constructive media, on the other other hand, is designed to meet more concrete aims. Social media stresses that the relationship is the core aim been customers and vendors, between readers and publications. Constructive media sees such relationships as superficial and expendable at large scales; instead the core constructs are problem-defining and problem-solving. I know I risk coming up with a broad name for familiar practices here: academic writing, project planning, governance, activism, and a little bit of journalism all have constructive aims.

In constructive media, we build things. Certainly the weblog format is a step-up from email lists and forums because they build information better. Wikis are constructive as well, but they lack a social component, as they obscure the identities of the individual contributors. There’s also a constructive style to writing. A good sign that someone is writing common “as I’ve written about previously…” which I see in the writing of Seth Finkelstein and Chris Nolan (my original inspiration of this has been Slate’s Timothy Noah, whose coup de grace of was building the case for unmasking Deep Throat). So as I’ve built off of Seth’s ideas, Seth builds off of mine, and as does Dave Rogers. It’s not just hyperlinking– anybody can do that. It’s some people making solid, defensible observations about the world, and others recognizing them.

Evolving Coverage

I had the poor timing to start writing in January 2004 as the Presidential primaries hit high gear. I abandoned Dean (2/8/04), rationalized Kerry (2/13/04), and then set up fundraising shop (3/16/04) Along the way I still tried to ground my experiences in theory, and pass it off as constructive feedback. Here’s a summary wrapped up in Time to Get Local (5/14/04), which after some persistence, got the notice of the Kerry campaign’s technology team. But I began relaxing to enjoy the summer, and also, to track the Between the 20,000-word diary of one day at the DNC (8/4/04), and then the brief series on getting out the Florida vote (10/31/04), I actually didn’t post at all. After the election I began focussing on writing about the role of the blogs, and eventually collected all of these writings under the name The Wayward Blogs. The pinnacle of this work was the last piece, the 8-part series on The New Gatekeepers. No specific date for that– it took two months to write. (I thought it would take me a week in March to knock off, since most of the previous “big” pieces has taken that long) I have a day job, after all.

This piece was physically exhausting, and I threw everything I had researched into it. I did heavy revisions late into the night. Worst of all, it was actually an anti-social piece, and I found myself harshly criticizing some people and practices. One very well-known person in the social media field, who I’ve interacted with pleasantly before, and who I am have written about favorably, angrily responded to an email request for help by questioning my methods and my motivations. I was slightly bruised and slightly amused, and went on wondering how what was good for the old media gander wasn’t good for the new media geese as well. But I recognized that the dark art of high criticism is not a fun place to be in.

Genuine Drafts

There’s a bunch of articles still sitting in draft. A romp through some Zogby online poll questions will never be finished. In December I wrote several thousand words about the popular Daily Kos bloggish site, and as its main subject was on vacation, I replaced it with a stub shortly after posting it (“Cut it into shorter pieces,” advised a non-blogging friend.) This turned out to be prudent, after seeing what happened to Zephyr Teachout when she dared suggest that not all was kosher in the kingdom (1/17/05) My article was never published in time for the Webcred conference and still hasn’t– I don’t even know if Kos is relevant anymore (though a number of people have asked me for it).

The webcred conference, while spawning many items under the Wayward Blogs, inspired yet more unfinished drafts. I met Jack Shafer conference and told him I had a brief history of Slate from 3 years ago that was not yet ready. Sensing the conference’s newfound love for wiki, I pledged to explain how it was plainly a display of normative writing. And then seeing the full embrace of blogs, I churned out a letter to the publishers of The New Yorker and the Times begging them not to stoop so low to blog, and to seek other interactive opportunities instead. The New Yorker read my mind by making a cartoon caption contest a regular feature.

I do hope to get around to churning these out over the summer.

Blog No More

I realized I can’t do local coverage, the so-called citizen’s media. My one excursion as a cub reporter hitting the streets to interview people in the local establishmentsto see if they had heard of local resident and now Chinese prisoner Yang Jianli (2/21/04). I wrote about Day One of the Gay Marriage debate (2/11/04) at the Massachusetts State House, but never got around to posting that I actually showed up for Day Two (my co-workers rallied; I listened). I wrote about Day One of the Brookline Town Meeting (11/17/04); the second day I actually took notes but never posted. Some of the other Town Meeting Members were hoping to see be a contributor and scribe as well. Not enough time. I even relinquished my Town Meeting seat this spring. Here’s my indexes of Brookline and Greater Boston articles.

I never claimed to be blogging, and always tried hard to distinguish myself from it . But naturally I had to pick up such habits before I rejected them.

  • I bought into the idea that blogging is an effective way for bookmarking for oneself and others. Here was such a bookmark-style post, referencing the E-Neighbors project at MIT (1/18/04). A year later I discovered bloglines (12/14/04) and then delicious (2/1/05) which provided a much more scaleable way to organize/review other sources.
  • I originally reacted to news events — like Superbowl halftime shows (2/1/04), like presidential interviews (2/8/04)– and tried to roll out Slate-style pieces. I eventually realized that nobody read them as these were commented on by every other armchair pundit/blogger. But they were good practice.
  • I thought I’d inject a little naked partisanship into my writings. It made me cringe later when I reviewed the Question Scoreboard (4/14/04). Later I concluded that it was unnecessary for journalists to reveal their personal biases (1/17/05)
  • I went to Earth Day, ostensibly to help out with the Kerry booth, but ended up just taking pictures of my friends (4/25/04), I still have friends, though a few have pestered me that they are not truly “public figures” and don’t need their full names posted, as they wish for Google to not report on such trivialities.
  • I have a new set of online friends now; I call them correspondents. I generally avoid getting into the so-called “blogalogues” where each side fires a volley at each other from their own blogs. I think it’s more polite to just post brief responses in the comments section– and pointing back to lengthier resources, of course. Still, on occasion, I’ve had a bit of fun with mixing this with that other vainglorious blogger pasttime, gratuitous name-dropping: the Interactive C-SPAN (11/15/04), Sonnet Mail (2/14/05), and the Bloggers from the A-List to the Z-List (3/20/05).

There have also some random personal elements into the mix: Fundraising links and Where I Get My News. I suppose these can be generalized when we transition to a team-produced site.

And by the way, I haven’t heard from any new readers in a while. Register & post here. Or update your bloglines description of this site so that you have full control over the information and so it can be viewed with others.