Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Evolving my web persona and tools

Over the past few months, you may have noticed some changes in this Coevolving Innovations blog, or the Distractions, Reflections blog. It’s been two years since I wrote “the why and how of establish your web persona“, and “installing and customizing WordPress on your own domain“.  Those reflected the state-of-the-art in 2007, which is a long time in technology.  To explain these changes, I’ll relate my thinking in three parts:

  • 1. What do I want with my web persona?
  • 2. How has the technology changed (in ways that I didn’t foresee)?
  • 3. What have I done with my web activity?

These topics are described from the viewpoint of an “advanced blogger”.  New technologies emerge continuously, and I try many of them out.  I use some tools that novices find cumbersome, but that’s the way that I continue to learn.

1. What do I want with my web persona?

My first blog entries date back to October 2005, and they’re still available on the web.  In December 2006, I split my professional persona (mostly serious writing) from my photoblogging (easier on the eyes and brain), particularly for readers who subscribe via e-mail rather than using an RSS reader.  During this period, my perspective on my web persona has been constant in three ways:

(a) I want people to find appropriate information about me

In the test of “googling myself”, I’m pretty satisfied that people can find me.  Actually, a searcher will find me in multiple places, and should be able to navigate to his or her specific interest.

(b) I want to post durable content that reflects my personality and style

A major complaint of people who don’t read blogs is that it seems that people blog about their cats, or what they had for lunch.  I try to minimize that.

I do use Twitter and Friendfeed for short commentary, Google Reader Shared Items for popular news, and Diigo and Delicious for social bookmarking.  Since I travel a lot, I use Brightkite to give people some sense of which city I’m in, and Dopplr for which cities where I have travel planned.

On my professional blog, I post content that isn’t appropriate for publishing in journals or ideas that I’m working out.  On my photoblog, I take care to crop and edit each photograph, rather than just uploading snapshots.

(c) I want clear ownership of (and access to) my content

I have a wordpress.com blog where I list the MP3 audio recordings — mostly lectures and interviews — that I believe are worth noting. However, for content where I want to retain copyright, I post to my own domains.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to share content — in fact, there’s a Creative Commons license at the bottom of web pages on my domain.  However, I’m just not comfortable storing lots of content on a hosted service where I might have issues accessing it some day.

Most people don’t pay attention to the terms they sign (e.g. on Facebook).  With photographs, Flickr is good with explicit Creative Commons licenses, but I’ve had some subjects who don’t want their faces on the web, so I respect that, and have a complete private archive hidden away.  The buck stops with me.

2. How has the technology changed (in ways that I didn’t foresee)?

Before I write about what I didn’t foresee, I’ll take credit for one trend that I got right: choosing open source software platforms.  WordPress (for blogging) and Drupal (for my publications content) have turned out to be architecturally stable, and rich with plugins.  My time isn’t spent writing code, it’s spent selecting existing plugins compatible with the way I use the technologies.

(a) The frequency of content approaching near-real-time

Twitter only dates back to 2006, and hit the mainstream media in early 2009.  I never would have thought that I would resort to using instant messaging tools — my favoured tool is Pidgin, with a plugin for Twitter — to keep up with streams of social content.

(b) Mobile devices and browser frameworks have advanced rapidly

In October, I joined the mobile-connected world with a Blackberry Curve.  Beyond e-mail, my greatest use of the device is for Google, and Google Maps Mobile in particular.  It has made me sensitive to web sites that don’t perform well on mobile devices.

Also, since I prefer “fat clients”, I hadn’t really considered the advances that would be made in frameworks such as Ajax, so that people can effectively work on the web through a browser.

3. What have I done with my web activity?

I read web content as much as a write web content, so it’s hard to decouple one from the other.

(a) I participate in online communities with linkages back to my web sites

I tend to avoid online communities that aren’t as good connecting outwards as inwards.  As an example, I prefer Urbanspoon over other restaurant review sites, because it recognizes that content is sometimes located elsewhere.  I’ve been sufficiently bold to post links on Wikipedia back to my web sites, not because I need the traffic, but because I think that other people might appreciate the pointers.

(b) I’ve rethemed my web sites to accommodate mobile devices, and leverage new technologies

In a major effort, I started with the WordPress Vita theme, and heavily modified it to be somewhat similar to my prior theme.  My prior theme wasn’t widgetized, making the addition of sidebar plugins a significant effort.  In addition the strange behaviour with IE drove me to write an entirely separate style sheet.

I’ve installed the WordPress Mobile Edition plugin to take care of small screen devices.  Most recently, I’ve been able to leverage the WordPress Shadowbox-JS plugin to create spectacular slide shows.  (This is really an advanced function, so the hint is most useful to readers who would otherwise “View … Page Source …”) to figure things out.

I’m going to close with a fourth point, which is paths not chosen for my web persona.

4. What don’t I want for my web persona?

Any decision has consequences, so I’ll be explicit about them.

(a) I don’t want my blogging to become a chore

I already have a day job, so more time on the computer is almost like more work.  However, my blogging is mostly related to (a) academic research, and (b) photography, which are activities on my own initiative, rather than driven by someone else.

The net result is that I’m not blogging every day, or even every week, as some of my colleagues do.  My photoblog on travel is 9 months behind.  Still, I’m satisfied that I can keep up with distant friends and people I’ve met along the way in virtual way … and the microblogging and social bookmarking syndicated onto my personal web sites let people know that I’m still active.


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