A Month In


Well, it has been a month since I committed to doing a Photo a Day and I’m still at it.  I didn’t know for sure, but I am able to pull it off.  I’m still not happy with my content; as I look at the artist offerings of others, I’m confirmed daily that I’m not an artist.  Others seems to be able to get that special angle or context that just looks artistic.  I seem to just take pictures of “stuff” that meet the photography requirement for the day.  I know that you’re supposed to post to Twitter what you’re doing on a regular basis but I just don’t feel that I’m at that level yet.  I think I took a couple that were worth sharing last month and I did post notices about them.

I’m hoping that just because I recognize my limitations, over time it will make me become better.  I have noticed that committing to this has changed the way that I’m approaching just being out and about.  I now feel naked if I go somewhere and don’t have my camera or cell phone.  Having never done this before, I hope that it’s a first step.  It’s at those times that I have those “wow, that would be a great opportunity for photo” moments.  I never used to have those so I’m hoping that’s good.

One of the good things, though, that have come from this is using the Tumblr service.  I’ve used WordPress for a while now for this blog and Posterous to collect media and especially infographics from here and there.  Tumblr presents another opportunity for me to experiment with a blogging platform.

Like good platforms, it allows for entry via the web and supports portable devices as well.  I can call in and email entries in addition to direct posting.  It’s very flexible and I can understand how people consider Tumblr to be on the same playing ground as Posterous.  At this point in my learning, it doesn’t seem to have all of the features that a WordPress has.  But, it has just enough to do exactly what I need it to do.  I’ve only had one moment when the service was unavailable which I understand has been an issue in the past.

Customization is available though your dashboard and a number of themes are available for choosing like a good platform might well have.  I’ve chosen what I think to be a nice theme although it does say “Doug”.  It’s functional and great in design but not nearly as off the wall artistic as some of the others.  That might be another step in my quest to become more artistic.  I don’t know.

Regardless, one month in, the experience has been a good one for me.  I’m now experimenting a little more than I would ever have.  I don’t drop to the ground and roll over to get the perfect angle like my artistic son does but that may come.    The biggest thing so far has been getting to know Tumblr.  I’m starting to think that a platform like this or Posterous may be a better choice for the beginning blogger.  It’s simpler and lets you get directly to the point.

If you’re interested in my photography efforts so far, it’s available at http://dougpete.tumblr.com.

links for 2011-01-30


Bookmarking, Part II


It might well be that my bookmarking story ended with the post from yesterday.  After all, Delicious is a great service and does what I need it to do and more.  When I started using it, I never dreamed that I would be posting things that I bookmark to my blog or that I would change my default search engine to be “Doug-Powered” rather than powered by some other service.  As I bookmark more and more resources, I find that these are maturing functions that change the way that I personally approach search in my own life.

So, I was quite happy until Diigo came along.  As I tend to do, when the service came along, I experimented with it.  In the early days, it appeared to be essentially a duplication of the Delicious experience.  I was bored one weekend and copied and pasted my way to a duplicate service.  The export/import services that we enjoy today were not around or I hadn’t noticed them.  But, it was the sort of mindless activity that goes along with watching television on a Sunday night and before long, I had a duplicate of my results.  There were some things about Diigo that intrigued me at the time and I could see real value for the future.

 

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The ability to bookmark is important, of course, but the ability to insert a sticky note and highlight parts of text that I know I may refer back to later was a real value that Diigo added to the process.  After a while, when you’re a persistent bookmarker, you do get a substantial collection and it’s nice to be able to look back and see just what was so important that you bookmarked it in the first place.

In the meantime though, there was something else that was happening on the Delicious side.  Either from reading my blog or by morbid curiosity, I had started to accumulate a number of followers in my bookmarking network.  If I pulled the plug, these folks would be disenfranchised.  I remember thinking “Oh well, I’ll just stick with Delicious then and not explore Diigo any further”.  But, I had another problem.  On the Diigo side, I had started to get followers there even though I wasn’t advertising that I had an account.  How?  But, it was another group of people to be concerned about.  What to do?  In my browser, Diigo had an extension that worked just like Delicious.  So, for about two days, I would bookmark on both sites.  Then, I decided that this was just stupid.  Make a choice, Doug.

But, after some poking around, I found a better answer.  In the Diigo settings, there was actually an option that would take anything that I bookmarked in Diigo and automatically post it to Delicious.  This is very appealing.  I like automation so gave it a shot.  It worked perfectly.  I could not change my routine.  Find a website – bookmark / highlight / sticky note it in Diigo – Diigo would post it to Delicious and then it appear on my blog.  I could use either service as a search engine in my browser.  I have the best of all worlds.

And that’s how my bookmarking process works today.  For a while, I had both the Delicious and Diigo extensions in my browsers.  If nothing else, it filled up some blank space.  There are some sites that don’t bookmark well with the default Diigo utility but there’s another sweet little tool called the Diigolet that handles things nicely.  Yet, there are still some websites (mainly based on Flash) that don’t work with either.  But, there’s a tool for that too!  The extension Shareaholic puts all of these resources together (and more) to a single button.

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Since installation, I haven’t found a resource that stumps me.  Plus I gain access to so many other resources in one pull down menu.  Life is good and bookmarking complete.

At least it was until the Diigo programming gods introduced the Teacher Console.  Here, from your resources, you could create groups for your students.  This added so much functionality that I had to incorporate that as well.  By public access or private invitation, an area can be set up to explore just the bookmarks that you want your class to use for a given topic.  Just bring them in and out as needed.  All seems to come together so nicely.

Despite all this, there is still much more functionality in both services including the ability to recommend resources for colleagues that I don’t often use.  If I was a fulltime researcher, I’m sure that I’d be all over them.  For this hacker, though, the bookmarking tools have complimented what I do online so nicely.

If you’re interested, my Diigo collection is online at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

It’s come so far since the CTRL-D days.

links for 2011-01-29


Bookmarking


Bookmarking is one component of the Read / Write Web that I have found my use scaffolded by over the years.  In the beginning, I was like so many people and would hit a quick CTRL-D when I found a webpage of interest.  In my browser, that would bookmark it for later reference.  After all, I wouldn’t want to forget it. 

That actually worked quite well but I quickly ran into a few problems.  First, if I bookmarked on a computer at school, it wasn’t available to my computer at home.  Secondly, the tools for organizing the bookmarks via browser were pretty primitive.  I needed to solve both of these problems and so the next step was to create and post a series of webpages by category.  That put me well on the way to organization.

But, this was not without problems either.  First, it was a great deal of work and secondly, what do you do when you find a resource that is cross-curricular and falls into many categories.  More work was required to make it available in multiple categories.  But, it did work and an unintended benefit at the time was that I could share these webpages with others.  People really appreciated it when I share my efforts with them.

In the meantime, a different approach to recording resources emerged.  Instead of categorizing resources by subject area, the content of tagging a resource with words that describe its functionality had emerge and was far more powerful than categorization.  So, I was off to find a better way and that’s when I discovered the power behind Delicious.  My initial goal was to find a way to bookmark resources but it’s now evolved to being one of the most powerful and connecting parts of my digital arsenal.

The functionality part is pretty simple.  In my browser, I have installed the Delicious extension.  When I find a web resource that I’d like to bookmark, I simply highly a significant part of the resource and click on the extension’s icon.  A window pops up on top of the current webpage.  The extension has pre-populated much of the form with things like the URL, title of the page, and the notes section is populated with the text that I’ve highlighted from the webpage.  All of the fields are editable and so I’ll spend a second or two tightening the language and then head to the “tags”.  What words or phrases would define the content of the page?  After all, I want to be able to find this later.  I enter the words and then save it.  Voila, the bookmarking is done and I can review them at any time at:  http://www.delicious.com/dougpete.

 

The functionality doesn’t end there though and the power of the tools becomes obvious once you put it into use.

First of all, Delicious has a terrific search feature.  By searching for a concept, I can quickly locate my resources by key word which includes the descriptor and the tags.  More powerfully, though, the search will also return resources that others have described or tagged with the same words.  It’s like having your own private research team.  A couple of years ago, a group of us collaboratively worked on a schema for the new Computer Studies curriculum.  We didn’t know the exact names of the courses at the time but we knew what the concepts were going to be.  Among the group of us, we agreed to tag any resources as per usual, but to add “ICSXX” to the tags.  That way, any of us could do a search for “ICSXX” and locate resources that were tagged specifically of interest for these new courses.  It was a very powerful concept.

Eventually, I found that there were some regulars who are bookmarking resources with a similar focus to mine.  Delicious includes a feature where I can follow these people so that I can see where their bookmarking and tagging energies are spent.  Similarly, others can follow me if they are interested.  In this way, I’m both taking the efforts from my group to build my library as well as paying it forward to anyone who chooses to follow me.

This resource gathering and sharing enables online learning in a way that I’ve only dreamed of.  It’s a never-ending stream of high quality information.  I’ve just got to share it further and Delicious has me covered there as well.  An experimental feature of Delicious will take the entries from the last day and make a nicely formatted blog entry for you.  Consequently, there usually is an entry into my blog to let anyone who drops by know what I’m researching.  How do you know when there’s something new?  Ah, you have to love the power of Twitter.  Using the service of the web-based tool dlvr.it, new entries to my blog are posted to my Twitter account.  If you’re following dougpete, you’ll receive a notification when there’s something to check out.

The final step in their story takes me back to the browser.  In contemporary browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, you have a search engine built right into your browser.  Delicious can double as your default search engine!  The advantage become so obvious once you use it.  Instead of searching and refining resources on the internet where EVERYTHING is catalogued, I’m now searching my and everyone else’s Delicious account.  The power lies in the fact that the resources that are returned have already been screened and are of enough value that people have taken the time to bookmark them.  Again, the power of the community rises to the top.

It’s been a long, evolving road from the humble task of just bookmarking a website in my browser but it’s made my time online far more productive.  Delicious lets me find, store, and share the best of the best. But, it doesn’t stop there. Tomorrow, I’ll show how Diigo now fits into the process.