Word Geekery Grab Bag

I remain an incorrigible word geek. Here are some items related to this theme that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Stupid Attractors. The attractor is key concept of the mathematics of systems. Hidden Dimension Galleries describes three types of attractors:

  • A finite attractor is the solution to a system of equations which converges to a single point.
  • If the solution converges to a periodic orbit, it is a periodic attractor
  • If the solution is a fully determined, fractal curve with no recursion, it is a strange attractor (a cornerstone of chaos theory).

I posit a fourth type of attractor: The stupid attractor. Rather than create a meaningful pattern, here the “solutions” that converge are random bits of cosmic jetsam and annoying dunces. Examples of stupid attractors include shopping malls just before Christmas, or the IMAX theater just outside of the Grand Canyon.

However, in the grand design of the universe, stupid attractors serve the greater purpose of consolidating idiots in clearly identified clumps that can be avoided.

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Professional Blogging Grab Bag, Continued…

Yep, I have a bunch more items on the topic of blogging professionally that I’d like to share with you. (Here’s the first part of this grab bag.)

TOP OF THIS LIST: Internal Blogging More In Focus – Blog Consultants Beware, Corporate Blogging Blog, Jan. 10. Fredrik WackÃ¥ wrote, “If we compare to web communication in general an intranet is for many companies more effective in terms of ROI than an external site. Blogs will, I believe, be another example of this – and that should worry blog consultants… It’s one thing to for example build a personal brand with blogging for an individual. It’s an entirely different thing to try to change corporate culture, working methods and so on with blogging as one of many tools. Where a good writer and decent businessman can build a blog consultancy to do the first, it takes strategic organizational and communicative competence to do the other.”

I respectfully disagree with Wackå on this one. In my humble opinion, and in my experience, an outsider is usually the best person to instigate real change in an organization. Often the people on the inside are so mired in habits, politics, and inertia that they need an outside perspective in order to imagine a different way of working.

And in the case of clarifying collective knowledge and enhancing communication, you can’t do better than putting a really good writer on the job. After all, clear thinking is the essence of clear writing. A really good blog consultant already possesses “strategic organizational and communicative competence.” We call it insight – and it’s the best skill any blogger can offer.

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Wiki Grab Bag

Here are some items related to wikis that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Blogs or Wikis … What’s the best platform for building a collaborative disaster-relief resource on the web? By Dina Mehta, Conversations with Dina, Dec. 28, 2004. Mehta is a member of the team of bloggers who set up the now-famous SEA-EAT blog for tsunami and earthquake victim relief efforts. In this article, she ponders whether a wiki might have worked better than a blog.

While I agree that a wiki would have made more sense from a development perspective, I think it would have been a mistake from a user perspective. Most internet users don’t really understand how wikis work. They take a fair amount of getting used to. While blogs also have a bit of a learning curve compared to traditional media, it still has a lot in common with traditional media. Also, it’s easier for a newbie to figure out which information is most recent in a blog, compared to a wiki.

Given the huge audience SEA-EAT has attracted (my own short announcement of that blog has been the most-visited item on my own site since I posted it, for example), I think usability is key. Mehta notes some significant usability drawbacks to the SEA-EAT blog, but personally I think those are minor compared to what a wiki would present. (Thanks to Common Craft for this link.)

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Writing, Editing, and Rights Grab Bag

Here are some items related to writing, editing, and content rights that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Fifty Writing Tools, the workbench of Roy Peter Clark (Senior Scholar, the Poynter Institute). This 50-part weekly series, currently in progress, features articles on specific practical writing tips, with examples. They’re intended for journalists, but can apply much more widely. Take all of the tips together and you’ve got a pretty good style guide. Registered Poynter Online users can get each new tip by e-mail as they’re published.

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Podcasting Grab Bag

Some more items about podcasting that caught my attention over the last couple of months.

TOP OF THIS LIST: Scripting News, Trade Secrets and Ego, by Mark VandeWettering, Brainwagon Radio, Dec. 9, 2004. In this article, Mark criticizes podcasting pioneer Dave Winer pretty strongly for Winer’s forthcoming podcast business venture with Adam Curry. (I suppose details will be out on that any day now.) I listened to the episode of Winer & Curry’s Trade Secrets show that irked Mark so, and it didn’t really bother me that much. However, I do think that Mark made some excellent points.

Mark wrote: “Podcasting appeals to me because nearly anyone can do it. On any budget. For any reason. To communicate with family. Or their community. Or their church. Or people with similar interests. Or people who don’t know what their interests are. Or people who just need something different to listen to. There aren’t any real obstacles to doing it, at least to anyone who wants to actually do something. We certainly don’t need an industry to make that happen – It’s happening already.” Absolutely. That, my friends, is exactly the point!

Mark explored this topic further in his Dec. 10, 2004 article Why is podcasting important? Brilliant. Don’t miss it.

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Arranging Ideas Grab Bag

Here are a few items related to the theme of arranging ideas (content management, knowledge management, information gathering, cognitive science, creativity, etc.) that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Blink, a new book by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) is due out in January 2005 – and I can’t wait to read it. Blink is about rapid cognition – the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye.

Gladwell explains, “You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings – thoughts and impressions that don’t’ seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking – its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with ‘thinking.'”

I agree that rapid cognition and intuition are two different aspects of how the mind works, but I think Gladwell sells intuition waaaaaaayyyyy short. I’ll blog more on that later, after I’ve read Blink.

Also, Gladwell is the subject of the January 2005 Fast Company cover story, The Accidental Guru.

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E-Learning Grab Bag

Here are some items related to e-learning that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Keyser Soze and Organizational Learning. One of Maish Nichani’s favorite films (and mine) is The Usual Suspects. In this article, Nichani describes the key scene where the incognito mafia kingpin Keyser Soze (Kevin Spacey) uses random bits of information in a police interrogation room to spin a bizarre but believeable story which throws the cops off track.

Building on that insight, Nichani writes, “A rich experience base is what distinguishes an expert from a novice. One way to build an experience base is to wait for experiences to come to you. This is the natural way. The other way is to create an environment where experiences can be accelerated. This is the realm of training. But how much of our training is based on accelerating experiences? How many training outcomes are based on interpretation and sensemaking capabilities?”

An excellent question. Nichani explores it briefly, but I’d love to see other e-learning creators and participants discuss this further.

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Tools Grab Bag

Here are some notes about tools and resources that have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: Bloglines trouble alert. Not everyone is thrilled with Bloglines, the popular, free web-based feed reader service. Apparently Bloglines sometimes inexplicably stops showing updates to some webfeeds, giving the appearance that those blogs have stopped publishing.

Michael Feldstein of E-Literate is particularly unhappy about this, since it happened to his blog. (I let him know about the problem.) See his Dec. 25 article, Don’t Use Bloglines. I can understand how he feels.

That said, I look at this Bloglines flaw in this way: Bloglines is free of charge, and it works reasonably well most of the time. It’s a very simple first step for newcomers to the world of webfeeds. I value it for that reason, and I continue to recommend it to webfeed newbies. But I do warn users that Bloglines has its flaws, so don’t expect perfection. With any free service, you get what you pay for.

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Net and Society Grab Bag

Here are some items that show how the internet is affecting society (or vice versa) which have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: US E-government progress? Depends on what you mean by “progress.” A new report on e-government from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is striking for what it doesn’t address. It’s an extensive laundry list of actions and programs the US federal government has taken to improve citizens’ online access to government information, programs, and services.

Unfortunately, GAO says almost nothing about whether those efforts are making any difference to citizens – that is, whether they’re actually succeeding. Quite a suspicious absence.

…Hey, Wired News? CNet? Are you listening? We need some real journalism here! Even Information Week didn’t seem inclined in doing more than a rehashed press release on this. However, the Washington Times offered some interesting context. They reported that this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) showed a slight improvement in user approval of US e-government. Very slight: 1.3% over last year. Hmmmmm…

Meanwhile, over at Designing for Civil Society, David Wilcox considers what ideal e-government might look like.

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