Please respond: blogs and wikis – why, how and who?

I’ll admit it, I’m nervous.

Next week I’ll be sharing the podium with Mark Schneider as part of the Vancouver Public Library’s “Changing World of Information” series. The main branch of the VPL is one of my favorite buildings in the city, and I’m honoured by the invitation to talk about blogs and wikis, with special emphasis on the implications for “ideas, public opinion, and free speech.”

I usually like giving presentations — they are rare occasions where I am permitted to spout off uninterrupted for minutes at a time (hecklers notwithstanding). But a few things make me especially nervous about this event. It’s rare for me to step outside the education bubble and address the “general” public. And there is already evidence that the wider world has at least dim awareness of this event — I was interviewed by one of the local newspapers this week, and am slated for a photoshoot early next week (what should I wear?)… The kicker was when I learned that the Vancouver Blogger Meetup group is planning to make the talk the focus of their January event. If those RSVP’s pan out, there are going to be some mighty impressive people in the audience.

I’ve attended a couple blogger meetups in the past, so I know that they tend to be a friendly affairs. And for once, I won’t have to go searching for someone to have a post-event beer with. But at the same time I feel some pressure not to let the side down. Which is where you come in. Or so I fervently hope.

One theme I will definitely cover is the nature of social software conversation. I would like to try and tap into that, both to improve my talk and to demonstrate how it works. Whether or not you are attending the event I’d like to incorporate your thoughts. If you have a blog, I’d be grateful if you’d toss up a quick post addressing one of the following questions:

* What is most significant about the emergence of blogs and/or wikis?
* In your mind, what is most misunderstood (or little understood) about these tools?
* Are blogs and wikis evolving into something else?
* What are the implications of these publishing tools on ideas, public opinion and free speech?
* What are a few of your essential blog reads or wiki communities?
* Anything else?

If you prefer, you may add your thoughts to a wiki page I’ve set up that will eventually be incorporated into the presentation.

If things go as I hope, I’ll draw material from a range of people, resulting in a more compelling presentation than I could begin to assemble myself. Hopefully it will provide an object demonstration of how distributed conversations can happen. If you are able to throw up a few lines, please add a link to this post. I will monitor Trackbacks, Technorati and my referrer stats. I will quote and offer shout-outs liberally, and create a page listing every contribution and recommended link (spammers excepted) that I discover.

If you don’t want to put this on your blog, or don’t have one, you are welcome to leave a comment on this post. And if you have an old post that is relevant, there’s no need to rewrite, feel free to go back and add a link back to here, or let me know about it via comment or email.

If you’re in Vancouver, and take morbid delight in watching a hapless speaker pelted with rocks and garbage, I urge you to head downtown next week. Attendance is free: Thursday January 26, 7:00 pm, Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level Central Library, 350 West Georgia Street.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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13 Responses to Please respond: blogs and wikis – why, how and who?

  1. Would love to attend your presentation. I have truly enjoyed your blog and regularly share and reference your screencasts.

    I have attempted to whip up a few notes regarding social software which you can find here:

    I have a class presentation on social software next Tuesday (01/23) so these are some preliminary notes. Nothing special. Hope it helps.

  2. Brian says:


    I think you misunderstood my post. I wasn’t asking you to write my whole presentation…

    Thanks so much! You offer a lot of well-expressed key principles. And the references are useful. I especially like the formulation “of unexpressed, taken-for-granted rules.” What a cool way of expressing the unexpressed.

    I admire your work and your supportive sentiments are much appreciated.

    You’ve been on fire lately on your blog — I thought your post about educational consultants (which describes my own role better than I’ve ever done it) as bumble bees was novel and provocative.

    Hope I’ll be able to thank you for this in person some time.

  3. Vicki Davis says:

    I’ve posted several things lately on how I’m using wikis in my classroom if you want that angle. Our wiki was named “Wikispace of the month” for December and several folks have been writing about it.

    I’ve also recorded a podcast of a class discussion of 10th graders where they talked about what they liked (and disliked) about wikis and how it had helped their grades.

    I am a computer science teacher in Georgia and have found that wikis are the best graphic organizers that the students and I have ever found. We actually had them make wikis for every subject during exams and they believed their grades went up significantly. They also have a wiki that they maintain that they call their study hall — it lists all assignments for the day and links to the wikis they made for each subject.

    Study Hall wiki

    SAT Prep wikispace

    Our school wikispace

    I think you’ll find some how tos and some very real results in these posts that might help you. If you want to e-mail me, I don’t mind answering questions.

    I am a big believer in wikis because they simply work and they provide a graphic organizer that is meaningful to today’s myspace adhd generation!

    Good look and I look forward to reading about your presentation.

  4. Kyle says:

    Hi Brian,

    I would love to come and see you speak but unfortunately we’re putting on an event on campus. Will you be recording??

  5. Brian says:

    Vicki and Kyle — thanks so much for checking in, and especially for adding material to the presentation wiki page. You’re both doing great work that is worthy of recognition. Speaking of which, Vicki — congratulations on the Wikispace of the month honour, it’s well-deserved. I look forward to checking out that podcast.

    I have vague plans to record the session, if we do I’ll likely post it here.

  6. Hi Brian. Hope you’ll use those slides in some way, and here’s my response to your questions:

  7. Alan says:

    Dust off the humble pie, bro, you will wow the crowd.

    My caution, and my own common pitfall, is that the responses you will get here are from people in the middle of the new tool mix, the ones you have jumped the inertia hurdle to even try consider them as useful tools.

    The most significant things about the emergence of blogs and wikis (and the other best of breed social software) is the very fact that they have emerged, and are emerging, flourishing not because of some drive by a big company or well known figure, it is by far, a grass roots effort. That is so important and so understated that we have so many living examples of Smart Mobs.

    On this mis-understanding end seems to be the picture of these as discrete tools and thinking of them like software, like separate entities. And I believe we are underestimating the fluidity the social softwares will change, morph and evolve. We think of them still as something like version 12 of Microsoft ______.

    Also, I think there is less understanding of the distributed and loosely to non-structured nature of the “conversations:. People still want it to be nicely contained, all in one place, like threaded discussion boards. They think it is “wrong” or “bad” that it is so poorly structured, and I think that is the beauty, that it is more of a real mirror of society. There are no nicely orderd threads of a discussion at a aprty, at a debate, at a coffee house.

    And people may still mis understand the importance of commenting, of stepping in (where allowed) and participating in other people’s sites. That is one of the social aspects.

    And people still only mildly “get” RSS which is the magical glue. Of course, when it works well, maybe they should not see it.

    Blogs and wikis may be morphing along the edges- I think Writely is a nice second generation example of wikis growing into a collaboration tool (not that one would see a “WritelyPedia”).

    And essetinal reads? Why of course, most of them are Canadian.

    Best of luck, and rock the library.

  8. Scott Leslie says:

    I will try to write something longer when I get time, but when you mention blogs and free speech in the same breath, it brings to my mind the pamphleteers of the American Revolution. I love the Wikipedia entry for Pamphleteer ( as well as the lyrics to the Weakerthans song of the same name ( – the line “what force on earth could be weaker than the feeble strength of one” was clearly written before the weblogs 😉

  9. Margot McNeill says:

    Just thought I’d post a brief response to your first two questions, Brian. From my experience (in the higher ed sector in Australia), the best thing about the emergence of social software tools such as wikis and blogs is that they really can enable a change in the role of students in learning environments to co-creators of knowledge. For years we have talked about ‘learner-centredness’ and the democratic nature of wikis really can enable/ acknowledge/reward students’ knowledge as developed in a collaborative process.

    The biggest danger is that these tools do not work if just treated as add-ons in didactic learning environments.

  10. Brian says:

    Thanks to all of you! This is awesome stuff. I’m going to compose a short post to highlight all of your contributions.

  11. Manual Trackback – the trackback ping seems to have gone off into the ether.

    Posted some thoughts on my blog. Sorry for leaving it so late!

  12. Brian says:

    Trackback on this installation is buggy at best.

    Thanks D’Arcy — I literally added your stuff in while standing at the podium. Great stuff!

  13. Kaka94032 says:

    I just don’t have much to say recently. Such is life. I’ve basically been doing nothing. Basically nothing seems worth bothering with. Oh well.

Comments are closed.