Posts Tagged ‘blog’
One of the concerns that collaborative software helps to ease is the loss of precious intellectual capital with the leaving or retiring of an employee. This is a point that is well understood but a question I am often asked when I’m talking to clients about collaborative technologies is “What is the point of tagging? It’s so inconvenient, can’t we just have a drop down menu of all available tags?”
It’s a good question, and it comes from a place which is very comfortable with slick user interfaces. People are busy, doing real work – why do they have to do this ‘tagging stuff’? It’s almost back to the halcyon days of Wordstar!
There are a number of things to think about here – not least the fact that a drop down menu of tags would actually undermine the mechanism by which tagging works. Let me try and explain what I mean.
We are creating data at a rate faster than ever before, there are silos, mines and every concievable type of repository full of data, and it just keeps on coming. We need to find data, to find the right data, fast, in order to make good decisions. Google I am told, consumes as much power in a day, feeding it’s data crunching centres as a small city does in a week…let’s consider the user for a moment….
I’m a big music buyer and one thing that I do in every city I visit, if I have time, is to visit the music stores and browse the racks of CDs and Vinyl. Often, I’ll be inspired by what I see and my mind goes off in all directions, soon the original cd that I wanted to buy has been buried in a slew of conjecture, guesswork, associations etc. I’m standing in the middle of a warehouse full of music, completely unable to recall the name of the artist or the title of the album I came here to buy.
What do I do to recover? Well, it’s pretty easy really – I have to rebuild the associations that the album has for me and just as the experience of browsing can disrupt my train of thought, so it can be used to recover the train of thought. An example might be that elusive Johnny Thunders version of Green Onions….I might recall that it was vaguely something to do with the New York punk scene of the seventies. So browsing the groups that I can recall, Television, Patti Smith isn’t helping, Patti Smith’s Gloria is warm, but not right….it’s a cover, it’s a sixties song originally….hmmm who else covered sixties tunes, New York Dolls for one…..Stranded in the Jungle, Pills, getting warmer by the second,, who was in the New York Dolls….Johnny Thunders!
Ok, so that’s a slice of my day, but the point is that the data that helped me find that particular record has nothing to do with the record itself. It’s not data that would be held in a database listing the attributes of that record – we would expect to find serial number, media, song titles, artist, maybe a picture of the cover, but there’s no way I can browse to that row in the database in any intuitive way. The data that helped was: sixties’, ‘seventies’, ‘New York’, ‘New York Dolls’, ‘cover’…. good candidates for tags in fact, in an article about that particular song!
So tagging enables intuitive search and human beings love searching intuitively. We are trying to make authors of everyone, but it is impractical to perform full text searches on the volumes of data that we are now producing. Tagging allows humans to feel their way through the information overload and retrieve data that is of value, reasonably quickly.
So that is the first point, the user in the ‘browse’ case really appreciates tagging. The second point is much more direct, authors take a pride in their work and actually quite like it when people read it! Blogs being a fantastic example – we use tags to make sure that an article comes up in these intuition led searches that internet users love to engage in. It is actually in the author’s interest to be creative about tagging, it will attract more readers.
Lastly, why can’t we have a drop down menu? Well I’ve seen ‘most used tags’ listed, which goes some of the way towards meeting this request, but my thinking is that while a list of most used tags might give me some options, I’d actually like to make up my own, maybe add to the list in time?
So, in a nutshell, tagging is all about information categorisation, indexing and retrieval – it leverages the human brain as much as it does the data mining, search applications and who knows, in view of google’s extraordinary electrical consumption could even be considered ‘green’!
The recent inclusion of ‘meh’ in the Collins English Dictionary and the elevation of “wiki” to the Oxford English dictionary have provoked some hilarious postings on The Register. The subject of net neoligisms is one which by turn vexes and fascinates.
History tells us that the evolution of a spoken or written language is accelerated by slang, by the absorption of ‘foreign’ words into the current idiom. Over time, some of these words stick, others fall by the wayside. The continuous process keeps language alive and vital. Attempts to record a language, definitively, are by their very nature doomed to failure because existing words pick up new meanings, and new words emerge to provide more distinct or precise meaning.
The evolution of the English language can be traced to several significant stages. The spoken language in England was originally several dialects of Celtic origin. In the 5th Century, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes invaded from Denmark and northern germany, in the process pushing the native inhabitants and their languages, north to Scotland and west to Wales and Ireland. Gaelic, one variety of a Celtic language is found in Scotland and Ireland, Welsh, another variety is still spoken in Wales.
During the 600 odd years leading up to the Norman invasion of 1066, the languages imported by the germanic tribes coalesced into what we now call Old English – about half of the words in current parlance have their roots in Old English. The Normans brought French to the island and with it, a rigid class system. The upper classes and business classes spoke French, the peasantry Old English. Over a period of some 400 years, middle English, the language of Chaucer emerged – broadly, Old English with added French!
The 16th century brought the Renaissance and with it, travel – this had a profound effect on the language, new words were imported by traders and other travellers and the invention of the printing press accelerated the standardisation of what became Early Modern English.
Late Modern English has persisted from appproximately 1600 to the present day, spurred on by the Industrial Revolution creating a need for new words to describe new technologies and the British Empire adopting words from the colonies. Varieties of late modern english have evolved and cross pollinated through the power of media, so American English with its strong Spanish and French influences has brought words such as vigilante into the common language via the movies.
Which brings us to the vexing question of ‘meh’. If there were a Darwinian theory of language it would say that the words that are fit for purpose, that bring more precision, that are required would be the ones to survive. There is a very strong argument that, that has usually been the case. This is why slang has such a strong influence on language. Slang evolves, to meet circumstances which are geographical, cultural and societal at specific points in time. An example of this would be the changing usage of the word ‘swinging’.
Originally ‘swinging’ referred to the sideways oscillation of an object, suspended from a fixed point. In the fifties, it acquired a new meaning, related to jazz, swinging morphed into a description of rhythm – still vaguely related to oscillation. In the sixties it was used to describe a different form of music – beat, and ‘Swinging’ became an interjection of approval. A pop group ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans’ capitalised on this meaning as a means of buying instant credibility with the public. The seventies, brought with it a darker meaning, completely separated now from its roots, swinging referred to the appalling practice of wife swapping for sexual adventure that is reputed to have infested suburbia during those straitened times.
Two things are significant – the greatly reduced time span – 30 years in this case and the completely different meaning attached to the word by the end of the tie span – it is the speed of change that has increased dramatically.
‘Meh’ is a word that has not evolved so much as occured. Hijacked from the Simpsons, it has held its original meaning, and been gleefully adopted by the Nathan Barley generation as an all purpose utterance signifying boredom, ennui. Like many neoligisms spawned by the net, it serves no uniquely useful purpose and does not substantially clarify nor make more precise the articulation of that feeling it purports to describe.
Not all net neoligisms are so useless – meme, cyberspace, unfriend are all useful words which better describe something – they bring value to the language in a way which ‘meh’ conspicuously fails to emulate. ‘Meh’ is a word which is so strongly reminiscent of the utterance of a sheep that its continued usage by otherwise intelligent people mystifies me totally. I wonder about decadence at times – the adoption of useless and ultimately destructive practices. In the increasingly self referential world of new media, I see useful technologies whose advocates, in their frenetic adoption of every passing fad, are ultimately failing to communicate – the very issue these technologies are supposed to solve.
Comments in Late Modern English please!
// Credit for much of the thinking behind this post should be given to Jacqui Rowe, Mel Curtiss, Elle Gee, and Brenda McWalters whose spirited rejoinders to my flippant post on Facebook made me think!
With the notable exception of Laura Barton, who impresses me more with every article she writes, I have declared the practice of Music Journalism to be dead.
The game was effectively up when the first sinister rustlings of electro made their entry some time during the late seventies. Practitioners struggled manfully on, filling pages with turgid hagiography on Kraftwerk and god forbid, Amon Duul, but the death knell was effectively sounded by one of the best electro records ever made – ‘Set it off’ by Strafe. To a lyric consisting entirely of the repeated phrase
“Set it off on the left
Set it off on the right
Set it off”
With the occasional interjection of “Let’s Get This Party Started!” Strafe ushered in the ecstasy generation – the air now well and truly let out of the ‘rock criticism as cultural commentary” balloon, scribes had to fall back on their writing skills. Predictably the few that could actually write – Jon Savage springs to mind, shifted their attention to writing books and journalism proper, the rest shrivelled and died.
So what has this to do with MiniBlogs?
I write, a lot, I also listen to music a lot and have collected records for nearly forty years. However mindful of Frank Zappa’s comment that “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, I have studiously avoided any sort of comittment to writing about music. I’ve no doubt I could fill pages with turgid dross, but frankly what’s the point?
So the miniblog – it occured to me that if I restricted the length of the review to say 150 words, it would focus the pen and might even make the whole exercise useful – so my newest blogging venture is Chimera Obscura. This will consist of mini reviews of albums that I feel fall into the category of cult or wilfully obscure. It will inevitably reflect the contents of my own collection to an extent, and will also feature books, films and photography in the fullness of time.
The miniblog provider I’m using is Tumblr, a setup of such startling simplicity that posting a new article takes minutes or even seconds. So far I’m impressed, it’s not a blog, it’s a tightly themed litany. Let’s see how it goes…
So, following on from my previous article, as if by magic, Will Jacobs and Gerry Jones have opened their ‘Friends of Will and Gerry‘ blog, where they invite friends and fellow writers to post their writing.
This week they publish an excerpt from the upcoming book “Jew-Jitsu: The Hebrew Hands of Fury” by Paul Kupperberg (whose blog, ‘And Then I Wrote‘ is well worth a look) and ‘A Visit to the Footbinder‘ by yours truly!
I think you’ll agree they are splendid people with impeccable taste!
This nifty piece of graphic work is created by Wordle – a web based application which will scan the text of any web site you point it at and produce a ‘word cloud’ which is user configurable – there are a number of templates to choose from, colours etc.
The graphic above is generated from my other Blog – Grapes Of Wrath.
Bloggers are surprisingly conservative, for a group that consider themselves to be on the cutting edge of internet technology.
Blogs started life as opinion pieces, the entry of sites like Blogger and WordPress made it simple for anyone with an internet connection to dump the caffeine addled contents of their brains onto the web, soon the internet was overun with self appointed political commentators, sports experts, seers, sages and prophets of every possible hue. New Age, Old Age, no corner was left uncommented.
The vast majority of this verbiage was untroubled by readers, a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things, and despite dire predictions emanating from the traditional media, quality of information and quality of writing gradually rose to the top of the pile.
I run a technical blog, published on a corporate intranet that attracts many more readers and many more comments than my fiction blog (Grapes Of Wrath) – there are some obvious reasons for this (notwithstanding the possibility that my fiction may be unreadable!) – technology touches everyone, I work for a technology company and my name is better known amongst that constituency than it is amongst the many millions of readers in the wider community.
‘Serious’ fiction blogs have an obvious problem – in a medium where the attention span is measured in nanoseconds, why would anybody read it – unless they knew that they would get some value from it – either by recommendation or previous experience. In this way, the dilemma faced by fiction writers is very similar to that faced by unknown musicians – why would anybody bother? The promotional stuff needs to be done. (see previous post)
The Grapes Of Wrath blog has provoked some interesting comment though. To set the scene, the blog is the journal of a fictional character. The events are fictional – I get a lot of mail to my personal inbox, commenting about the stories, the character, the quality (or otherwise) of the writing, I asked one correspondent why she didn’t leave a comment on the blog – the reply was that she felt that a real comment would spoil the fictional integrity – break the spell. I toyed with the idea of creating fictional comments, extending the reach of the fictional world so to speak, but decided against it – the idea of the blog is to showpiece the character and the writing, not to create a stand alone piece of art (though the thought does appeal, I have only the 24 hours in my day).
Up until that conversation, I had one link to the ‘author’ that led to a Facebook ‘fan page’ – a bit of fun really, I filled it with depictions of the author and some of the characters and invented a couple of ‘fans’ who posted pictures of themselves onto the site. I let all my facebook friends know about the fan page – a couple of dozen signed up – to my great surprise – but then something unexpected happened – complete strangers began to sign up too, not many admittedly, but they continue to trickle through from the blog – so some tiny percent of the readers that pass through, ‘get it’.
So about the conservatives…I have had a few conversations with people that just don’t ‘get it’. My argument is that the browser is a medium, like cinema and books. Nobody complains if a film ‘isn’t true’ or even if a book contains blank pages (Tristram Shandy). TV even follows a news program with a sitcom. This is because the rules of engagement are understood. It was not always so – but I wonder how long it will take for people to open up to the possibility that a blog is not necessarily an opinion piece. Don’t get me started on wikis!