Wikifying Our Blogging

Con­tin­u­ing my recent post in reimag­in­ing blogs, I’m going to go into some con­tex­tual details lifted from the Quaker pub­li­ca­tions with which I’m either directly asso­ci­ated or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quaker Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new home­page for my two year old “Non­vi­o­lence Web” project. The new fea­ture was updated weekly with excerpted mate­r­ial from mem­ber projects on Non​vi​o​lence​.org and related orga­ni­za­tions that already had inde­pen­dent web­sites. We didn’t have RSS or Twit­ter then but I would man­u­ally send out emails to a list; we didn’t have com­ments but I would pub­lish inter­est­ing responses that came by email. The work was relaunched with blog­ging soft­ware in 2003 and the voice became more indi­vid­ual and my focus became more Quaker and tech.

The arti­cles then were like they are now: reversely chrono­log­i­cal, with cat­e­gories, tag­ging, and site search­ing that allow older mate­r­ial to be accessed. The most impor­tant source of archive vis­i­bil­ity is exter­nal: Google. Peo­ple can eas­ily find mate­r­ial that is directly rel­e­vant to a ques­tion they’re address­ing right now. In many instances, they’ll never even click through to the site home­page, much less cat­e­gories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time vis­i­tors are often try­ing to under­stand some­thing new; the great major­ity bounce off the page and fol­low another search result on a mat­ter of a few sec­onds, but some small but impor­tant per­cent­age will be ripe for new ideas and con­nec­tions and might be will­ing to try new associations.

But it’s ran­dom. I’m a bit of a nerd in my cho­sen inter­ests and have been blog­ging long enough that I gen­er­ally have at least a few inter­est­ing posts on any par­tic­u­lar sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by col­leagues, friends, my wife, and ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most mean­ing­ful blog posts–those with legs–have involved me inte­grat­ing some new thinker or idea into my world­view. The process will have started months or some­times years before when another spir­i­tual nerd rec­om­mended a book or arti­cle. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to new­com­ers but essen­tial for those try­ing to go deeper into their faith. You’ll be in a deep con­ver­sa­tions with some­one and they’ll ask (often with a twin­kle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This cul­ture if shar­ing is espe­cially impor­tant for Friends, who tra­di­tion­ally have no clergy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions into a pub­lic realm–one that can be Googled and fol­lowed. The inter­net has helped us scale-up this process and make it more avail­able to those who can’t con­stantly travel.

When I have real-world con­ver­sa­tions now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m shar­ing the “have you read” con­ver­sa­tion in a way that can be eaves­dropped by hundreds.

But how are peo­ple who stum­ble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just lim­ited to an obscure faith blog. Yes­ter­day I learned about a cool (to me) blog writ­ten by a dad who researches and trav­els to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Sat­ur­day after­noon and I find myself in a cer­tain locale, how can I know if he’s been any­where nearby unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s cat­e­go­riza­tion tax­on­omy is complete?

What I’m think­ing is that we could try to cre­ate meta indexes to our blogs in a wiki model. Have a whole col­lec­tion of intro­duc­tory pages where we list and sum­ma­rize rel­e­vant arti­cles with links.

In the hey­day of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of auto­mated ver­sion of this, but again, this it was chrono­log­i­cal. And it was work. Even remem­ber­ing to tag is work. I would spend a cou­ple of days ignor­ing clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months later with even more meta­data com­plex­ity. Writ­ing a whole shadow meta blog index­ing the blog would be a major (and unend­ing task). It wouldn’t gar­ner the rush of imme­di­ate Face­book likes. But it would be supremely use­ful for some­one want­ing to explore an issue of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to them at that moment.

And one more Quaker aside that I think will nev­er­the­less be of inter­est to the more techie read­ers. I’ve described Quak­erism as a wiki spir­i­tu­al­ity. Exhibit one is the reli­gious movement’s ini­tial lack of creeds or writ­ten instruc­tion. Even our paci­fism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncod­i­fied tes­ti­mony in the ear­li­est years.

As Friends gained more expe­ri­ence liv­ing in com­mu­nity, they would pub­lish advices–short snip­pets of wis­dom that were collectively-approved using con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing. They were based on expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, they might find that mem­bers who abused alco­hol, say, or repeat­edly tested the dress code might cause other sorts of prob­lems for the com­mu­nity and they’d minute a warn­ing against these practices.

These advices were writ­ten over time; as more were approved it became bur­den­some to find rel­e­vant advices when some issue started tear­ing up a con­gre­ga­tion. So they were col­lected into books–unofficial at first, lit­er­ally hand-copied from per­son to per­son. These even­tu­ally became official–published “books of dis­ci­plines,” col­lec­tions of the col­lec­tive wis­dom orga­nized by topic. Their pur­pose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensu­ing cen­turies but their impulse and early orga­ni­za­tion is one that I find use­ful when think­ing about how we could rethink the cat­e­go­riza­tion issues of our twenty first cen­tury blogs and com­ment­ing systems.

Future of Quaker media at Pendle Hill next month

I’m part of a dis­cus­sion at the Pen­dle Hill con­fer­ence cen­ter out­side Philadel­phia next month. Everyone’s invited. It’s a rare chance to really bring a lot of dif­fer­ent read­ers and media pro­duc­ers (offi­cial and DIY) together into the same room to map out where Quaker media is headed. If you’re a pas­sion­ate reader or think that Quaker pub­li­ca­tions are vital to our spir­i­tual move­ment, then do try to make it out.

Youtube, Twit­ter, pod­casts, blogs, books. Where’s it all going and who’s doing it? How does it tie back to Quak­erism? What does it mean for Friends and our insti­tu­tions? Join pan­elists Charles Mar­tin, Gabriel Ehri and Mar­tin Kel­ley, along with Quaker pub­lish­ers and writ­ers from around the world, and read­ers and media enthu­si­asts, for a wide-ranging dis­cus­sion about the future of Quaker media.

We will begin with some wor­ship at 7.00pm If you’d like a deli­cious Pen­dle Hill din­ner before­hand please reply to the Face­book event wall (see http://​on​.fb​.me/​q​u​a​k​e​r​m​e​dia). Din­ner is at 6.00pm and will cost $12.50

This is part of this year’s Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions con­fer­ence. QUIP has been hav­ing to re-imagine its role over the last ten years as so many of its anchor pub­lish­ers and book­stores have closed. I have a big con­cern that a lot of online Quaker mate­r­ial is being pro­duced by non-Quakers and/or in ways that aren’t really rooted in typ­i­cal Quaker processes. Maybe we can talk about that some at Pen­dle Hill.

What might it mean that one of the best-selling new novels revolves around a Quaker…

What might it mean that one of the best-selling new nov­els revolves around a Quaker plot line? Yes indeed, “The Mar­riage Plot” by “Vir­gin Sui­cides” author Jef­frey Eugenides appar­ently does. I’ve ordered it and will try to write up impres­sions too, Accord­ing to this piece in Com­men­tary, another cur­rent book has a Quaker theme. Curi­ous. #books #eugenides

Embed­ded Link

Jef­frey Eugenides « Com­men­tary Mag­a­zine
I am writ­ing about Jef­frey Eugenides’s mag­i­cal novel The Mar­riage Plot at greater length else­where, but a remark­able coin­ci­dence — an instant of serendip­ity in lit­er­ary his­tory — struck me upon re…

Ginny Christensen, Educational Consultant

Strategy for GrowthGinny Chris­tensen is the force behind Strat­egy for Growth, LLC, a Wyn­cote, PA con­sult­ing firm that pro­vides strate­gic plan­ning, board devel­op­ment, exec­u­tive coach­ing, and lead­er­ship team devel­op­ment for inde­pen­dent schools and non­prof­its. The site is fairly sim­ple. It’s built in Word­Press and has rudi­men­tary e-commerce with a Pay­pal option for pur­chas­ing books.

Visit: Strat​e​gy​For​Growth​.com

Holiness and Quakerism

Just got Car­ole Dale Spencer’s Holi­ness: The Soul of Quak­erism in the mail. There’s been some blog­ger buzz around it and I’m glad to check it out for myself. I can tell right off the bat that I’m prob­a­bly not going to be con­vinced by her argu­ments. Flip­ping through the index (the place to start any book like this) I see she makes three scant ref­er­ences to tradition-minded “Con­ser­v­a­tive” Friends. That’s not a good sign, but she’s far from the first mod­ern his­to­rian to quar­an­tine this branch to the footnotes.

I’ll cut her some slack because she’s trav­el­ing an inter­est­ing route. She’s spend­ing a lot of time talk­ing about the Methodist and Holi­ness influ­ences in Friends–John Wes­ley him­self directly is indexed eigh­teen times. If you look at the peo­ple who defined mod­ern 20th Cen­tury lib­eral Quak­erism, folks like Rufus Jones (28 index ref­er­ences), you find that these influ­ences were very strong. They still are, even if they go unac­knowl­edged. And many of the issues Spencer is trac­ing are still with us and con­tinue to be rel­e­vant even as some of us are talk­ing up the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a new renewal/revival movement.

Another Quaker bookstore bites the dust

Not really news, but Friends United Meet­ing recently ded­i­cated their new Wel­come Cen­ter in what was once the FUM bookstore:

On Sep­tem­ber 15, 2007, FUM ded­i­cated the space once used as the Quaker Hill Book­store as the new FUM Wel­come Cen­ter. The Wel­come Cen­ter con­tains Quaker books and resources for F/friends to stop by and make use of dur­ing busi­ness hours. Tables and chairs to com­fort­ably accom­mo­date 50 peo­ple make this a great space to rent for reunions, church groups, meet­ings, anniversary/birthday par­ties, etc. Reduced prices are avail­able for churches.

Most Quaker pub­lish­ers and book­sellers have closed or been greatly reduced over the last ten years. Great changes have occurred in the Philadelphia-area Pen­dle Hill book­store and pub­lish­ing oper­a­tion, the AFSC Book­store in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Bar­clay Press in Ore­gon. The ver­i­ta­ble Friends Book­shop in Lon­don farmed out its mail order busi­ness a few years ago and has seen part of its space taken over by a cof­fee­bar: pop­u­lar and cool I’m sure, but does Lon­don really needs another place to buy cof­fee? Rumor has it that Britain’s pub­li­ca­tions com­mit­tee has been laid down. The offi­cial spin is usu­ally that the work con­tin­ues in a dif­fer­ent form but only Bar­clay Press has been reborn as some­thing really cool. One of the few remain­ing book­sellers is my old pals at FGC’s Quaker­Books: still sell­ing good books but I’m wor­ried that so much of Quaker pub­lish­ing is now in one bas­ket and I’d be more con­fi­dent if their web­site showed more signs of activity.

The boards mak­ing these deci­sions to scale back or close are prob­a­bly unaware that they’re part
of a larger trend. They prob­a­bly think they’re respond­ing to unique sit­u­a­tions (the peer group Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions sends inter­nal emails around but hasn’t done much to pub­li­cize this story out­side of its mem­ber­ship). It’s sad to see that so many Quaker decision-making bod­ies have inde­pen­dently decided that pub­lish­ing is not an essen­tial part of their mission.