Public Education.

  1. Folksonomy and tagging are things. See del.icio.us, flickr, 43 Things and the way they use user-assigned tags to organize their materials. Folksonomies are folk taxonomies! Del.icio.us is the hardest to grasp the immediate relevance of. Here goes: you have a list of bookmarks you keep, some of which you make public to, like, your friends. “Hey, friends, here are my bookmarks! Nothing here, though yuk yuk!” But you have a lot of bookmarks that you need to organize, so you tag them just like with Gmail. Only sometimes you and some other guy use the same tag to describe something, and then your shared public bookmarks become of general use to strangers who search associatively, because people often come to weird agreements on associations (or “labels”) that they can’t come to on hierarchical categorizations. Now, check out how the tag information at 43things (thought it was a good example) is pulled together from del.icio.us and flickr. So, yeah. Synergistic folksonomic media collections through collaborative tagging.
  2. Okay, but the way you stay on top of these is you subscribe to the RSS feeds either through a newsreader program or, more easily, Bloglines or My Yahoo! So, about RSS feeds. Look for an RSS feed whenever you find yourself repeatedly checking a page for updated information (blogs, CNN.com, Dailykos). (Do not complain to your wretched blogging friends that they waste your time with pointless refreshing by not posting enough. From now on, you should think of a dormant blog as similar to Batman’s batwing beacon: you don’t have to worry about it until the signal comes.) Another use for RSS: each page on Craigslist has a feed so you can quickly scan the specific job or apartment listings you are interested in. Likewise, the tag functions in flickr, del.icio.us and 43things (you can also receive feeds by user, as above, or here). Remember, an RSS feed is actually the URI of an RDF; not the thing—but the pointer to the thing! Got it?
  3. But wait! When you start with a newsreader you may, like me, find yourself radically expanding the number and diversity of blogs you read. You may, like me, find yourself in danger of going information-mad. My current blogroll is considerably pared down from the 100+ items it used to hold. Okay, so some primary considerations if you want to become a hip feedreading fool like myself:
    • The “assorted special-interest news” websites (slashdot, boingboing, kuroshin) carry ten items each a day, each item linking to on average two original sources; unless you, like me, are unemployed, you will not have time to read all of these.
    • Pick one time during the day to check your feeds and do not update your feeds when done reading. Do not “graze” throughout the day, especially at work. This is wholly destructive to mental sanity because as, per above, keeping abreast of a sufficiently long blogroll can be like an un-ending game of whack-a-mole.
    • It’s okay to have a lot of feeds (even 100+) if the majority of feeds are non-prolific. Some important official-release feeds (like Google’s weblog) will be quiet for weeks at a time and then surprise you with some crazy-cool piece of news. An intelligent way to use a blog, if you don’t have one of the traditional m.o.’s, is as a drop-box for periodic public releases about your terriblly important life, e.g., Party at my house; On vacation; Etc. There’s some “social software” theory about why this is preferable to mass emails…
    • Well, okay, since you insist: a blog is your house: you choose whether to accept comments, you can delete or shut down comments if you don’t like them, it’s your house. A mass email is an intrusion based on a presumption of social acceptability, which can be lost if outliers become the recipients of several rounds of cc’ed messages. WIth a blog, you know that everyone reading your message is opted-in, and to the extent that they are interested, on the front page or “deep” in the comments. You “own” the conversations that start up in your comments, and if you’ve caused a ruckus, you can read substantial responses on your friend’s blog, her house.
    • Distinguish between ‘content feeds’ and ‘information feeds’. Depending on your mood, either one or the other can wait at any given time (since, really, it all can wait). If I look at nothing else in a day, I scan freshmeat’s (don’t ask) and craigslist’s job listings.
    • Some RSS feeds suck, like Wonkette’s.
    • Engadget and Gizmodo have pictures that display in the newsreader. Pictures are nice to look at. Sometimes they have pictures of robots.
  4. More about blogs. In one respect, blogs are a shallow medium, informational snackery (if you’re a conservative media critic, the phrase RSS feed probably reminds you of feeding trough or feedbag…) Good blogs owe their charm and utility to the particularity and timeliness of their authority. As a result, many interesting blogs occupy obsessively “drill-down” niches: e.g., a blog catering to the community of female parking enforcement officers in Cincinnati. This is why blogs are cool and here to stay (blogs can play a role in instantiating previously nonexistent subcultures!). But beware: you may find yourself weirdly attracted to some blogger’s clever descriptions of the extremely valid concerns of an extremely narrow identification group. The mystique of the Other being so strong, you may find yourself going on from the one able facilitator to adding in the lesser brethren to your daily reading. To do this is to court madness, yea madness like the time I found myself reading 10 library science blogs just because I find the shifted librarian generally interesting, or the brief period I was subscribed to a passel of “academic” blogs, because I decided to recycle Liz Lawley’s bookmarks.
  5. Why would anyone want to subject himself to this (this and this)? Why, to be in touch, like me!