Friday, December 30, 2005

The Intersection of All these Tools!

In the interest of being transparent, and sharing my own (however frustrating) lessons learned, I want to try to share my experience trying to integrate the use of blogging, tagging, technorati, social bookmarking, blah blah woof woof... into my efforts to publish a professional blog.

I have, in large part, followed a few of my colleagues' footsteps, trying to tread carefully into the impressions they've left in the sand... thanks and appreciation are due to Nancy White and Beth Kanter and Marnie Webb for leading the way for me.

What I am struggling with is how to describe how best to integrate all this activity into one's online publishing and online presence. Let's start with what I did...

  • I started a blog in the first place because I wanted a) a place to publish my "thinking outloud" pieces about my field of work, and b) to increase my visibility in this community. I chose Blogger because it was free and easy.
  • I recognized that part of maintaining a blog meant tracking what others in my and related fields were blogging about, so I set up an account at Bloglines (that's my roll). I attempt to read my bloglines once a week. I don't always succeed.
  • Then Emily Weinberg attempted to introduce me to the world of tagging, but I dragged my feet for months, until...
  • I saw Nancy White adding tags to her blog posts, and I figured it was time to learn what the heck all this was about. (I'd also read that using tags could increase traffic to one's blog, and well, who doesn't want that?)
  • So then I created a account to start building my list of bookmarks that I tagged. I also explored how others of my colleagues were using tags so I could use their tagsonomy (which I now realize is called "folksonomy") instead of making something up entirely on my own. (More on this later... the tags for the nonprofit space need a lot of work!)
  • And then of course, I had to create a Technorati Account, "claim" my blog, add tags, set up a watchlist (which appears to be redundant with BlogLines, btw...)
  • And then, because there currently is no easy way to add TAGS to one's blog posts on, I switched my browser from Netscape to Firefox so that I could:

  • Then I went back and edited all my At the Intersection posts so that they all have tags now.

By the way, I created (?) a new tag called intersection that I use for any posts, web pages, etc. that meet my criteria for being related to my "At the Intersection" blog-- i.e., content that crosses over and makes good fodder for my blog, including people who write about their work in a broader context, relating what they do to other fields.

So... after hours of this, I can only hope that the investment of time and frustration and learning was worth it. I am going to trust that it was as I see so many of my colleagues using this technology well and powerfully and satisfyingly.

But I will say that I cannot possibly encourage my nonprofit clients to invest their limited time into this endeavor until the tools are MUCH simpler, much more integrated with each other, and there is a demonstrated benefit to such an investment.

Lastly, I tried putting this in the margin of my blog, but I thought it messed things up visually and didn't look professional (although I think it looks great on Marnie Webb's blog). [update: I managed to figure out how to make it look okay in the margin.] So I'm sticking it here instead; blogger claims it won't accept the SCRIPT tag, but it does...


Marnie Webb said...

I agree -- as is these aren't yet ready. However -- however! -- I wonder what we as service providers/consultants can do to stitch the tags together. Honest reviews (like yours) are a start but I think that the nonprofit sector as a whole is large enough for us to lobby for specific features sets in products.

(and glad you like the look of the tag cloud on my site)

Jillaine Smith said...

Marnie, I was wiped out after yesterday's hours with tags etc... but I really want to engage in a conversation about nonprofit-related tags; I have seen the history of what became nptech, but wonder if additional conversation is being had somewhere about other nonprofit-related tagging? Do you or others know?

Michael Stein said...

Jillaine - my blog history is much like yours - a period of discovery of standard or emerging practices that make the blogspace a community, and a corresponding discovery of tools already out there that might help.

But I'd expect that a non-profit we led into blogging, given more guidance, might have an eaiser time of it. That's why I thought
Britt Bravo's post
the other day, stepping new bloggers quickly through the tools and techniques we've slowly found on our own, is a great help.

My experience is the organizations are not put off primarily by the tools, but because 1) they are not sure blogging has any value to them and 2) they are daunted by content creation.

Jillaine Smith said...

Hi Michael, thanks for stopping by. Britt Bravo's post is great (and I've tagged it!) And it will help; that said, I think it's still too early for general adoption of these tactics by the bulk of our clients.

I just saw this over at WordWorks:

"43 Things, delicious, technorati maybe all the rage, but the truth is that these ecosystems are sustained by early adopters [my emphasis] who are eager to adopt new technologies. The majority of computer users do not have the time or the initiative to tag, either for themselves or for the community. They browse and search online for information and expect smart algorithms to do the searching and cataloging for them." [again, my emphasis.]

I tend to agree... That said, here I am (like the author to above) still tagging and experimenting, eager to see what comes of it...

Michael Stein said...

Yes, tagging is a bit of an arcane art. But I'm not sure just how critical tagging is for bloggers in general. It's a tool to enable others to discover your blog by searching.

But even I, an inveterate tagger, find most of the many blogs I subscribe to in the blogrolls or posts of sites I already read, not from searching.

And once I subscribe to blog, it hardly matters how the entries are tagged - I'll see them anyway.

Beth said...


I was about to ask you whether or not back in 1994 or so you would have said something like, "I'm not going to recommend using email or building a web page until the programs are easier use." :-)

I'm not sure I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion today. (Although six months ago, I did) "I think it's still too early for general adoption of these tactics by the bulk of our clients."

I think that it changing ... delicious was purchased by Yahoo -- which may mean wide adoption by consumers. I don't know, I'm not psychic. But I'm already noticing some vast imrovements in their interface and documentation compared to a few months ago.

I like Marnie's idea of a sector wide approach.

Related to these tools, I think there are a lot of interface design issues, a lack of training materials that explain in simple language and some good examples of scaffolded approaches of simple starts. Also, more documentation of the results some of the early adopter nonprofits have achieved with these tools (the case studies on net2 will be really valuable in that).

As an individual, I've found the blogging, tagging, and rss valuable in a lot of ways. I'm still struggling with how make them more efficient and how to use these tools which are not at all intuitive for me.

Tagging: Helps me keep track of resources -- easily find bookmarked resources as well as share with others like clients. In addition, the social aspect of tagging lets me benefit from information my colleagues have found valuable to their work.

Blogging: Forces me to write and reflect. Also, it has helped me make connections.

RSS: Has saved me from information overload. It brings information to my desktop in a way that makes it easy to scan and consume.

Happy New Year

Marnie Webb said...

I don't know of anyplace where the nonprofit sector is taking on the issues of tagging (that's one of the reasons we started actually). I do know that Nancy White is a great source for thinking about adoption issues.

I think the real challenge isn't the tool interfaces -- it's really the change in work habits and thought processes the place premium and high utility on the act of sharing -- I think that's implicit in tagging, blogging and even RSS. I worry if we talk to much about the need for a smoother interface that we'll ignore these bigger issues.

I also believe that core of early adopters -- in this sector -- gives us an opportunity to have a voice in tool development. I've already found that to be true with the nptech tag usage. I've had volunteers step up and help develop some of the things I needed to bridge the gap in these tools. I think that we can step up and ask for more of these so that the tools can be adopted by more than enthusiastic geeks (a category in which I place myself).

Emily said...

I am glad you have finally decided to start tagging and learning all these new tools.

I agree that there needs to be more work with tagging for nonprofits. I am always finding new tags related to nonprofits that are not broad tags like nonprofit or nonprofits. There need to be tags related to the issues and missions of organizations. The nptech tag seemed to be used more for nonprofit and technology. There does not seem to be one tag for nonprofits.

I am not sure how important it is to tag blog posts in the blog. I save my blog entries to and I get lots of traffic from that.

I think social bookmarking, blogs, and rss are tools that nonprofits need to learn. Netsquared is just the beginning of all this.

Beth said...

Marnie - yes change is the mian challenge - but the interface non-intutitiveness plays into that making it difficult to learn and integrate into one's life.

Thanks Jillaine for sparking this conversation on your comments area.

I wonder how we might extend this conversation on nonprofit tagging?

David Geilhufe said...


Back in 1994, I would have told nonprofits not to worry about email becuase there was no one in their *human* network to send emails to.

Similarly, I would encourage the vast majority of NPOs to use Web2.0 stuff only insofar as it is an *individual* productivity enhancer... their human networks aren't using the technologies... there wouldn't be anything interesting in their delicious inbox!

IMHO, it is not so much that the tools aren't there, it is that the human networks haven't been enabled to use the technoloy. DDN is an interesting case study... I still can't publish my blog into it, but it is a human network that has been *enabled* by the tools.

When NTEN, Alliance for Nonprofit Management, Community Development Corporation Networks and others start to apply some of the technology to their human networks, then we are in business :)

Jillaine Smith said...

Beth (and others),
I've taken the nonprofit-tagging conversation over to NetSquared:

Jillaine Smith said...

Ken Yarmosh talks about the challenges of RSS usability for normal folk.

Celeste Wroblewski said...

I agree with the sentiments in this post and with Michael Stein's response. I do not think it is comparable to one having questioned, years ago, the value of email. For the reasons that Michael states, until someone can clearly explain the benefits of tagging, I question the time it takes. The same is true of other techniques like podcasting and vlogging and even activities like the "nonprofit blog exchange." I have noticed that some nptech experts (whom I admire and learn much from) assume that these are inherently useful and beneficial for all nonprofits or at least all nonprofit bloggers. Yet, I think that for many, at this point in time at least, the costs (time, money) may outweigh the benefits (achieving the nonprofit's mission and goals and reaching that particular nonprofit's target audience).

Jillaine Smith said...

Celeste, thanks for your thoughts on this. I have only been tagging for oh... less than a week. And I am already starting to see some benefits, some of which may be translatable to some activities of some nonprofits; namely:

* my visibility has increased; the hits on both my blog and my web site have gone up (and this during a holiday season);
* I am getting "new eyeballs" on my work/content. While a number of people who have responded are already in my "circle" (oops... make that my social network), there are also new people showing up-- and I'm only talking about who's commenting (here and elsewhere)-- I have no idea about the lurkers;
* I am finding others-- both new and not-so-new-- who are grappling with related complementary issues. This may not seem immediately transferrable to nonprofit organizations, but in today's network-centric environment, I believe it's increasingly critical. For *me*, it's part of my work "At the Intersection" to find new voices, to make linkages between diverse fields.
* I'm finding entirely new voices in new topic areas that I wouldn't have thought to consider but yet have translatable relevance to my work, which includes resources I may never have found. (And is particularly responsible on this last one.)

So if I had a nonprofit client who was seeking new audiences for its content, and increased visibility in its and related fields, and/or needed to be finding and connecting with people of shared/complementary interests, *and* who exhibited a love for technology and a patience for learning new things, I might point them in this direction... or at least explore it more deeply.

-- Jillaine said...
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Jim H. said...

Has anyone thought of the idea of "dynamic tagging" or that can also take in user feedback for content usefulness, relevance, etc. Would need centralized server and some blog plugins but I think the idea has merit.

Squire said...

Thanks for the article

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