Blackboard tries and fails to get a clue

Blackboard, the horrendous courseware behemoth, has heard about this Web 2.0 stuff and decided the right response is to clone — as a closed system inside Blackboard!

Survey about BlackBoard Scholar

I love the bit about how "limiting access to Blackboard users" is supposed to contribute to the goal of "a new way to find educationally valuable resources".

If only they’d put a little effort into opening Blackboard up, for starters by supporting e-mail and RSS subscriptions so students wouldn’t have to log into Bb’s nasty multi-click frames interface to keep up with their classes.

Ah — Googling a bit I see that Blackboard Scholar permits non-users to search its collected bookmarks, but only lets registered users create bookmarks.

It’s part of the Blackboard Beyond Initiative, which is at work on "e-Learning 2.0". Trying to read through the marketing murk, it sounds like the BbBI people themselves may actually have found that elusive clue; let us wish them success at revolution from within.

Vlogging == slogging

Chandrasutra has posted some thoughts on video blogging , to which Tony Walsh replied with a screed in the comments:

[Vlogging] robs me of granular control over my information. Text is somewhat random-access, and easier to skim. Video and audio are more sequential and harder to breeze through. With video and audio, I am at the mercy of the media creator. With text, I’m the boss. …

Then there’s the fact that video footage isn’t very search-friendly without spending time manually-annotating the footage or providing a transcript.

Hear, hear. Video and audio are too damned real-time.

Of course there is inherently visual and/or auditory content which calls for multimedia. And I suppose that vlogging is a good thing if it empowers some couch potatoes to become active producers of video culture rather than passive consumers. But I see vlogging as a special case rather than as the natural next step in the development of blogging.

Which reminds me of another semi-curmudgeonly point I’ve been meaning to make on the related topic of podcasting.

Has there been a semantic shift in the term “podcasting”? When I first heard of it I thought it referred to the practice of aggregating audio in the form of RSS feeds and automating its delivery to your MP3 player. I understood it largely as a way to time-shift your online audio listening — TiVo for and, you might say. And it was a natural fit with MP3 bloggers and other aggregators of online music.

But now I hear podcasting used to mean “audio blogging”, with a number of people working on turning their daily thoughts into audio feeds. That’s a fine experiment, but unless they’re producing content which is most compelling in spoken-word form, I’d probably rather just read it.

So — did podcasting mean audio blogs all along, or is that a more recent development?

After the publishers walk the plank, will the APA and MLA be far behind?

It’s the time of the semester when grad students get grumpy and it’s showing in our blogs. Elsewhere I’ve laughed a bitter laugh over Laura K and SCIgen. Meanwhile Badger wonders how much of herself she’d have to give up to make it in academia: would she have to mute her feminism and all the intense personal writing she does, not only in her blog but in the poetry zines and literary translations she’s been putting out for years just for the pleasure of it?

It looks to me like it will be a long while before blogging counts for anything at tenure time. However, I wonder whether the open access movement will bring that day closer, or at least reduce the distance between academic writing and blogging.

The stated goal of open access is to counter the greed of the scholarly publishing industry, which makes academic institutions buy their own work back at outrageously inflated prices, and to reduce the delays imposed by the editorial process, when nowadays innovation operates at Internet speeds. In some disciplines bottom-up e-print and e-journal systems are well on their way to displacing the for-profit journals, and in others they’re just getting started, but the trend is clear.

Once academic publishing is in the hands of the people doing the writing, will the reforms stop there? Will researchers accustomed to reading and writing research blogs in a more intimate tone, and where a hyperlink is of more immediate value than a formal bibliographic citation, not want to do the same when they write for peer review? Might people refuse to write in the stuffy and citation-heavy form of academic culture?

If that happened would we all get dumber (no more need to substantiate our assertions with references)? Or would we all get more creative (no more APA or MLA style, no more passive voice, no more stating the obvious and omitting the personal)? I’m not sure. But my guess is that pharmacologists and engineers would still find ways to substantiate their claims (which really live in the data, not the references, anyway — when was the last time a bridge collapsed because of a missing bibliography?) and people working in more free-form disciplines might appreciate the opportunity to be freer in form.


Too many people have been decrying the word folksonomy for me to link to them here. Personally I think folksonomy is quite cute, but it drives me crazy anyway because it implies that a folksonomy is a taxonomy. In fact it’s nothing of the kind: a taxonomy is by definition hierarchical while a folksonomy is all about overlapping categories.

However, in one of the texts we’re reading for a KM course I found an absolutely horrendous word:


Meaning technology as applied to knowledge management. That’s so ugly it’s beautiful.

iPhoto 4.0 gripes

I’ve been unhappy with iPhoto 3 for a while now but held off on upgrading to iPhoto 4.0 because I wasn’t sure that it would address my complaints. When I found a cheap copy of iLife 4.0 the other day I went ahead and did it. I find that I was right to be skeptical.

The biggest problem I’ve had with iPhoto 3 has been that it’s slow. iPhoto 4 seems to help, but I wouldn’t say that it’s exactly zippy now. I think I got as much improvement by the option-shift-launch iPhoto library rebuild trick as from the upgrade. I may get further improvement if I spring for more memory (an expensive choice — my 12″ Powerbook G4 has only one memory slot so to upgrade from the present 640 Mb I have to buy a full gig), but any way you look at it, iPhoto is a hog.

The other major shortcoming with iPhoto 3 has gotten worse in iPhoto 4: bloated image files when you export to the web. I was accustomed to iPhoto 3 exporting images in web albums that were 50% larger than Photoshop would produce at high quality, 250% larger than Photoshop at medium quality. That forced me every time I exported an album from iPhoto to load all the images back into Photoshop and do a “Save For Web” on each of them to bring them down to an acceptable size. I had hoped that iPhoto 4 would do some decent optimization and save me that tedious step. On the contrary: in iPhoto 4 I’m seeing bloat over Photoshop’s high- and medium-quality exports, respectively, to the tune of 120% and 500%! I don’t know what iPhoto is stuffing into those images, but the lack of image optimization makes it essentially unusable as a web publishing tool.

Finally, among the features Apple touted in iPhoto 4 was keyword support. Like everybody else on the and Flickr bandwagon I’m keen for keywords these days and thought that feature might be just the thing to help me sort out my ungainly photo collection. No such luck. There’s a keyword feature in there all right, and there might be a way to put it to use, but the interface to access it is horribly clunky. It doesn’t show up with the other metadata (title, comments, etc.) in image edit mode, nor in the cmd-i “information” dialogue, but in its own third popup dialogue. And it doesn’t allow free typing but instead requires selection from an (unsorted!) scrolling list. It’s so hard to assign keywords to photos that I probably won’t bother.

Now, of course, Apple has announced iLife 5.0, which includes a new major release of iPhoto. Unless I hear that these specific concerns have been addressed, I won’t bother buying it. As it stands I may have been better off saving 30 bucks and sticking with iPhoto 3.