Wednesday, September 16, 2009

FOC09 - Blogging Networks

A few tasks to complete this week, firstly to have an understanding of what blogosphere is and blogging networks and then to make contact with a member of a blogging network to see if they would benefit from facilitation services. Interestingly, before I even started to look at blogging networks, I had read that blogging has become a 'little old hat' in comparison to Facebook, Twitter or having a MySpace page, but then I also read that blogging remains one of the most effective ways to brand a business online, so there must be merit. Could this also be just part of technology, where we quickly move from one technology to another. Some of the key points that I have picked up from "bloggers" is that you need to ensure that you post regularly to your blog, post from experience, define your context, write well and use a clean design. Although there may be many more key pointers, these are a good starting point.

I think a Blogosphere is a site which lists blogs relating to a particular topic or theme, really a centralised point of reference for a particular subject. People that contribute form an online community within this network. Within the See Also section from the Wikipedia entry for Blogosphere there was a link to the New Zealand Blogosphere Tumeke!. This represents an online community which seems to concentrate on New Zealand politics and society in general. When I checked out the site it was crowded and confusing, the layout daunting and to be honest I really did not want to explore it further.

So onto the next task – finding a blogging network. I decided that I would start my search with some of the blogs that I follow to see if they were part of a wider blogging network. I follow a number of blogs associated with the hotel/tourism industry as part of my professional role in teaching hotel management, as well as my personal keen interest of hotels and travel.

Five Star Alliance have two blogs The Informed Traveler (which looks at upscale hotels which I follow) and also Upscale Travel (the travel side). I sent them a message via their “contact us” page and got a near immediate response from them (I was probably not expecting this after my luck with online forums). Although these blogs may not necessarily fit exactly with a blogging network, I presume that they all have to start somewhere. They use contract employees or staff employees of Five Star Alliance as blog contributors. The blog supports the Five Star Alliance site, which is made up of hotels that they work closely (promote bookings) and therefore they said that they try to balance out the content with information that is pertinent of the luxury traveller with a focus on the hotels they promote. Their editor handles all the moderation on the site when users make comments. As it is not a large network they did not see the value in facilitation.

Another blog that I follow is Upgrade: Travel Better. I did not know before this part of the course work that they were actually part of a wider blogging network or community called Trusted Travel Blogs. There are 25 listed blogs and they state that it is a ‘community project’ and ‘user monitored’. They state that their members “love reading and writing travel blogs and hope the keep the community fresh and clean”. They have two primary things in common:

  1. they're recognized for consistently high publishing standards and
  2. their content is not influenced by undisclosed affiliations with third parties.

Again, like the activity that we were required to do for the online forum, it is quite hard to make contact with someone…. Still working on that part for the above network.

Although I have not received a definite answer whether or not blogging networks should have a facilitator, I think it is important to remember that blogs are people’s ideas and opinions and are not necessarily the way that everyone has to think. Yet, saying that, if you are going to say something in an open forum, then you have to be ready to have your view points challenged by other members. Within some networks there may be some guidelines (similar to closed forums) of membership regulations. Over the past few weeks, I have seen that blogging networks and online forums are thriving in many different ways.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

FOC09 - Online Communities discussion

It has been an interesting couple of weeks coming to terms with what online communities are. I really wanted to find an online community in hospitality or hotel (but the ones I looked at were more blogs or were inactive). As an avid reader, I then decided to look at forums relating to book lovers – I found one that seemed to have a good following, were very active, however, I still await my invite to be accepted! Very frustrating. So I finally decided to look at Networked Learning which describes it self as “people in Otago investigating Networked learning”. There are 71 members in the group but not all from the Otago region. Many of the members have photos and brief profiles about themselves which makes it feel more of a community.

In my search of forum’s I also wanted to consider the features of an online community based on people’s blogs in the course and also the discussions we have had within class meetings, some of which are as follows:

  • communicating towards a common goal
  • bringing people together that have the same interest
  • like minded people sharing information
  • level of contribution is dependent on individual choice
  • shared knowledge (through shared experiences, question/answers

Despite these, there is also the sense of how long it takes for an online community to build trust with each other (this is can be debated, some people will like the anonymity of this type of forum, where as others will feel that trust takes time when you are not f2f). I also need to gain a better understanding of the forums and the role of facilitators and moderators.

Howard Reingold lists sensible, practical techniques with the following topics:

  • What an online host wants to achieve
  • Good online discussions
  • What a host does, what a host tries to grow
  • Host behaviour

An article by Nancy White identifies the four frameworks for online facilitation, group processes, applications, key skills, and links to relevant articles. I found her comments relating to facilitators as role models interesting as she stated ‘they are often the first members to be challenged” and then went on to say that “integrity, patience, a good sense of humour and a love of other people will be valued in any host”. The key skills she identified included:

  • Group facilitation skills
  • Cybrarianship
  • Passion for community
  • Ability to facilitate facilitative behaviours within the community

She also went on to say that the facilitator may also act as a ‘referee’, and would also need further skills such as a “thick skin and slow fuse, internet experiences, familiarity with common netiquette”.

As I know some of the members of the group, I decided to contact someone that I did not know to pose the question of whether they felt the forum required a facilitator. The person I contacted suggested that for them they did not feel that this particular forum required facilitation. They said “the conversations all seem to occur on email and participants respond to items of interest to them”. They went on to say as they responded on Gmail email, all of these discussions are connected in one thread and so they did not need them pulled together in any other way. However, for others it may be useful. They did say that this could be a fairly time consuming job and would require quite a commitment from someone. They said that the use of facilitation is where a person assists in coordinating the forum to help focus people around a particular issue, or the writing of a summary to close a thread in the forum.

After our class meeting last night, I have also been thinking about the time involved in such a job and as was mentioned many of these forums are ‘interest’ groups and therefore there would be no funding for this role.

I look forward to comments and suggestions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

FOCO9 - Discussion Forums

Since my last post I have been trying to explore further this idea of online discussion forums. I chose to look at Google Groups (and was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of different forums).

I wanted to try and find something that would either be of interest in my professional life and/or my personal interest.

With a little guidance from Sarah via the phone, I have now got myself signed up to a couple of different online discussion groups, one an interest online discussion forum (I was especially interested in the book review section of this one, being an avid reader) and I have also joined Networked Learning which is relevant to the professional side of my life. The discussion for this forum is people in Otago , New Zealand investigating networked learning.

The interest group forum that involves book reviews seems to follow the format that someone adds a post as a starting point and then people add their own comments as a thread. At this initial stage it is hard to see whether there is an actual facilitator, although some of the people that are ‘posting’ are called senior members and tend to be attributing on a regular basis. As for moderation, too soon for me to tell, although as part of the registration there were terms and conditions, so in some way they are in place to moderate the information.