It’s time to build…

Posted on November 29, 2009 by

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Between looking for a job, being sick, and my laptop biting the dust, I’ve had a lot of time to think about blogging and where I want this blog (and my smaller info blogs) to go. I’m not done with blogging (especially now, with a new laptop and a new mobile broadband service), but I do want to spend more time “building.” For those who have followed my posts about my thoughts in regard to digital history (and might actually remember some of them), I think you folks have a better grasp of what I’m talking about.

As a blogger and observer of blogging now for about two years… I’ve come to the conclusion that blogging has some interesting features, especially when we really think about the nature of social interaction design… and yes, there actually is methodology behind the electronic design of social interaction. Yet (and this is rather important in the bigger scheme of things when it comes to blogging history), it can be a hard methodology to follow, especially when the blogger and readers/writers of comments become engaged in emotionally charged exchanges (sort of like a newspaper columnist trying not to be a part of the story… it’s just not a good thing, all-in-all). In some instances, one side voices opinions, while the other side counters, but is something actually accomplished? Usually it ends in a stalemate, and sometimes it evolves into the one side (that can’t keep up with sufficient historically-supported facts) resorting to calling an idea (from the opposing side), “stupid.” It’s rather ridiculous and when it gets to that point, and if it gets to that point, nothing is provided to the bystander reader in regard to better “understanding” the approach taken by the other side in the arrangement of historical data in the development of an historical theory or thesis.

Speaking of the bystander reader, I suppose the true measure of effectiveness of history-related blogs is impossible to measure, especially when we consider the fact that we receive comments from but a fraction of those who visit (and sometimes frequent) our blogs. The bystander/silent readers (non-commenting writers) are out there, and they far outnumber those who comment. I’m sure they read blog posts and form their opinions based on the posts and (perhaps more importantly) the exchanges that they read… but we have no way to measure that… or prove it. Some of these readers who might actually comment once, come to a blog post with no real understanding of blogging (or the electronic environment of the Web, in some cases) or that there are actually a long line of blog posts (both in the past and in the “future” or since the date of the post at which they arrive courtesy of their favorite search engine). Sometimes these one-time commenting readers engage the blogger in a pleasant, perhaps even an agreeing tone, while others do their utmost to bash the blogger without understanding the complete line of posts that are strung together with the only post that they read in the entire blog. As a blogger, I’m glad to read those who make positive comments and offer thoughtful comments, but I’m frustrated with those who make a comment in passing, without, what seems to me, having taken the time to read the string of posts that are related to the single post (and usually tied together through a tag or two). There is something lacking in blogging, and I think it is a clear connection between the content (past and “future” posts). Tags and hyperlinks might seem intuitive features to the long-time surfer of the Web, but that isn’t the case with all of the readers… who are the users… and that matters when it comes to usability design on the Web. Soooo, this takes me to the urge to spend more time “building.”

When I speak of “building” I mean that I want to develop something even more interactive, engaging, and perhaps (hopefully) more immersive for the reader, but more importantly, with a clear connection between content. I’ve developed skills in a range of Web development tools, from using Dreamweaver, PHP, and even Flash, to understanding the theory behind interaction design and the development non-social interfaces. Yes, you read that right. I’m not so much looking for the social interaction design that comes with blogs, but more for the interaction design of non-social interfaces in Web projects. I still don’t believe that digital history has reached a point where it has tapped into the full potential of the Web, and by the full potential, I’m speaking of immersion in narrative, aesthetic design, and interfaces (strange, but I never really considered myself a public historian… but, in retrospect, that’s about the size of things now). I think there are better ways to deliver historical concepts and facts and I’m still of the opinion that it can be done through the electronic environment offered through the Web.

Yet, I dare not end this post on that note, mostly because I can hear some critics already. “Oh, he just wants to find another way to tell his perspective of an historical event and/or concept… and that equates to more ‘Confederate bashing.'” Anyone who knows the scope and depth of my writings in this blog knows me better than that…

I don’t believe that we are capable of totally objective history, but I do believe that electronic development of projects should make the “developer” far more aware of the elements in his/her work… far more than in the case with the development of traditional narrative in print form. In my opinion, that awareness in developing the delivery of historical content in electronic form is something that more frequently reminds the developers that they might be leaning too far in one direction or the other. From the development of the narrative on the screen to the colors, images, typography, etc. that are used, developers of digital history should be conscious of how all of this might impact the message. The developer, no doubt, has an opinion, but from the perspective of one who strives for objectivity, the neutrality of all of those other elements should keep the developer on his/her toes.

Ultimately, my interest within the last three years has shifted slightly, to looking for more dynamic ways to deliver history. In fact, I’m even at a strange crossroads as an historian, especially when it comes to writing books and articles. Simply put, I’m bored with the traditional delivery of history through print. It’s probably even worse knowing what “works” in engaging today’s (and tomorrow’s) youth. I’m not saying that history delivered through traditional print is going away any time soon, but I am saying that it isn’t reaching as far as it should be in a upcoming society that looks for more interaction with things that come their way. Frankly, I believe that traditional methods of delivery have failed those who think history is nothing more than memorization of names and dates… and it fails even more so today, in our “microwave society.”

I’ve rambled a lot here, and enough on this for now. We’ll see what comes of this urge to “build” in the coming months. I might be spending more time blogging about digital history in the coming months than about history itself, but we’ll see. I do still have a few loose ends around here, from wrapping up my Confederate ancestors analysis to revealing a few more details about Unionism in Maryland.

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