Archive for the 'Language' Category

Visitor: This I can live with

Posted in Language on September 19th, 2008

Credit where credit is due: I picked this up first in Andy Powell’s post at eFoundations–but I was reminded of it by Lorcan Dempsey’s longer discussion at Lorcan Dempsey’s blog.

Both posts point to “Not ‘natives’ & ‘immigrants’ but ‘visitors’ & residents” by Dave White at TALL Blog.

Here’s White’s suggestion (the same paragraphs Powell quoted, but I’m including a little more of each):

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have an persona online which they regularly maintain… the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there…

In effect the Resident has a presence online which they are constantly developing while the Visitor logs on, performs a specific task and then logs off

I like this terminology. It’s not pejorative, it’s not generational or ageist, and–as White makes very clear in the post–it’s not black and white, it’s a spectrum. All three bloggers have identified the key difference as attitude, not age.

Different, not better or worse

That’s the biggest thing for me. As White says, a visitor may actually be more skillful in some online settings than a resident–but a visitor is less likely to gravitate immediately toward social-web tools and to be “connected” 24/7. I suspect visitors are also less likely to be dismayed when useful tools lack social components.

Mostly a visitor

As you can guess, I’m mostly a visitor. I say “mostly” because I certainly have a web presence, and I do spend some time in the LSW Meebo room (less time than I’d like to, probably more time than I can afford to, the latter because I’m a poor multitasker). My “visitor” nature may have something to do with my decision to leave Twitter–and while I’m still thinking about Facebook, that may also be a poor choice for a visitor. (It’s pretty clear that Ning just didn’t work for me because I wouldn’t provide the ongoing presence it seemed to require.)

In a time when respected organizations seem to delight in labels that are clearly pejorative–and when even some of my colleagues and friends seem only too happy to engage in casual ageism–I salute Dave White. Good terms, good explanation, good thinking.

I wish I’d said that

Posted in Language, Media, Writing and blogging on July 15th, 2008

Those of you who read Cites & Insights–and if you don’t, you really should–know that I’ve looked at Wikipedia off and on, from a number of angles.

One aspect of Wikipedia that’s always bothered me is, I believe, built into the model: The more important the entry, the less likely that it will have a coherent voice. From what I’m seeing, the situation at Wikipedia is getting worse as there are more efforts to assure that everything is properly footnoted. I was hoping Citizendium would be different–that requiring signed contributions would encourage coherent essays–but even Citizendium has procedures that work against editorial coherence to some extent, as I discussed in “Citizendium and the Writer’s Voice,” in the May 2008 issue. The essay starts on page 10, but the relevant discussion starts on page 17: “The writer’s voice, the expert’s mind.”

For a one-paragraph factoid, it doesn’t much matter. But for anything much more significant, I’d really like an encyclopedia article to be an essay, something that leads me to an understanding of the subject. My belief is that Wikipedia’s methodology pushes in the other direction, as it discourages commentary and encourages strings of documentable statements. Instead of essays, you get big long sets of sentences and paragraphs with little coherence or narrative flow.

But there you go: I’ve used two paragraphs and not really gotten at what I mean to say.

Then I read Tim Spalding’s post today at Thingology: “Wikimania 2008 (Alexandria, Egypt).” And this comment on an article that requires more than a factual paragraph (in this case, “Alexander the Great”):

It’s lumpy, unbalanced, poorly written and poorly sourced—a bright fourteen year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.* Parts are good. Parts are bad. Parts are just off somehow—their correction requiring un-Wikipedia-esque virtues like restraint, proportionality and style.

“A bright fourteen-year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.” That’s just about perfect.

I’ll add to “restraint, proportionality and style,” one more virtue that may be covered in “style”: narrative coherence.

An encyclopedia article on Alexander the Great should be a story. It should have voice, coherence, style, narrative flow. When I’m done reading it, I should understand something about Alexander the Great. I don’t believe you can get there from a series of factual sentences and paragraphs–and I believe it’s a lot harder when commentary is disallowed and writers are anonymous.

This doesn’t suggest that Wikipedia’s useless–and I’d guess the vast majority of its uses are for quick lookups anyway, where the lack of narrative coherence doesn’t much matter. It does suggest that Wikipedia has real limits and that, in some ways, it will never be as good as traditional encyclopedias, even if it may exceed them in other ways.

Thanks, Tim. I’ll use that elsewhere, and try to remember to give you credit.

The 12-hour entrepreneurial book!

Posted in Books and publishing, Language, Writing and blogging on March 7th, 2008

I get press releases sometimes–presumably because I write a column for EContent, maybe because I’ve started writing a column for ONLINE again. Most of them I simply delete. Those that plead with me to call for an interview with Mr. X, I respond to, noting that “disContent”–my EContent column–is based on my being an outsider, a “citizen,” thus having inside contacts would weaken my role.

And then there are others. What appears below in indented paragraphs is a press release I received yesterday. Names will be neutralized, for reasons that may be obvious…

Author A Discovers Cure For Information Overload With Help Of Proven Authoring And Business Development System

B, author and infopreneur guru, demonstrates to fast write a money-making book in less than 12 hours and build a business focused on multiple streams of income.

That’s an italicized small-type sentence under the large-type title. We’re talking about writing and reading a supposedly professional press release, so editorial nitpicking may be in order. Let’s see: no “how” between “demonstrates” and “to.” “fast write a money-making book in less than 12 hours“–well, this isn’t editorial, but I cringe instantly at the thought of a book written in less than 12 hours.

Not too long ago, when someone wanted information, she would have to drive to the library, use the card catalog, and search the stacks of books and magazine to find it. Then the Information Age arrived. Computers and the internet have brought information home to the average person. There is now too much of a good thing because of this fact.

Yep. There were no sources of information other than libraries before the information age–no newspapers, no telephones, no friends to call for advice, no experts. Never mind. It gets better.

Many people believe we are still in the Information Age. What they do not realize is that people are drowning in too much information to the point where they are easily overwhelmed. Anyone who wants to test this can look up almost any search term on Google to experience the feeling of information overload.

Isn’t that what happens with you every day? You look up something on Google and say, “Oh no! I’m overwhelmed! I can’t cope!” And, of course, being smart, you never use Google again. Information overload claims another victim!

Technoradi Inc. estimates that over 75 thousand new blogs are created each day. A recent University of Iowa study calculated the size of the worldwide web at more than 11.5 billion pages. Having too much information to sort through is counter productive.

I wonder how many blogs Technorati thinks are being built? I’ve never heard of this other outfit. And, of course, thinking the number of entities in a universe has anything to do with what you need to sort with is not so much counterproductive (one word) as it is, well, stupid. There are more than one hundred million books; somehow, that doesn’t prevent me from finding the ones I want in or my local library.

What people are really looking for is not the information, but what results the information will give them. Someone who buys a drill is really buying the holes that the drill will make. One who buys a mattress is in search of a good night’s sleep. Information is a means to an end.

This paragraph’s OK.

Now people are looking for more than information. With too much of a good thing ready at hand, what they want is a trusted guide to go beyond facts and figures to provide a recommendation. They want advice, easy answers, and a shortcut to the answers they seek.

So when there was less information, people were satisfied to get the information? When (he asks) has there been a time that people were more interested in information than they were in results? And when has there been a time when people didn’t seek shortcuts. Like, for example, shortcuts to writing “books” so that they take less than 12 hours, instead of the several hundred hours that sloths like me require.

Society has moved from the Information Age to the Recommendation Age. The savvy author and entrepreneur who understands the Recommendation Age can become the industry leader in his or her area of expertise and build a business around a book even before the manuscript is complete.

Now we’re getting to the crux of the matter–and it’s clearly not about crafting superior books. “Recommendation Age” leaves me cold, but that’s personal.

A, author of C D, of, currently offers the book as an electronic book or e-book. He is building a business around his system for E and getting feedback from readers as he prepares to publish the book in print. Jensen worked with B and his team at to create the book and build a well-developed business model around it.

If you’re wondering C and D are both multiword phrases, one the title and the other the subtitle of the book; C is in italics, D isn’t. There’s no colon between them.

The ebook is available through While Lulu won’t show me somebody else’s sales, it does show anybody what the sales rank for an item is. So how is A doing on feedback from readers of the ebook? Well…let’s just say that the item ranks somewhere below 60,000. The print version of Cites & Insights 2007 ranks somewhere around 31,000. It would be inappropriate of me to say what the actual sales are, I suppose–particularly since sales rank may not mean the same thing for ebooks as it does for print books. (I will say that C&I 2006 has sold fewer than one-half as many copies on Lulu than Academic Library Blogs, which is doing better on Amazon–and that book, in turn, has sold roughly 5% as many copies as Balanced Libraries at Lulu. I’ll also say that BL is nowhere near my previously announced “Success point.” Draw your own conclusions.)

B’s F Program teaches clients to write a money-making book in 12 hours of actual writing time. Clients who complete the program discover how to write a book that is “entrepreneurially sound.”

I went to Yep, it’s there in big type: “Write A 100 Page Money-Making Book In Less Than 12 Hours Of Actual Writing Time And Gain Instant Access To A New York Publisher.” Note That Every Word Is Capitalized, including articles and conjunctions. Yes, the string from the space before “12” through “Publisher” is also underlined (interestingly, the underlined space is on the line before the rest: this page doesn’t for any of that new-age flowing text crap), but of course it’s not a link. There is a link a little further down. If you click on that one, you get the same text–but this time it’s all underlined. Further down, there’s the eloquent “Here you will see for yourself Why our program works and what sets us apart from others who make similar claims”–a random capital letter being one of the marks of successful book writing.

Here’s a warning for you: “WARNING: If You Are Not A Knowledge Broker In The Recommendation Age, You Are A Nobody!” All in big red type. (Look, B is a Former Vice Principal, so you better not doubt his word–you’ll get detention.)

Taking B’s program, A has discovered how to turn his expertise into a step-by-step system through which people that have X can achieve better physical and mental health. His consulting and speaking business is growing steadily. The feedback he is receiving as a result of working with individuals and speaking to groups allows him to develop his business to match the wants and needs of his target audience.

I wouldn’t be surprised if A actually had worthwhile expertise. I would be very surprised if A wrote that ebook (>250 pages) in less than 12 hours–and unless there are other editions hiding somewhere, A sure isn’t getting a big business based on ebook sales.

B has dozens of video testimonials of successful clients like A on his website and blog. He offers his case study driven H e-class, a $700 value, at no cost on his website B, a former Vice Principal with Two Post-Graduate Degrees, replaced his income and his wife’s income with a proven, breakthrough system he created. He now teaches his clients how to replicate his proprietary program. B is founder and President of G. B also provides keynotes, seminars, workshops, teleseminars, and [another trademarked term], as well as being known as an international speaker. In addition helping entrepreneurs with business authoring, he also teaches entrepreneurs and business owners how to successfully create a digital product and then build an online business that produces consistent, multiple streams of income. For additional media information about F or B please visit

Ah, more random capital letters–and a “$700 value” course offered “at no cost.” Would I be cynical if I suggested that there are costs, and big ones, somewhere down the road? Including, for example, the cost of thinking you’ve written a hot stuff book in less than 12 hours and that you’ll gain wealth and fame from the New York publisher you’ll be introduced to and the multistream income system that accompanies it.

B even throws in $300 worth of books or ebooks as part of the offer, speaking of setting sales records. Yes, B does have one book on Amazon; yes, it’s within the top 50,000 in sales. ( shows three copies in libraries.) People who buy it buy lots of other get-rich-quick books, particularly ones having to do with the fabulous wealth that can be yours from writing, even if you’re nearly illiterate.

I know. This is sour grapes. If I’d taken this free course, I’d be rolling in dough from multiple income streams from the book(s) I’d have written–each in less than 12 hours time!–and whatever it is I got from that New York Publisher. After all, it’s a proven, breakthrough system.Or maybe I could do PR for outfits like this. Given the attention to checking firm names and grammar and to normal (dull) English rules of capitalization, that press release sure as heck took less than 12 hours to write–maybe less than 12 minutes.Sigh. Back to my plodding old slow writing. If only I could learn Authoring instead.

Respecting your readers…and your profession

Posted in Language, Libraries, Writing and blogging on February 11th, 2008

When I “discover” a liblog I hadn’t read before–usually through a reference–I’ll check the current posts and, frequently, subscribe to it for a while. I’ve added some interesting new voices to my library reading through that process.

Today, though, I was made aware of a liblog, tried to read the recent posts…and gave up after a while.

I think there might have been some good content–but the presentation was so lacking that it kept getting in the way. Not visual presentation (after all, in an aggregator, even orange-text-on-maroon-background comes through readable, and this wasn’t one of those light-on-dark blogs), but the language.

Homophones were consistently misused–they’re/there/their, it’s/its, lose/loose, you’re/your and so many others. Worse, lots of words were missing letters and whole syllables–and some sentences were missing important words. Worst, this was happening in post titles and topic sentences, not down in the second or third paragraph.

I don’t expect blog posts to be perfect. I assume that most bloggers post the way I do–on the fly, directly in blogging software, skimmed through once over lightly and posted. Sure, some people actually edit their own posts carefully; some even write offline, let posts sit and polish them until they shine–or so they tell us. Not me, and I’m guessing not most of you. When I spot what I think of as a typo (e.g., most homophones) in a blog post where I’m at all acquainted with the blogger, I might send a quick email saying “You might want to fix that” (especially if it’s in the first paragraph), but that’s as far as it goes (and, as one who almost never makes “quiet changes” in posts–that is, changes that aren’t flagged by strikeouts and the like–I believe that it’s legitimate and desirable to make quiet changes to typos, unless doing so makes a commenter look like an idiot).

I think of most blogging as casual speech–a trifle more formal than casual conversation but more casual than most written communication. It makes sense to forgive occasional sloppiness in casual writing. And, since I don’t believe I’ve yet seen an issue of Cites & Insights that’s totally free of typos or other errors, I’m not going to play Mr. Perfectionist here.

What I ran into on this blog was something different. It was somewhere between sloppy and slovenly: I’d guess that at least one-third of the blog titles were wrong. And the errors were so common, and so extreme, that I really couldn’t read through them to the content. So I gave up.
This isn’t a call to apply Strunk & White to blog posts. (I’m not that wild about Strunk & White anyway.) It’s not a call for 100% perfect grammar/syntax/spelling, by anyone’s set of rules, in blog posts. That’s ridiculous.

It is a call to show a little respect for your readers and your profession. After all, a blog that’s rife with wrong words and spelling errors suggests a level of literacy that casts doubt on the ML[I]S: “Geez, this idiot has a master’s?”

Gentle suggestions (not “rules” or anything like that–who am I to dictate to you?):

  • Make sure your post titles use the words you think you’re using.

Homophone errors and missing syllables are one thing in the second paragraph of a post. In the two to five words of a post title, they’re much worse.

  • If you know you have problems, try composing in Word or something like it–or at least run spellcheck before you publish.

When I say “try composing in Word or something like it,” I do mean with spellcheck and grammar checking on. I’m still using Word 2000 (not for long, I hope). The grammar check isn’t all that great: Most of the time, its suggestions are either wrong or flag “errors” that I intend to make (usually, when I have a sentence fragment or closing preposition, it’s because I damn well intend to have a sentence fragment or closing preposition). But even that particular blunt tool catches things just often enough that it’s worth my time to right-click on greenlined areas and see what’s up. I’m a halfway decent speller, so spelling errors are pretty rare–and Word catches those pretty well.

WordPress has a spell checker (or is that Firefox? It’s a right-click option). It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.

  • It’s not about perfection. It’s about perception.

Make a typo here and there? We’ll assume I’ll assume you’re typing quickly and possibly multitasking. No big deal. I’ll probably pass right on by. Screw up every other post title? I’ll assume you don’t much care about what you’re doing–and I’ll suspect that your thinking might be as sloppy as your typing. (Incidentally, that wasn’t a post modification. It was one of those cute rhetorical tricks that blogging encourages: An interlinear clarification and rethinking-on-the-spot using crossout to give my first thought, before I backed away from universalizing.)

  • If you don’t respect your readers, at least respect your profession.

Professional librarians have higher degrees. The public may not know that, but I believe the assumption is that most of you are at least reasonably well educated. When a blog comes across as semiliterate and claims to be written by a librarian, it makes librarians look bad.

Yes, this is a blind item–for what I believe to be obvious reasons. You can eliminate several hundred candidates by checking my public Bloglines subscription list, since I chose not to add this particular blog. That leaves several hundred (maybe several thousand) others. And that’s the only clue you’re going to get; maybe this particular person was having a really bad few weeks, and will snap right out of it.Now, back to writing and editing, knowing I’ll never be perfect…

Library 2.0: Now that that’s settled…

Posted in Language, Libraries, Writing and blogging on November 2nd, 2007

For the longest time, there seemed to be many differing opinions as to what “Library 2.0″ was all about.

So much so that I wrote an issue of Cites and Insights about it, an issue that was downloaded more than 15,000 times in PDF form (as of October 20) and another 15,000 times in HTML form (again as of October 1). For that matter, between September 1, 2007 and October 28, 2007, that issue was downloaded more often than any current issue. Apparently there are still people out there who think it’s unclear what it’s all about–lots of people.

So imagine my surprise at the title of this post: “We Know What Library 2.0 Is and Is Not.”

Wow. No ambiguity. No disagreements. Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk know.

It’s an interesting post. Not quite as interesting as the sheer certainty of the title, though.

Steven Chabot isn’t wild about the certainty of the post title, even as he agrees (as do I) that empirical research makes sense–that offering “solutions” nobody’s really asking for is less than ideal.

Chabot “can’t really stomach the opening statement” (the post title).

I don’t feel nearly as strongly. I think the absolute certainty of the title is amusing.

The post? Worth reading, as is Chabot’s.

Convenient catch-all grumpy old man post

Posted in Books and publishing, Language, Media, Technology and software on October 22nd, 2007

First, there’s “privatization.”

Here’s the quote (from an article that’s appeared in NYT and IHT):

“Google could be privatizing the library system by offering a large, but private interface to millions of books,” Kahle said.

Brewster Kahle’s certainly not the only one to misuse the language this way–just the latest.

I’m not in love with Google by any means. I think OCA is a great idea (although I wonder where the “alliance” has gone, given Yahoo’s almost-total silence and Microsoft’s diverging effort).

But “privatizing the library system” or, which I’ve also read, “privatizing the public domain”–I’m sorry, but horespucky.

If Google negotiated exclusive contracts, maybe.

Otherwise, that language is like saying that, if I check a book out from my library that happens to be in the public domain, scan it, and return it to the library, I’ve “privatized” the book.

Google is borrowing books from libraries (in large quantities thanks to special arrangements), scanning those books, and returning them to the libraries with the promise that the books won’t be damaged. Its deals are nonexclusive. Google’s scan does not in any way modify the terms under which the book itself can be used.

Google Book Search absolutely expands findability for books and in no way restricts anyone else from building and maintaining book-search systems. Google Book Search for public domain absolutely expands access to the text within books, and in no way restricts anyone else from providing similar access. (For that matter, Google’s silly first-page “conditions” are suggestions for use of their PDFs, not legal restrictions.)

How can expansion be viewed as contraction? How can improved access be regarded as privatization?

Want to attack Google? Fine. But is it necessary to debase the English language to do so? Or does it just make a great soundbite?

Then there are the Wesch videos. Oh, you know them: The absolute must-see videos that will transform your thinking about… whatever.If you love them, that’s fine. More power to you.
On the other hand, if you find some of them nearly incomprehensible and generally think they’re mostly form without much content…well, you’re not alone.

Hey, maybe I’m just not a visual learner, particularly with this particular kind of visual.

Not that I’m ever going to “get on the cluetrain,” but I sometimes find it amusing to read “world-changing” books and those renowned as representing the true future a few years after they’re published. (Yes, I know, the general absurdity of Being Digital hasn’t hurt Negroponte’s rep as The Man–in general, being boldly wrong seems to work as long as you’re wrong at least three years out. Now cheap computers are more important to the children of third-world countries than sanitation, medicine and actual teachers. Maybe so.)So I finally checked out the cluetrain manifesto: the end of business as usual a couple of weeks ago, fully intending to read the whole thing so I could critique it.

I gave up halfway through, since I wasn’t going to scribble notes in the margins of a library book and my notecards were filling up too rapidly. Noting the apparently self-loathing Apple marketer decrying (a) marketing (b) companies that keep their futures secret, noting the more recent history of one of the authors, noting that…well, I’m sorry, but most business in 2007 is pretty much like most business in 2000 (when the book came out): As usual. Most marketing in 2007 is marketing, again pretty much business as usual. If you think you’re having a conversation with your bank or your supermarket or your fast-food joint or at least 80% of those from whom you buy things…well, you’re welcome to your beliefs.

Of course, I never have been much for manifestos.

And just for the giggles, here’s a blast from the past, courtesy of Cites & Insights 2:7, May 2002. In addition to one of Negroponte’s famous quotes (1996: “we will probably not print many [words] on paper tomorrow,” I picked up one of Wired Magazine‘s “bets on the future” from 2002:

Here’s one $1,000 bet: “By 2010, more than 50 percent of books sold worldwide will be printed on demand at the point of sale in the form of library-quality paperbacks.” That’s Jason Epstein’s bet (with NYPL getting the proceeds); he sees PoD as “the future of the book business.” Opposing: Vint Cerf, who bets that “by 2010, 50 percent of books will be delivered electronically.”

I wonder who gets the $2,000 in the remote possibility that, two years and just over two months from now, the vast majority of the books sold worldwide are (a) physical objects that are (b) printed in large quantities using traditional methods? A remote possibility that I’d guess has about a 99% chance of being the case.

Now that this obviously Luddite individual has put together this blog post, time to go do some other work that happens to involve wikis and other web software. I don’t live on the web, but I sure do take advantage of the good tools and media available there…when they suit my purposes.

Kid lit bloggers have more fun

Posted in Books and publishing, Language, Libraries, Writing and blogging on March 13th, 2007

With a tip of the hat to A Fuse #8 Production, I send you here for the best comment I’ve seen on a particular “controversy.”

And you gotta love Fuse’s labels, particularly the first one (Metaphorical Scrotums). Which, to be sure, sent me to look for the proper plural form; Merriam-Webster Online gives “scrota” first but “scrotums” as an alternative, so Fuse as usual gets full approval. (Yes, Wiktionary shows up first at Ask–but I trust M-W for the usual reasons.)

OK, here’s a bizarre one: “plural of scrotum” as a Google search. The first result is from Google Book Search; clicking on that yields 232 results…and a context-sensitive ad that I won’t mention here.

I respectfully disagree

Posted in Language, Libraries, Writing and blogging on January 8th, 2007

Not with the posts I’m about to link to–but maybe, in the future, a little more clearly in some other cases.

The posts: Rochelle Hartman says “Politeness? Overrated” at Tinfoil + Raccoon.

There’s a companion post by Heidi Delamore at Quiddle (or “quiddle”–the site uses the latter, but the HTML title is apparently the former).

And wisesmartass Steve Lawson posted “Drama vs. criticism” at See also…. (Sorry, Steve, but you really did ask for that one.)

They’re not all saying the same thing, but the Venn diagram has a large degree of overlap, especially between the first two posts. I won’t attempt to summarize or interpret them: They’re not long, all three write clearly, and it’s a civil discussion–oddly, encouraging slightly less civil discussions at times.

Lawson’s take (I’m trying very hard to avoid first-naming except when I’m joshing someone–no, Neff, that wasn’t aimed at you) is an interesting one. I’ve certainly seen (and endured) cases where people are much more emphatic and even mean-spirited in comments on other posts than they would be on their own blog. Very few bloggers YELL WHEN THEY’RE POSTING, for example. But there’s something else about arguments and criticisms made only in comments (and I do this as much as anyone):

Comments may not have the impact of posts, for two reasons:

  1. Lots of us (I suspect) don’t automatically click through from our aggregators for each post that we find interesting–especially if it’s on (for example) a blog that uses white text on a black background or that we know won’t print out a long post cleanly. I, for one, am more inclined to read the post entirely within Bloglines–and, in the latter case, to email it to myself from Bloglines, since the email’s always printable. So, we don’t necessarily see the comments.
  2. Very few of us sign up for comment feeds, even if blogs offer them. Unless a particular post is just incredibly compelling, we’re unlikely to go back a day, a week, a month later and go through the comment-conversation that’s ensued.

I think this is a shame, actually–but I also don’t see myself revisiting dozens of posts to take advantage of the comments. Increasingly, if I’m writing about a post, I will visit it to save retyping, and may encounter some fascinating comments that I didn’t see the first time around–but the number of people who revisit substantive posts a month or two later in order to write post-hoc commentaries can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Answer? I don’t have one. I love the semi-conversational aspect of (some) blogs–you may note that I still haven’t activated full-time moderation, and hope I never need to, and I’m probably prouder of the >3 comments-per-post average at W.a.r. than I am of the growing number of daily visits (where are all these people or machines coming from?) But I agree that substantive criticisms and extensions will probably have more impact if they’re in a post with links, rather than or in addition to a comment.

I also agree that it’s possible to neuter ourselves through excess politeness or dislike of heated discussions or being piled on. And that we need to be willing to state criticisms and different ideas–ideally, by criticizing the statement rather than the person making the statement. And that, once in a while, we may need to be less polite about the whole thing.

There is, on the other hand, a difference between candor and rudeness. It’s possible to sharply disagree with someone without calling them names or telling them to shut up or get over it. It’s also desirable, if you ever expect them to respond rationally. (I don’t remember ever finding these three to be rude.)
No resolution here, but I appreciated the nicely-stated candor in this trio of posts, and thought I should fourth it.

Does that mean I won’t state arguments in comments that I don’t state directly in posts? Nope. Does it mean I’ll always say exactly what I think and damn the consequences? Nope. I’m as human as anyone, and probably as inconsistent as anyone. It does mean that I understand and generally agree with what’s being said here, even if I don’t always put it into practice.

If you disagree, feel free to say so.

Editing other people’s words

Posted in Language, Writing and blogging on October 17th, 2006

…is so much easier than editing your own, at least in some cases.

Trivial example: (this is a trivial post, with probably more language-related posts to come)

Reading the October 13 Chronicle of Higher Education–the fun part, Section B–I get to the letters, one of which is about deadly sins of bad writing and adds two more, one of which is “wordiness”

(For example: “Here it is very important to note that in this case the hippopotamus in question was a midget.” How about: “Note that, in this case, the hippopotamus was a midget.”) [Stacey C. Sawyer]

Very good–and I wish I could consistently do as good a job with my own prose. But looking at the particular string of words and any plausible context or meaning, I found myself saying:

This hippopotamus was a midget.

From 18 to 10 to 5. Don’t expect me to do as well on my own stuff. But then, neither have outside editors (although they almost always improve “my” prose).

Sophisticated argumentation

Posted in Language, Libraries on October 17th, 2006

New headnote: I’m reverting most of the other changes because the post gets too confusing. I’ll add my caveats at the end. However, it is now clear, thanks to this excellent comment from Phil Bradley, that I misinterpreted the situation based on sketchy reporting. I’m restoring the original post so that the comment stream makes sense [End of new headnote]:

It seems that a big-name speaker in a big-name conference settled the issue of whether terminology matters, at least within one current movement/set of tools/hypefest/truly good idea set, by displaying a slide containing the Answer:”I don’t care.”

Presumably implying that nobody else should either. Where I’ve seen this noted in reports, it’s with considerable enthusiasm.

It strikes me that sophisticated argumentation at this level deserves appropriate response. To wit, those who think that language doesn’t matter are, to some extent, telling us that their words don’t matter. So an appropriate response to their posts, articles, whatever, might well be

“I don’t care.”

Or is it only language that they disagree with that should be dismissed in such a manner?

Actually, I’m charmed by librarians arguing that language and wording don’t matter. It sets such an interesting tone for the future.

OK, that’s the original post. I did not name the speaker, deliberately…in part because I saw this as another example of what I’d seen much earlier from another source (see the comments for links), and thought it was possible that I was misinterpreting the speaker. It is now clear that this was the case. It’s also clear that the misinterpretation was based in part on the reporting of the session, specifically this commentary:

“My favorite slide was Phil Bradley’s, in response to all the discussion about semantics and buzzwords. It simply said:

“I don’t care”

I LOLed”

[The link is in the comments.] Note “in response to all the discussion about semantics and buzzwords.” Note the lack of “After a slide saying ‘So what do I think?’ and a commentary that made it clear that both sides had merit.” At that point, as Bradley says, the slide wasn’t intended as argument; it was a personal comment. And entirely appropriate as such. I probably would have laughed too.

Note that I did not name Phil Bradley, deliberately. It was a blind item because I was noting a problem I’ve seen more than once. This did not happen to be an instance of the problem.

As for the courtesy of always asking someone before commenting on anything they’ve said in public, or that has been reported that they’ve said, or before interpreting what someone says…well, that’s an interesting idea. It’s certainly not a courtesy I’ve been provided. In fact, I’ve seen deliberate rewordings of what I said. For example, the post above does not say “someone at some conference in some speech attempted to preclude discussion of the language/term.” Nor did I “deny the man a slide with his personal opinion”–where above do I say “The speaker should not have been allowed to put up that slide”? Those are both deliberate misstatements, not just misinterpretations.

To sum up: I misinterpreted what went on at the conference based on (a) selective reporting and (b) my own long experience with the person who’d done the selective reporting. It was a reasoned comment that happened to be wrong. I did not mention the speaker by name because it was used as an example (and because I knew I might be wrong). I wrote a short and angry post because I’m tired of the real instances (which this wasn’t) of argument-by-trivialization.
Again, my genuine apologies to Phil Bradley–not for failing to contact him, but for misunderstanding the sketchy report. And my genuine thanks for his clear, calm, lucid commentary. Next time I see reporting on his speeches that seems askew, I will check first.

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