I had time this morning driving to Enid, Oklahoma, (for another round of Oklahoma Digital Centennial facilitator training) to listen to EdTechTalk #76 from April 27th, which focused on recent discussions about the value of Ning social networks versus blogs, the egalitarian or elitist nature of the edublogosphere, and the importance of transparency in fully disclosing one’s commercial ties, interests, or intentions.

One of my biggest takeaways from this conversation was the importance of transparency, which was also a central theme of Wired Magazine’s April 2007 issue headlined, “Get Naked and Rule the World.” The article “The See-Through CEO” discussed this new environment where transparency, rather than secrecy, is becoming essential for success. Clive Thompson wrote:

The Internet has inverted the social physics of information. Companies used to assume that details about their internal workings were valuable precisely because they were secret. If you were cagey about your plans, you had the upper hand; if you kept your next big idea to yourself, people couldn’t steal it. Now, billion- dollar ideas come to CEOs who give them away; corporations that publicize their failings grow stronger. Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you – and everyone trembles before search engine rankings.

Of course this trend is not a universal one, there are still plenty of companies keeping secrets. But the influence and importance of blogs is certainly on the rise and this “trend toward transparency” is important to both acknowledge as well as understand for business folks, consumers, educators, and citizens in general.

The discussion about the egalitarian or elitist nature of the edublogosphere was an interesting element of the conversation, and reminded me of a book I read at least five years ago, “In Defense of Elitism” by William Henry. I acknowledge that conversations in the blogosphere and edublogosphere specifically can often sound like an echo chamber, but the fact that anyone can enter these conversations and be heard: Both by the bloggers writing initial posts and those commenting on them, makes this environment an extremely egalitarian one in my opinion.

Although there is not any type of formal list, I suppose some people would consider me a fairly well-known edublogger. In the spirit of encouraged transparency and full disclosure, I’m glad to share the following points which seem relevant to this discussion concerning my own blogging and writing activities to date:

  1. I am not paid by anyone to blog. “Moving at the Speed of Creativity” is my own space to share ideas and solicit feedback. I do blog periodically on The Infinite Thinking Machine and every other Friday on TechLearning’s blog, but to date have not received any financial compensation for either writing effort. To my knowledge TechLearning doesn’t have any intent to compensate anyone blogging there, and the ITM has offered some small periodic compensation but I haven’t turned in the requisite paperwork to receive that yet.
  2. The vast majority of articles I have written about technology integration and learning (indexed comprehensively on my vitae except for a few things I’ve written this year and need to add) have not been written for any financial compensation. Exceptions to this include The TechEdge, which about 2 years ago started paying a very small fee for regular contributor articles, Interactive Educator (a publication by SMART Technologies) which does pay (although usually for me a bit slowly) for articles, a couple of articles I wrote for the print version of TechLearning, an article I wrote but was not published for School Library Journal on open source (I was paid a kill fee), and periodic contributions I make to newsletter publications by The Master Teacher.
  3. I would love to financially profit more some day from my writings and ideas, but at this point I really sense the importance of giving ideas away and having regular relevance in the lives of other educators on our planet. I believe ideas were born to be set free. For that reason, I resonate deeply with the ethos of the Creative Commons movement. As an educator and an idealist, I teach, write, learn and share for reasons that genuinely go far beyond a personal profit motive. I heard a Mosaic podcast today which referenced VOCATION versus OCCUPATION. My vocation during and ever since college has always been public service, first in the military and then in public education. My occupations have changed, but my vocation and my vocational focus has remained the same. I received a wonderful education at taxpayer expense, and to a large degree through my life work I believe I am tangibly paying back that debt.
  4. I added Google ads to my blog in early April 2007 for the first time. I am personally very averse to “in your face” advertising, and I in no way, shape or form wanted or want to turn my blog into a minefield of advertisements. I don’t regard advertising per se or market economics more generally as inherently bad or evil, but I do think that unchecked either one can be problematic. I added Google ads to my blog in what I considered relatively subtle, non-confrontational places that would not assault readers but would be present. (They are in the lower right corner of the sidebar on my blog homepage and at the bottom / footer of each page.) This was more of an experiment than anything else. I just checked my Adsense report and in April I earned $6.34. I’m sure that number could go up if I made the placement of the ads more prominent, but at this point I don’t want to because I’m not blogging to generate advertising revenue. I have seen other bloggers put adsense ads on their blogs, and I was curious what the results would be for mine. I’ll probably leave the ads on and where they are for now, but I honestly haven’t given huge amounts of time to contemplating this. While I don’t personally like visiting blogs or websites more generally that visually overwhelm with advertising, I don’t have a problem with relevant, tastefully placed advertisements on sites either.
  5. My favorite blogging tool (which I use 95% of the time at least to write posts) is Ecto. One of the things you can do quite easily in Ecto is insert textual or graphical links to books sold by Amazon.com, which are tied to an Amazon Affiliate ID you’ve previously established. Generally whenever I link to a book I’ve read or just mention in a blog post, I use this feature. I certainly haven’t gotten rich from these links, but I have earned some additional money from clickthroughs with Amazon that have permitted me to buy more books myself from Amazon. At one time I did have some sidebar links on my blog to Amazon ads, and I still have some on my Tools for the TEKS: Integrating Technology in the Classroom website for David Warlick’s books. Amazon has actually made some good money from these links and ads I’ve posted, and I have made some. As an example, for Q4 of 2006 people bought 43 things on Amazon.com after clicking on links I’d provided either on my blog or Tools for the TEKS site, which represented $699.68 of gross sales to Amazon. Of that amount, as an Amazon “affiliate” I was paid $40.35. I bought well over $100 of new books from Amazon during that same period, so I can’t say that posting these affiliate links has offset the costs of expanding my personal print library, but it is nice and the most significant source of real income I’ve had to date from my blog or other websites I’ve created.
  6. A week or so ago for fun I created a virtual store on cafepress (I think I first heard about Eric Langhorst doing this a year or so ago) and made a simple logo for a mug. I haven’t written about this previously and actually just added a sidebar link to this on my blog under “links” called “cafepress products.” The slogan “I’m helping create the Exaflood” is a reference to a January 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Coming Exaflood” which is going to be fueled (in author Bret Swanson’s view) by so many people watching web videos and creating web videos on sites like YouTube as well as mainstream media’s published web videos. (Think about millions of people watching sports highlight videos on their cell phones. Yes, that potential is on the way.) To the extent that folks are creating and posting videos to YouTube, TeacherTube, or elsewhere, we’re all helping create the Exaflood. Karen Montgomery jokingly commented to me a few weeks ago that I was helping usher in the Exaflood, and I thought that was a funny (and perhaps accurate) observation, so I made the slogan, logo, and mug that is now for sale on cafepress. Has anyone ordered one? I have no idea, I haven’t logged in to check, but I will probably buy one at some point and probably come up with some other creative (hopefully) ideas for t-shirts and other mugs that I’ll add there. Am I looking to get rich with this venture? Certainly not. But it is very cool that products like logoed mugs and tshirts can now be manufactured on demand with custom images anyone creates on their personal computer and uploads to a commercial server– and I wanted to give this a try more for grins rather than grandiose entrepreneurial motives.
  7. I am, like Miguel Guhlin and others I think, very sensitive to issues of censorship and pre-publication censorship. When I was a senior cadet at the Air Force Academy I actually wrote an essay for a political science class that I wanted to submit for publication in Foreign Affairs (I naively set my sights high) and was not happy to have my every word scrutinized and eventually approved by a lawyer in the academy’s administrative office in Harmon Hall. I non-objectively think I’ve likely always been an independent thinker and writer, so the idea of not being free to share my opinions and thoughts as a military officer was something that never set entirely well with me when I was on active duty. I regarded it as a necessary inconvenience for a short period of time, even though I recognize the irony of that view now: I expected to serve a full 20+ year career in the Air Force at one time. So censorship and pre-publication censorship are things I’m quite aware of and have experienced before. None of the research papers I wrote in Mexico in 1992-93 were ever subject to pre- or post-publication censorship, but they certainly could have been since I was on active duty. I have never been actually censored as a civilian writer, but have been reprimanded in one instance for linking to an Edutopia article in a blog post I wrote for TechLearning (I subsequently removed the link from that blog post) and have had one publisher (TCEA via the TechEdge) refuse to publish an article I wrote, I suspect because the ideas I espoused there were perceived as “too potentially disruptive.” That article was originally titled “Blogging TCEA 2006” and I still have never published it in its original or a revised form. The advent of great tools like David Warlick’s HitchHikr as well as blog search tools like Technorati have made conference blogging more common, but I sense this is still not “mainstream” and it would be great to still publish an article with the same themes.
  8. While one of my writing dreams as a senior in college was publishing an article in Foreign Affairs, today one of my aspirations is publishing an article in EduTopia. No, again I’m not thinking I’d get rich by doing that, but EduTopia is a publication I love with a mission I respect and resonate with personally, so that’s an audience I’d like to formally write for some day.
  9. I love to write and love to blog, but I recognize the importance of writing in different venues for different audiences. Although I have not read the entire article, Michael Goldhaber’s 1997 article “The Attention Economy and the Net” continues to shape my writing on a regular basis. While my blogging and writing activities for traditional print magazines and a few other venues have not made me independently wealthy, I do sense GREAT value in both documenting my own journey of learning here for purely intrinsic purposes, but also the amazing benefits of being in conversations with others as a result of blog technologies and the flat world connections which are possible today. I am not sure where all of this is going to take me personally, my family, you, the students and families we serve or the schools we work in, but I think we’re headed to some good places and we’re going to be collaborating all the way together.

So those are more than a few thoughts about transparency and full disclosure. Did I mention “The opinions expressed herein are my own and not necessarily those of my employer?” That disclaimer is an important one, and is at the top of my blog homepage and search results pages.

I could write more on the egalitarian/elitist issues about the edublogosphere, but instead I’ll refer you to my January post, “The egalitarian nature of blogging.” My final observation on this thread regards Ning: I think the environment has great value, especially since it affords the opportunity for people without their own blogs (or the desire to create and maintain their own blogs) to engage in online dialog AND have a tangible “face.” The personal connections that are possible via Ning are powerful. We need to remain wary of “friend requests” on Ning and elsewhere, but overall I think it is proving to be a great place for educational discussions. I agree it is nice for ideas to remain archived outside the quasi-commercial silo of information that today is Ning, but if that is important to folks they can certainly cross-post to their own blogs. Will someone like Steve Hargadon become independently wealthy as a result of a Ning he’s created? I have no idea, but if he does, more power to him! Making money is not an evil thing. I do think the ideal of transparency and full disclosure is a good one in the edublogosphere, but we shouldn’t demonize folks who are making money or want to make money. The Good Book doesn’t say “money is the root of all evil,” it says “THE LOVE of money is the root all kinds of evil.” That’s a relevant distinction to bear in mind.

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3 Responses to Need for transparency and full disclosure, egalitarian access to edublog conversations

  1. No matter what type of content you’re publishing (educational or otherwise), transparency is vital if you want to gain the trust of your readers, and as we’ve seen from the whole PayPerPost debacle, a lack of transparency can come back to hurt you.

    I applaud you for encouraging transparency by being transparent yourself.

    Brandon Watts
    Criteo Evangelist

  2. Pam Lowe says:

    In regard to using Ning for classroom use, I became so excited about the prospects of how it could be used with my students. I created an account and within minutes of signing up I received a request from a Ning “friend.” After investigation of the “friend’s” site, I realized that I needed to rethink the use of Ning with my fourth graders. It’s a shame because there were so many possibilities for it’s use.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Definitely Pam, good point. Ning is not for kids. I recommend schools use Think.com for social networking among students. It permits teacher moderation, is limited to students in schools, and has good community guidelines for safe and respectful social networking.

    I shared your wiki pages with Oklahoma teachers again today in our digital centennial facilitator training, btw! Thanks so much for sharing that link a few weeks ago! 🙂

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