Blogs aren’t a luxury

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(lawgeek – http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdawg/110174487/ – may take some looking at!)

The recent kerfuffle over openlearn made me reflect on the relationship between the individual blogger and their institution. I’m not going to go into the debate about openlearn itself, but rather point out some things about the incident. From the OU Tony, Laura and myself have all responded. Laura’s probably counts as a semi-official response, while Tony’s and mine are independent to the extent that we could say what we like (although not independent in that we are obviously affiliated with the OU and to an extent the project).

Here are some observations:

i) There was a very quick response. I saw Tony had twittered the original post, I blogged about it, then twittered my response, then Tony blogged, all within a couple of hours. Had we waited for an official response to be agreed and worded it would have taken days, if not weeks, by which time it would have been irrelevant anyway.

ii) Stephen Downes had blogged about Seb Schmoller’s post. He then blogged about mine and Tony’s response. A lot of people read Stephen’s posts, so if Tony and I hadn’t responded there would have been no counter-argument for this audience.

iii) Stephen and others only picked up on our responses because we have spent a long time establishing a reasonable blogging reputation.

iv) Both Tony and I didn’t feel any pressure to respond or defend openlearn. We weren’t doing it at the behest of the OU, but rather as people who have a tangential relation to the project. This meant I was also critical of openlearn, and Tony has always been a friendly critic. For institutions this is a difficult thing to grasp, you have to give us the freedom to be critical in order for our defence to have any meaning. In other words you have to relinquish control of your corporate image. Had I been requested to post a defence, I think I would have declined – I’ve worked too long at this blog to allow it to be an institutional mouthpiece.

What this really demonstrates to me is that if as an institution you haven’t got reputable bloggers on your team then you are exposed to a world of criticism that you cannot engage with. For organisations having bloggers isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

3 Comments

  1. I think it’s also worth pointing out that we engaged in blog comments, too, not only at the time, but in the aftermath (e.g. http://www.chrislott.org/2008/02/17/open-content-and-distance-teaching-and-learning/ ).
    The rapid response thing might also be worth exploring a little further – you and I blog partly as a vocation, now, and the web is probably not ever more than 12 hours away from us, 7 dpw, most days of the year.
    Our responses came over a saturday, I think?, sod’s law dictating that Laura actually had a family crisis to deal with that w/e…
    The fact that we’re also plugged into feeds and alerts, post regularly, and have ‘quite finely tuned antennae’ (I think Paul Walk was posting about something related recently?), means that we’re not only likely to pick up on related news stories, but any response we may make is just one more post, and doesn’t necessarily make a big issue out of the story…because it’s in the context of some of the extended discussions we’re part of anyway?
    That said, I don’t track ‘open university’ alerts, though there are a few general OU news alert panels on http://ouseful.open.ac.uk , and so I’m not in a position to do the whole Scoble/Microsoft thing and comment on OU matters across the board… but then, I wouldn’t want to…
    I guess what that means is you maybe need a small portfolio of bloggers who will maintain coverage across the board between them, but each speak with a personal voice and from a personal point of view?
    We’re probably not far away in the OU from having that already? But then, traditionally, the OU was about the people who worked for it and believed in its ideals doing what they thought was right to further that mission; rather than a corporatised entity where it’s 9-5 and just a job?
    You ever thought of yourself helping keep the dream alive, and taking it into the next phase?!
    PS I’m on holiday, so I can say what I want, right? đŸ˜‰

  2. I was in a meeting today raising exactly this issue and I wasn’t anywhere near Bloglines, honest đŸ™‚ In responding to what will forever be known as the “OpenLearn kurfuffle” I was in an interesting position being the official spokesperson but knowing that a) my voice isn’t loud enough in the blogosphere and b) multiple bloggers are needed to respond quickly and eloquently enough on all the issues if our internal knowledge is to be shared and not drowned in the comment overload from a worldwide group of contributors to the debate.
    I do have a semi official blog.
    It’s part of my job description, I tend not to blog on OpenAir about things unrelated to the OpenLearn project and I follow some professional guidelines in terms of online journalism.
    It wouldn’t work for me or the institution if I had to conform to a house style and speak for the institution instead of myself as a professional working for the institution. I also find myself blogging outside work hours more often than not and so I’m not blogging because I have to (no one asks for a monthly report on the status of my technorati authority – yet!) but because I want to. And while I’m mindful that this is a prfessional blog, if everything had to be well crafted it would never get posted. .
    It’s a delicate balance that I address every time I consider whether to sign up to any service under my personal or professional pseudonyms or both.

  3. Tony – yes, the need for coverage across sectors would be an issue – I wouldn’t know about, or care to respond about, an attack on our coverage of Greek Philosophy, say. I think what you say about being part of the debate and it being no big thing is important too. It isn’t that ‘The OU’ is trying to control it or stamp out criticism, but that OU people are entering the debate and putting a different side.
    Laura – you’re in a more difficult position than Tony and I, since we could in theory say anything. You manage a very difficult line in keeping a blog that has the right personal tone but is also semi-official. An ‘official blog’ is probably an oxymoron since they have to be personal to work really – as you say this just wouldn’t work.

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