The theme for the fifth Blogwalk in Umea was “Blogging on the Move”. It was loosely inspired by the fact that Howard Rheingold gave a seminar and workshop before the Blogwalk on SmartMobs and the effects of mobile devices on our behaviour. A second reason was that it required a lot of mobility to get to Umea, far up north in Sweden as it is.
We were only a small group of people but that enabled us to get deeper into the discussions as a group, and also to get some stuff done.
Stephanie Hendrick, our kind host, an American living in Umea
Karsten Kneese, intern at HumLab, hailing from Bonn Germany
Martin Roell, from Luxembourg, living in Dresden Germany
Susanne Sperring, PhD student from Finland
Jeroen Steeman, from Utrecht Netherlands, doing a Masterthesis on politics and blogging
Bas Schutte, Utrecht Netherlands, doing a Masterthesis on blogging
Elmine Wijnia, Enschede Netherlands, recently completed a M Sc on blogging from a communicative perspective
Ton Zijlstra, Enschede Netherlands, KM-consultant
our little group moblogging during a break
Staking the ground
We started off with the thought that moblogging in itself might not be the real issue. Or to paraphrase Martin “I’m not a moblogger, I’m a travelling blogger having trouble getting connected”. I think we can paraphrase this for mobile knowledge workers as well. It’s not about mobility for the sake of mobility, it is about being able to take as much of your normal working and learning environment with you when you are on the move.
Stephanie raised the question of the requirements on tools for moblogging. Her experiences with live blogging at the JokkMokk festival (pdf), with batteries dying because of the cold etc, taught her that we need more robust tools than the fragile laptops for instance we were using during the Blogwalk session.
I also suggested the mobility between tools as a topic. To me flow between tools is more than just having access to the internet. I need my phone, laptop, pda, and especially the software that is available on them to be able to work seamlessly together or having connectivity is still largely of no use. (For instance I blogged once from a public terminal at the Vienna airport, which was largely useless because I did not have access to my laptop at the time).
conversational hooks at start of our session
We discussed the penetration of the mobile phone in the nineties as an example of how behaviour changed and adapted to the ubiquitous availability of phones. We had to learn how to use them in our lives, before the devices really got accepted as normal tools. We had to learn to switch the damn things off in the theater or cinema. We had to learn not to speak too loud on the phone in the train (although some never seem to learn). Eventually we all settled in a rhythm of acceptable use. New implicit rules were thus created. With mobile blogging we have to learn again that there is a marked difference between being always connected to the net, and the power to decide to use it or not, combined with general availability of connectivity. A lot of people I talk to seem to think the two are equal, and I think I remember the same discussions when mobile phones were first introduced. It is also important to realize that connectivity is not merely an added layer to your surroundings, as if you have your tools and connectivity on top of that. Without connectivity what I can do with my tools is significantly reduced to hinder me in my activities. (Writing blog entries for instance without connectivity is very different than when connectivity is available. Retrieval of links, pictures etc is all rendered impossible, and I am already very accustomed to not save stuff locally if I know I can get it from the web at anytime.)
So when do we want to be able to blog on the move? We came up with the following list:
- where you are physically on the move (plains, trains, automobiles)
- where you are gathering info
- where you are inspired/getting idea (Martin’s shower)
- where you can reflect (in the park, at the lake, waiting at the airport)
- where you are several hours on end (waiting at the airport, at night in your hotel)
And who needs it? Probably everyone who gets into situations where creativity/innovative solutions are required, which is an increasing number of people in our post-industrialist societies.
On the use of time for blogging
The most asked question when I speak to people who don’t blog, is where I get the time to do it.
In Umea we discussed time consumption and listed a number of time-consuming factors. Time is needed:
- To get used to the tools
- To grow a network
- To get into action with others
- To grow trust
- For getting to know and find useful (re)sources
- To find your voice (for yourself, for others)
This seems like a list of things that apply to a lot more situations than just blogging. For instance we compared it to Stephanie’s experiences when she first moved from the US to Sweden, and had to find her rhythm in a new country. It also resonates with my own perception that the time I spend blogging is either not very large, or all of the time. Reading blogs, writing to reflect and digest, writing to collect and gather, and sharing along different channels (blog, wiki, company portal, e-mails, etc.) is just the way how I collect and process my personal information flow. Asking me how much time I spend blogging, is treating blogging as an additional activity in my life (which it was at first), and feels to me like asking how much of my time I spend breathing.
On what drives people
We compiled the following list of motivations to moblog:
- Keeping in touch with people
- Keeping in touch with yourself (yesterday’s Lilia)
- Feeding info to people who can’t be with you
- Illusion of presence for others (making it look like you’re not gone at all)
- Receiving info and feedback from people who follow your exploits from a distance
- Finding local contacts, local (re)sources
In short, to me this has to do with the ability to keep up flow, and to maintain the richness of your context, whereever you are. This also helps to decide when you do not need connectivity: at the points where you are consciously breaking flow, like during holidays, breaks etc. Like switching of my cell phone during lunch so I can talk to my friends uninterrupted for a bit.
As to what requirements would have to be met, or don’t need to be met, for mobile blogging:
- Internet access (fast, cheap/free)
- Access to information (blogs, google)
- Blogging off line is difficult
- Synchronous communication is NOT a requirement (asynchonicity allows you to be present and sharing/partaking in the on-line world at the same time, synchronous communication demands your presence in that communication channel)
Tools and Functionality
Tools need to be convenient in size, weight, price and robustness (weather, temperature, dust, water). Size is probably always a trade-off with useability, and there is a marked difference I think in when it is handy to take along a laptop, and when I need a handheld mobile device with small screen.
Functionality was the last part of our discussion, and we did not really work it out in full detail (but we will try to do that on-line in Traveler I think) The quick list of things we mentioned is:
- audioblogging background noise “soundpictures”
- more easy publishing, one button recording/editing/publishing from all mobile devices
- fast: no time consumption for cognitive overhead, because time is limited on the move
- timeliness, actuality, afterwards it’s not important anymore
At the end of our session Lilia joined us on Skype, and that led to some observations as well. On-line joining in the middle creates some awkwardness. I had the inkling to start summarizing what we had been doing in the session, which wasn’t a usefull idea. Lilia made remarks about how we did not introduce ourselves but started talking to her directly and she had to try and recognize our voices, as she could not see our faces. Both things are probably due to the fact that she knew most of us already. So we started talking from our shared level of trust. If it had been a stranger I probably would not have felt the need to summarize, and would have taken the time to say who I was.