fresh start

As my professional life heads further down the path toward Advocate for Technology in the Arts, I thought it would be useful for me to start a blog on that topic.  At the very least, it will serve as a place for me to store some of my ever-growing links and feeds related to the topic, as well as provide a place to think through some of the increasingly overwhelming thoughts I am having about the new technology, Web 2.0, and its impact on arts organizations, artists, and nonprofits.

It occurred to me that I should start my own blog on this topic earlier this afternoon while I was listening to an interview with Beth Kanter, an independent consultant whose professional focus encompasses all the topics listed above, while folding in a fascinating angle on how to orient “digital immigrants” to the landscape of Web 2.0.

I am not a digital immigrant, but I am struggling with some of the issues Beth mentions, especially how best to serve as a translator between the tech world and the arts world.   More and more, this is becoming my primary role, so I thought I’d join the conversation.

She also mentioned how she sometimes entices professionals in the nonprofit sector to make the leap to blogging for work by emphasizing how much it helps us solidify our thinking, learn, and even train ourselves, when we write things out.  Since most professionals write out thoughtful emails to each other, it is actually a small leap to make. 

And there is a big difference between writing discrete emails to one or several people and posting it to the web, of course.  What people tend to focus on is the fact that you are now “going public” but the benefits of that can far outweigh any perceived negatives. 

Not least of all, you can find your own thoughts again on various subjects, without having to undergo some tedious search through the contents of your email files and folders.  And as we know, posting your thoughts to the web creates the potential for a conversation.  It allows people to comment, link, and build on your original post.

Heck, it allows them to find you in the first place.

So, although I have been a blogger for several years now in a very comfortable sort of slice-of-life, personal stories sort of way, I think it’s time to extend the exercise to encompass my professional life. 

This fall I will be going to several conferences on technology, including the Technology in the Arts conference in Pittsburgh, Podcamp Boston 2, and potentially one or two more if I can find the time and resources.  I am also planning on giving a talk of my own on the topic at a conference in November.

In preparation for all this I have been doing a tremendous amount of research to try to get up-to-speed on the latest thinking, startups, and technology in the field, with an emphasis on the intersection of technology and the arts world.

One major issue that I hear a lot about is how to engage artists in online collaborations and social networking, when the first hurdle is a pronounced discomfort with and even distrust of technology.  This was one of the reasons I enjoyed Beth Kenter’s interview so much — she mentioned some ways to get people started, just by dipping their toes in.

  1. Find a small, manageable, low-risk project.  Think about using a wiki for a project that might benefit from peering and collaboration.  Not only are wikis easy and manageable, but they are comfortingly familiar.  They look pretty much like a plain old website, just one with a big “edit” button somewhere around the edges.   So that might be one way to open a channel with somewhat tech-resistant users who nonetheless have a discrete project that needs attention and collaboration.
  2. Start with something addictive.  This is what Beth Kanter jokingly refers to as the crack dealer method, and she suggests RSS as a possible point of entry.  Set your user up with a reader (I use Google reader, and I think a lot of casual users have a certain comfort level with the Google brand) and start them off with a news feed on a topic of potent interest to them.  In the case of an organization, get them started with a news feed tagged to their organization name.  We all want to know when we’re in the press!
  3. Use the web for information gathering.  Then move on to content creation.  Get your user searching for items of interest with tags on blogs, myspace, flickr, and other social networking sites, and when they find a blog or photoset or what-have-you that they like, use that as a teachable moment to move on to social bookmarking and feeds.
  4. Start a professional blog.  Read what some other blogs in your field, choose a few that you like, and model yourself on them to start.  That is, after all, how most bloggers get started.  I mentioned above some of the benefits to starting a professional blog, including networking and storage/retrieval of ideas, links, and networks.

This blogging thing is pretty fun. I think I’ll do it again.

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