Wasteful Widgets #4: Maps

Like many bloggers, I have a map on site showing where visitors are coming from. Why?

World viewI think there are two aspects to this question: why have a map, and why show it to the world?

On the first issue, it is quite nice to look at one's reach. I have to admit to a little thrill when I see that someone in Borneo, say, has been checking out my blog. And I find it fascinating that I can write something now, sitting here in my home near London, England, and seconds later someone on the other side of the world, in Australia or New Zealand, can be reading it. I am still intrigued despite having done this kind of stuff for nearly 15 years.

But the other question, about why show it, is more problematic. At first, I did so because I wanted people to see that I am being read internationally. I now feel that one should be able to take it as read that that's the case, and not make a big deal out of it.

I also think, like recent comments, it's a matter of context. When I took part in the Classroom 2.0 Live discussion, people were asked right at the start to click on a map to show where they were listening from. Seeing the whole world 'light up' as members of the audience did so was an incredible experience. And for me, as the guest speaker, it really did bring it home to me that, although I was loafing around in casual clothes and unshaven, I was addressing a global audience in just as real a way as if I had been speaking at a physical event.

So, given that there's not much point in displaying a map on my site, because it lacks context and smacks ever-so-slightly of egotism, why do I continue to do so?

The answer, I'm afraid, will be familiar to married men everywhere. My wife likes to look at it, and doesn't want to have to bother logging in in order to do so.

International ICT in education superstar I may be, but at home I know my place!

Other articles in the Wasteful Widgets mini-series

Wasteful Widgets #1: Most popular articles

Wasteful Widgets #2: Twitter Feeds, and 7 Reasons to Eschew Them

Wasteful Widgets #3: Recent Comments

Wasteful Widgets #3: Recent Comments

Many blogs display recent comments, either by the blog owner or other people. I've implemented this myself in the past, but now have reservations about doing so, for the following reasons.

Firstly, I'm not a legal expert but I should have thought that if you're going to display people's comments somewhere other than where they originally posted them, you should at least warn people that you may do so. A lot of blogs don't.

Even if you don't need to from a legal point of view (and I imagine that would depend on which country you reside in), it seems to me to be the right thing to do anyway, which is why the Terms and Privacy policy on this website states that if you post a comment it may be used elsewhere on the site, or in the newsletter.

However, there is also a moral dimension: is it right to take someone's comment out of context, without at least some clarifying text? Perhaps most of the time this won't be an issue, but imagine this scenario:

Suppose I read on someone's blog that she wrote an article for a commercial magazine, for no pay in order to get her foot in the door, and has now been told that they are not interested in commissioning her for any paid work. However, because her article was pretty good they would always be interested in receiving more, just not in paying for them.

I might write a comment like, "Your first mistake was writing an article for free. You should always agree on the fee before putting pen to paper, as it were."

Taken out of context, that could be quite reputation-damaging. It suggests, for example, that I would only write an article if I am going to be paid money for it. Anyone reading the comment will not have the benefit of seeing the context in which it was made.

In this respect, automatically posting recent comments suffers from a similar consideration to posting Twitter conversations, ie they only make complete sense in context.

As for posting your own comments automatically, I don't see the point in that at all, unless it's to demonstrate to all and sundry how ubiquitous you and your wisdom are. But again, taken out of context, your own comments have little meaning in my opinion.

What I think would be quite handy would be an application that collates comments from all over the place on a particular blog post. I sometimes have few comments on the blog itself, but they appear elsewhere such as on Twitter of Facebook.

I think overall, my objection to automatic comment posting from an educational point of view is that it represents a poor use of ICT in education. To my mind, ICT should seek to solve a problem or answer a question, not be used just for its own sake. Perhaps if someone could explain the point of displaying comments somewhere other than where they were put in the first place I'd feel differently about it.

Wasteful Widgets #2: Twitter Feeds, and 7 Reasons to Eschew Them

Many websites have a section in which their current Twitter conversation is shown. I've played around with this myself, and after some time decided that it was not something I wanted to continue with, for the following reasons.

Firstly, it just looks so ascetically awful on most websites. Maybe that's to do with broader issues, like the blog's template or the blog owner's design skills, but to my eye it usually just looks like a mess. In fact, there's one blog I checked out recently where the Twitter feed was so prominent that it took me a moment or two to work out where the actual latest article was.

When I tried it out I put it on a separate page on its own. That overcame the messiness problem, but it only served to emphasise my second objection.

It seems to me that Twitter is, fundamentally, a conversation, and that conversations take place within a context, especially a temporal context. To take a snapshot of a conversation -- which is itself taking it out of context -- and then put it somewhere else entirely, is surely a double whammy? How can that snippet of conversation be meaningful, except by pure chance?

Josie Fraser is making an effort to make her Twitter stream more meaningful, and it will be interesting to see how that works out, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thirdly, what's the point of it anyway? For me, the idea of Twitter as conversation is that I'd like people to converse with me, not look at what is, in effect, a transcript of a conversation I'm having.

The widget I tried out made matters worse because, for some reason, it showed only my side of the conversation. So you would see these disembodied pronouncements which, if anything, made me look like a complete moron. That leads me on to…

Fourthly, when I was trying it out, because I knew that the conversation, or my side of it at least, would appear on my website, I found myself starting to look over my shoulder at myself, which is physically impossible, I know, but hopefully you will get my drift. I would start to think, "How will this look to anyone who doesn't know me?", and so I began to think twice before I replied with LOL or "Oh no" or whatever. It placed an unnecessary and self-imposed block on my self-expression.

Even if all these objections could be overcome, there is a fifth one. This blog is entirely about ICT in education. Maybe that degree of nicheness makes me the most boring person on earth, but that's the way it is. In Twitter and other places, though, I have more wide-ranging conversations. Having those, or parts of them, appear on my blog would serve only to dilute it as far as I'm concerned.

You may argue that it would be nice to see a different side to me. I agree that it's always nice to see other dimensions of the people whose blogs we read. The answer is: follow me on Twitter! I'll probably follow you back, and we will both gain. Or read my other blog, where I write about anything and everything, when I find the time.

I can see that there may be some value in publishing a Twitter stream from a list you belong to, especially if it's a specialised list. But then, for me, there's another objection:

I don't know what the people I converse with are going to say. Most of them, most of the time, don't say anything which might embarrass me, but every so often one of them will swear or imply swearing. If they did so in a comment I would refuse to publish the comment, but I don't have that facility in publishing a Twitter stream (as far as I know). The swearing doesn't happen very often, but I don't want it to appear on my website at all.

Finally, this highlights a really important issue. I think one of the things we ought to be teaching young people, and demonstrating, is that we control the technology, or should do. By placing code on your website which puts you, in effect, at the mercy of anyone who, whether inadvertently or not, says something you'd rather not see under your name, you're modelling the exact opposite, ie the technology is in control while you are a passive bystander.

All things considered, I think that placing a Twitter stream on a website is definitely a solution to a problem. It's just that I haven't figured out the problem yet.