Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Speedbumps on the Way to Creating a Blog Based Micro-Community

 

Lee White and I recently initiated an experiment, described here, that consists of our writing about a specific topic (project management and social media) on our respective blogs. Lee writes a post on his blog, I respond on my blog, then we combine and display the posts and the comments we receive in a single RSS feed. (Click here for the current feed.)

There have been a few bumps along the way that have generated an end product — a single displayable combined feed — that’s not yet 100% of what we had hoped for. This is partly due to the RSS sources our blog services generate, and partly to the types of freely available tools we’re using to generate and display the feeds.

As blogging services Lee uses WordPress and I use Squarespace. Each service automatically generates an RSS feed that is associated with posts that are tagged in a certain way. It’s easy to use a service such as Feed Digest (there are other services we haven’t tried yet) to generate a combined feed that each of us can display. Lee links to the combined HTML feed generated by Feed Digest (click here) and I’ve been experimenting with scripts generated by Feed Digest as well as my usual RSS display tool Grazr (click here).

One thing we’ve noticed is that the combined feed generated by Feed Digest frequently lags behind the input feeds generated by our individual blogs. We’re investigating possible solutions since we’d prefer to see a combined feed that immediately reflects when we publish items on our blogs.

I’ve also noticed that the Grazr service sometimes has difficulty reading the combined feed generated by Feed Digest. I’ve been communicating with Grazr about this, who has been VERY cooperative, and I believe a fix is on the way.

So far we have not found a simple way to include in the combined feed some of the comments that are linked to our original posts. Both WordPress and Squarespace automatically generate RSS feeds for comments, but they do not appear to automatically subdivide those feeds by the tags we assign to the original posts. (I’ve tried using the keyword searching feature that Feed Digest provides to filter feed contents but haven’t yet gotten it to work.)

Several folks via Twitter and Linkedin Bloggers have suggested we try using Yahoo! Pipes to create a unified feed. I’m looking into this.

However, I’m a bit leary of devoting a lot more time to this. It is an experiment, after all. But I have also been thinking about some of the broader implications of this experiment.

The question arises as to why Lee and I don’t just create an online group where people can  read and comment on our posts. Why, after all, try to do something like this “micro-collaboration experiment” using blogging tools that have to be supplemented with external services to accomplish what we want?

That’s a valid question. The experiment originally grew out of our desire to do something collaborative concerning one of our common interests. We decided to try this approach since it appeared to provide a means of generating and strengthening interest in our own blogs, as opposed to creating a temporary third physical location somewhere else on the Internet.  While it’s exceedingly easy to create a specialized group using services such as Facebook or CollectiveX, we thought that keeping links, feeds,  and traffic associated with our existing blogs, would be preferable.

Plus, we weren’t interested in establishing a full-fledged “community” around this topic, preferring instead to keep things simple by focusing on existing tools for tags, feeds, and comments. Starting a “group” would add another layer of complexity since group tools tend to be “walled gardens” and usually have more features than we really wanted to have to manage. (Facebook is littered with moribund groups and we didn’t want to fall into that trap.)

Lee and I are a couple of consultants shooting the breeze about a common topic on our blogs that we think will interest other people. The idea is that anyone can join in via comments, and we then make it easy to follow the “conversation” via a combined feed.

We know it’s probably possible to accomplish everything we want via some original “programming” but that puts the project into another realm of complexity.

I’ve also wondered how this type of application — creating temporary collaboration “communities” that remain “blog-centric” —  relates to efforts such as OpenSocial and DataPortablity.org (I recently wrote about those efforts here).

Those efforts arose out of a desire by some to simplify and standardize the management and sharing of identity and relationship related information.

Lee’s and my interest is a it different. We simply want to create and combine information generated by ourselves and by people who comment while using the inherent features of our bogging platforms, without having to involve a “third party” such as a social networking service or platform.

Should the ability to do this type of targeted sharing be a standard feature of web based publishing platforms, i.e., should it be possible to establish such a specialized cross-web-site area for discussion without having to resort to external third party tools or services?

In other words, if someone wants to create a unique “space” for a discussion of a specific topic, should it not be possible to set up a specific tag (Lee and I are using “PMandSM” which stands for “Project management and Social Media”) that supports a variety of sharing and tagging features that propagate among participating blogs without having to involve “walled garden” types of online networking services or all the other features and functions of online social networks? And if such a feature were available as a standard feature of web based publishing services such as blogs, would dedicated online social networking services actually be necessary?

 

 

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