Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A storm blew through Austin today. I work 20 feet below street level, so my first inkling that something was up came from a phone call from Jamie, informing me that I should not leave work and to please keep an eye on the live feed from KXAN. So I worked.

That was fine. I was out of the office yesterday and helped out a training session all day today.

Like most Texans, I'm not afraid of that weather. It just is. Golf ball-sized hail causes massive property damage, but its usually not dangerous and its inevitable. Its happens somewhere in town every year. The wind and sideways rain are part and parcel of springtime weather that I cannot imagine the first settlers dealing with in their sod huts, let alone the largely nomadic people who were in the Central Texas area of the 19th Century.

We joke in our office about how the world will end outside, but we'll only know when we lose our data connection or when we walk out to get a cup of coffee. Sometimes I worry that's more true than a joke, and Jason has referenced that old Twilight Zone episode where the guy breaks his glasses left alone in his library.

While @theworld has been worried about Twitter of late, I've been thinking a lot about our mission and what it means to have social media in an academic or research environment. The tendency is to assume the "one size fits all" approach of popular technologies like facebook and Twitter MUST be applied to academia. Some folks do it and do it well. I believe Garcia has made a career out of doing just that.

I confess to being more skeptical. When asked to "give Dr. X a blog" when I was at ASU, I refused. " is completely free and has dedicated technical support. I am not bringing up a whole blog service because one faculty wants to rant on the internet." I don't think either the faculty or my boss at the time understood that Blogger in 2002 was going to be as useful and reliable as anything I'd spend time or money on. If I recall, Blogger at the time may not have had editable themes or URL re-direct, which I may have made some noise about, but the issue then was really that the instructor and my boss (a) felt I was just being petulant for not just instructing my co-workers to "build a blogging tool", and (b) that it wasn't coming out of nor housed at ASU.

I've changed my tune on that one, in a way. I still would never bring up a whole service to satisfy one faculty when there are free, hosted services available, and I will note that we use open source software in our office, so I feel good about the fact that we're getting the best of both worlds. But I also feel deeply that researchers SHOULD be blogging. Maybe not about BSG or what they ate for dinner, but that it can help punch through the wall between scholars and the public when the scholars publicly describe their work rather than sitting behind the keep walls (most can't get a spot in the actual ivory tower). And as long as they aren't available to the public, or are even perceived as real humans doing work by the public, its going to remain the same closed communication loop of journals and peer-reviewed journals in which the same people talk to one another but do not broadcast outward. And, it might remind researchers of the public and how they absorb the information and value the work going on at research institutions.

But I am unsure if Twittering research results is prudent or wise or lends credibility. And it certainly doesn't maintain the sound fundamentals of peer-review as part of the scholarly process, which I believe are what keeps the machine credible and working (if only we asked for the same peer review of our television media in their stories and articles). But there is a net that researchers and scholars will build naturally, and we're sort of sitting on the forefront of all that right now.

The tough part is changing "the way it was" to "the way it could be", when institutions like universities thrive on "we do what we know because we have neither time nor money to cope with the change".

I think that was a long, long tangent.

What I meant to say was that Thursday is Peabo's Birthday. He is now as old as Jamie and older than me.

May the sun shine upon him on his birthday. I did not buy him a present, but will buy him dinner, should he make the request.

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