Call me when I can trust you

I just found an email dated over a month ago from a representative from the agency Atmosphere Communications asking me to contribute to a project that they are working on ‘on behalf of the Economist’ in SA. According to the representative, the project aims to set up a temporary South African “microsite” called in order “to build closer links with its readers across the globe” with an especial “focus on the country due to the 2010 FIFA World Cup”.

How, you may ask, is the Economist attempting to build closer links with its readers across the globe? Is it connecting journalists and bloggers to hear the real story about South Africa? Is it really listening to its readers on the ground? It is profiling the work of aspirant local writers in its publication?

None of the above, it seems. The only ‘closer links’ the company wants to build is ‘closer links’ to your pocket. Continue reading “Call me when I can trust you”

The ‘Digital Open’ is now open

Friends Jess Hemerly and David Evan Harris have asked Simon Dingle and I (from SA, at least) to be judges in this awesome competition/community initiative from BoingBoing, Sun and the Institute for the Future where they work. As always, the devil is in the detail, and I really love the details of this competition – great social networking features and badges that will be unlocked when users achieve things like writing 10 comments etc. Best among the prizes (gear, tech, bags etc) is that winners in each category will be featured on BoingBoing Video.

Institute for the Future, in partnership with Sun Microsystems and Boing Boing, invites youth worldwide, age 17 and under, to join us as we explore the frontiers of free and open innovation. The Digital Open: An Innovation Expo for Global Youth will celebrate projects in a variety of areas ranging from the environment, art and music to the more traditional open source domains of software and hardware.

From April 15 until August 15, 2009, we’ll accept text, photos, and videos documenting projects from young people around the world who want to contribute to the growing free and open technology community.

But the Digital Open is more than an online competition. By submitting a project, you’ll become a valuable member of a community of creative young innovators working in the exciting world of free and open technology.

Collaboration is encouraged! In addition to a variety of prizes and achievements you can earn through community participation, the top project in each category will earn a fantastic prize pack and be featured on Boing Boing Video!

The future is yours to make! Get started at

The organisers are looking for stewards to help get the word out and gather submissions in South Africa (one of the target countries). If you’re interested in helping out, please contact me.

The (new) blog awards

Ok, so this is my last post about the matter. There were so many wonderful ideas that came out of this little storm today that I can’t help put them forward so that something constructive comes out of this. Maybe this will mean that next year, we will have more input into the process, or maybe it will mean that there will be a new SA Blog Award. Whatever happens, this is what came out of conversations today:

  • Big first step is to develop some core principles that will underpin the competition, its process, winners etc. We should know what values the competition stands for.
  • Next is to house the awards with a credible, trustworthy organisation that doesn’t have a vested interest in the awards – either a new media department at a university, perhaps, or a large company like a local bank who can put some cash into the project. Choice of host will probably be determined by the principles.
  • Thirdly, judges should not nominate themselves – they should be chosen for their particular experience in the subject (e.g. photographer if it’s a photography blog etc), perhaps a star blogger from another country etc. and there should be a very specific (limited) number of judges.
  • If this is going to be a national award about representative, good quality content, then I’d say that the public should nominate the blogs and that, in order to go through, the sites should have to meet certain criteria (including user numbers). The chosen judges should discuss the nominees in each category and make the final choice. Peoples’ choice awards are very simple to decide – you just have to look at local user statistics – but quality, representative material needs to be decided by people talking together.

And no, I’m not writing this because I want to be a judge, nor do I want to enter the awards, nor do I want to get the contract to organise the next awards.

I’m just interested in making things better – not because I’m trying to save the world or because I have a halo around my head, but just because.

Oh, and thanks, Seth. I made so many new friends today 🙂 Thank you for caring so much.

The real conversation

Anyone could have predicted it. Make a comment about the state of blogging in South Africa by refering the winner of the SA Blog Awards and you get this:

insults about my blog and how boring it is;
– reaffirmation about why the blog in question is so incredibly fabulous by its gang of aggro readers;
– reaffirmation of my own worries that this conversation is (again) taking place among a very small demographic of South Africa’s population and with no recognition of that fact.

All (again) diverting us away from what the real conversation should be about – and that’s where the South African blogging community is heading.

Again, this is not a 2oceansvibe bashing. I appreciate that we need diversion; I appreciate that Seth has worked really hard on his blog; it’s not my thing but that’s just me – and that’s the great thing about blogging: we can all have our ‘thing’. What I’m saying, though, is that, if we’re using the measure of happy advertisers, or most loyal readers, or even most readers, then our choices would be different. These awards shouldn’t be about blogs with the most readers. If it was, we wouldn’t be able to notice more innovative sites – that may not be raking in the cash precisely because they’re new and innovative.

I mean, surely just by looking at the awards, the people who attended the event etc, you can’t honestly say that blogging in SA is in a healthy state of diversity and growing among new audiences.

Or maybe I’m just being boring. Maybe I should just get a ‘good shag’ or go back to the ‘beach’.

The blog awards

I’m still trying to work it out, but perhaps its as obvious as the number of readers of newspapers with headlines about young women having sex with aliens. I think it’s an indictment on SA blogging when 2oceansvibe wins 6 categories, including ‘Best South African’ blog in this year’s SA Blog Awards. I mean, I have nothing against the blog (I realise that there is a pretty large audience for tits, ass, cars, rugby and surfing) but the fact that this is the blog that we hold up to the world as our national pride and joy makes me want to hurl. Actually, this comment by 2oceansvibe’s author, Seth Rotherham seems to sum up where blogging in SA is at right now:


I was a judge in this year’s awards. That involved me going to a website to vote for my favorite blogs in 3 categories. Votes were weighted in favor of public votes. According to the rules, that means that ‘In the voting phase the vote weighting will be 30% judges and 70% public’ whereas in the nomination phase it is ‘50% judges 50% public’.

In the future, I think we need to distinguish between popular voted blogs and then get the judges together to discuss their choice of winners that best reflects where South Africa is right now and where it is heading (and that’s not just in terms of the Internet which is very white, middle class and English right now). I’m really not blaming the awesome guys like Miguel dos Santos, Chris Rawlinson and the team who put this together at the last minute. I just think in the future we need to have a vision for things like this that has a lot more to do with the future of blogging in SA than a chance for the same few to continue to dominate the spotlight.

If the blog awards brand doesn’t have any meaning, any vision, any unique take on the world of blogging, then I guess it will be just another popularity contest – which is fine – but just not what I hoped for SA.

How (and how not) to teach blogging

Dominick Chen and Lawrence Lessig by Joi Ito on Flickr CC BY

Photo by Joi Ito on Flickr licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license

I just wrote this post for Rising Voices and thought I’d share it here too.

In Paulo Coelho’s latest book, ‘The Witch of Portobello‘, the character Nabil Alaihi says: “What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”

I love this quote. It really expresses the goal that I have in my teaching – not to see learners as empty vessels that the teacher will pour their knowledge into, but rather as people who only need to be inspired in order to find how to apply what they already know to a new subject.

I know that I’m not there yet – and that I have a lot to learn in order to become a better teacher. The three-hour session that I had to teach blogging to an NGO in Durban, is a case in point. I thought I’d tell you what I learned.

1. Who is learning and who is teaching?

The best teaching that you can do starts with learners who actually want to learn. A good way of weeding out those who don’t want to learn is by getting people to come to you (rather than the other way round).

The lesson? When NGOs design interventions and funders fund those interventions, make sure there is some hurdle that learners have to jump over to indicate their willingness to learn. Sometimes that means paying a fee (however small) to attend the training, or asking people to write a motivation as to why they would be a good person to attend the training. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t produce a situation where people are sending learners who have no interest just to make up numbers and check the ‘outcomes achieved’ box.

2. Focus on measurable outcomes

There’s a very important difference between a goal of ‘training 10 students how to blog’ and a goal of ‘seeing 10 bloggers who are actively blogging 6 months after the initial training’. The first goal will necessarily have a pretty low success rate, even although this kind of training is much easier to do, and probably can be done lots of people. But achieving the goal of seeing active bloggers still blogging after their training will force you to think more about how you want to do the training, what you want to cover, and how long the new bloggers need to be supported for. For example, after an initial session outlining blogging tools, you could go onto teaching interviewing skills and digital camera skills, as well as goal-setting and editorial management – all this if you want to see an actual increase in the amount of meaningful content being covered by a specific group.

On this note, I found some great resources on the site ‘’ on ‘How to grow a blog‘. This covers a lot of great material focusing on how to set long and short-term goals for your blog and how to match those goals with the kinds of habits that will enable you to find success in achieving your goals. Volunteers from the Rising Voices team are also currently working on capturing different curricula and materials for teaching blogging, and they’ll definitely be well-used since there isn’t a lot out there at the moment.

3. Listen to your learners

Another great lesson that I learned in teaching blogging last month was to listen very, very carefully to your learners, and to do as much preparation before your teaching to find out about who the students are. The best teaching starts from where the learners are at, rather than where you’re at. For the Durban workshop, I had planned to spend most of my three-hour session talking about how to maintain a blog, but when I realised that the learners had lost their usernames and passwords from the original training and we had to start at the beginning, I had to ditch my plans and focus on what would help the learners right then and there. I’d have been in a better position if I had known this during the planning stages. The lesson is to ask lots and lots of questions as you are planning what to teach – especially when you only have a limited time with your students.

4. Ask the right questions

The final lesson that I learned was to learn how to ask the right questions from your students. I thought that it would be a good idea to ask the students why they wanted to learn how to blog, but when I told Rising Voices director David Sasaki about this, he offered some wise words:

Sometimes I think people get intimidated when you ask “why do you want to blog” because many people still equate it with having something “so important” to say as to warrant publishing. One of the tough things to convey – even to experienced bloggers – is that when it’s true that they are potentially writing to the whole world, it’s also true that they probably have a very small group of readers that are interested in a very particular topic. To get the conversation going sometimes I ask, how do you explain your job to others? Or, what assumptions do people make about your work that aren’t correct?

If I knew everything I know now about my students, I think I would have done things a lot differently in those three hours that I had with them. I also realise that a lot of the session was out of my control. But the good thing is that it made me think very deeply about how we teach people how to blog and how development interventions need to be designed in order to have the most impact and to get that training to the people who most want to use it.

That’s the funny thing about teaching – you end up learning a whole lot more than you probably teach.

IEC website now available to non-Microsoft users

Great news from Tectonic about the Independent Electoral Commission’s website now being open to non-IE users. Congrats to everyone who made this happen. The hundreds of emails, blog posts and complaints to the South African Human Rights Commission has done the trick.

I love the comment by Friedel Wolff from below:

Writing a feature on this for Global Voices.