Being boring online

Boring PieI don’t know when I got boring online. It just happened slowly. The gradual boring of Ron Bronson probably began with the start of my professional career.

I went from the Air Force to college, so I had about eight years of unadulterated time to indulge in my interests, while working and I think I used the time pretty wisely. But then I started working and changed the formula up.

I’m not sure if I just thought I had to do it because I was “grown up” at that point or if there was some other catalyst for it. But there’s no doubt that what I used to talk about online, I no longer do.

Why this is important is really related to my interests and the expression of the things I’m really passionate about. The fact is, I never talk about anything other than music. Maybe because it’s safe. Perhaps, when I feel like potential employers, colleagues, clients and online people who’ve never met me in real life will read what I write because I’m afraid they’re going to misunderstand my points.

Perhaps I’m just overwhelmed by the way the world has emerged online and I’ve failed to adapt my own strategies to accommodate that. I mean, I had a successful, well read blog at a time when few people were blogging and did this for years. Then I stopped as life changed, I moved and decided that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to say so much. My views have indeed changed over the years and I’m sure that’s helped too. But if you don’t talk to me offline, you’d have no idea of the real path of that evolution because there’s no real record of it anywhere.

This has come up a lot, because about once a month, someone from the past will resurface. They’ll recall the “old” me. Projects I’ve worked on, things I’d done and when I talk about what I do now, I remember why during my last year of college I abhorred the idea of selling out and getting a job before I earned a few more degrees.

I got out of the Air Force in 2002 and went to college full-time after that (I started college in ’01 while still on active duty at Wash U) but took a year off between 2004 and 2005. In part for an internship, but also because I got a job. My parents thought this made a lot more sense, after all, because well…I was 26 at that point and people back home had assumed I’d been in school since 18. I got a lot of “well, are you STILL in school? How many degrees are you getting?!” But I hadn’t been in school even three years at that point. Yet, I felt pressure to work, because that’s what my folks do, y’know?

But in the fall of 2005, I went back to school to finish. In the summer of 2006, I got my first job as a web content editor and a bunch of redesigns, a blog and some other good stuff later, the rest is history.

The point of all of this though, is somewhere along the way I lost my identity. I started to envelope what I did professionally with my life off the web and before I knew it, my career swallowed my self-expression whole. Everything I did became about “growing my profile.” As much as I deride those personal brand builders, I was reading them and snickering on one hand, but quietly letting that methodology influence my dealings online.

What’s strange is, I didn’t hesitate to pull any punches on edustir when it comes to issues in higher ed that I felt needed to be addressed. Yet, when it comes to things outside the realm of higher education, I would shrivel up and stay the neutral course.

Twitter made this worse. No tool has been better for me, in terms of staying connected to folks I’ve met professionally and no tool has been a vehicle for an Isopropyl alcohol-like sanitizing of my online personality like Twitter has. It’s not the medium’s fault, it’s a reflection of my own conservatism and a desire not to be misconstrued at any turn.

As I reflect on it though, I realize that the fearlessness I’ve demonstrated at my peak is the sort of attitude I need to take as I go forward on things. I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the need for people and institutions to use their own understanding of their strengths to represent their product, brand or whatever else in their communications online.

But I’ve come head first into the collision of how executing that in practice, is a whole lot more difficult than doing it in theory. Figuring out where to go next, of course, is a challenge I’m actively confronting.

The trials of teaching an online class, Pt. 1

In the classroom

Earlier this year, I made a transition from talking about web strategy behind the scenes, to doing so in front of a classroom of aspiring web professionals. This is the third term I’ve taught The Business of Visual Art: Web Design course at the Community College of Aurora, but it wasn’t until now that I even felt remotely comfortable relaying my experiences in the classroom.

Public speaking is no big deal for me, generally, but I the first term I taught, it was most certainly a “work in progress” sort of deal. The course has evolved and yet, there are some interesting issues related to the whole “connecting with students” through an online course. It’s an especially difficult thing when you’re the sort of person who relies heavily on face-to-face interactions to build understanding and trust, in order to deliver your message.

My class isn’t entirely online. 3 of the classes are in person, for two hours and the rest of the program is online (over a 10 week term) so there are opportunities to connect, but I’ve had to hone this over the terms, because it’s not a natural posture for me.

I’ve taken online classes in the past and I’ve had many of the same frustrations with taking classes online, that I’ve had teaching one. A lot of it is endemic to the tools that are used. We’re transitioning to a new system, so perhaps that’ll help.

But I think student engagement can be difficult regardless of what you’re using as a tool. I’ve adapted my methods to increase participation and a lot of that has to do with the format of the course, course loads and the traditional v. non-traditional student demographics. But I’ve been in online courses in the past, where I saw thinly veiled busywork exercises developed solely aimed at manufacturing class “participation” and I think this is the sort of thing you wouldn’t see in a regular format class. Does this improve the student experience? I’d venture to say no.

My gut reaction to most learning management tools, is they’re redundant and there are better ways to deliver this sort of content to campus, but it might require innovation and nimbleness from plucky entrepreneurs who understand the problem and are driven to solve it. (e.g. A higher ed-centered Basecamp, for instance.)

I’ve wondered a bit, as I’ve exposed my students to social networking tools they haven’t used (for instance, very few had ever used Twitter and maybe 1 or 2 were regular users and no…neither were teens.) whether or not the education we’re doing on campuses related to the use of digital tools is really working at all. For all the geniuses out there trying to teach people about how to ignite their web efforts on campus, I’m still wondering if we’re not leaving people behind.

For instance, if there were innovative and diverse ways to integrate Twitter into a classroom setting, would this result in a decrease in much of the widespread resistance to such tools? Now, I’m not advocating for a widespread blurring of the lines, but once people realize that social media isn’t magic, it might make it easier to increase conversations that might not otherwise happen.

Teaching has been great to explain things that we as web professionals might put in practice all of the time, but don’t necessarily think about some fairly basic user questions about how these tools can be useful.

The peril of being “social”

Welp, if you enjoyed using the social network Foursquare (like me), prepare to lose all of your mayorships and expect to contend with a ton of new traffic, as the NY Times has profiled the new service in today’s paper: (I’m mostly kidding, btw.)

Just seven months old with about 60,000 users so far, Foursquare is still getting off the ground — especially when compared with supersize services like Facebook and Twitter, which have millions of members. But that underground status is part of Foursquare’s appeal, its fans say. It is not yet cluttered with celebrities, nosy mothers-in-law or annoying co-workers.

“On Twitter, there are more than 3,000 people that follow me, and Facebook is more of a business community now,” said Annie Heckenberger, 36, who works at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “Foursquare is more of the people that I actually hang out with and want to socialize with.”

That brings up a point that Michael Stoner touches on in his recent post, where he coins the term “engagement fatigue.” In short he says:

The disorder is engagement fatigue. Engagement fatigue will occur when mass numbers of people participating in social networking—everyone who is making marketers salivate because they’re swarming to Facebook, Twitter, etc.—get tired of brand engagement marketing and tune out.

What happens when you get tired of hearing from people? Don’t want to see their photos, don’t care what their kids are doing potty training and feel the need to create a nebulous profile blocks to ensure that certain people can’t see everything? What happens when the tools we use become too ubiquitous to be useful anymore? Well we know what happens, we move on to other things. But when those tools become a big part of our lives? I know my answers to this question, but it’s a bigger one I’m putting out there for the wider audience.

Is this some sort of permissive intrusiveness that we’re sanctioning through permissions on a web site? How far does it go and for what aims? I realize this is almost a backwards argument, given how far we’ve gone with most sites these days, but I wonder exactly what we expect to be doing with our Facebook profiles in five years.

A modern bobsleigh team, the 2006 United State...
Image via Wikipedia

At least when I used AOL in the 90s, you knew when you deleted your account, your profile and screen name went away too. As it turns out, those profiles weren’t all that interesting anyway. But now? Facebook is better than any family photo album you can find. I guess this is just part of their longevity strategy, but I really am mulling (and no, there’s no real punchline to this post, sorry..I’m just musing) over where we’re really headed with all of this and how profound an effect it’ll have on our social interactions over the next half decade or so.

It’s already affecting us, but I think we’re just scratching the surface. So much of what we talk about in these contexts almost becomes solely focused on how we can profit from these intimate details that people give up freely and I’m really wondering about the ethics of this and whether we’re not riding a bobsleigh towards a place that none of us really want to go until it’s too late and we’re already at the bottom of the course.


NBA launches a video rule book

Fans think there are unwritten rules that govern the NBA’s referees and how infractions are called depending on who the player is that commits the violations. The league decided to create an online rule book to address these concerns. The video rule book launches today and is online at

From the article:

“It’s very difficult, unless you’ve played the game at a very high level, or better yet, officiated the game at a very high level, to understand the complexity of our rules simply by reading them,” said Stu Jackson, the N.B.A.’s executive vice president for basketball operations.

The league is aware of the need to educate fans — especially now, with a staff of replacement referees on the court and the regular referees locked out over a contract dispute.

Fan sentiment toward N.B.A. officiating generally ranges from mild frustration to fiery cynicism. Some fans believe an unwritten rule book governs the sport: that superstars get the benefit of the doubt, home teams get more favorable calls and no one ever gets called for traveling.

The league has tried for years to dispel those beliefs as myths and to explain how the referees do their job. The effort became more urgent after a veteran official, Tim Donaghy, was convicted in 2007 of conspiring with gamblers, which only increased the public’s cynicism.

The reason I’ve been posting a lot of articles on sports lately, is simple. There’s a lot of overlap in the way that athletic organizations are handling social media and web issues, that can be instructive for higher education. Not so much for athletic departments, for the institutions themselves. I know that the corporate examples get more attention because of the increased desire to relate business and education together, but I think sports are a better example, because of the parallels between their relationship between constituents and also, because athletic institutions are often home to sports that in some parts of the world would resemble something out of a top-level professional league.

Interesting move by the NBA, but I doubt anyone who follows the league with any regularity actually believes this means that LeBron James will get treated the same way on the court — at home — as say, some unknown 10th guy during the same game.

Looks like someone’s got a case of the Mondays (links)

A few things you should read intersecting around higher ed, social media, branding and yadda yadda. But first , your moment of zen:

Elizabeth Allen at Adaptivate talks about the final stages of the redesign process.

mStonerblog asks, “When You’re Hiring a Consultant, Does Education Experience Matter?”

Joe Favorito talks about the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils and their challenges branding themselves in a metropolitan area with a ton of entertainment competition. He also writes a great piece about the criticisms by those responding to the US Olympic Committee presentation for the 2016 Chicago Olympic bid. It starts with some extremely instructive advice for all of us:

Knowing how to effectively communicate messages internally, building consensus amongst key leadership, speaking with one voice, knowing your constituents and addressing their needs, or at least acknowledging their needs, and then making sure that media are communicated to in an effective and consistent manner are all hallmarks of effective internal and external communications, whether you are a large public corporation or a small business or not-for- profit.

Have a great week!