On Making the Header

I said I would write up the process of creating the header for the hub so that you might be able to do something similar in your own blogs if you so wished. Here goes.

Once we had the photos taken on the iPad I wanted them available to me on my laptop for editing. I did this by enabling automatic uploads from an iPad App called Dropbox. Everytime I take a photo or video on the iPad it’s automatically uploaded to my Dropbox account. Dropbox also allows me to have special folders on each computer I use and synchronizes each folder every time a new file is uploaded.


[the dropbox icon which sits in my systems tray at the bottom right of my screen]


Once a file is in a Dropbox folder I can also access it by signing in to the Dropbox website. So, not only is this a great way of getting photos off the iPad and onto my laptop without hooking them together with a cable, it’s also a great way of automatically backing up my files. Every time I work on a piece of writing that I’ve taken from my Dropbox folder (no matter which computer I’m using) I know I am working on the latest version.

Next stage was to edit each photo. I used http://ipiccy.com/ a great online photo editor that doesn’t even ask you to register before you can use it. Simply go to the site, upload a photo from a folder on your computer and start editing. My edits were simple: I cropped most of the photos to improve the composition and added a text box with a # phrase.

The idea of a collage had been discussed in class so a quick Google search for ‘ headers photo collage’ led me to a YouTube video that explained how to use Picassa 3 to do it:

I decided to use the suggestion because I know how time-consuming it can be to try and compose photos using complicated photo-editing software. Even a relatively simple, free and very good photo editing platform like pixlr takes time to use well. So I decide to try Picassa. It’s a quick, free to download and easy to set up. Once I’d installed it I imported the pictures we’d taken and which I’d edited.

Picassa shares many functions with Flickr – you can use it to share and organise photos over the web. However, it also has more sophisticated editing functions including the possibility of creating collages. Here’s a short screencast showing how I used a folder of photos (these were some landscape photos I did in Cheshire a couple of years ago) to create a collage in Picassa. It’s 4-click simple.

[The screencast was created with Screencastify, an add-on to the Chrome browser]

Once I had created the collage for the header in Picasso I exported it onto the desktop. Now I needed to get it into WordPress as a header.

Normally this process is very easy because WordPress themes generally have the option to change the header image in the dashboard under Appearance:


If you’re using WordPress.com for your blogs this is what you’ll see together with the option of choosing a new image from your computer which you will be able to crop to the correct size in the dashboard itself.

Unfortunately, the theme which we use in Communication Activism, Fashionista doesn’t enable the easy inclusion of a header image without hard coding, and I didn’t want to get into that with all the problems it can cause with the site being viewed on different screen sizes. So instead I used WYSIWYG Widgets a plugin that allows you to create widgets with images just as you would create posts or pages. The widget I created included the image I’d made with Picassa re-sized to 980 x 141 pixels – the size of the header container in the theme. Once placed in the header, the widget showed the image I wanted and I was done.

I’m not great at graphics. I’m pretty hopeless at colours, but I think the header, as it stands, does represent a little of what we’re about on the course.

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Musical DNA

Here’s an interesting experiment by the guy who made a video using 2,000 still images and 300 fans. Jonathan Dagan, producer, writer, remixer and visual artist who works under the name j.viewz made a fairly straight music video for his album with him messing about in the winter countryside wearing a cat suit. Then he printed out every frame of that video and handed the images to fans during a tour he did in Israel. From those images he assembled a stop-motion video and made it available on a special player where the fans who took part could tag themselves on the frame in which they appeared. The idea is to explore the ways in which the ‘artist’ can collaborate with the ‘fans’ to create something that is unpredictably co-produced.

Dagan is not the first to do this kind of thing. A much more sophisticated exemplar of the genre is the beautiful Johnny Cash Project, a global collaborative art project which creates a music video for Johnny Cash’s final studio recording ‘Aint No Grave’ from hundreds of use-submitted portraits of the artist. It’s stunningly beautiful.

But back to Dagan. His new project is to document the making of an album as it happens on an interactive website funded through crowd-sourced money of his fans. The website promises to allow fans to contribute to tracks and listen to each song as it’s completed rather than waiting until the album is finished. Dagan calls the initiative the DNA Project because the idea is to show the workings of creativity at every point in the making of the music. It’s an interesting concept and I wonder how much insight we’ll get about the creative process from following it.

See Kickstarter for more detail.


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Connected worlds

have become a vital part of our lives in the past few years with the spread of digital technologies and particularly social media. We use them to find jobs, friends and even life-long partners. We mine them for information to help us fix the car or plan a lesson. But what are networks? What do we know about them?

Simply put, networks are things that tie other things together. The planet itself is a network of interconnected fault lines and weather patterns. Networks of roots and capillaries transport food to plants enabling them to live and grow. Cities are tied together through road networks routed through junctions and intersections. Humans form networks in order to tie people together. We tie together because we are social and that’s how we nourish our humanity. It’s not just spies or old boys who join together in networks. Bonds between families, communities, villages and nations are created and nurtured through networks. In fact, the writing of this blog post, my checking of emails, receiving of phone calls and bills paid, all make use of networks. Networks remind us of the responsibility of the individual to the community, and even to the propagation of the species. No-thing and no-one operates in isolation. We can be autonomous but because of the ties that bind we are always providing support for those to whom we are connected. When the individual thrives, the community thrives. When communities lose support through a withdrawing of connections, those communities wither.

With the emergence of the Internet, our networks have expanded. In the twenty years since the web has been mainstream our communications landscape has been radically changed. We are, nearly, all networked now. What we have been trying to understand in this new world is how this expansion of the network (as metaphor and reality) has changed our world. We began by reading chapter two or Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody which argues that expanded networks increase complexity exponentially. More than three and a half billion people connected on the digital network, greater density of interactions between them, faster change than we have ever experienced as a species …

This complexity is just how it is and we are slowly getting used to it – some more quickly than others. But it is a challenge. We like to be able to predict what’s going to happen but who could have predicted that a service like Twitter would be sending nearly 350,00 tweets a minute or that over 4 million searches a minute would be made on Google?

This is the complexity that Shirky is at pains to describe. One of the things about complex systems is that they are difficult to understand and hard to predict. Traditional organisations don’t thrive amid such complexity – companies, governments, industries – have in the past always tried to reduce or control complexity by standardising things and services, integrating competition and controlling their customers. That’s becoming more difficult as people discover new strategies to exploit their networks and challenge the hegemony of the powerful. That’s a story that is beginning to emerge and one that we are exploring in the communication activism unit. It’s also one that has important implications for education and for how each one of us develops the skills and understandings necessary to thrive in a networked world.


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Tasks for Commactivism: Week 3

Here’s a summary of the tasks I’d like you to complete this week. You could spend a lot of time on the blog posts. However, at this stage, give yourself some limits (a word-limit or a time limit) in order to complete all of the tasks. I’m not going to set those for you. It’s your learning and you need to manage it yourself.

A. Write at least two tweets which include links to readings that you have found useful, either about the concepts we explored this week or the tools that we have been using.

B. Use the following questions to write a post on your blog summarising your understandings of and reactions to Clay Shirky’s chapter from Here Comes Everybody (a .pdf of the chapter is available on our Moodle area). Instead of simply answering the questions, think of them as a framework for two or three paragraphs in which you explain and respond to Shirky’s arguments.

  1. What does Shirky mean when he says that a group’s complexity grows faster than its size?
  2. What is the inherent problem in coordinating large groups?
  3. Explain why Flickr is an example of the ways in which coordination in large groups is changing?
  4. How was Flickr used during the London bombings in 2007?
  5. What is a latent group and how can it be harnessed?
  6. Shirky argues that: ‘Our electronic networks are enabling novel forms of collective action, enabling the creation of collaborative groups that are larger and more distributed than at any other time in history. The scope of work that can be done by noninstitutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo’ (p. 48). Explain how https://liftshare.com/ukhttps://www.airbnb.co.uk and https://www.taskrabbit.co.uk/ are examples of such novel forms.
    What are the differences, according to Shirky, between sharing, cooperation & collaboration production, and collective action? Give examples of each.

C. Blog post: Return to one of the slides from the lecture today and summarise the notes you took from the information I gave you. Follow up some of the key themes/events by looking for relevant information on the web, adding it to your notes where appropriate.

D. Add at least one photograph to your Flickr account and tag it commactivism. Then add that photo to a blog post and explain the process you used to take the photograph, add it to flickr and then to your blog. If you get stuck, this video will help you.

How does the process illustrate some of the points that Shirky was making in Here Comes Everybody?


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Job Opportunity

In a world where automated processes are inexorably replacing decent human work here’s a reminder that ‘employability’ is more than a series of ‘skill-sets’.

Japanese scissors (called nigiri basami) have been made by hand for over 1,200 years. They’re are made to a standard design but small modifications requested by their users can be accommodated because they are handmade.

Osami Mizuike, the last person to make these scissors is now looking for an apprentice. Here’s his ‘person specification':

Mizuike wants someone who has the heart to do it. That person will have to commit for a lifetime. The doors are open to anyone in the world – regardless of age, gender and nationality – to learn Mizuike’s wonderful skills.” The reward for that lifetime commitment? A craft that only you know.

Via Alto Magazine where there’s a wonderful video of Mizuike making nigiri basami.

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Overcoming the fear of blogging

I might have been writing and publishing blog posts since 2007 (one of my first posts was about Facebook) but I’m still a wee bit apprehensive when I hit the ‘publish’ button. Of course I am. Every time I write in public I know, at least in theory, that a little bit of me goes out there and could be judged. So when I talk to students who say that writing a blog is scary, I understand. I know it’s difficult, but there are some things you can do and things you can think about which make it easier.

One of the first things I do is to think who I’m writing for. I decided early on that my audience was a colleague in the Department. As I wrote I thought about how they might read my work. The writer Kurt Vonnegut put it well when he said:

every successful creative person creates with an audience of one in mind. That’s the secret of artistic unity. Anybody can achieve it, if he or she will make something with only one person in mind. I didn’t realize that she was the person I wrote for until after she died.

The ‘she’ Vonnegut’s referring to here is his Mum. She was his audience of one. ‘The public’ is just too big and too amorphous an audience to write for. You can’t write for the public. It’s too scary. But you can write for your Mum. And when you’ve done that for a bit you can extend your audience a reader at a time. Maybe your partner starts reading what you write; your colleagues and classmates; and friends of your friends. But just before you press that ‘publish’ button, return to the roots – publish for that one individual person.

In a discussion about blogging one of my students complained that it would take her hours to publish something because it had to be perfect. Aspiring to be perfect is kind of natural but at the same time it’s also delusional. We’ll never be perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect blog post.  Some posts are enjoyed by lots of people, others not. Your writing will have strengths. It will also have weaknesses. If you admit that then you are more likely to enjoy writing, write more, and be able to work on those weaknesses. You can get better.

I work in a world where ‘academic publications’ are the currency of careers and opportunity. As a lecturer I’m expected to publish articles in journals and books. A lot of academic talk revolves around the difficulty of writing and getting published. My own route through is guided by a belief that writing is a way of learning and that if I’m doing a bit of research I’ll learn more by writing about it as I’m doing it than separating the two processes. Writing to learn something is a great complement to the idea that you can get better.

Earlier this year Austin Kleon published a book called Show Your Work. Try and get a copy. In the first chapter he talks about how amateurs get better by sharing their work with others. Being an amateur seems to release people from the idea that we have to beaver away in our individual cubicles until we’ve produced something that can ‘blow the competition out of the water’. It’s definitely not the best way to get things done and it’s certainly not the best way to learn how to do something better. Sharing is. We know that and as amateurs that’s what we do. Sharing can also be a form of helping people. Writing that first blog post about how difficult it is to write, expressing yourself in words and sharing it on a blog is helping someone else to reduce their fears and encouraging them to have a go. It also feels great when they leave you a comment thanking you for that help.

We’re living in a world where we can connect, share and learn more from more people in so many more different ways than we’ve ever been able to do. What a shame to miss out on that.

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An early introduction to blogging

[Here's a post I originally published in 2009 giving an introduction to the world of blogging ... interesting how some things have changed and some stayed the same]


In the early days of the internet we (yes, I was watching and participating at the time) marveled at the growth of ‘pages’ on the world wide web. The network expanded and people tried to keep up with changes and developments. It seemed a viable aim. The web in the early 1990s wasn’t that big. In 1992, the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, created the first What’s New page to chart the changes through links to new developments. These were pioneering days and the early programmers were keen to keep each other up-to-date. One of these programmers was David Winer.

Winer is credited (along with John Barger ) as being a key figure in the development of blogs. As head of the innovative software company UserLand, Winer spent much of the early 1990s publishing an e-newsletter, DaveNet, to the technology community. When the advent of unsolicited email (spam) began to disrupt the effectiveness of email distribution, Winer developed a personal, episodic website to deliver his news and views. Scripting News began in 1997 and used reverse chronological order to publish Winer’s articles. Thus began a model of personal publishing to the web that became standard for the web log or blog, terms popularised in that same year. Through linking pages and people together the emerging blogs also created communities of like-minded (though predominantly ‘geeky’) people.

In 1999 blogs entered more mainstream channels not only because access to the web was now growing enormously, but principally because websites such as Blogger and Pitas began to offer a simpler way to create a weblog. These companies allowed anybody with an internet connection and a browser to create a blog without having any technical, programming knowledge. The interface for creating posts was modeled on popular word processing software and the blog itself was hosted (kept) on the company’s server. Importantly, such services were and many continue to be, free. Personal web publishing is now a taken-for-granted aspect of the web and as easy to achieve as writing an email.

Bobby Hobgood provides a useful outline of the types of blog that are now in use. It’s not exclusive and blogs are continuing to develop as we speak. However, it’s a useful starting point:

Blogs as Journals. Public, invitation-only, or private blogs are platforms for thoughts and ideas of thousands of people.

Blogs as Diaries. Who hasn’t thought at one point in their lives of keeping a diary? There seems to be an innate desire to write about ‘me’ and blogs on the web have expanded the opportunities for the Samuel Pepys in all of us to maintain a digital diary. This kind of blog is sometimes referred to as ‘vanity publishing’.

Blogs as Publishing tools. With no editorial control, no overhead costs and a potential audience of millions it’s little wonder that blogs have begun to be used by journalists, teachers, politicians, government departments, and companies to communicate their ideas and latest research.

Blogs as research sources. Because blogs can be conversations (through comments and links to similar posts) in particular digital communities they can be used as sources of research data. Academics and journalists use blogs in this way as do many PR companies.

Blog features

One of the aspects of blogging that has contributed to its success is the general standardisation of features found on a typical blog. A genre has been created which allies itself to certain structural expectations as well as a certain linguistic style. We will examine these in detail later but here let’s look at the main structural features of a blog.

  • Title: Each post is given a title. It’s important to give a meaningful title.
  • Time stamp: The time the post is uploaded to the blog. The time stamp often is a link to a permanent page just for this post. This allows other bloggers to link to a post.
  • Links: Essential to include hyperlinks to anything you refer to on the web.
  • Post: A word, sentence, paragraph or essay, with links and names, news and views.
  • Categories: Individual posts are often labeled as part of a category.
  • Tags: Individual posts are often labeled with different tags to enable readers to find related information on the site or other sites on the web.
  • Comments: A feature that allows readers to leave their own comments and reactions to the author’s post.
  • TrackBack: You may see this feature on blogs. It is a way for one blog post to link to the post of another blog. Those blogs then link together forming a community.
  • Blogroll: You may also see this feature which lists blogs that the author reads.

Why Blogs?

There are many reasons why reading blogs can be valuable. Blogs can give views on current events that are not reported in the mainstream press. They can be the first source of breaking news. Because many blogs are filters for massive amounts of information they can offer valuable digests of news or new developments in particular fields. Communities build up around blogs. Those communities can often be the best places to source expertise.

A word of warning: be careful when reading blogs. As with all web pages you must evaluate the credibility of the blog you are reading. Most blogs include an ‘About’ page (or ‘Author’). This can be useful to position the blogger in a particular community. But of course these can be fraudulent. In 2000, Kaycee’s Weblog, a poignant blog about a young woman dying of cancer, became very popular. But it turned out to be a hoax.

Further reading

Recommended book: Jill Walker Rettberg (2008) Blogging Cambridge, Polity Press

Overview articles:

More detailed discussions of the nature and importance of blogging to communication:


BLOGUMENTARY playfully explores the many ways blogs are influencing our media, our politics, and our relationships. Personal political writing is the foundation of our democracy, but mass media has reduced us to passive consumers instead of active citizens. Blogs return us to our roots and re-engage us in democracy. Shot in candid first-person style by director Chuck Olsen.

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