Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Elements of (Online) Style and Passion

Christina Wodtke had a nice article earlier this month on Boxes and Arrows, "Putting the White Back in Strunk and White."

Find anyone who has taught Composition over the last 40+ years, and I guarantee 99% can recite direct quotes from S&W. And it's not because Comp teachers are at their core pedantic rule-junkies. Ok, some are, but regardless of writing and teaching philosophies, we all find "rich deposits of gold" in Strunk's original and White's augmented Elements of Style. Who among us doesn't have "Omit needless words" or "Write with nouns and verbs" burned into her brain? Who doesn't feel an odd mix of comfort, determination, and joy when reading statements such as these:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

"The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place."

"Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of the prose, sucking the blood of words."

I don't agree with everything Strunk and White declare, and I always pointed out inconsistencies to my students to remind them that even those who write rulebooks sometimes play fast and loose with the so-called rules. But it is one of only two books I keep more than 3 copies of, and which I keep at hand at all times. (The other is a certain novel about a whale.)

What I like about Wodtke's article isn't just the reminder to use Elements of Style to help guide Web design, I.A., and content (a given), but to view it as a guide to balancing, considering, and sometimes incorporating and sometimes discounting the passionate declarations of our peers regarding what is "right" and, more often, "wrong."

Wodtke writes, "As we read vigorous statements such as 'Flash is bad' or 'Don’t do testing; just ship and watch,' it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction. But stepping back from the initial emotional slap, we can see more than a petite dictator laying down the law. We can see an impassioned craftsman trying to share both his love of the trade and impart some of his hard earned learnings. Like White, can we begin to love and listen to all the Strunks out there, without becoming angry but instead synthesizing their knowledge with own perspective?...The real secret of E.B. White is listening, incorporating, translating, and finally accepting pundits into our practice. We aren't at war at all. We all want the same thing. We all want more great work in the world."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Findability discussion with Peter Morville

Ah! I'm sorry I missed Peter Morville's online discussion this last Wednesday, but the transcript is up. He provides some great advice and good suggestions for keeping up in the IA world.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Developing Community Programming

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ready to turn the tide?

Oooh...this gave me goosebumps--Yesterday (July 4) I posted thoughts about my recent vacation and wondered when the Web or Internet would turn the tide of politics the same way television did for Kennedy... that same day (yesterday) Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales (aka founder of Wikipedia) was posting this...

"For more than 50 years now, we have been living in the era of television politics. In the 1950s television first began to have a major impact on politics, and the results were overwhelming.
Broadcast media brought us broadcast politics. And let's be simple and bluntly honest about it, left or right, conservative or liberal, broadcast politics are dumb, dumb, dumb....

Blog and wiki authors are now inventing a new era of media, and it is my belief that this new media is going to invent a new era of politics. If broadcast media brought us broadcast politics, then participatory media will bring us participatory politics....

I am launching today a new Wikia website aimed at being a central meeting ground for people on all sides of the political spectrum who think that it is time for politics to become more participatory, and more intelligent."

Wanna play?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vacation inspirations from the content saloon

The best thing about vacation is the pleasure of thinking and getting beyond my normal activities of un-ending meetings, hashing out details to make something happen, and the petty politics of organizations. It's all about perspective. And getting some.

As I traveled to the Adams birthplaces/homes, to New Bedford, to the JFK library, to the North End of Boston, and all along the coast, I was constantly reminded of good things and all the reasons why we do what we do .

Public service is a good thing, and public service in pursuit of public knowledge is necessary for our democracy
Birthplace of John Adams"If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?"
~John Adams

"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." ~John Adams

Calm discussions of philosophies don't win revolutions. Act.
"We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them." ~Abigail Adams

"I begin to think, that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life....Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe." ~Abigail Adams

Literature and people who love literature changes lives
Me in the pew where Melville sat in the Seamen's Bethel, New Bedford A number of people have been a bit amazed that I went all the way to New Bedford and planned an entire vacation around my love of Moby-Dick. (And even more are amazed that my husband thought all this was a good idea--there are reasons, of course, why we are married ;)

It seemed completely normal to me that I would go to New Bedford. Stroll the streets Melville and his fictional characters strolled. Sit in the same pew, and think about our relationship with the natural and supernatural worlds, about the ephemeral nature of everything, about context, the terrible sacrifices we have made for American industry, and the importance of not taking anything (particularly yourself) too seriously. I'm enthralled and appalled by the beauty, goriness, greed, and glory of it all. And all of this is because of a book--and a person who loved the book enough to inspire others to love it too. Oh, and the same person told me to go to library school. So, of course, I did. Literature, and people who love it can change and shape someone's life forever.

Each new media is a new opportunity to change the political landscape
One of the cameras used in the Nixon/Kennedy debatesAt the JFK museum, much attention was paid to the Nixon/Kennedy debates and the roll television played in the campaign. Kennedy himself said, "It was television more than anything else that turned the tide."

Even after the election, Kennedy stunned the press by having live, un-delayed press conferences. Open, intelligent conversations and public engagement were paramount. How can public libraries utilize the media of the day (the Web and other Internet tech) to encourage more public engagement and political interest? How (and when) will we turn the tide?

Flag at the JFK LibraryWhen you look at everything JFK accomplished or at least got off the ground in such a short time (civil rights, the peace corps, the space program, etc), you know that he wasn't acting alone. He had a lot of incredible people working with him. Great leaders don't accomplish everything themselves. They find smart people (or more likely they already know them), they inspire them to work toward common goals, and they let them fly.

Great revolutions were born and nourished in bars and taverns
Memorial to revolutionaries and beerThis is a photo of a memorial in the Paul Revere mall, commemorating the Salutation Tavern and the Green Dragon Tavern--places where a lot of cool people with energy and brains hung out, drank beer, plotted revolution, and planned a country.

Isn't it true that many of our most rewarding experiences at conferences weren't in the keynotes or the formal sessions but in the bars with colleagues in the evening?

Want to start a revolution? Get out of your library, grab some colleagues, go to a pub, and get to work.

If you need to think, get yourself to the sea
BuzzardsFrom the first chapter of Moby-Dick, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

"I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it's because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it's because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, our sweat, and in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came." ~ John F. Kenendy

"...and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago." ~Herman Melville (last line of Moby-Dick, save the Epilogue ;)