On Blogging, 2003

Sunday, March 9, 2003

This is my reply to an e-mail from Ana Sisnett of Austin Free-Net:

My name is Ana and I’m the director of Austin Free-Net, a nonprofit providing access to computing resources, the Internet and training in public spaces for people who don’t have computers of their own.

Hey, Ana. I’ve heard about Austin Free-Net, but don’t know much about it. Sounds like a great service, though. You may have figured it out from the website, but am also a Director for the Austin Museum of Digital Art.

I’m on a panel for SXSW on blogging—a reality check so to speak—but I landed on your site, purely coincidentally, while looking for wireless coffee shops in Austin. It’s a great resource, btw….but, I’m writing about your experience with blogging especially your accessibility awareness (rare). We’re going to be discussing if blogging is indeed a tool for democracy, civic participation, etc. or just another “next new thing” that will quickly fade away or is over-hyped in certain sectors.

Well, I guess the short answer is that yeah, blogging seems to be the “next new thing.” It’s getting a lot of press these days and does seem to be altering the journalistic landscape — several “mainstream” news sources have started offering blogs by their writers or blogs on specific topics.

As with many “next new things,” there will be a sort of honeymoon period (which we’re currently in the middle of) full of experimentation and new ideas, but then this “next new thing” will mature and become a natural part of the journalistic landscape. E-mail and websites were once the exciting new things, but now they have sort of become everyday utilities people use and many people (like myself) have a very hard time imagining living without.

Blogging is an *awesome* tool for democracy and civic participation. I get nearly all of my news through blogs of various sorts. (And, to be fair, I read the Austin Chronicle.) I don’t read the Statesman and I don’t watch t.v. news simply because I cannot get the level of detail I’m interested in when I want to know about news events. And, to be honest, I don’t entirely trust those sources. When I read a good blog, I feel like I am reading the thoughts of someone I can identify with and so I feel like I can trust them to be honest with me. Not try to manipulate me or provide me with half-truths out of journalistic laziness. This trust is a powerful and important thing.

I think the act of blogging is personally important, as well. Any sort of good writing requires active thought. It’s one thing to passively watch the news, having the news piped into your brain with no action required on your part. It’s quite a different thing to learn about something enough to smartly respond to it or report on it. It’s educational for the blogger herself or himself, and it creates a public discussion that anyone can join in on. And it’s my belief that American’s are, on the whole, woefully undereducated — and that lack of education is causing all sorts of problems for our country these days. Any sort of environment that invites participation rather than passive viewing is a great thing.

Whew. Getting kind of preachy, there. :-) Did that sort of answer your question?

I was particularly motivated to write to you because you discuss the Borders -Book People issue, and most importantly, because you were aware of accessibility issues.

1. Could you tell me how you came to be concerned enough to put up the Bobby and W3C links?

Sure. I do web development for an income. Web developers who don’t pay attention to usability and disabled accessibility are bad web developers. Also, I have had a blind coworker and I used to work for Dr. John Slatin at UT (who is also blind). My experiences being asked to read stuff off of some website for them was enough to teach me how much of a problem it creates for disabled users when developers are ignorant of these issues.

I put the links on my site because I want to advertise that I’m a good web developer who’s aware of these issues.

2. Would you mind sharing how you identify ethnically? I’m not sure what the ethnicity angle will be, but as a Black woman providing services to a diverse population (from middle class to un/der-employed) and looking for other people of color, I’m curious about bloggers who identify as people of color, low-income, living with disabilities, etc.

Sure. I’m of northwestern-European ethnicity. English/German. White.

3. How much time do you spend blogging?

Oh, I don’t know. Not much, actually. Since I work in front of a computer, I sometimes take breaks to just write a little about something I’ve been thinking about. That’s just a few minutes a few times a day.

I couldn’t pay you what you deserve for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer me, but I’d certainly put in a word about your website, the wireless list, and anything you don’t mind my mentioning /crediting you with saying during my presentation.

That’s fine. Yeah, just a mention or credit would be great.

When will you give your presentation?