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Poking the wasp nest


Above is a list of a portion of the e-mail/comments I've received on the last couple Blue Skunk blog posts. When I feel overwhelmed by comments, I describe it as "poking the wasp nest." And even after three years of writing here, I am poor at predicting where those nests might be.

I DID have an idea that my dissing blog awards and rankings might cause some disagreement. Since the objections both in comments and on Twitter were significant, I thought I would reply to some here, rather than just in the comment section of the original post...

1. My objecting to awards and rankings is just sour grapes.

Not really. The Blue Skunk has been nominated for a library Eddie. And I appreciate it.

I'm in Scott McLeod's list of top 50 education blogs - sorta in the middle. My Technorati ranking is 22,604 when I checked just now. Now that sounds pretty bad until you consider there are over, what, seventy million blogs being tracked. Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed, right at the top of the educational popularity list is ranked at 9,292. Now before I start weeping in my pillow with rank envy, I'll do some math. At 22,604 out of 70,000,000, the BS is in the top .0003% of blogs. At 9,292 Will's blog is in the top .0001%. I am not sure if a .0002% difference is even statistically significant (or that my math with that many decimal points is any good.) For me, I am just amazed at being in the top .01% of blogs. Heck, I'd be amazed to be in the top 50%. (As I like to remind my son, I WAS in the top 90% of my high school graduating class.)

2. The Powers-That-Be recognize awards as a tangible accomplishment.

I suppose. Awards and rankings could be used to buff up the vitae, tenure app, or grant app, too. But do people really blog with this purpose in mind?

3. So, would you turn an award down?

I suppose I should turn any down now that I’ve been snarky about it. But probably not. But I honestly have to say that I value comments and compliments from individuals far more than any award.

4. Awards are a means of making "discoveries" of new blogs and bloggers.

Point taken. I don't know that I've see many new bloggers on the nominations, however.

5. The awards are just done in fun.

Fun for the winners; possibly dispiriting for those not chosen. (As Mom said, "Sure it's all fun til somebody gets hurt.") Kohn says that rewards also punish.

6. It's important to be aware of your ranking in order to strategize for maximum readership (and resulting impact on the educational community).

Peter makes my argument for me in his comment left on the post (go back and read his whole comment):

One makes change by acting and speaking in a way that captures people through reason and their conscience. Caring about how many people are listening is a distraction. While it's true that more people listening *may* mean more influence, to set raising readership numbers up as a concern/goal is totally misguided ... If you want to make change, then why not spend time doing something that's actually effectual, rather than spending time being concerned over one's own popularity ranking? Hell, doing nothing is more productive.

7. Doesn't ClustrMaps also invite competition and comparison?

I'd not looked at ClustrMaps in this light before, but I can see the possibility that it might be used in this way. I’ve kept it on my site more as a reminder to myself that I do indeed have international readers and to be aware that I am always writing through a US-centric lens. Oh, ClustrMaps gets wiped every now and again - sort of humbiing to start afresh.

8. Don't we fundamentally "reward" people at the deepest level with our admiration and respect? Even in our writing, aren't we arguably competing for respect for and dissemination of our own ideas? Isn't that a good thing? (from Elizabeth)

To me, competition will always mean winners and losers. I don’t see that sending one blogger a note of admiration or respect in any way makes losers of those to whom one does not send such notes. Are we competing for the acceptance of our own ideas? I’ve always thought I was adding to a pot of ideas from which really good ideas could be formulated. I guess I just can’t get the blood lust going here. In the wild kingdom, my DNA would not have had a chance...

I am going to go back to some of Kohn's arguments about extrinsic motivation via rewards...

Rewards can punish those who do not receive them - See #5 above.

Rewards can rupture relationships - If I link to or comment on your blog, might I be pushing your rank above mine, make you more popular, more award-worthy? Am I cutting my own throat if I help you make your blog better?

Rewards ignore the reasons for a desired behavior - Is blogging about improving education, having fun, and debating the issues .... or winning fame and recognition?

Rewards can discourage risk-taking - Might I be less likely to take a controversial or unpopular stance if it might mean losing readers? Might I avoid trying a different style of writing or type of post if it would cause people to drop a subscription?

Rewards can actually discourage desired behaviors. -  There must be something distasteful about blogging if it is only about rankings and awards.

So awards and ranks probably won't bring about the end of the world as we know it. But let's not grant them any more importance than they deserve, either.

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Reader Comments (14)

At the risk of adding to your comment overload, I'd heartily concur. I much prefer and appreciate comments and conversation to rankings and analytics and whatnot. Of course that's easy to say as a "little fish" blogger but like you said, I feel like I can take risks and try pretty much whatever I want. I cherish that more than cranking out daily bulleted lists/posts of "The top ten X ways to Y!" kind of BS I see on some blogs. Yawn. I'll stick with the care and feeding of my little circle of commenters and have fun instead.


December 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

Does a 0.002% difference between your rating and Richardson's trigger an automatic recount? This thing could be in the courts for months. What about absentee ballots? Thank goodness we don't have to worry about butterfly ballots or hanging chads.

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

Love all the arguments. Still pleased as PUNCH i nominated you and you made the ballot. As with most things in life that stroke the ego--take care to have a grain of salt handy.

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

Despite your curmudgeonly nay-saying, I'll heap kudos upon you for a well-deserved nomination! Which isn't to say you're wrong about their lack of importance...unIess I ever win one myself, of course. Then they're inherently indicative of intellectual rigor and rhetorical excellence! : )

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJeri Hurd

Let's face it, most people didn't start blogging to win awards (although I'm sure some did). However, most of us start this process with some kind of hope/expectation that people will pay attention to what we have to say. Comments, links, mentions, rankings all act as encouragement. Hopefully they don't replace the underlying reasons for wanting to sound off on the web in the first place.

As to awards of any kind, there nothing fundamentally wrong with them but I think they have more value when accompanied by clearly defined criteria for receiving one, which is somewhat lacking in most of the blogging awards I've seen. Including the one and only award I've received for my rantings - and which I certainly didn't turn down. :-)

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I am much more interested in how you get your comments to feed into your email............ :)

do tell.

(probably something really easy -- but I have to log onto my wordpress to see my comments........hmmm or do I?


December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenwagner

As a new blogger, I agree with you. I blog to get my ideas out, not trying to compete to see if my ideas are better than the next person's idea. The rankings does make me sad, sort of like the "contributor's section" on a wiki. The more you contribute, the larger your image. I am glad to see that a lot of people feel the way you do about awards.

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHai E.

The more I've dealt with this issue (and I've been dealing with it for years), the more I'm inclined to agree with you...but, let's face it, rankings are part of life. (Easy for me to say: As of this morning, my blog is around #112,000 in Technorati and in no danger of being nominated for anything...)

Still, when I prepared The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008, I looked at "popularity" of a sort--but only used it to set a minimum bar for inclusion (a VERY low bar). The book never associates any blog with any ranking of that sort.

If your purpose in writing a blog is either ad revenue or Power & Glory, then rankings, popularity, etc. mean a lot. If you're like, oh, 95%-99% of libloggers and writing because you have something to say, then reaching a few dozen or a few hundred of the right people is success. You've clearly achieved the latter (except I'd guess "a few thousand/a few tens of thousands" is more likely in your case).

Jen: There should be a simple setting to have all new comments feed to your email. That's how my WordPress blog works, at least.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterwalt crawford

Thanks for responding and clarifying your position. However, I can't help but think that all of this discussion is "sideways energy". It distracts us all from our ongoing mission to educate and enable those around us regarding the use of educational technology. Lets all give it a rest.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRex Libris

Hi Ninja,

I’m in your camp, but I’m afraid we are in the minority. (Elitists?) Keep having fun and I will reading your blog. After all, if the writer is not having fun, how you expect the reader to be having fun?


Hi Carl,

And I want to make sure ALL the ballots are counted.

Too funny. Thanks!


Hi Cathy,

What’s the expression – no good deed goes unpunished?

Thanks again though. I AM honored.


Hi Jeri.

I expect my perspective might change as well. Never happened before, but you never know.

Thanks for the comment.


Hi Tim,

You make a good point about there being awards and there being awards. I should have done a little spade work to see the hows and whys of the Eddies. (And I think next time these things roll around I am just keeping my big yap shut!)


Thank you, Hai.

Are you student or faculty at U Washington? I was lucky enough a couple years ago to have Mike Eisenberg give me tour of the place.

All the best,


Thanks, Walt.

I somehow think there is difference between being recognized by a publication or organization as a noteworthy blog and in winning a popularity contest. Perhaps I am splitting hairs. I do know that I was mad enough when American Libraries recognized “library bloggers” without including a single school library blog in the article. (After my fiery letter, we were given our own article the next month!)

I suspect if one wants ad revenue or Power & Glory, one ought to choose another field than school librarianship!

All the best,


Hi Rex,

At one level I see this as “sideways” energy, but on a deeper level I suspect the discussion is helping some of us clarify our thinking about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and why we write for a public audience.

But consider my end of the discussion ended!

All the best,


December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Is understanding who is linking to your voice (and what they're saying) the same thing as caring about your popularity? Is understanding whose voices are the dominant ones in the edublogosphere conversation silliness and fluff? I don't think so. Obviously you can disagree but I see this in the same (very rough, general) category as all of the data collection done by the Departments of Census, Labor, Education, and so on. It just helps to have some basic data on various phenomena.

Now, I don't do the rankings to make some big societal impact. I do it 'cause it interests me and I'm trying to wrap my brain around this whole edublogosphere thing. If you don't like it, don't read it (and/or keep criticizing it). Your prerogative! =)

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott McLeod

Hi Scott,

Oh, you won’t get rid of me as a reader that easy. Sorry. I don’t think disagreement (and a little teasing) always implies criticism. And you are sort of sensitive on this topic.

I look forward with great anticipation the ways in which you describe how you will be able to use your collected ranking data to improve stuff.

All the very best,


December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug and all yr readers :) Glad that you found the awards process thought provoking and I'm pretty sure that I speak for the whole team when I say we're delighted to provide a decent source of debate within the edublogosphere. I see criticism and critical debate as an extreemly healthy sign, and don't expect consensus around the awards process. I like the points you make about Khon - I think it's a good argument. However, being brought up by hippies my idealism has been very much tempered by pragmatism and I'm with Althusser on this one - I don't believe it is possible to take up an idealised position outside of ideology, but I do think it's possible to act as a 'bad subject' and I personally hope the awards are both useful and disruptive. The founding aims of the Edublog Awards remain:

* Provide an opportunity for an international community who are interested and involved in scholarly and education based blogging (edublog) and the use of social media an opportunity to come together as a community, discover new ways of using blogging and social media to support learning, and highlight the wealth of effective,innovative work being carried out globally.

* Provide a concrete, annually updated resource for those involved in or thinking about using social software and user generated content sites to support education communities of all kinds. They also demonstrate the diverse use made of blogs, wikis, audiovisual tools, virtual worlds and social networking platforms.

* Demonstrate that new technologies can be used in positive, innovative, safe and effective ways. The Awards programme is designed to act as an argument against a moral panic approach to the use of technologies in education that threatens innovative and creative practice. The Awards argue that digital literacy and social participation for learners, educational employees and institutions as the effective way to address potential dangers, as opposed to banning and restricting access within education and library services.

Best, Josie

December 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJosie Fraser

Hi Josie,

Thanks for the thoughtful and articulate defense of these awards. I have obviously seen problems where no problems exist. Happens.

My best wishes for continued success with your project.

All the very best,


December 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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