Digital spaces seem to me a bit like virtual silly putty. You can mold and shape them in almost any way you want, you can copy and recreate them in the same way I used to imprint newspaper clips on the putty, and you can take the same space and use it over and over in different ways. All of this flexibility make digital spaces exciting, fluid, and responsive. It can also make it challenging to decide which digital space is the right one for your project or goal.
I have been doing work with a variety of digital spaces recently and I wanted to write about the pros and cons I see in each and solicit feedback from others about ways they have used these spaces so that I can envision new ways to shape my silly putty. Given the vastness of the Internet and the digital spaces it houses, I’ll only discuss three main types of spaces in this post: wikis, blogs, and social media.
It seems only fitting to use Wikipedia’s definition of a wiki, which is “a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor.” I feel like there was a big push to use wikis a few years ago which has faded a bit as other digital spaces have come onto the scene, such as social media platforms. Yet, I think wikis are an underutilized space because of their collaborative functionality. Although tools like Google Apps can allow for real-time collaboration, having an entire web space with widget functionality and custom formatting that you can find in platforms like wikispaces or PBworks, provides a richer space for group work. As an educator, there are additional advantages, since you can create a free, “plus” account on sites like wikispaces so that you can keep your site private to protect student data and work. Wikis also allow multiple parties, across multiple time zones and continents, to be able to contribute to site. They can create pages, add resources, and share projects in a way that can be challenging in other digital spaces due to the various permissions needed to have multiple editors or authors. The ability to review and compare your history on a wiki and revert back to an older version is also something that is not available in other digital spaces such as social media platforms.
The downside of a wiki is that it takes a lot of maintenance to keep it updated and relevant, which can get confusing when you have multiple authors/editors and it can be time-consuming to construct the initial frame and organization of the space. The lack of real-time collaboration functionality can also be a challenge if you are using the space for a conference or specific class session(s). Finally, there are limited social commenting options with a wiki. To provide feedback or comment on a page, most wikis require you to first join and that extra step does not foster the same type of social sharing and dialogue that is facilitated by social media spaces or blogs.
Blogging platforms are a great digital space for publicizing your ideas, sharing your work, and documenting your (class) activities. Blogs also facilitate discussion through the comments functionality, where frequent and first-time visitors can review a post and add their own perspectives or ask follow-up questions. Platforms like WordPress add more flexibility to blogging spaces, allowing them to be used as entire websites with static pages in addition to revolving blog posts. This option can allow you to share resources and present information that does not need to be updated as frequently as a blog while still having the commenting functionality to interact with visitors. The ability to add widgets or plugins to blogs make them interactive and engaging, allowing you to do things like interweave your social media spaces into your blogging space.
Although you can have multiple editors of a blog or guest posts, blogging spaces are usually less collaborative and more one-way in terms of creation and distribution. Similar to wikis, blogs require a lot of maintenance and as I discussed previously, “fresh” content if you are looking to increase your SEO. Blog spaces seem more ideal for single or small groups of people as compared to large groups who are coming together to work on a project or share resources. Blogging platforms also do not allow for real-time updates or collaboration.
Social media spaces are growing quickly. They include spaces like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and more recently, Pinterest. These digital spaces allow for a variety of publication options, including sharing personal stories and updates, new articles, professional opportunities, and work-related news. There is an interesting intermixing of professional and personal stories within and across these spaces that I have not typically seen within one wiki or blog. Social media spaces allow for real-time updates, networking, and professional development twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is constant change occurring in these spaces as new people join, posts are updated, and people share new content. The focus is often tied to specific chats, topical discussions, current events, and at times, marketing and promotion. Within the education community, these spaces are an amazing demonstration of the collaboration and exchange that can occur among educators around the world. Social media accounts also are usually singular, meaning that they are owned and managed by one person, unless they are for a business, in which case there might be multiple administrators of one account. This decreases the collaboration within an account but does not affect the sharing that can occur within the larger social media space (e.g., on Twitter).
Unfortunately, the speed of change within social media spaces can at times be a challenge, as it can be difficult to keep up with the barrage of new stories and updates. Additionally, most of these spaces are shared in some way with various audiences, and some, like Twitter, are often completely private or public, without much of an in-between. This can raise more privacy concerns that other digital spaces where you might be able to make some pages pubic and others private. The rate of change also makes it difficult to create and publish static content, either alone or in a group, that you want to remain in one space on the Internet.
I’m sure there are many more details about the functionality of these sites that I haven’t covered but this at least serves as a general outline of how the silly putty often works when it is shaped as a wiki, blog, or social media space. I would love to hear when other people have used these spaces and why they chose them for their specific projects or goals. How do you decide which shape you want your silly putty to take? Is there a right and wrong way, depending on the goals you want to achieve?