Looking Back At the Proposal

When looking back at my executive summary of| the proposal, I feel I stayed on course with what I set out to do. In the longer description in the "Narrative" section I wrote, "Topics I expect to explore include: working in public, identity performance, presentation/representation, self-expression, communities, democratic spaces and others as they come up." I did touch on most of these - not always directly, and I was able to look at a few additional topics as well. I spent more time on the history of coffeehouses and blogs and wikis than I realized I would going in, but once I began the research, I thought the history and evolution of each of these spaces was pretty critical in understanding how they function today.

In the proposal I also wrote, "I hope to bring an awareness and an appreciation to my readers about the impacts each of these communities is having." This sentiment has now become really personal. I did not know how or even if I appreciated either of these spaces when I started this project. I had some preconceived biases about blogs and coffeehouses (I didn't know enough about wikis really). I understood that these spaces were important to certain people, but I wasn't sure how valid these people's opinions were and how valuable these spaces were for the common good. To clarify, I think my early bias was that these spaces are important to people who are rather self-absorbed, not the most productive members of our society... I mean, really quite awful presumptions I had back in the corners of my mind. What I learned was, just as with any stereotype, these ideas are formed when one is on the outside, looking in. One must engage with an open mind to see something with new eyes and see it for what it truly is. It was a really great challenge to put my preconceived notions aside when I went into these physical and online spaces and to try and see it through either the coffeehouse owner's eyes or the blogger's eyes.

I really liked using the wiki for note-taking and organizing. I sketched out some ideas and kept those as concept maps| 1 and |2. I had |a page for general notes, |a page of notes related to coffeehouse research, |a page devoted to blogs and wikis and digital research, I started| pages for blog ideas and |each coffee shop, but ended up keeping more of these notes in the blog itself as drafts of posts. I appreciated how I could organize either by adding new pages or by using headings and other structural organization. It was great to be able to link directly to the sources. It was a little frustrating sometimes to format the wiki in a legible way - or to transfer data from the wiki to the blog, but overall, I thought this was a great method, and I plan on learning how I can keep my own wiki pages (or something very similar) just to organize my life after this class.

In the "Contract for a Grade" I wrote this about the first few weeks of the project, " In this initial stage, the posts will more closely resemble a scrapbook or a collection of souvenirs - still crafted and accompanied by thoughtful commentary - but more of a collage than a polished piece." In reality, I ended up doing the opposite. I found a fairly organized way to begin the project, and my initial posts were quite organized, focused and polished. It wasn't until the last week that things became piecemeal as I had several topics still in their germination stages. I landed on an organizational pattern right away. I think I was inspired by |Dani's Travel Blog. I decided I too would "tour" the shops and write about the shop from that viewpoint for my first post every week. The second post of the week was focused around a certain research topic that I had chosen, and the final post for the week was the interview portion with the shop owner. Often I was able to include some details from my outside research either from that week or from a different week in the project, but this pattern gave me a purpose and some guidance each week. I realize the downside of spending two full days on each individual coffee shop was that I ran out of time to pursue some of the broader ideas, but the advantages of doing this was that these interviews and in-depth tours gave readers a more intimate look and a real-life connection to the scholarly issues being researched. So, while I ended up crafting the posts differently than I anticipated, I was still able to meet my goal of 3 posts per week, plus the additional weekly reflection.

General Progress

I was really pleased with the progress of the project. I took the week of spring break to really dig in to the research and pre-plan what I was going to do, or at least how I was going to approach it. I started writing posts and saving them as drafts so that I would be always about a week ahead. About half-way through the project, that system got derailed by a giant snow storm that made traveling to the coffee shops impossible. And then there was my kids' spring break and Easter thrown in which also interrupted my routine, but I was able to always stay a post or two ahead of schedule. This was a nice cushion because it gave me a little more time to edit or mess around with design elements or photographs.

In general, I went to a new coffee shop every week, spending about three days there (2-4 hours per day). I did the rest of my writing and researching from my own kitchen table with books sprawled out in front of me and about twelve tabs open on the computer. I feel like the blog stayed pretty consistent from week to week. I felt like I had planned well, and I felt like I had chosen a good topic because all of the inklings I had were validated in the research I found. I had several moments when I ran across a great article on the web or the perfect book at the library. These findings were electrifying because they would just jump start me into the next post. The topics of coffeehouses and blogs and wikis just really worked well in juxtaposition to one another. It was easy to see parallels and differences, and it was exciting to be the one who was bringing those topics together into a cohesive series of writings.

I never really had too much trouble with the blog itself, but I did run into a few frustrations with photos. It was pretty time consuming to take and use all my own photos, but it was also fun and rewarding. I didn't get too carried away with the photography, although if I were to take on another blogging project, I think the photography would definitely get more of my attention.

More Specifically

  1. |Week 1 Reflection
  2. |Week 2 Reflection
  3. |Week 3 Reflection
  4. |Week 4 Reflection
  5. |Week 5 Reflection

Looking Back at the Project

Before starting this class, and especially this project, I was very nervous about writing publicly online. I wrote about it |here. I think that this feeling went away almost immediately once I had set the parameters for my project and understood what my objectives were. I think my fear was that I would have to reveal something private about myself, but once I realized that I could be a catalyst to bring valuable information to an audience, that was really freeing. It also helped me to put a value to my role whereas before, when I thought of blogging as some personal endeavor to self-actualize, I wasn't really sure what kind of credit or merit I could place on that for myself. This confidence is pretty evident in the voice that I use for the post revealing |the launch of the final project. In this post, I write very directly and personally to the reader - like I've embraced my role as blogger.

It was challenging to move fluidly from post to post with each one taking on such distinct characteristics.
I think it's mind boggling that my writing now shows up when people search for things on the web. When I Google, "Fiddlehead Coffee Co.", Bonnie's Blog shows up... not until the third page, but it's there. I think it's fun to think about. I know the reader is part of the imagined community, like we discussed in class, but it's also true that readers can now find my work. If someone in the world is interested in Rochester, Mn coffee shops, they might find out about them via my blog. If someone is interested in the history of coffee shops, Google, might lead them to my blog. For people curious about the connections between blogs and coffeehouses, they might find my writing helpful. This is a cool feeling. I'd like someone to read my post and say, "Huh... that's pretty neat." I mean, my stuff is pretty buried in the search engine, but with the right key words, the post can show up.

What I Would Have Done Differently

One thing I would have liked to have done would have been to spend a bit more time in the online spaces. I read a few bloggers and wiki writers for this project, but I didn't really get to immerse myself in their online space the way I did the coffee house. I may actually continue this aspect of the project just as a hobby because I ended up really enjoying blogging as a past time. I wish I had spent a week or two rooting around, analyzing and conversing with specific blogs, but then I would have had to eliminate some of my local coffee shops from the tour, and I would not have wanted to miss out on any of them! It will have to be a next phase type of thing.


Take Away #1
I really enjoyed reading about the history of both coffeehouses and blogs and wikis. One thing I was really surprised by was the connection both coffeehouses and blogs had to journalism and people's need to be informed. The original coffee houses were news hubs. I learned that coffeehouse owners would hire a messenger to hang out at the docks when ships were coming in, so they could hear the latest news and then bring it back to the shops. For the customers, it was important to hear this news "first-hand" before it could be manipulated by the authorities and the press. Blogs too gained popularity when the public had a deep yearning for unadulterated information and truth, especially after Nine Eleven (Rosenberg, Scott. Say Everything: how blogging began, what it's becoming, and why it matters. Crown, 2009). Many people agree that blogging post Nine Eleven changed journalism forever because people were connecting in community with one another not only to get the latest news but to share in the pain and the emotion of it all.

Reading that history, really made an impact on me about how important public spaces and human connection are. I already believed this, and I strive every day to make that a reality for myself, my family, my students and anyone in my sphere of influence, but I had not really believed that this kind of meaningful community and intimate connections could happen in a digital space. After doing the project, I am much more optimistic and supportive of online writing spaces as venues where rich dialogue can take place, empathy can grow, and compassion can be shared. I also find myself attributing significant value to these blogging pioneers for changing the face of journalism. I know the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way with news hitting the web before anyone has verified it as true or factual, but the blogging pioneers made a great contribution on behalf of democracy.

Take Away #2
The issue I have thought about more than anything else during this project is the issue of sharing. We had to |write about Intellectual Property rights early on in the semester. At that point I was more concerned with my obligations as a state employee (to which I never did get a response from my employer), but it also really got me thinking about intellectual property rights - and I felt very conflicted.

When I reflected on my personal life, it was clear that I value free sharing. Anytime I can provide a sample syllabus or an assignment to a co-worker who has requested some resources, I'm happy to do it. I liberally share decorating ideas, art and craft projects, or recipes with friends. I often recommend our family's favorite summertime hang-outs or other family fun activities to neighbors and friends. I offered to tutor a Japanese woman in my group fitness class from the YMCA because I knew she was studying English (that turned in to a long, continued friendship). I mentor a young woman who is going through drug and alcohol recovery because I have life and spiritual experience that can help her be successful. It was obvious to me, that in my personal life, I value sharing of my own intellectual capabilities.

But when it came to sharing publicly, I felt things got a little sticky. As someone surrounded by consumerism and capitalism (just like everyone else), I was intrigue by this concept of "The Commons," but a bit skeptical about how it works in the real world. If everyone shared everything freely, where would the money come from? I don't have a very good grasp on economics as that question alone might reveal to some, but it was a real question for me
and still is to some extent because there must be a line somewhere. All the money matters aside, it was fascinating to read about Ward Cunningham and the Federated Wiki and all the other Wiki projects that are on-going. Reading about Wikipedia was interesting too. I find it really intriguing that volunteers contribute to these wikis as part of their hobbies and recreation.

I clearly appreciate and take advantage of anything that is freely available to me. I could not have completed this project without the free resources I found on the web, free wi-fi at some of the coffee shops, and free check out at my local library. I love to attend free art shows, free concerts, free workshops, etc... I learn so much and it does so much good for my spirit.

While I have not had time to research and educate myself on the economics of a sharing community, I do know that I want to be a part of it. I want to share my ideas freely and openly if it means that I'm helping to promote a culture where I will get to freely partake of other people's talents and gifts.

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