The pace of communication is unrelenting. As a consumer of media, one thing that has become valuable to me is the live blog, or near realtime single post updates on an event happening in the moment. Common in the technology industry, fleets of journalists may watch a live event in person, like an Apple product launch, and iteratively reveal new details on a blog or via Twitter as they themselves receive new information. This model works for me: coverage doesn’t always happen on television, a live video feed can take a lot of attention, but checking in on quick updates in text and picture form is flexible to many different contexts.
Penn recently hosted the Silfen University Forum on the topic of Open Learning in Higher Education. This was during one of the days that Penn was also hosting the Coursera Partners’ Conference. I had a ticket and decided about an hour beforehand that I wanted to live blog it in a way that was suitable for public consumption. That’s a little different from what I’d done before when I:
- attended a conference, took notes, then shared them back with colleagues in a static form after the fact
- crafted and published individual tweets during a live event
- posted sporadic individual updates to a family website while on vacation, which is great for the grandparents and also for the friends who say they wanted to live vicariously through us
A good platform for this is key, and I didn’t have one suitable — that is, that I was very comfortable with — on a short timeframe. I did two minutes of research. There are services that can allow you to do this (for a fee) and there are plugins for some blogging platforms that let you take snippets of updates and aggregate them into a single post. WordPress has one, but I didn’t quite have enough time to experiment.
Did I mention that I also wanted to discretely blog from an iPad rather than tap-tap-tap on a laptop?
After brief deliberation, I settled for just posting a big update on Google+. (Google also owns Blogger, a popular platform, but with more overhead than what I wanted for this experiment.)
What did I learn? It works great. Here’s what I did.
- I started a new post in Google+ from my desk, basically saying “Check back here for updates on the Silfen Forum.”
- While sitting in the event audience (with excellent WiFi), I kept notes in a local text editor. Notepad works just fine for this.
- I fired up the Google+ app on my iPad.
- When I felt I had enough material to justify an update, usually four or five sentences or short paragraphs, I selected and copied the entirety of my notes.
- I switched to the Google+ app, had my most recent posting right there, clicked the gear icon to edit the post, selected everything, deleted it, and pasted in my new post. Then I saved. Switching back to taking notes was very easy.
This worked very well, I got into a good rhythym, and updated the post every few minutes. I tweeted out that I was writing live notes and I even used a few hashtags, #mooc and #coursera and #courseraconfatpenn (the offical one), and got RTs and retweets and new follows from conference attendees and other interested viewers.
What didn’t I like, or what would I have done differently?
- I probably could have stayed within Google+ to do all my typing as I edited and saved a post, but I was paranoid about not having a local copy and losing content.
- Google+ allows only very limited formatting in posts. I had to go back later to add that after researching what to do. Tricks: you can format as *bold* with asterisks or as _italics_ with underscores.
- Google+ only allows a select number of people to have a custom URL, and I’m not one of them, so the way to get to my posts …
… aren’t very human-friendly. I certainly could have used a URL shortener.
- Google+ doesn’t let you add pictures to an existing post. I wasn’t in a good place to take pictures, so I also had the live webcast running on my iPhone, and I took periodic screen captures. It would have been great to have been able to add that to the same post rather than have to make a new post. I later read that if you want a picture or video in your Google+ post at all, you have to add that first.
I’d try this again, maybe with Google+ or maybe with another tool and a little more preparation, but there’s something to be said for that experience of instantly publishing new information as soon as it’s created.
Here are some links to check out if you want to start live blogging.
Why might you want to? Maybe for this reason:
Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.