No One Stop Shop

or "How I Gave Up Google and Learned to Work in the Boutique Mall"
Rolling your own portal: "I'd rather work in a boutique mall, with each app tailored for use. In this version, the wiki is the main site, the blog and a notebook wiki/personal writely appended to it."

The Importance of Online Writing Spaces

Students in Weblogs and Wikis slide towards the blog as their entry point to the web and their personalized academic workspace. While most point to the blog rather than the wiki, personalizing the writing and reading space seems important to them. Setting up and tinkering with the climate might be on the order of setting up a physical writing / study space: part a pre-writing tactic, part avoidance, part real convenience - a way of clearing away distractions and setting things in their place. But setting up an online space is a public move as much as a private one.

In my (part-timeish) search / construction of the Ultimate Workspace, I'm not really interested in one-size-fits-all-one stop-shop. One-stop = 7-Eleven. I've used Google's personalized homepage, but it centers on aggregation and places my writing work at the fringe. Writely is nice, but I want my notes closer to hand: on a local server, and closer to the wiki and blog.

I'd rather work in a boutique mall, with each app tailored for use. In this version of a workspace, the wiki is the main site, a blog, a notebook wiki, del.icio,us, and bloglines appended to the wiki.

My Personal Writely: A Throwaway Wiki

A year ago, I found myself using Writely as a semi-private writing space: a space for notes that I have no need or desire to share with others. I would write, and when the notes became something, I would delete the notespace. Pretty convenient.

But I prefer a wiki, since most of my stuff ends up on a wiki rather than in print, but there are two problems. Out of the box, the wiki is either open to all or closed to all; and second, deleting wiki pages is typically not as easy as dragging them to the trash. I considered setting up a separate wiki to act like a local Writely, and I even set up MoinX? as a private wiki. But after a few days, I found I was swithcing between two wikis too often, and losing track of my notes, and and and....

So I created public and private spaces on my primary wiki.

PmWiki allows page- and group-level read attributes, so I created a group on my primary wiki for private notes. As ideas develop, I find a public space for them on the wiki, and copy and paste out. When the note space has served its purpose, I delete the page. The group facilitates page management.

After six months of this, I was running into the wiki version of filing problems. How many spaces do I create for notes? How do I find them? On a wiki, placing a page is significant. When writing discursively, WikiWords? emerge CamelCased? out of the text. But when using a wiki for rough notes, deciding where to place the note take cognitive attention away from composing the note. I could find stuff, but mainly because I was using broad topic spaces: Early notes for web design, and deptblogginplannotes. I still had to skim the notes (which means creating good headings to allow skimming), and found it frustrating to be looking for a space to place a quick note.

On the other hand, the filing problem gives me writing signals on organization and development. I can often tell where I am with a project by trying to decide where the notes should go when I move them outside of the private ToDo space. Or I'll start rearranging the rough outline in the notespace as a way of rethinking the development of the work overall.

update 2 Aug 2006: Experimenting with
Students write a lot about designing the blog space: colors, backgrounds, blogrolls, images... These affordances have meaning for the writers; they are part of the meaning of the Writing itself - a meaning that is no longer carried by the black-on-white text alone.

The essential features of the blog: it's public, it links, it's chronological. The blogroll, tag cloud, etc., are less significant to writing the blog. They are there to connect with others, to give the work a context and extend the ethos.
Social Where Social Needs to Be: and bloglines

While I have no difficulty abandoning Google's aggregated news aggregator, I'm keeping and bloglines close at hand.

I used to save links to a set of pages on the wiki, using a bookmarklet to automate the process. It worked, and I was able to point students to current readings as part of classes. But with's tagging scheme, that need - and that method - went away. Tagging makes collecting and organizing dynamic, but it does require some expertise for outsiders (readers, students) to use it.

update 20 Dec 2007
another mass movement [more - move to domain]

Adapting: I can add a link to a del. tag appropriate to the topic I'm working on in the page itself. As here: Tools tag on

But why BlogLines?? Why not aggregate on the wiki? And why Google Reader over others?

And why google reader? Why not add an aggregator to my own page on the wiki? Really: why not? what gets lost? what's better for my purposes?
Already in progress

There is already some discussion of rolling-your-own spaces, mainly addressing eduction:

Brian Lamb points to the relevent blogs and podcasts it:

including John Udell's column on it:

and Udell's blog on it:

There's a podcast about it: linked from to
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