Social Media Challenge #5: Best of the Blogosphere

February 28, 2012

As a final stage of your preparation for blogging excellence, you’ll be taking a look at blogs that ARE excellent. Your assignments are drawn from a variety of rankings of the best, most interesting, and most influential blogs out there (and I’ve tried to align these with your stated interests to the degree that that’s possible). The result is not exactly scientific, but it gives us a list with some variety.

You have all been assigned, in pairs, to a blog. These blogs were allegedly some of the best of the best in 2011, so go to it, read it, and get to know all about it:

In next week’s class, each pair will do a 5-10 minute presentation on your blog. You’ll need to address the following (providing on-screen examples):

  • Basics: Explain the blog, its content, its design and its voice. What does the About page tell you? Is it a stand-alone blog, or affiliated with a larger publication?
  • Audience: Who is this blog for? How do you know? Is information provided on traffic and business details?
  • Connection/Promotion: How does your blog connect to its community? Is conversation two-way? How is social media used? Is commenting allowed? How is it moderated?
  • Metadetails: What posts get the most hits? Has it been in the news? Does it advertise?
  • Overall: How well does the blog do what it sets out to do? Does it serve and engage with its community? What are some of its strongest posts? Its weakest?

This should not be stressful (no, really). Approach the blog as a reader first and a student second. Think about what we’ve read thus far in providing your critique. What are your blog’s strengths and weaknesses? What can you and your classmates learn from it for your own projects?

Due: In class on Tuesday, March 6. Extras such as handouts, audio/video, or lasers are not required, but are certainly welcome.

In-and-Out-of-Class Assignment #7: Mapping it Up

February 21, 2012

This week, we’ll incorporate location into our blogs via Google maps (see my handy tutorial for a refresher). There’s two parts to this assignment – one in-class, one out-of-class – so be alert! (the world needs more lerts…)

In-Class Assignment (5 pts)

You’re going to create a simple map, upload it as a blog post (you can delete it later if you like), and post a comment with an in-text link to the post for this assignment.

  1. Create a map with four locations (use the pin colors indicated) and embed in a blog post:
    • Your city of birth (blue) – e.g., John L.: Birthplace
    • The city where you grew up or have lived in (yellow) – e.g., Paul M.: Where I’ve Lived
    • A city you’d like to work in (green) – e.g., George H.: Where I’d Like to Work
    • The most interesting city you’ve visited (purple) – e.g., Ringo S.: My Favorite City
  2. In the class collaborative map, “Birthplaces,” you’ll map these four spots once more. Be sure to label them with your name and what they show so they are counted (I’ve added my own data to this map already as an example).

Out-of-Class Assignment (5 pts)

Using the same process, you’re going to design a more complex map to add to your blog. It should consist of at least five data points (with all relevant and appropriate details included in their pop-up windows) and will follow these steps:

  1. Write a post that incorporates location in some way (e.g., restaurants I like, places I’ve seen WVU b-ball players). It does not need to be hard news (yet), but it should be a full-fledged post.
  2. Using our Google Maps guide, create a map in Google Maps with markers for these locations.
  3. Embed the map in your blog post. Do NOT just post a map – it must be a component a written post.
  4. Publish!
  5. Post the link (with a description of what’s being mapped) to the comments of this post.
    • Use an in-text link (which requires HTML) – don’t just post the URL

Due: 2 p.m., Thursday, March 1 (notice: you’ve got some extra time to plan, so do it right!)

How-To: Putting Google Maps on Your Blog

February 21, 2012

To create any map, you first need to go to and sign in with your Google ID. Click the “My Places” button, then click the big red “CREATE MAP” button and give it a title. Once that’s done, do the following steps.


  1. Enter the address of the spot you want to map in the field at the top
    • Search markers will not show up in your final map – only the ones you place
    • I’ve noticed an issue where the first point sometimes doesn’t appear (but can’t be deleted). I’m not sure why. If it happens to you, just leave it blank and move on.
  2. Select the marker and click “Save to Map” in the pop-up window
    • You can also drag a marker to the point – use the tools in the top left of your map
  3. Click the marker to provide a title and description, change its appearance, and add rich text (e.g., bolding) or HTML (e.g., links)
    • You may need to switch to “Plain Text” to get rid of any existing content

Other tools

  1. You can draw lines (e.g., past or future routes) with the line tool at the top left. Click each point where you want the line to stop or bend, and double-click to end the line. You can edit the description just like with markers.
  2. You can also draw shapes (to designate two-dimensional areas) by holding down the mouse on the line tool. You can complete a shape by double-clicking or clicking on the first point, and can edit it as usual.


  1. More than one person can work on a single map. They will need a Google account.
  2. Once in Edit Mode, click the “Collaborate” link in the top left.
  3. In the window, enter the gmail addresses of the people to invite (separate with a comma)
    • You can also decide whether new people can invite others
  4. Click “Send Invitations”

Embedding (this is how you get the map to post on your blog)

  1. Once finished, click the link icon at the top of the left-hand side
  2. In the window that appears, click “Customize and Preview embedded map”
    • Don’t copy the HTML from this first window – it won’t look right
  3. In the new window, zoom/scroll the map to how you want it to look on your blog
  4. Copy ALL of the HTML text from the window below the map
  5. In a new blog post, paste this text at the point in the post where you want the map


  • If you don’t see the tools in the top left of your map, you may need to re-click the map name (you MUST add these pointers) and click “Edit” again.
  • Test your post. If the map doesn’t look right, try re-copying and pasting the link. You may need to go into the embed > customize window again to get it right.

Read & Respond (and Out-of-Class Assignment #6) – Week 7

February 16, 2012

Hi bloggers. Sorry about the cancelled class this week. Grades will be updated on eCampus by the end of this week, and we’ll have a nifty project on mapping in our next session for you to look forward to (or dread, as you see fit). For your next readings, though, we’re going to look at something a little different.

Each other.

Yes, it’s the dreaded peer critique, where you’re expected to provide substantive opinions on your classmates’ work. But fear not! I’ve been reading through your work, and I promise you that every one of your personal blogs has some unique strengths … as well as a few weaknesses. And therein lies the assignment. It’s kind of a hybrid of a readings assignment and an out-of-class assignment, so the points possible (7 total) will be higher to reflect that.

For this read & respond, you will read TWO of your classmates’ personal blogs: The one listed ABOVE you on our course blogroll, and the one BELOW you. So, for example, Ben would read Autumn and Breanne’s blogs (Anan, who’s first, would read Autumn and Sarah; Sarah, who’s last, would read Anan and Ali Young). There are two parts to this assignment, so be sure to do them both.

PART 1 (5 points total): In your response, you will do the following:

  1. Describe the blog and what it does.
  2. Discuss what you think is the blogger’s strongest post (and provide a link to that post). Be sure to explain why it’s strong.
  3. Discuss what you think is the blogger’s weakest post (and provide a link to that post). Be honest but constructive!
  4. Provide two suggestions for ways that the blog could improve.

Don’t forget to do all these steps for each of the two blogs you’re reading!

PART 2 (2 points total): After these have been posted, you must reply (in a comment) to each of two posts about your blog.

There are two deadlines to remember:

  • Your initial post (reviewing two blogs) must be posted as a comment to this assignment no later than noon Monday, February 20.
  • Your two responses to the two reviews of your blog must be posted as replies to those comments no later than noon Tuesday, February 21.

Happy reading!

Read & Respond – Week 6

February 9, 2012

This week, we’ll be discussing mobility in your read & response. Briggs’ chapter for the week focuses on the subject, so that’s a good place to start. Even though this is a pretty current text, I’m curious how up-to-date you think he is on the subject – advances in mobile communication seem to be arriving faster and faster, making it more and more difficult to stay current on the subject.

Let’s start by discussing the iPad (or ALL tablet technology, really, but it’s difficult to deny Apple’s current prominence here). The new one – yes, another new one – comes out at the start of March. That means we’ll have had a new iPad drop every spring for three years running (and always, conveniently, during this class). One really current example of today’s trends is this: Smithsonian magazine, the old-and-crustiest of old and crusty magazines, has just come out with its own iPad app. Do you have a tablet? Do you read newspapers, magazines or books on it?

Aside from technology, we’ve got mobile apps to consider. Twitter can certainly be used from a landlocked workstation, but (as we experienced in our scavenger hunt), it really shines in how it lets you instantaneously publish from the field (a few death stories that jumped the gun notwithstanding). Check out this tandem of links from “Why journalists should break news on Twitter” and “What goes into a good tweet.” Useful information? Do you agree? How does it square with Briggs’ perspective and what we’ve discussed in class to date?

Location is another factor in mobile communication. If you haven’t already, give Foursquare a try (and if you have but it’s gone dormant, give it another chance for a few days). We’re still grappling with ways to effectively integrate location into mass communication, and one site I’ve recently been turned on to is Street Fight, a news source for all things hyperlocal (kind of like Mashable but for location-based stuff only). Have a look through.

Finally, here’s a tweet from @GeorgeBray that sums things up perhaps a little uncomfortably:

Food for thought, yes? Be sure to post your response a comment to this post by noon, Monday, February 13.

In-class assignment #5: Linking around

February 7, 2012

We’ve been reading and talking about links and connections, and today you’re going to make some of your own. But first, some things you might find useful.

QR codes (such as

These are those black and white boxes of gobbledegook you’ve seen around. Scan one, and it’ll take your phone to a site.

  • Why do it: It lets mobile users quickly access your site or a specific post without typing. You can also print them out on label paper and stick them to your business cards to let the people you hand them to see your work immediately.
  • How to do it:
    • At a QR code website, enter your site’s URL (including “http://”)
    • Get the permalink and/or “<img src>” code
      • To include it in a post, you’ll paste the “<img src>” code into the relevant spot in your HTML view
      • To include it in your blog, add the “Image” widget and paste the permalink under “Image URL” (change dimensions to 100 x 100)
        • Note: It doesn’t make much sense to include a QR link to your blog ON YOUR BLOG, but you might add one for an online portfolio or site such as Instagram]

Link Shorteners (such as

These take lengthy links (like those of your blog posts) and shorten them into more manageable ones.

  • Why do it:It’s especially useful when sharing on Twitter so you don’t eat up your 140 characters, but they’re great for anywhere you don’t want to gum up the works with a long URL
  • How to do it:
    • At a link shortener site, enter your site’s URL
    • Copy the resultant code, and paste it where you want it.

Advanced HTML linking

By this time, you know how to select a swath of text and click the link button, but sometimes (e.g., in comments) that button won’t be there. Knowing the basic code for makes you a more savvy journalist and user.

  • Why do it: In addition to the above, pasting the entire URL is a little tacky.
  • How to do it:
    • To add a link in comments, enter the following code (without quotation marks):
      “<a href=””>LINK TEXT HERE</a>”
    • You can also link to specific parts of your text. Follow these two steps:
      1. In one post, select a word at the start of the section you want to link, and enter the following code:
        “<a name=”Whatever”>TAGGED TEXT HERE</a>”
      2. In another post, create a link the usual way, but with one addition:
        “<a href=”>LINK TEXT HERE</a>”

AND NOW, your In-class Assignment: Use HTML to add at least one tag to a section of an existing post of yours (best to use a longer post with subheds), and post a comment to this assignment post that includes an in-text link to that section. This is due by the end of class today, Tuesday, February 7.

Social Media Challenge #4: Blog-a-Day Week

February 4, 2012

After blogging for several weeks, you should have a feel for what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan your attack. So far you’ve been doing sprints, but this week will be a 5K. Beginning Monday, Feb. 6, you will post something EVERY day to your personal blog for a week (this includes Saturday & Sunday). This will not be easy, but you can do it, and at the end you’ll have a newfound respect for those who do this every week.

Some rules:

  • The first rule of Blog-a-Day Week is: We do NOT talk about Blog-a-Day Week! This means no posting about hard it is to post every day, or other such metacommentary.
  • Likewise, no posting about how you don’t know what to post. Use the skills from previous challenges, ideas from your blogroll, synthesis posts, comments from other students … ANYTHING that leads to a substantive post!
  • Two of these posts obviously count for your required weekly posts, but there won’t be any extra credit for posting more than two this week (seeing as you’re required to post seven)

After these seven posts, you will then post an eighth: an overview of the blog-a-day week experience. What did you learn? What was difficult? What got easier over time? Post this by noon, Monday, Feb. 13, and also post a link to it in the comments section of this assignment.

DUE: Every day from Monday, Feb. 6 – Monday, Feb. 13 (eight posts in all)


EXTRA CREDIT: Now that you’ve finished your 5K, try for a marathon! For every one of the following three weeks that you post every day, you’ll earn two points of extra credit. Post for an entire month – that’s February 6 to March 4 – and you’ll earn 6 extra points total.

All the above rules apply – no metacommentary, no garbage posts – with one exception: On March 4, you should post an overview of your blog month experience. You might want to check out the National Blog Posting Month website ( for advice and support – you can even sign up to win prizes.

Mainly, though, you should have fun as you learn firsthand just what goes into regular blogging. I promise, you will survive.