Alan adds his thoughts to David’s “Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums” post, and some thoughts of my own have crept into my feeble little brain that, in the interest of furthering this particular distributed conversation, I thought I’d share. David’s original post is one of those seminal, brain starters that challenges us to get into the dirt with these technologies in schools, and Alan’s response exemplifies the power of the model that David sets up. We’re talking a new framework here, one that many of us have been practicing and trying to evangelize in a bunch of different ways, the complexities of which are still just beyond the reach of most of our constituents (and to some extent, ourselves.)

The whole idea that we can be involved in many different conversations in many different places instead of ones that are “neatly organized into one nicely structured cubby” as Alan puts it is what so many people seem to bump up against when dipping toes in these waters. And as he so correctly intimates, the basic issue here is that it’s only once you’re actively blogging and Flickring and Jotting and whatnoting that you realize how gluey and important that very passive (once you create it) RSS feed running in the background really is. Blogs capture the content, but RSS is where the conversation, the connection of the information is really made. I turn as much to other places (Technorati, Feedster) to find what people are saying back to me than the comments people leave here, precisely because of the distributed nature of the Read/Write Web. I could post this at David’s blog or Alan’s blog, but I post it here because a) I want to capture these thoughts in my own learning, experimenting space, and b) because I know they’ll find this piece of the conversation in their aggregator the next time they flip through it. Similarly, I no longer tell grandma and grandpa that there are new pictures of the kids online at Flickr because they’ve learned to collect them automatically. RSS makes them a part of that conversation.

Without a fundamental understanding of RSS glue, distributed conversations are fundamentally illogical. How can we call Alan and David’s separate posts on this topic a conversation? Conversations connect, and their ideas are in disparate spaces. To the un-rss-initiated, their ideas may potentially only come together on a hot-or-miss Google search a few hours after they’re posted. No doubt, discussion boards (idea blogs?) are much easier to wrap the more linear, pre Web 2.0 heads around. All these individual spaces would just appear to complicate matters. But instead, “the magic, the sheer utter magic” (Alan again) of RSS orchestrates it, and it does so in the ways that we empower it to do.

…the most important understanding that should take place is managing and using RSS– not at the technical level of XML and the various flavors, but the underlying principle at work.

Can I get a big “AMEN”? And David knows this too:

Merely, I am suggesting that in some instances (or more) we might consider a carefully designed RSS connected environment as a content-building, experience and skill sharing, professional community.

An “RSS connected environment.” Early on in this, a couple of years ago now, I thought about this with parents and community on a much smaller scale. When I happened upon that page of feeds the other day, I was simply awestruck by how much farther we had come in the ways that we could use RSS to connect conversations and share information. David’s post scrapes the surface of what we could do, and I’m once again wondering how to carve a few more hours out of each day to go further down the road that he and Alan have pointed to.

And maybe that’s the new strategy, get teachers and students rss-ing first. Give them a framework for understanding how disparate looking pieces of content really aren’t as disconnected as they seem, and that there are new ways to find and collect and archive ideas from any number of previously unknown places. That all this seemingly random creativity is really not so random at all, that it is “loosely joined” in ways that allow us to make it even more relevant and effective in our practice and in our learning. The old, rigid, preorganized structures (read: schools) are losing their hold on ideas and knowledge, and while they may seem chaotic, these new less organized but more flexible structures can be just as if not more effective.

Good, good stuff, and worth thinking much, much more about.