Making it Work
Thinking about Blogging 5: Closing the Loop
Roughly a year ago—in the April 2009 Cites & Insights—I wrote what began as one medium-length essay and turned into a series. This is the last article in that series—not because I won’t keep writing about blogging, but because I’m finally completing the sequence of topics. Incidentally, for those of you keeping track, there apparently was no Thinking about Blogging 3. So it goes.
The discussions this time fall into three areas: how we blog, a semi-random set of notes that does not include posts focusing on the ethics of blogging (that’s another topic for another article, somewhere down the line); brief notes on Lilia Efimova’s work on blogger networking practices; and a tiny set of miscellaneous issues. There’s a fourth area I’m going to note in almost no detail because, I think, it’s past its due date.
There must be thousands of blog posts about the right way to blog, particularly posts at marketing blogs and other places that presume the real purpose of every blog is marketing. Most of what’s here comes from the library field, although I couldn’t resist going a little astray. I think it’s fair to say you shouldn’t take any of this advice too seriously—although you may find suggestions that trigger your own ideas.
Rochelle Mazar posted this in what was then called Random Access Mazar but is now Thursday Evening Post (same url: www.mazar.ca). Mazar plays off advice that another blogger got (the link is to an invitation-only blog): “pick a topic that’s unique and that she’s passionate about; that thing that everyone tells you to shut up about should be the topic of your blog.” Maraz doesn’t buy this.
I think this is a very male geek perspective. Perhaps male nerd perspective. That’s about branding yourself with your own singular idiosyncrasies; you always post about the intersection between WoW and Freud? Sure, you can be the WoW Freud guy to your tiny wedge audience, but I’m not sure that gives you an awesome blog.
I don’t think you need to have one topic to have a good blog. In fact, I think I’d get bored of your blog if you only have one topic… The only advice she got that I think is any good is this: find your own voice. Any blog, and any topic, can be interesting if it’s really coming from you, if the ideas and feelings and observations are genuine. I don’t even think your voice, your perspective, has to be radically unique, either, and I don’t think you have to go out of your way to make yourself unique. I think you just have to be passionate. There’s no point writing about something you’re not passionate about, and I’d hope that you’re passionate about a lot of things…
I think the point is to talk back to popular culture, to hegemony, to media, to teachers or authority or peers. Make yourself an active participant rather than a passive absorber of information, regardless of your situation. It’s more of a way to reorient your vision of yourself and your importance in your own grand scheme. To remind you that you have a voice in your world, and your blog can be your platform. I don’t think the point of that is to get more readers, or to have a more entertaining blog, so perhaps I’m a bad adviser on that front. I think the idea is to train yourself to speak out, no matter what the topic is. To think critically about what’s going on, read/listen/think carefully and add your opinion. Not just absorbing what you’re hearing, what you’re experiencing, but responding to it. To be political, I think that activity can make you a better citizen and a better person.
As a side effect, I think it gives you a better blog, too. Because your passion is obvious. You are a speaker in the world rather than a listener. You have something to add. That makes you interesting.
Different bloggers have different purposes, to be sure, but I’m more sympathetic to Mazar’s perspective than I would have been to the “pick one unique topic and drill it home” concept—although I suspect the latter is a better way to become The Go-to Person/Guru for a topic. I’m less certain of the section beginning “I think the point…”—that may be the point of Mazar’s blog and the person’s blog she’s commenting on, and that’s fine, but it’s not my point here and I suspect that’s true of a few million other bloggers. Adding another voice to the set of conversations isn’t inherently “talking back.” Yes, you’re being more of an active participant; yes, you gain a voice (of sorts, even if nobody hears you); I’m not sure those are the same things.
Still…this is better advice than most of the canned How To Get More and More Readers and Big Bucks from Adsense articles and posts.
Steven Bell wrote this on October 13, 2008 at ACRLog, and starts out by namechecking yours truly:
There must be at least 500 librarian blogs. Probably closer to 600. I imagine Walt Crawford has probably given some more accurate librarian blogger data in one of his blog studies, but I think I’m in the ballpark. So let’s say you are a librarian and decide you want to have a well known blog. With the field as crowded as it is how do you get noticed? What do you need to do to make it to the A—or even the B or C—list? Maybe you just want a blog that uniquely covers some new, unknown territory. I got to thinking about these things because a newer-to-the-profession academic librarian recently posed these questions to me.
At the time, I commented on the first three sentences (“Almost certainly more than 1,000…”)—but I’m beginning to think the ongoing community of English-language liblogs may indeed be somewhere in the 500 to 600 range, omitting “friends & family” blogs and short-lived blogs. That’s not the point, though; the point is the rest of the post.
I’d immediately push back on the desire to have a well known blog… perhaps the motive should be to have a communicative blog that reaches its appropriate audience, no matter the size of that audience. Still, “how do you get noticed?” is a relevant question, one where I suspect the answer’s changed significantly since 2008.
Succeeding as a blogger in a crowded field, to my way of thinking, comes down to three things. All are probably easier said than done. First, find the right niche because that will establish your identity as a blogger. I come across lots of blogs and many of them are missing character. If your tag line is “thoughts about librarianship and working in libraries” or something like that it allows you to write about everything but in the end you may stand for nothing. I think the best librarian blogs are the ones where you know what the blogger stands for, and you can be reasonably sure you going to get some consistency over time. Here at ACRLog you know we’re going to be focusing on academic librarianship (maybe not right now). If that’s what you like to read about—and to get some attitude on the side—then this is the blog for you. If we suddenly started covering totally different topics everyday I imagine we’d lose the bulk of our readership pretty quickly. Finding the right niche is probably the hardest thing to do. It requires you to figure out what no one else is writing about and to capture the market on that topic—or you could just write about things with an incredibly unique point of view—the way no one else is seeing them. You’ve got to be different. Originality is the key.
Steven Bell, meet Rochelle Mazar. I think there’s a disconnect here: Being original and distinctive does not necessarily mean finding a particular topical niche. It does require speaking in your own voice (and having a voice others want to hear); it does require caring about what you write. But you could be the seventh blogger focusing on (for example) open access or a blogger who writes about open access as one of many topics and still gain the right audience. “Figure out what no one else is writing about” strikes me as precisely the wrong advice because it doesn’t come from your heart. What do I know? I know Walt at Random has a pretty substantial readership even though it’s about nothing or many things and even though it’s certainly not “what no one else is writing about.” For that matter, I’m getting the sense that the most-valued and most-read essays in Cites & Insights are ones where I’m specifically writing about what many others are writing about—where I’m channeling the zeitgeist.
Now finding a good niche will only take you so far if you lack good content to keep your audience coming back. So the second thing is to identify a niche that is likely to have a steady source of content. It doesn’t mean you have to blog everyday, unless you are filtering a steady stream of news on a specific subject. But without good material to keep the ideas flowing, so you can post at least once a week, the blog will probably fail to be sustainable. Witness the many librarian blogs that have bitten the dust. Again, a bit easier said than done, but not impossible. One way to do this is to look for a niche that librarians would find of value and would draw upon sources of information external to this profession…
Here again, I think there’s way too much emphasis on finding a niche and, frankly, on producing a steady stream of material.
Having a blog with a good niche and steady content won’t help if no one knows about it. So number three is promoting your new blog. We saw a good example of that last week when the blog In the Library with the Leadpipe made its debut. Several of the bloggers posted announcements to their friends on Facebook (where they also started a group), and asked a few established bloggers to take a look and spread the news. I think I saw it in at least five places, including LISNews and Walt Crawford’s blog. So just as it begins the blog is getting buzz. I’ve come across a fair number of interesting librarian blogs but they just seem buried in the blur of too many blogs called “The Something Librarian”. Though it may sound contrived, it can help to occasionally offer opinions, challenge traditions, take a position or anything that might get other bloggers to link to or comment on your posts…
Did one of the folks at Lead Pipe ask me to take a look at it? I honestly don’t remember. I do believe that, in 2010 at least, “hey look at us” announcements and attempts to get other people to link will do less good—and be less successful—than “viral marketing,” the kind of thing that happens when a couple of people note your posts on FriendFeed (or Twitter, or for that matter Facebook) with a note making the post look interesting. That’s how I find new blogs these days…and some of those blogs are indeed named “The [something] Librarian.”
I don’t know if my new colleague will achieve his goal of establishing a more widely read blog – I hope he will. Personally I think it’s getting hard to stand out in the crowd and attract the attention of the bread and butter of librarian blog readers—the younger generation of librarians who are accustomed to blog reading. Now I imagine they are spending more time sending and receiving tweets for their awareness and entertainment, and that reading blogs is, or will soon be, somewhat tired. I sometimes question how sustainable all of this librarian blogging is, and whether we’ll still be doing this five years from now. Perhaps it will last as long as we have a good topic, something to say about it and a need for conversation with our colleagues. But until then I wish my colleague good luck in his journey to librarian blogger recognition—or at least in bringing life to a blog that creates some value for those who read it. I admire his ambition but hope that, as always, he is motivated by a desire to provide meaning for others and a passion to help them learn. With these simple outcomes as your intrinsic motivation you will always be successful no matter how many librarians read your blog.
You know I’m going to push back on “the younger generation of librarians”; I don’t think blog readership breaks down that way. I think writing and reading blogs has changed partly because of Twitter and its ilk—but I don’t think that makes blogging “tired” or unsustainable. What it does now and will, I believe, do three years from now is change the medium, possibly in a healthy way. There’s one sentence here I wholeheartedly agree with: “Perhaps it will last as long as we have a good topic, something to say about it and a need for conversation with our colleagues.” Since almost anything can be a good topic (ask me about some of my more widely-read posts and articles!), the limiting factors are something to say and the desire for conversation. On the other hand, I demur on “provide meaning for others and a passion to help them learn”—if I thought Walt at Random was about “helping them learn,” I’d do it very differently and probably have given up long before now. As for meaning…that’s in the mind of the reader.
Blogs aren’t all one thing, maybe not even all instances of one medium, and John Miedema makes that abundantly clear in his own blog(s), found at johnmiedema.ca. Thus this post on December 6, 2008—a followup to “I Delete Blog Posts: The Web is Not Print” on November 29, 2008.
Most bloggers, I suspect,
follow a “printlike” rule—I know I do. Once I hit the Publish button, the post
is published. If I find I need to make changes to the post (changes which, I’ve
found, won’t make it through to most readers in this day of aggregators), I’ll
either add an update at the bottom of the post or, in some cases, use
strikethrough type to indicate what I’ve changed. Notably, Wordpress’
WYSIWYG toolbar includes an icon for strikethrough—it’s a normal convention of
blogging. Deleting posts? Somehow, that feels wrong…to me and, I’m guessing,
many other bloggers.
Miedema isn’t buying it. Quoting from the November 29 post:
Deleting a post might be censorship if the web was print, but the web is not print. Change is the essence of the web. The ability to rapidly modify data is one of the key reasons the web exists. We like the web because we can publish easily. Consequently, I have posted as much junk as good stuff. Why shouldn’t we also use the changeability of the web to improve our publications. I think of my blog as a wiki, continually edited toward a better overall product. More of what works, and less of what doesn’t. I keep a back up of all posts if I need to resurrect one. We never had this flexibility before the digital age, and that clarifies one of the persistent virtues of print. It is dangerous to assume that web publications have the fixity of print. We need both digital and print technologies in a modern information ecology.
The right to delete data should be respected. Many people do not ever delete anything because they are unsure when it may be of value…
The practice of deleting data should be encouraged. Web 2.0 makes it easy to contribute to the web; this is a good thing. It also makes for an ocean of data, much of it with fleeting relevance, making it harder with time to find relevant information. Google is not as effective today as it was five years ago, and the primary reason is the explosion of content. Don’t get me wrong—everyone should feel entitled to contribute whatever they want to the web. They should also be encouraged to delete what is no longer relevant…
That post received 15 comments (roughly half of them from Miedema). Looking at it now, I would comment that “censorship” is never the right word when somebody withdraws their own work, and Miedema’s deletions never struck me as censorial.
The December post is interesting and says a lot about “deletion” in the proper contexts—noting that Miedema explicitly saves his WordPress database and will email “deleted” posts to people on request. Excerpts:
I may have been a bit a little too enthusiastic in my weeding. There are some posts that I have deleted over time that later recur in my thinking, and suggest themes I should pursue further. To that end, and thanks to the easy backup and restore functions of WordPress, I have restored a number of posts in their original form, with the same URL and comments and all. It is the web after all, and I take advantage of both easy deletion and easy restoration.
One such theme is this very issue of deleting posts. I see I have had [seven] posts related to information overload and the value of turning it off. I have said that the new front of intellectual freedom is not access to information but access to relevant information. But I think it is more aptly called psychological freedom since it entails more than just an academic concept, but the need of every person for a psychological space free of information pollution. Psychological freedom is a theme I will explore further.
Other themes that have been emerging are now organized into categories. See the “themes” in the new categories drop-down to the right. If you were looking for something that was deleted, it may now be back. Not everything though. This blog still works more like a wiki, deleting old material in favour of better material…
Maybe the takeaway here for “how we should blog” is this:
It’s your blog. There may be blogging norms—but if you have good reasons to violate those norms, do so. If people complain—well, there’s a great topic for some worthwhile posts.
Speaking of norms, here’s a quickie:
The direct post is from Library Stuff on December 10, 2008—and I have to say that, for my taste, Cohen’s blog has become too much of a link blog with too little commentary. But, you know, it’s not my blog; it’s Cohen’s blog (and he gets paid for it, so why should I complain?).
Cohen’s apparently citing a December 10, 2008 post on WinExtra that includes this sentence: “For the past week or so there has been a slow building steam over this ridiculous habit that some bloggers have of only sending out a partial RSS feed.”
I figured I’d go to the WinExtra post when I was ready to write this article and extract pithy comments. I certainly agree that partial feeds are a damn nuisance. Yes, they’ll increase direct pagehits if the excerpts are sufficiently enticing, and if you’re actually getting paid based on ad exposures (as opposed to clickthroughs), that might give you a mercenary reason to do partial feeds. But I’m certainly not the only one who will be equally inclined to unsubscribe unless your posts are uniquely wonderful—it’s just extra hassle.
Here’s the thing: I can’t go to the original post because it’s no longer there. There’s not even a 404, just a screen with the frame, absurdly oversized icons for Twitter and RSS, a bunch of ads (including one for Circuit City? Really?), even more ads, sidebar stuff, still more ads…and a big blank spot in the middle. Call this “link fail” if you like.
The message is one I agree with: Partial RSS feeds are annoying. But, hey, it’s your blog.
That’s only part of the long title on a March 30, 2009 post at A Blog Around the Clock, Bora Zivkovic’s prolific blog at scienceblogs.com/clock/. It ends: “with a Science Reporting angle.” There is no way I can summarize or even reasonably excerpt this post—it’s more than ten thousand words long (Zivkovic calls it an “epic post”), not including two shorter followup posts. It’s also about a broader topic than “how to blog,” as stated in the title. Zivkovic looks at several different kinds of journalism—breaking news, reporting news, news analysis, investigative reporting, “opinion, entertainment, storytelling, etc.” and two sets of media: newspapers and blogs.
Here’s part of what he says about blogs:
As I have said many times before:
Blog is software.
Bloggers are people who use blogging software. Blogging is using the blogging software. Period.
Bloggers are not alien invaders from outer space. Bloggers are humans, citizens, silent majority that never had a voice until now. Bloggers are former and usually current consumers of the media. And re-producers of the media (yup, those guys that drive the traffic to your sites). And commenters on the media (guys who keep you honest and make you better if you are open-minded enough to listen). As well as producers of the media…
It is not what you use, but how you use it. 90% of everything on blogs is crap. 90% of everything in newspapers is also crap. So goes for the radio and TV. If you complain that we should not point out the worst of the newspapers and focus on the best instead, then please reciprocate: point to the best of blogs, not the worst. Then perhaps we can have a discussion…
I might get into a heated argument with Zivkovic over some of the rest of the post (he’s written off newspapers where the internet is available), but not this section. Here, I have no argument. How you should blog is what works for you—a freedom you don’t have in traditional media (unless you own a printing press), and a freedom that in no way invalidates your choices or your results.
It’s probably worth noting an April 2, 2009 post on ABSW (Association of British Science Writers), then at absw.blogspot.com: “Do bloggers need editors?” Noting the length of the Zivkovic post, the blogger opines:
Which publication would allow a writer to rabbit on at that length? Even in its most ponderous days Scientific American would have seen that as at the upper limit of readability. And on New Scientist, another place where they cover science at greater length than most newspapers, it would have been a crime against humanity.
It is just too easy to write too much when you don’t have an editor shouting at you. That is one reason why it is harder to write science for tabloid newspapers than for broadsheets. The editors are less tolerant on the tabloids.
There’s more—and I’m only partly sympathetic. I’m even less so after this snarky little paragraph:
Unlike bloggers, professional writers see little point in writing for their own consumption. Ideally, they want to reach people who would normally avoid the subject. You don’t do that by writing too much.
Yes, and science writers have done such a fine job of communicating so the public understands how science works and doesn’t get caught up with pseudoscientific nonsense. Those editors really earn their keep. (See? I can be equally snarky and unjust.)
I chose not to comment on the entire 10,000-word post above, for a variety of reasons. There’s another 7,000-word piece that would appear central to a discussion of “how we blog”—a scholarly article on a “genre-based typology of weblogs” appearing in a supposedly peer-reviewed open access journal. I just can’t make my way through the damned thing. It includes a 770-word “working definition” of personal weblogs, and rereading that section at this remove only serves to remind me that I’m not a Proper Scholar and how delighted I am by that failure.
It’s a list! It’s not from a liblog! (It’s a post by Sonia Simone on copyblogger from some time in October 2009. The blog has 106,123 subscribers! The post got 1056 tweets! It has 54 trackbacks! It has 165 comments! It’s very easy to see all those impressive numbers.) And it’s really hard to get past the opening commentary on the very first deadly sin, Selfishness. To wit:
Here’s how making money with social media works:
What? Wait a minute. I thought this was about blogging—but the very first discussion talks about “making money with social media.” It becomes clear that the theme here is not blogging as a form of personal expression, blogging for communication, blogging because it’s important to you. It’s about making money with social media.
If you’re interested, the big seven are selfishness, sloth, impatience, lameness, identicality, irrelevance and boorishness. Greed, obviously, is not on the list.
Here’s some advice: If you want lots of advice for how to attract huge audiences to something you call a blog, there’s a whole industry out there eager to provide that advice. I’m not part of that industry. Neither, I believe, do most libloggers have “making money with social media” as a primary or secondary motive.
I had another copyblogger post tagged here—and one by a pseudonymous non-librarian with a “librarian” blog. But never mind. To my mind “how you should blog” means, for one thing, ignoring most hotshot advice on marketing-oriented blogging. Unless, of course, that’s what you want to do.
Instead, let’s finish this section with a post by Martin Weller (a professor at the UK’s Open University) on September 21, 2009 at The Ed Techie (nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk). Weller notes an article suggesting that UK academics “should attempt to become ‘celebrity academics’ via blogs” and asserting that North America has “always” had a “culture of the celebrity academic,” further noting that blogs are excellent vehicles for shameless self-promotion.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the celebrity argument, but I think it misunderstands the aim, or benefits of blogging. It assumes that becoming a celebrity is the only goal for an academic blogger. This seems to me to exhibit a lack of imagination and makes a straightforward analogy of print journalism to blogging. Sure, there are some good academic bloggers who perform the role of interpreting events for the general public, but there are many more who write about their subject in detail, where the intended audience is that of their peers or community. If have a very specialised area of expertise, medieval dance (say), then it’s not about becoming a celebrity by blogging about this, but rather having influence and being recognised within your (probably quite small) community.
Substitute “librarian” for “academic” and this strikes me as directly relevant and appropriate—and a reasonably good way to say it. Even within the library community, small as it is, achieving celebrity is not the only goal for a blogger and, I believe, shouldn’t be the primary one.
There’s more to the post (having to do with ways academic blogging can be superior to journalism), but this is a key point, as in the conclusion (edited to remove one example that most of us wouldn’t recognize):
In conclusion then I’d say we need to move away from the idea that celebrity is some kind of desirable goal. …the mix of academic, celebrity and traditional media nearly always produces an unholy mess. Blogging (and other similar types of activities) are not a means to realising this, but a thankful alternative.
Lilia Efimova is a Russian researcher at Novay, a “networked innovation” center in the Netherlands. According to her blog Mathemagenic, she’s “studying social media, changing workplace, knowledge and learning.” She’s published quite a bit on her research on blogs—or, rather, “blogger networking practices.” Much of this appears connected to her PhD research. (It’s an interesting blog template—the first one I’ve encountered that shows on the sidebar not only the number of posts but the words in those posts—just over 590,000 in 1,598 posts as of late February 2010.)
What’s interesting about her research is that it’s not about blogging as such; it’s about networking between (or among) bloggers and their readers. There’s a fair amount of self-study involved (she started the blog in June 2002). I can’t begin to summarize her research and findings and I might not be enough of an amateur social scientist to frame the discussion properly. It’s certainly the case that liblogging, as one subset of personal/professional blogging, involves an odd and sometimes uneasy mix of talking to friends & acquaintances—but also publishing to strangers who might become acquaintances. Beyond that, I’m reluctant to go. Her site is blog.mathemagenic.com; you’ll find a lot of the research-related posts in late 2008 and early 2009. The categories may not be much help: “Meta-blogging” has 383 posts, “PhD” has 744 and “Weblog research” 191.
Elfimova had four posts in February 2009, including one brief note that she was typing away on her actual dissertation while her “two favorite men” (her son and, presumably, her partner) were sleeping. The other three might be worth noting since they appear after most of her research notes had already appeared.
A February 2, 2009 post offers “PhD conclusions in a thousand words: blogging practices of knowledge workers.” It links to a longer summary (3,200 words—not terribly long) and, via an update, to the full dissertation, which is available free for downloading (or 25 Euros for the printed book): Passi0n at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. (It’s got a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, but I’m quoting selectively because “SA” is such a murky clause.) Portions of her short list of conclusions:
· Ideas: Weblogs are used to maintain awareness of ideas and for sense making supported by writing; the “person-centric and open-ended nature of blogging” can bring unexpected insights that cross topical boundaries and over time, ideas in weblogs “provide a fertile ground for reflection and reuse.”
· Conversations: Blog conversations are fragmented and distributed and “may be supplemented by interacting via other media” (FriendFeed, anyone?); participation in blog-based conversations “requires extra effort” and works best for “occasional interaction rather than…constant conversations.” (There’s more there.)
· Relations: Blogs are often treated as “online representations of their authors”; can establish and maintain personal and informational relationships—but connecting through content; can support networking both through publishing and through interaction; and over time other channels enter into such relationships.
· Tasks: Blogs may be best for “enabling work, rather than doing it”—except when tasks match the medium.
· Context: Blogging on professional topics can result in some integration with work (even unintentionally); blotters need to deal with the effects of visibility; bloggers have to make choices and draw boundaries, deal with fragmentation and abundance, and choose, manage and “work around” tools.
That’s a 188-word summary of Elfimova’s 1,043-word set of bullet points; I hope it’s not too unfair. Where liblogs are concerned (and librarians are certainly “knowledge workers” if the term means anything at all!), I find almost nothing here I can disagree with, and much that seems worth thinking about. Hmm. Ideas in weblogs providing a fertile ground for reflection and reuse? Can you say “probably four-fifths of what’s now in Cites & Insights” as based on such ideas?
Two days later, Elfimova wrote “Am I killing publication opportunities with blogging PhD results?” She clearly decided that the answer was either “No” or, as the post says to me, “If so, I don’t care.” Here’s the key paragraph:
I know that sharing openly brings all kinds of good things back, but next to it there is a feeling that a successful professional career requires more than coming up with good ideas and sharing them. I also believe that performance is counter-productive, that doing things in the way that reflects personal values brings people and projects that reflect those values. So, I will probably end up blogging all those things I’m not sure about, but I would also love to hear what do you think about it.
The phrase “performance is counter-productive” links to another post that seems to say that good personal blogs are “backstage”—where you can be yourself—rather than “performances”—where you must manage your persona “to impress the audience in a particular way.” That’s really interesting, and may mark a key difference between the kinds of blogs I treasure (which includes most liblogs) and the kinds of blogs that Blogging Gurus always tell us how to produce: That is, blogs that reflect their writers, as opposed to blogs carefully designed to maximize audiences and present a favorable impression.
Finally—and understanding that I’m mostly pointing you to Elfimova’s site, where you’ll find lots more detail along the way plus the final dissertation—there’s “What pragmatists might want to know about blogging,” posted February 11, 2009. She introduces it as a possible article to hand to “a colleague thinking about starting blogging” and wonders whether it makes sense for a pragmatic knowledge worker. At just under 1,300 words, the article’s certainly short enough to hand somebody (figure two printed pages, or a bit over 1.5 pages of C&I) and I’m sorely tempted to quote the whole thing—I think you’ll find it worth reading. She suggests three modes for blogs: publishing, conversations with self, and interaction with others (the three overlapping). She notes reasons why blogs might not be good tools to do your job directly but might support your job (she calls posts “microcontent,” which isn’t always the right term—e.g., I wouldn’t call a 1,300 word post “microcontent.”) She sees blog audiences growing through “enticing” writing and through comments and recommendations—not through various direct marketing efforts. And she suggests some “cultural shifts to be addressed and lessons to be learnt” along the learning curve. Here I will include the sentence that begins each of the six bullets but not the few sentences that follow:
· Personal passions have a legitimate place at work.
· Transparency is here to stay.
· Visibility can turn into information overload.
· Everyday routines matter.
· Authority becomes fluid.
· Organisations might set the rules and create conditions, but at the end it’s up to an individual.
Seriously good stuff, well worth exploring.
The overriding theme for this installment is “closing the loop”—closing out one cycle of discussions about blogs and blogging, particularly as they relate to libraries and librarians. Those discussions will begin again in the future: of that there’s little doubt. Right now, I’m leaving out a small group of items tagged “blogging and ethics,” because it’s not quite ripe yet and may actually fit into an entirely different discussion. (How’s your Australasian journal collection doing these days?)
That leaves three items from 2009 that I want to note and comment on, posts that can best be summarized as—well, see the subheading.
That’s the title of an Ars Technica article on April 21, 2009 written by Jacqui Cheng.
Researchers at the Austria-based Know-Center are working on a program that analyzes the language used on blogs in order to rank them as highly credible, having average credibility, or “little credible.” The code looks at the distribution of words over time, and compares blog topics against articles from mainstream news, which are apparently weighted as being more credible.
The distribution of words over time? Really? How well your blog’s topics compare to mainstream news? Truly? To me, this smacks of a peculiar definition of “credibility”—one that can almost certainly be gamed easily to establish “highly credible” blogs that are nothing of the sort, and even more easily to build spamblogs with no original content but great “credibility.” I’m guessing Cheng doesn’t swallow it entirely, based on this paragraph:
Of course, comparing the facts and opinions posted on blogs to the mainstream media may not be the best way to determine credibility. The beauty of the Internet is that people can write openly on almost any topic, and they may disagree heavily with the angle presented by certain news sources. Those people will undoubtedly be miffed at automatically being categorized as “little credible” just because their opinions may differ.
Ya think? Comments included the usual “blogs are all crap anyway,” a couple of useful criticisms, and a rather nice one:
Someone needs to start working on a researcher credibility system. There has been plenty of crap research quoted by members of Congress and media outlets that would make a credibility system almost mandatory.
That’s the pre-colon part of this Proper Article Title, by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom in the May 2009 issue of Perspectives on History. The post-colon portion: “A Top Ten List for the Uninitiated Historian.” You’ll find the whole 2,700-word piece at www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2009/0905/0905for10.cfm. I’ll just quote the ten misconceptions, not the expansions (which can run to several hundred words each):
Misconception 1: All bloggers prattle on about themselves, make confessions, and rant about pet peeves.
Misconception 2: All blogs have cutesy tag lines.
Misconception 3: Blogging is a fad that is bound to go away soon, so we can just ignore the phenomenon and wait the trend out.
Misconception 4: “[A blog post is] there for anyone with an internet connection to see.” [Discusses national censorship and filtering.]
Misconception 5: Books and blogs are so different that the publication of Boxer’s anthology (Ultimate Blogs) was a “man bites dog” novelty.
Misconception 6: Blogging is for the young.
Misconception 7: Blogging is the latest thing in online writing.
Misconception 8: The academics and other intellectuals who turn to blogging are attention-seeking people who have trouble getting published in more traditional venues.
Misconception 9: Academic blogging is an indulgence best reserved for the tenured.
Misconception 10: Bloggers think that everything can be boiled down to a top ten list.
There’s humor and useful discussion within the ten paragraphs, particularly for those who really don’t get blogging. #7, as you might expect, discusses newer trends in online writing—and #10…well, consider the form of the particular post.
Maybe I should just note the title (from a July 25, 2009 post by Doug Johnson at Blue Skunk Blog), say “Amen,” and let it be. But what fun would that be?
Johnson appreciates and encourages comments, and gets a fair number.
But even after nearly four years of writing on a pretty regular basis, I’ll be damned if I can predict which entries will result in an outpouring of reactions and which will create a resounding silence—or just a couple whimpers.
He did a major series of posts—about a hypothetical future school library—where he “guessed there were enough things in the posts that would confuse or anger readers and that the reactions would be hot and heavy. Didn’t happen.” He got one really good comment (which he reprints in this post), but the first four posts had a total of three comments (plus his responses)—and the fifth had four (including the one he cites).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, my post “the short rant about how men can improve their dress” was written in about 15 minutes, has so far elicited 22 comments, some sort of hostile…
I should probably note that this relatively brief metapost about commenting got five comments (plus responses) plus one spamment. It also elicited the potential Blue Skunk Rule of Comments: “The more trivial the post, the larger the response.”
I didn’t comment on the post, but I certainly agree with the sentiment. I’ve stopped attempting to guess which posts will draw loads’o’comments (directly and indirectly) and maybe even be mentioned elsewhere and which, no matter how hard I work on them, will be met with complete silence.
My stack of old lead sheets on liblog issues includes seven items by one of the most thoughtful writers in the field—and I’d grouped them all under her name, or rather the name of her blog.
But that blog is dead. Or, rather, it’s still there, but the blogger has stopped posting to it for reasons that make me feel she’d just as soon not have lots of new publicity for the old blog. She has a new public blog (a very good one) on the ScienceBlogs platform, but it’s a different creature. The blogger is Dorothea Salo; the dead blog is Caveat Lector; the new blog is The Book of Trogool. I would lament the old blog more—but the new blog is excellent and seems to be the fresh start Salo needed.
So instead of giving these seven items the time and attention they deserve (which would probably take at least 3,500 words, given my typical practices), I’m just going to note them without providing much of the commentary I’d like to provide:
· “Why I’m not a researcher,” August 25, 2008, explains why some of Salo’s most important professional writing is explicitly not Proper Research. Wild applause, high fives, sometimes “me too” here—even though some of my work does fall perilously near the proper-research category.
· “Public service announcement,” September 8, 2008, tells people to stop emailing Salo “stuff to tout on CavLec” and explains why—and the purpose of CavLec itself (“where I think out loud”). Also good stuff; either I’m lower-profile (probably true) or I just delete most such nonsense and assume it was intended for my old EContent column (and there’s a ton of that), but it’s annoying and useless in any case.
· “The care and feeding of a bully pulpit,” January 28, 2009, discusses some of the odd things that happened when CavLec became well known and respected (“a demi-deity in the library firmament”)—also well worth reading. Fortunately, my blog is of no import whatsoever, but I recognize some of the issues raised here.
· “Blogging, power, and risk” on January 30, 2009, continues pretty much the same discussion, and I see in these the backstory to her discontinuation of the blog.
· “A postscript”—same day—talks about comments and CavLec’s lack of them, which of course was never accidental. Also good stuff.
· “Writing and blogging” on February 1, 2009—Salo was on a metablogging roll here—is about writing and blogging. What more can I say?
· “Blog preservation” on March 31, 2009, is about the preservation of blogs, specifically scholarly blogs.
That’s 259 words total, just enough to entice some of you to go read the posts.
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