Why Not Blog?

My friend Alan Jacobs, a key inspiration in my return (such as it is, so far) to blogging and RSS and a generally pre-Twitter/Facebook outlook on the scholarly internet, is pondering the relationship between blogging and other forms of academic writing in thinking about his next project. Perhaps needless to say, this is something I’m considering as well, and I’m right there with him in most regards.

But there are a few spots where I’m not, entirely, and I’m not sure whether it’s a different perspective or a different set of experiences, or perhaps the latter having led to the former. For instance, Alan notes:

If I had never blogged a single word I would have precisely the same job I have now…

By contrast, I know without any doubt whatsoever that if I had never blogged at all I would not only not have the same job I have now, I would not have gotten my previous job, and might very likely not have gotten promoted at the one before that. The blog was not just the venue in which I started putting together the ideas that became my second book, the one that made promotion and various subsequent jobs possible, but it was also the way that I was able to demonstrate that there might be a readership for that second book, without which it’s much less likely that a press would have been interested. And then, of course, there’s that blog-based open review project, which was crucial to the book turning out to be the book that it was.

In fact, all along the path, such as my career thus far has taken, the blog has been necessary if not sufficient. My first formal citations in the scholarly literature, for instance, pointed to blog posts rather than to more regularly published work. So Alan’s not at all incorrect assertion —

Scholars will cite a dozen mediocre peer-reviewed published papers before they’ll cite even the most brilliant blog post.

— triggers in me an unfortunate case of #NotAllScholars!, which while perhaps literally true is just as unhelpful and privileged and key-issue-avoiding as all other versions of #NotAllX are. In fact blog posts are not the kind of thing one can detail on one’s annual review form, and even a blog in the aggregate doesn’t have a place in which it’s easy to be claimed as a site of ongoing scholarly productivity.

Alan, in any case, is working his way around to what the blog might actually do, regardless of what our shared profession thinks it might or might not do. And in a somewhat different way, I am as well. As I noted in an aside, I’ve never started a book project — and I mean that all the way back to my dissertation — in the way that I have always thought I was supposed to: (a) Having an Idea; (b) Researching that Idea; (c) Outlining the Book exploring that Idea; (d) Writing the Book detailing that Idea.

Mine have gone more like (1) having some vague annoying idea with a small i; (b) writing multiple blog posts thinking about things related to that idea; (iii) giving a talk somewhere fulminating about some other thing entirely; (4) wondering if maybe there are connections among those things; (e) holy carp, if I lay the things I’ve been noodling about over the last year and a half out in this fashion, it could be argued that I am in the middle of writing a book!

This is in my experience less a matter of, as Alan describes it, an idea pulling up in your driveway and sitting out there honking its horn, than it is me waking up in the driver’s seat on the freeway and thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to put my hands on the wheel after all.

All of which is to say: it hit me this afternoon that there’s an idea — small i; vague; annoying — that I’ve been writing and talking about in a weird range of forms lately (talks, blog posts, grant proposals). And today I’m wondering whether that might be the next car I wake up in, and whether there’s a way for me to prepare to take the wheel.

Perhaps that preparation might happen here. Perhaps what happens here might demonstrate that there’s no capital-I Idea after all. In any case, hi, thanks for reading, this space will not go wasted.1

  1. Though I’ll need to do better than posting after 5pm on Friday, I’m aware.

26 thoughts on “Why Not Blog?

  1. Replied to Why Not Blog? by Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Kathleen Fitzpatrick)

    My friend Alan Jacobs, a key inspiration in my return (such as it is, so far) to blogging and RSS and a generally pre-Twitter/Facebook outlook on the scholarly internet, is pondering the relationship between blogging and other forms of academic writing in thinking about his next project. Perhaps needless to say, this is something I’m considering as well, and I’m right there with him in most regards.

    But there are a few spots where I’m not, entirely, and I’m not sure whether it’s a different perspective or a different set of experiences, or perhaps the latter having led to the former.

    I really like where you’re coming from on so many fronts here (and on your site in general). Thanks for such a great post on a Friday afternoon. A lot of what you’re saying echos the ideas of many old school bloggers who use their blogs as “thought spaces“. They write, take comments, iterate, hone, and eventually come up with stronger thoughts and theses. Because of the place in which they’re writing, the ideas slowly percolate and grow over a continuum of time rather than spring full-formed seemingly from the head of Zeus the way many books would typically appear to the untrained eye. I’ve not quite seen a finely coalesced version of this idea though I’ve seen many dance around it obliquely. The most common name I’ve seen is that of a “thought space” or sometimes the phrase “thinking out loud”, which I notice you’ve done at least once. In some sense, due to its public nature, it seems like an ever-evolving conversation in a public commons. Your broader idea and blogging experience really make a natural progression for using a website to slowly brew a book.
    My favorite incarnation of the idea is that blogs or personal websites are a digital and public shared commonplace book. Commonplaces go back to the 15th century and even certainly earlier, but I like to think of websites as very tech-forward versions of the commonplaces kept by our forebears.
    I’ve seen a few educators like Aaron Davis and Ian O’Byrne take to the concept of a commonplace, though both have primary websites for writing and broader synthesis and secondary sites for collecting and annotating the web. I tend to aggregate everything (though not always published publicly) on my primary site after having spent some time trying not to inundate email subscribers as you’ve done.
    There’s also a growing movement, primarily in higher education, known as A Domain of One’s Own or in shortened versions as either “Domains” or even #DoOO which is a digital take on the Virgina Woolf quote “Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.”
    There are a growing number of educators, researchers, and technologists reshaping how the web is used which makes keeping an online commonplace much easier. In particular, we’re all chasing a lot of what you’re after as well:

    Part of what I’m after is consolidating my presence online as much as possible, especially onto platforms that I can control.

    To me, this sounds like one of the major pillars of the IndieWeb movement which is taking control of the web back from corporate social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. Through odd serendipity, I came across your micro.blog account this morning which led me to your website. A lot of the underpinnings of micro.blog are informed by the IndieWeb movement. In many subtle ways, I might suspect the two had a lot of influence on your particular choice of WordPress theme.
    Tonight I’ve also seen your reply to Dan Cohen’s question:

    Has anyone set up WordPress so that “standard” post types continue to show up on your blog, but “status” (or “aside”) post types feed into social media platforms such as Twitter or https://t.co/kisv1mbGgT?
    — Dan Cohen (@dancohen) June 6, 2018

    No worries! Replies/notifications stay within their own domains, for better or for worse. The good news is that the original post can reach people where they are; the bad news is that the conversation around it is increasingly diffuse.
    — Kathleen Fitzpatrick (@kfitz) June 7, 2018

    I had previously replied to Dan’s original question, but somehow missed your side thread at the time. I suspect you didn’t see our branch of the conversation either.
    Interestingly, your presumption that the replies/notifications stay within their own domains isn’t necessarily fait accompli, at least not any more. There’s a new web specification in the past few years called Webmention that allows notifications and replies to cross website boundaries unlike Twitter @mentions which are permanently stuck within Twitter. Interestingly, because of the way you’ve set up your WordPress website to dovetail with micro.blog you’re almost 90 percent of the way to supporting it easily. If you add and slightly configure the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plugins, the asides and other content you’re syndicating into micro.blog will automatically collect the related conversation around them back to your own posts thus allowing you to have a copy of your content on your own website as well as the surrounding conversation, which is no longer as diffuse as you imagined it needed to be. Here’s an example from earlier this evening where I posted to my site and your response (and another) on micro.blog came back to me. (Sadly there’s a Gravatar glitch preventing the avatars from displaying properly, but hopefully I’ll solve that shortly.)
    This same sort of thing can be done with Twitter including native threading and @mentions, if done properly, by leveraging the free Brid.gy service to force Twitter to send your site webmentions on your behalf. (Of course this means you might need to syndicate your content to Twitter in a slightly different manner than having micro.blog do on your behalf, but there are multiple ways of doing this.)
    I also notice that you’ve taken to posting copies of your tweeted versions at the top of your comments sections. There’s a related IndieWeb plugin called Syndication Links that is made specifically to keep a running list of the places to which you’ve syndicated your content. This plugin may solve a specific need for you in addition to the fact that it dovetails well with Brid.gy to make sure your posts get the appropriate comments back via webmention.
    I’m happy to help walk you through setting up some of the additional IndieWeb tech for your WordPress website if you’re interested. I suspect that having the ability to use your website as a true online hub in addition to doing cross website conversations is what you’ve been dreaming about, possibly without knowing it. Pretty soon you’ll be aggregating and owning all of your digital breadcrumbs to compile at a later date into posts and eventually articles, monographs, and books.
    Perhaps more importantly, there’s a growing group of us in the education/research fields that are continually experimenting and building new functionalities for online (and specifically academic) communication. I and a plethora of others would welcome you to join us on the wiki, in chat, or even at upcoming online or in-person events.
    In any case, thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts with the world. I wish more academics were doing what you are doing online–we’d all be so much richer for it. I know this has been long and is a potential rabbithole you may disappear into, so thank you for the generosity of your attention.

    Syndicated copies to:

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