Academics and Blogging

If you’re an academic who blogs, what prompted you to start blogging? And what keeps you going? What do you try to do in your blog? Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship? If you’re an academic who just reads blogs, do you intend to start your own blog sometime? If yes, what are the reasons that you haven’t done so at this point in time? If no, why not? Either way, what do you get from reading blogs? Answers to any or all of these questions (or other related questions that you think are more interesting) would be appreciated. —Henry FarrellAcademics and Blogging (Crooked Timber)

Beware: bloggers do love to blog about their blogs, so here goes…

  1. What prompted you to start blogging?

    I had started developing a collection of online writing resources in 1996, and by early 1999 I was having trouble keeping them organized in several overlapping navigation schemes. I wanted a central location where I could post links to new or recently updated handouts, and in order to give people (presumably my own students and other instructors looking for online resources) a reason to bookmark that page I thought I would create what we would now call a filter (that is, a site with little personal commentary, the main purpose of which was to send readers off to interesting things to do elsewhere). The wayback machine archived how my protoblog looked in June, 1999.

    As a literature Ph.D. student teaching technical writing in a liberal arts school, I felt a desire to connect the worlds of technology and humanities. After a former colleague e-mailed me a link to Arts & Letters Daily, I brazenly copied the form. On July 20, 1999, I posted something about the 30th anniversary of the moon landing, and I wanted to emphasize that I was writing that entry on the anniversary — so I added the date. Throughout 1999, I kept the A & L Daily signature “[more]” link, though I remember being frustrated by it for some time before I started using meaningful words from the body of the blurb.

    At first I mostly featured links to writing centers and my own online handouts, but as I realized that my page was attracting more attention from the outside world than from my students, I created one column for humanities and one for technology, and just posted whatever I thought was interesting in either column. I started e-mailing the webmasters of resources I thought were valuable, telling them that they were my “link of the day”. I had already been advocating the value of what I called annotated lists of links (I first drafted that handout in 1997), but I don’t think I really convinced any of my students to get excited about the possibility.

    All this time, I was coding my blog by hand, without any sort of automated tools (well, I did use a WYSIWYG editor). I did later create some PERL tools to automate the process of shifting entries from the home page to the archives, and I later created a form that let me add to the database over the Web, though in order to publish I still had to drive to the office and hit a button that ran a script which copied files from my hard drive to the university server. Bleah.

    My site didn’t mention the word “weblog” until 2000, when it appears exactly once, when I linked to the Feb 2000 Wired article noting the boom in weblogging.

    In 2001, I blogged 10 items that I later classified under a “weblog” category. It wasn’t until fall, 2001, when two students chose weblogs as the subject of term projects that I seriously considered the form, and actually started blogging about it. Technical writing major Jan Carroll created what turned into a very popular blog devoted to September 11 poetry, and CS major Chris Warren, who had already been keeping a personal weblog and photoblog (and from whom I coincidentally just got an e-mail a little while ago), wrote a term project on identity in weblogs. Both students were having difficulty finding relevant scholarship, though I noticed early on that journalists seemed to be paying much closer attention to the phenomenon than my English composition and technical writing colleagues.

  2. And what keeps you going?

    I went back on the job market, this time trumpeting my weblog and other new media experience, in order to see what would happen. I ended up as Associate Professor of English — New Media Journalism.

  3. Does your blog have any relationship to your scholarship?

    Yes — at first only indirectly. My first “annotated list of links” was a bibliography of websites devoted to interactive fiction (text adventure games); at one point I added print resources and the result was published in a journal. I had an article called “On the Trail of the Memex: Vannevar Bush, Weblogs and the Google Galaxy” scheduled to appear in “Dichtung Digital” a few days after Google announced its purchase of Blogger, so I spent the weekend updating it… Although I ended up not being able to attend the conference, my paper “(Meme)X Marks the Spot: Theorizing Metablogging via ‘Meme’ and ‘Conduit’” from last year’s BlogTalk is being published in the proceedings.

  4. If you’re an academic who just reads blogs, do you intend to start your own blog sometime? If yes, what are the reasons that you haven’t done so at this point in time? If no, why not?

    Not applicable to me.

  5. Either way, what do you get from reading blogs?

    Fodder for my own blog… Seriously, I also I value them as ways to connect with distant people who travel to conferences more frequently than I can (what with my two small kids, “all-but-dissertation” wife and a heavy teaching load), and as ways to connect with my students. This term I’m using blogs in three of my four classes and also supervising the development of the online student paper, so I’m thinking quite a bit about pedagogical blogging. Our school is big on getting students to use PowerPoint, but I can’t stand that medium, and instead require students to blog their oral presentations. They present by going up to the front of the room and clicking through the links in their blog entry. That usually makes the oral presentation go better, since students don’t have to take notes on the content; it also makes the network of student blogs richer — I’ve managed to create a culture where students discourage each other from saying “I’m putting this on my blog because my teacher told me to,” and students are challenging each other to make their blog entries interesting for their regular readers. Of course, some students only blog when they have to, and others probably drop my class because the whole blogging thing is too freaky for them.

    On a personal level, other than videos for the kids, I watch almost no TV, preferring instead blogging, reading, or computer games.