Tag Archives: blogging

Blogging is Life-Changing

Anna of Goannatree tagged me for a meme (originally started at Seedlings in Stone) wondering how blogging has changed your life, for better or worse. Let’s see what I can come up with.

1. Blogging has helped me find who I am as a writer. I’m not wholly there yet, in the writer-finding process, but I’m definitely closer than I used to be. I’ve always written well (at least, judging by my grades), but writing for class always carries some amount of artificial restrictions. I was always a more personal writer than I probably should’ve been in academic contexts, but in grad school, writing for class and writing a blog at the same time really helped me to pick out which parts of my writing came from academic requirements and which ones were me, and how to use both to my advantage. And also figure out that I’m a much better fit as a blogger than as an academic writer.

2. Blogging has given me an online community. Blogging is very fluid and bloggers in general tend to be very open, and you can enter communities without too much difficulty, if you try. I’m still on the outskirts of the film blogging community, but that’s because I haven’t tried hard enough yet (and I don’t want to completely alienate the people who read because they know me personally – more on that in #5). But blogging is also an easy entrance into other social media options – I have a really enjoyable cadre of friends on FriendFeed right now that’s largely independent of this blog, but I wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t been a blogger first.

3. Blogging has helped me shape not only my identity as a writer but as a person. It’s a cliche that you can be whoever you want to be on the internet – I’m not sure it’s 100% true, because it’s very hard to be someone completely different than you consistently. On the other hand, it’s not difficult to shape and mold your identity a little bit online, and as you learn to do it in safe anonymity and distance online, you learn to become a little bit more like the person you want to be offline as well. I can definitely state that I’m a different, less shy (except with phones, that’s a different thing), less fearful person than I was before I started blogging/interacting with people online.

4. Blogging has given me a different perspective on online life. Sort of what Anna mentioned about learning to value internet surfing more since she started blogging. I’ve been a participant in message boards and journals for years, long before I started this blog, but after seeing the things that the tech sector and the political sector and the film sector and, well, everywhere really, is doing with blogs – using them in innovative ways from the very individual to the very journalistic to the very academic – I’ve learned again and again that to claim that bloggers are just a bunch of navel-gazers focused on minutiae is to miss the wide variety, interests, and quality of the blogging world. If you think that about bloggers in general, you’re reading the wrong ones.

5. Blogging has made me very aware of audience. Writing for school, the teacher is the audience, no matter how much they try to make the assignment call for a different audience (unless you have a fairly radical composition teacher, which I never had). In blogging, you have to constantly remember at least three audiences: the one you know you have (from people who comment or tell you in person they read your blog), the one you want to have, and the completely amorphous one made up of everyone anywhere who may stumble upon your blog from a link or a Google search. For me, the first one is a few people from my church, a few people from school, internet friends from previous boards, and people I know on FriendFeed or in the film blogosphere. That’s a wide range of people already I have to think about as I wonder how everything I say will come across. The one I want to have is the film and entertainment blogosphere (I would say film only, but I’m having increasing trouble keeping music out of the spotlight), so I think about trying to post things that would interest them. The amorphous one you can’t really plan for (though you can follow it somewhat through stats trackers), but you have to be aware that everything you say is public. Lately, potential employers have been greatly on my mind in this category, since my blog is my major writing sample when I apply to writing/editing/proofreading jobs.

That last thing has actually been on my mind for a while, as my blog has gone through some focus and identity changes in the past few months, so it’s good to get that out there. Thanks, Anna!

Let’s see, I’m horrible about tagging people, but saying “I tag everyone!” is a cop-out. So I’ll tag:
Abby – Pretty Funny for a Girl
Kat – So. There’s That.
Lori – She’s No Lady
Evan/Luke – MovieZeal
Ed – Only the Cinema

And anyone else, of course.

Here are the rules:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you.

3. Link back to this parent post on Seedlings in Stone.

4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all.

5. Post these rules— or just have fun breaking them.

Using blogs in school

I think this is a great idea. Dave at academhack lays out the way he’s using a blog to help students refine their paper topics through peer discussion. That’s only one of the applications blogs could have for a classroom, though. He briefly mentions posting syllabi, assignments, updates, links, etc. True, there is software in schools that do some of this stuff–we use Blackboard, and he also mentions one called WebCT, which I don’t know about, but let me tell you something. Blackboard is crap, man. I hate it. It’s not intuitive (is the syllabus under “assignments” or “class documents”? What about assigned readings?), only the teacher can update it (with things like the link I e-mailed my teacher upon her request a month ago and still isn’t up), it’s fugly, and it’s just…very institutional. I know, I know, part of my resistance to Blackboard is my innate rebellion against whatever the school (or business, or whatever) provides, but part of it is also that it’s crap.

Another good application of blogs, similar to the one Dave talks about, is a reading-journal type thing. Last semester I had a class with an e-mail reading journal, which was basically “write a couple of paragraphs about each assigned reading and e-mail them to the teacher.” I loved doing this, because I love writing about what I’m reading, especially in less-formal-than-an-essay ways. The only thing that would’ve made it better is more interaction between students–a way to read and respond to other students’ written thoughts and get feedback on your own. I suppose the downside would be that not every student would feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with the whole class (I wouldn’t have in college, a lot of the time), and I’d want to figure out a way to accommodate that (or overcome it), but for those who did want to continue the discussion further, it would be outstanding. I’m torn on this, really, because I have always hated peer-review sessions; for some reason, teachers threaten me less than peers. But I think in written format, I’d have been fine. I’m sure there are other students like me who shy away from speaking in class, but might blossom if given less threatening ways to interact.

If I were going to teach ever, I’d have blogs and wikis all over the place. This sort of thing really excites me. I wish there were a way I could teach without the whole, you know, having to teach part. I would explain my feelings on teaching better if they were clear to me, but they’re not, so I can’t.

Forming communities and keeping up

Mark responded to my post on blogging and 18th century periodicals in a couple of places.

After quoting the near-last paragraph of my post, arguing that the major difference between 18th century periodicals and blogging is the low barrier to entry that blogging exhibits, he says:

While I agree with this in principle, it does seem to me that the low “barrier to entry” means that intellectual and literary communities can no longer form the way they once did. The blogosphere doesn’t allow for what the system of periodicals promoted.

I do acknowledge, as he later points out, that “publishing and circulating journals required money and tools” in the 18th century that blogging really doesn’t today. But I do also think that the blogosphere does actually allow intellectual and literary communities to form. The difference is that instead of the guy with the money and the printing press calling the shots, the guy with the good idea and the ability to lead a community gets to call the shots. The difference is that everybody doesn’t have to be at the same academic level to join in. The difference is that people don’t have to be the in the same location to participate. The communities that are forming are larger, broader, and more inclusive than they were. Some might say that’s not a good thing, but I think it is. Some will say that’s not even true, that internet communities quickly get insular, exclusive, and elitist. That can also be true, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s a danger with any community, or any journal, or any periodical that isn’t managed well…it’s more noticable in the blogosphere, because it’s on a much larger scale.

An example that I bring up not because it’s perfect (I don’t even follow it that closely), but because it’s the closest thing that popped into my head: The Valve. It’s a group blog for literary scholars/theorists. Most of what I read on it is quite good. I admit that I spend more energy following a few of the contributors’ individual blogs than reading The Valve, but that’s because it has been sort of theoretical lately and it goes over my head. And that’s a point I want to make. The Valve has specific contributors, invited to participate by those already contributing. So in a way, it is a modded journal, but a very informal one. The contributors range from professors, assistant professors, and associate professors to graduate students and independent scholars, and from California to Washington to New York to London to Singapore. Anyone can comment. But the level of discourse is so generally high that anyone who isn’t interested in literary criticism probably wouldn’t stick around long enough to be a nuisance. So they have formed an intellectual and literary community that’s rigorous and yet open-access.

So I wouldn’t at all say that the blogosphere prohibits the formation of intellectual and literary communities. As I said in my earlier post, the percentage of viable intellectual and literary communities (as opposed to dross and dreck) is lower than it was in the 18th century, but they’re still there, and not fundamentally different than the 18th century periodicals.

Mark also says:

There is no peer review beyond people telling you what they think of what your wrote.

This is getting into a whole other can of worms, especially in an academic context where being published in peer-reviewed journals means getting tenure or not. In the John Holbo article I linked in my earlier post, he mentions this exact thing (Mark may have seen this, I’m not sure), and accepts it as possibly a good development in scholarly publishing, which is sort of tanking right now. I’m sort of disenamored with scholarly publishing at the moment and am defiantly refusing to even participate in it (alternately, I haven’t been able to write anything worth publishing), and I prefer Holbo’s more open-access, post-publishing peer-review idea. Here’s the link to his (.pdf) article again.

And a final quote from Mark:

The sheer pace expected by the medium is probably conducive to carelessness and second-rate work.

I also agree with that. But who says we have to obey expectations? I used to resist commenting on older entries, because hey. The blogosphere moved on without me, right? But you know, it doesn’t. It’s still there. It may be archived off the main page, but it’s still there–and as long as the blogger doesn’t delete the post, and the server doesn’t crash and lose all the data, it’ll stay there, and I’m going to consider it fair game. Who says we have to respond immediately? See how I waited almost a week to respond to Mark, and he didn’t post for ten days after my original post? And my original post was like, two or three weeks after the post on Bitch, P.D. that inspired it? That was time for reflection. Yep. Not at all laziness. Or forgetfulness. Nope. Considered reflection. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, comments are harder to keep up with in the ‘sphere, especially on self-hosted blogs like Mark and I have–the blog owners get notified when there are new comments, but commenters don’t get notified if their comment gets answered or if someone else comments. There are a few solutions to this (here’s where I try to provide tech advice). One, find an RSS feed for comments–some sites provide them, some don’t. Mark’s does, at the bottom of each entry. I’m sure mine has a comments feed, because all WordPress blogs do, but I’m not sure where it is. My bad; I’ll look into that. Then you can subscribe to comments just like you subscribe to the main feed. Or you can use a comment tracking service. One of the big ones is CoComment–if you use Firefox, there’s even a CoComment extension you can use, and it’ll give you the option to track any post you comment on. I haven’t had a lot of luck with CoComment, for some reason, so I’ve been using co.mments. No extension, which is kind of a bummer, but you can put a bookmarklet in your favorites bar for it, and just click that whenever you’re on a post you want to track. Then you can see all the posts you’re tracking on the co.mments site, or subscribe to a single co.mments RSS feed. I really prefer that to subscribing to individual post’s comments, anyway. (If you notice the little icons below each of my posts that say “track and bookmark,” the left one is for co.mments. So, you know, if you wanted to track responses to any of my posts using co.mments, you wouldn’t even need the bookmarklet. Just sayin’. You’d still need to sign up for a free account, though, I think.)

The reason I pointed out all of that is that I think a lot of times people hesitate to comment on older posts because they think the conversation is over and done with, and they’re too late to the party. And I don’t think that has to be the case, and the more we use tools like CoComment or co.mments, the more we can extend conversations over time, and not get caught up in the breathtaking speed the blogosphere sometimes wants to go. The other thing you can do is post on your own blog and use trackbacks instead of commenting, especially if your comment gets long, or you have other tangentially-related things you want to say (i.e., how to track blog comments). A trackback is basically a link back to the blog you’re referring to, or quoting from. Some blogging software will recognize trackbacks from just a regular link to the entry URL. Other software has specific trackback links–look for these if you’re going to comment in your own blog about another post, and if you see a link that says “trackback link” or something like that, use that link instead of the entry URL. That way, the original poster gets notified that you’ve posted, and sometimes the trackback will get posted sort of like a comment to their entry, allowing their readers to find your blog as well. Links are like currency. Use them prodigally.

Well, that was fun. Now back to Langston Hughes (who’s great, by the way…I’ll post about him later, if I don’t get completely sick of him by the time I turn in the paper about him on Wednesday).

Blogs and 18th Century Periodicals

Occasioned by this post over at Mumblety-Peg (especially the comment that blogging is a poor medium for expressing ideas), and encouraged by the many dozens of pages I’ve been reading in 18th-century literary and aesthetic culture (for a paper I should be writing now instead of this), a few thoughts on blogging as a continuation of 18th-century periodicals. With the caveat that I am nowhere near an expert on 18th-century periodicals.

The 18th-century really saw the beginning of what we now call magazines, in the form of journals published periodically by the members of various literary circles. The most well-remembered periodicals of the day are Joseph Addison and Richard Steele‘s The Spectator, Samuel Johnson‘s The Rambler, and Steele’s The Tatler, but there were many, many others–often by a group of friends, but sometimes by individuals. These periodicals concerned themselves with contemporary politics, culture, literature, and personalities, and took the various forms of essays, opinion pieces, reviews, satires, and personal narratives. And many of the essays were published anonymously or pseudonymously. In fact, a good bit of scholarly work in this area has been done simply trying to ascertain who wrote various anonymous reviews in these periodicals.

The periodicals at this time also introduced the now-ubiquitous “letter to the editor,” giving anyone and everyone the chance to respond to the published essays. Later issues might respond back to letters to the editor–in fact, sometimes the letters were actually written pseudonymously by the publication’s authors! In addition to this direct conversation with readers, the periodicals were in constant conversation with each other, publishing essays that responded to essays in other, often opposing periodicals. Sometimes individuals used periodicals to carry on debates in an open-letter format.

I would submit, along with many academics specializing in 18th-century literature, that blogging today is not qualitatively different than the 18th-century periodical culture. You have nearly personal publishing by individuals or small groups. You have readers with the ability to respond, either directly via comments or indirectly via trackbacks to their own blogs, and writers (usually) willing to return responses. You have interaction between different publishers/writers. You have coverage of any topic under the sun. You have the possibility for anonymity/pseudonymity. The difference between blogs and 18th-century periodicals seems to me to be almost entirely quantitative rather than qualitative–the barrier of entry is much lower, which does lower the signal to noise ratio, I’ll certainly grant you that. But though blogging’s open-access, open-ended format may encourage bad behavior and low-quality self-expression, it doesn’t necessarily mean that blogging can’t be an extremely useful tool when these very same qualities are used well.

Just think, the Joseph Addison of the 21st century could be blogging right now, and 200 years from now, academics will be placing his (or her!) blog alongside The Spectator in the periodical canon.

Note: A lot of this post (okay, most of this post) is based on a post made by the psuedonymous academic of BitchPhD; it’s basically a reprinting of a paper she presented at the MLA Conference this year, specifically about the connections between pseudonymity in the 18th-century periodicals and in blogging.

See also: John Holbo’s posting about his MLA paper from the same panel. A draft .pdf of his paper “Form Follows the Function of the Little Magazine” (an ambitious and exciting view of what academic blogging could be) is here.