I should have linked to Matt Milliner's excellent review of blogging before today, but I guess my mind was too caught up in thinking about my own blog and where it is going. In any event, this past weekend, I passed 70,000 page views and the week before I made my 600th post. I still use both numbers to gage the relevance and vitality of my blog, although I'll conceded Matt's point that page views probably only reflects a portion of my overall visits; some of my visitors may prefer to read my blog on RSS Readers which do not appear as page visits. I suspect my hit count remains a fairly accurate gage of my blog's visibility, if only because the number of page views continues to increase with each passing week. I have about 300 comments so far and they might be a better measure of how my readers engage with my blog.
These are some random thoughts that came to my mind thinking about my blog this past weekend after reading Matt's post:
One area where I have been struggling is the link between my blog and the wider world of the social media. I Twitter regularly and use Facebook, but I almost never post a link to this blog to those forums. On the other hand, I regularly post links to the Teaching Thursday blog, which I moderate for the Office of Instructional Development at UND. I tweet the weekly posts on this blog (which makes them appear as Facebook status updates) and direct the tweets to a few other serious campus tweeters. Since I've begun this practice, I've had a pretty steady flow of hits from Facebook and Twitter. So, it seems clear that "social network integration" does increase a blog's visibility and attract readers.
Matt Milliner, however, rightly points out that there appears to be a real divergence in function between the world of Twitter (follow me!) and Facebook and the world of blogging. If many of the earliest bloggers used the platform to make public their inner selves, blogging's move to the mainstream has pushed all but the most sophisticated solipsistic bloggers to the margins (a few persist on the Technorati Top 100, but fewer and fewer). In their place has emerged the professional blogger who focus beyond themselves onto the world of politics, technology, celebrity gossip, or the development of a particular product (e.g. #1 The Huffington Post, #2 TechCrunch, #6 Gawker, #16 The Official Google Blog, et c.). This list, of course, does not even consider the numerous non-bloggish sites that use the same technology as bloggers, Wordpress or Typepad to manage a flow of rapidly updating content.
In keeping with these trends, I think that my blog has become less overtly personal and more of a window into my professional world (although to the chagrin of my wife, I refuse to put up firm barriers between my professional self and my essential self. I am what I do.) As Matt points out, "blogging is about writing well or at least learning to write better". Since my career depends in large part on my ability to write, this blog has become increasingly an extension of the professionalized aspects of myself. I am fairly sure that my writing has improved some because of my blogging habit. Even if I don't write better, I certainly write quicker which leaves more time for revision.
During my time managing Teaching Thursday, I've found that the most common response from my colleagues to my invitation to blog is that they do not feel confident writing quickly for a public audience. I usually press that this as much like a conversation as an academic paper. It's a lunchtime chat among scholars or the informed discussion of conference participants after the panel has concluded. By attempting to start this kind of conversation, blogging represents an attempt to extend and influence the center. I know that I have a romantic idea of the center as the place where real ideas are exchanged daily because the community of like-minded (or at least similarly minded individuals) has reached a certain critical mass. This exchange of ideas makes the center a place of soft power. The circulation of ideas and network of professional collegial relationships gives the center an undeniable influence over academic disciplines and academia in general. This is not to suggest that the center has a kind of real or hard power influence. I think, all cynicism aside, that the practices of anonymous peer review mitigates any real control over the most obvious manifestations of the academic discourse. It's all about the soft power that the center exerts. To put this in perspective: I am the only trained, historian of the ancient Mediterranean in the state of North Dakota.
My goal with this blog is not to necessary infiltrate the center, but to exert a gentle influence, to broaden it gently by attempting to engage it from afar. This hope represents my feeling of geographic isolation out here at the edge of the known world in North Dakota as well as my professional sense of isolation as a teaching professor at a school that hardly ranks among the elite research universities. My blog represents an antidote to my own marginal position in the field, and any modest success allows me to at least imagine that the margins of the field and the profession can exert an influence on the center. Nothing brings we more pleasure than to present my ongoing research and speculative musing. By putting ideas, half-baked or otherwise, out into circulation, I hope that I stimulate other people to think along similar lines or to see productive opportunities that I may have overlooked.
Finally, it is the discipline of blogging that I have grown to cherish more than anything. The idea of writing each day -- even for just a half an hour -- in energizing. The requirement of finding enough time to think up something to write pushes me to find at least a moment to think (perhaps carefully) about something each day.