A little less than a year and a half ago, I decided to start a blog so that people I know could have a small window looking out over the events of my life, and so that people I don’t know could have the chance to cut me down for expressing my thoughts on the internet. Really, I started it on a whim. I thought that writing about nothing and everything might help me feel better about the parts of my life with which I wasn’t totally happy. And I think it did partially serve that purpose. Expressing my thoughts in a place outside my head seems to engage a different, underused, part of my brain, and that’s been cathartic. I still blog for those reasons, but the focus and applicability has been expanded.
Today’s topic in the Science Communication Workshop that I’m taking was “Web Media and Making Your Research Homepage/Blog”. Most of the discussion revolved around blogs, why one might be interested in reading blogs, and how/why one might write a blog. Bruce, the instructor, gave us a primer on blogging, and we were also treated to a blog design presentation from Molly, Tyler, and Casey of Ancient Wisdom Productions. I came away with a renewed enthusiasm for blogging, and a list of useful tips from the AWP reps:
“Design matters” – This was definitely the focus of the AWP talk, but probably the part I will think about the least. What font we should use. What line spacing we should use. How the colors we choose should contrast. Information hierarchy. It’s a lot, and I really do truly believe that it matters. However, I’m probably going to ignore anything that WordPress takes care of for me (for now, anyways). Someday I hope to be able to pay someone lots of money to make my ideas look pretty.
“It’s All About Content”– They recommended blogging a lot, at least once post per day if you want to keep people reading. This makes sense – I know I am much more likely to come back to blogs that update regularly. Some blogs seem to update too frequently (this is an arbitrary descriptor, and depends on mood, interest, and attention span). For example, I (personally) couldn’t keep up with the frequency and length of posts at Dooce, so I had to remove it from my RSS feed (I still browse over there manually though).
“Don’t Be Afraid to Swear”– This one reminds me of a post I’ve been meaning to write about swearing, but I think the take home point is that blogs do well when they have some character.
“Blog for the Moment”– They explained that most people judge a blog by what’s in the most recent posts, and that digging through the archives is relatively rare. This may be true, but I also know that most traffic that comes to this blog is via keywords that have only appeared in single posts in the archives. I wish I had a better idea if that traffic ends up visiting the “home” link.
“Tag the F out of your posts”– After the presentation I asked what their recommendation for tagging and categories was. They said they liked to have a limited list of post categories, with no more than one category per post. At the same time, they recommended adding as many one-word tags as you can think of. Now that WordPress has actually separated tags and categories, this is doable and also sort of fun.
One of the most interesting impressions I gleaned from the session was that a significant portion of the class is quite anti-blogging. They think that most blogs are junk, and that the comments are even worse. They might be right, but I disagree with their (apparent) conclusion that the junk makes blogging less worthwhile.
First and foremost, our goal in this course is to communicate science to everyone (or at least, to as many people as possible). That includes the people writing, reading, and commenting on junk blogs. Communicators of science will almost certainly have to explain ideas to people who don’t get it, don’t care, or just aren’t nice, but whose opinions still matter. I think blogging is good practice for this.
Secondly, the junk can be amusing. Read stupid comments. Respond to peoples’ nonsense. Get in an argument with someone you don’t know and will never meet. But, to quote Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick!”.