On blogging

more people have read my shirt than read your blog

-a t-shirt

Criticism of blogging is nothing new. As a self-published platform, the medium itself connotes a lack of standards, editorial control, or peer review. And, while it makes sense to maintain a blog when one is outside an industry that rewards writing, it might seem wasteful to do so within academia, where time spent writing could be time spent writing content for traditional publication. This tension, and others, bleeds into the medium itself, and causes people to describe anything that uses WordPress for its CMS as a blog. The Journal of the Digital Humanities, for instance, uses WordPress to publish a traditional scholarly journal, and is in no way a “blog” in the traditional usage. But I’m less concerned with the state of on-line publishing and more with the typical, mockable blog. Blogging continues to be attractive among DH scholars (both #alt-ac and faculty)–despite its being so contingent, and easily mocked, and widely regarded as a low priority for prospective scholars. It’s attractive enough that there can be pressure put on staff and faculty to maintain and contribute to blogs because it raises the visibility not only of the individual but of their department or unit or project.

I’m not sure where I stand on this kind of policy. I created my blog as a repository for work that I do, out of a legitimate concern that my portfolio or CV may not accurately reflect the level of scholarly or creative effort I put forth in my time here at Stanford. Without tenure, research developers have great pressure on them to constantly produce. We cannot trot out the same old tool developed years ago and dusted off for each conference, nor spend years working toward an uncertain goal that may prove unprofitable. While the former is not a situation I would ever strive for, the latter is one of the basic premises of tenure and extremely attractive. I prefer base funding–the pay is better and it makes more sense from an institutional perspective–but the alternative of a poorly paid and fragile post-doc or other grant-driven mechanism at least affords the opportunity for the latter.

Part of the reason why I find the time to write here is because of priorities. Data, data modeling, and data manipulation seem more aligned with what I do than trying to extend arguments in a traditional humanities field. Much of it is liminal and draws broadly from different fields, methods, and practices. In that sense, the blog serves not only as a record of my work, but as an exploration of topics held to a broader but not necessarily lower standard of review, by academic and industry professionals.

Maintaining my blog has brought me an unexpected level of visibility and (sometimes) credibility. The growing movement toward review and acknowledgement of blogs by such organizations as HASTAC and PressForward makes this situation even more striking. But it’s sometimes hard to take myself seriously when I look over the history of my posts. The culture of the Internet inflects this medium and my writing such that entries can consist of little more than a grainy screenshot of Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl, or are written more as notes to myself than a coherent narrative. Hipster Kitty and Yo Dawg surely bring down the average quality of my posts from the perspective of traditional scholarship, though perhaps they act as signaling to the broader digital culture of another kind of credibility. I’m not sure.

That said, if you look at the quality of each individual entry put together by someone like Scott Weingart, you can see that not all of us are littering our blogs with advice animals. Compared to my own oscillating from stream-of-consciousness to code investigation to almost-academic-discussion, Scott comes across as a one-man Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing. That said, it’s my hope that the willingness of the scholarly and professional community to accept the unevenness of my own blog can be seen as liberating to other prospective bloggers who feel incapable of writing sober mini-articles every week.

As I’ve already alluded to, blogging is both communication and documentation. I’m always in favor of public documentation of theory and practice in the digital humanities, but anyone who’s taught knows how well writing assignments can turn out. There’s nothing worse than a blog that’s just a series of status updates followed by five months of silence, then a short article, and then five more months of silence. It’s doubly worse if someone is active in Twitter, G+, or Github, and they’re tasked with maintaining or contributing to a blog because the former are misunderstood or undervalued. But I think the act of public, long-form writing is also intimidating when it shouldn’t be. I’m sure I’ve made a fool out of myself several times with my blog, whether by exposing some basic humanities or coding concept that I don’t grasp, or by posting pictures of a cat in a sweater, but that has apparently not so damaged my reputation among my peers as to counteract the positive effects of maintaining an active blog.

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