One interesting but not totally related point – during the second half of last week, the number of hits on my blog dropped by about 1/3 to 1/2 (it’s hard to tell, because the ordinary traffic ranges from about 65 to about 90 views a day, while several days last week were between 45 and 70). I’m not sure if it’s because everyone else was at the APA in Portland too, or a whole bunch of spring breaks lining up at this time, or something else. (I suspect it’s not the spring break thing, because the number of hits recovered today, when at least Berkeley and Stanford started spring break.)
The panel on blogging was a lot of fun, even though it almost didn’t happen, because Jon was an hour late due to flight delays, and Brian, Gillian and I only managed to get through the lineup to register (and incidentally find out what room we were in) about two minutes before it started. And in the end, since it was the first session on the first day, there were only about six people in the audience.
Some good suggestions did come out of the discussion though. Brian recommended blogging as a tool for grad students to practice writing for public consumption – though with an interesting caveat. He suggested that one start a blog but not publicize it, so that one doesn’t necessarily expect people to read, but makes things a little bit more polished in case anyone does randomly find it through Google or whatever. Coincidentally, this is basically what I did with my blog – for basically the first three months of its existence, I don’t think anyone knew about it except me and one or two friends, until I left a comment on Gillian’s blog. Some advantages of this approach are that it gives you time to decide if you really want a blog (a lot of people decide in a week or a month that it’s not really for them), it means that when people first find the blog they’ll have several posts to look at rather than just one (so they find something interesting and decide to keep coming back), and gives you a chance to practice a few times and figure out what you’ll want to write about and how you’ll want to say it before really facing a public.
Here are some tips for starting a philosophy blog (which I suppose should apply to any academic blog). I’ve put a little thought into this, but not so much that I can’t be convinced some of them are bad ideas, so leave a comment if you have different thoughts.
- Never blog drunk!
- Start the blog secretly (as I mentioned above), and possibly anonymously – you can always move to publicity and add your name, but you can’t really go the other direction.
- When you do decide to publicize the blog, do it by mentioning some relevant post in the comments of a blog on relatively similar topics, or by e-mailing the author of such a blog, or something like that. While a link from Brian Weatherson or Brian Leiter would be the easiest way to get wide publicity, you’re more likely to gain readers by appealing to people who already read a somewhat less widely-read blog and have shown some interest in your subject area.
- Try to stay within a relatively well-defined subdiscipline and away from “metaphilosophy” – while a wide range of subject areas, and discussion of how to do philosophy, might be interesting, one isn’t generally likely to have interestingly new ideas on that wide an area, and it’s easier to attract an audience if they know that almost every post will be on topics close to their interests.
- Link to books on Amazon, papers that are publicly available online, and posts on other interesting blogs whenever possible – it makes it easier for people who aren’t already familiar with the literature to get fully up to speed on the discussion.
- Try to maintain a relatively stable posting frequency – if you normally post about once a month (as several of the blogs I read do), then posting four times in one day makes it easy for people to miss the first two posts, since they’re not expecting more below the newest one.
- Assign categories to your posts and have category archives available, so that new visitors later on can easily find posts on a particular topic.
- Post about papers you read (especially ones that are publicly available online) and conference talks you go to, so other people can benefit from what you’ve learned (and so you can consolidate your own thoughts on the matter). Posting about colloquia and seminars is probably fine, though you might want to get permission from the person or people involved. Posting about ideas that came up in more informal conversations you should definitely ask permission from the people involved, and/or leave out their names in case they don’t want to be publicly associated with off-the-cuff remarks.
- Don’t post much about strictly personal issues. (You can have a LiveJournal or something similar for that.) People who are there for your ideas won’t generally care about what happened to your brother on the way to work yesterday. Of course, there are exceptions. If you get married or get a new job, by all means post that. If anything comes up that will get in the way of your regular blogging schedule, mention that too. And there seems to be a common blogospheric tradition of “Friday Cat Blogging” (any other day of the week only has a couple hundred hits, except Monday, which has about 1/10 as many as Friday) – I suppose that only makes sense though if your regular posting frequency is at least a couple times a week.
- Try to encourage comments, especially from people in neighboring fields that might have interesting perspectives on your ideas – this is probably the biggest benefit of putting one’s ideas on a blog, apart from name-recognition.
- Don’t blog drunk!
Any other suggestions?