You Want a Blog. You Need a Blog. (with Apologies to the WPA Listserv.)

blogshakespearecomic[1] Despite debates about the death of blogging (Wired.comThe GuardianReadWriteWebCopyblogger), I’m still in. And I want you to be in, too. I don’t mean everybody (though that would be something cool). I mean scholars in Rhetoric and Composition, or the Digital Humanities, or Writing Studies, or other associated fields. I want to see more bloggers blogging about reading, writing, and critical discourse related to digital writing tools. Computers, baby. Desktops, laptops, smart phones, tablets, etc.

So, if you’ve got a blog, keep blogging! And if you don’t, then start one! (You can get one started for free at blogger.com or wordpress.com for nothing but fifteen minutes of your time.) I wanna see scholars pointing other scholars to great writing-news sites like ReadWriteWeb, or to disciplinary-professionalization sites like NCTE, or sites dedicated to writing technologies like the Computers and Writing Conference. And yes, I think you should have a blog even if you’re only going to post something once-a-week, or twice-a-month. It WILL matter. (Now I’m going to get all misty and unrealistic.)

How’s can it possibly matter? How can it make a difference? Aren’t we a discipline that prides ourselves on healthy discourse? Supportive. Critical. Generous. Creative. Yes! What, you’re saving all that energy for your scholarship? Blogs don’t get your any professional props? Well, in terms of hiring, tenure, and promotion, you’re largely right. You can follow those conversations taking place within Computers and Composition, Kairos, and Computers and Composition Online. But that’s tenure and promotion isn’t the only way a blog can be valuable (to you, your colleagues, your students, or the discipline).

In a world awash with blogs (abandoned, floundering, flourishing, figuring themselves out), why or how do I think this can work? Four factors: the WPA-listserv, user-friendly interfaces, RSS readers, techno-emergence.

WPA Listserv: Love it, hate it, dismiss it, embrace it. It doesn’t matter. The WPA listserv has play in our discipline. It establishes conversations often eventually referenced in scholarly articles or blogs. It initiates certain conversations before they are established in the discipline’s print scholarship. It provides a relatively immediate and dispersed venue for disciplinary discourse (read encouragement, critique, hand wringing, and occasional pettiness). Certainly it has its limitations and annoyances. (How productive or responsible is it to read every single post every single day?) But, all-in-all, I think it’s great. It does work that no other entity in our discipline does. But here’s the thing… it’s a listserv. You can write all you want about accessibility, familiarity, ubiquity, access, etc. All those arguments for sticking with it are valid. And I don’t think the listserv should go away anytime soon. As a discipline we’re not ready for that. But I think it’s time for a transition. Not just to newer technologies because newer technologies are… well… newer. But because they are more powerful, more flexible, and gaining enough traction to be (almost?) considered common.

User-friendly interfaces: I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining this one. It’s one of those show-don’t-tell moments. Go to WordPress.com. Or go to Blogger.com. Pick a name. Pick a visual theme (or don’t). Write a two-sentence entry on the last good teaching idea you encountered or generated. Hit “post.” You’re a blogger. Fifteen minutes, tops. Send someone a link to your post; ask them to comment. They will. Now you’ve created a conversation. A public one. Well, sort of. At this point, if you still don’t like the idea of blogging, log back into your account and delete your blog. Poof. It’s gone. You’re not a blogger anymore. No harm done.

RSS Readers: Obviously, a whole bunch of unconnected blogs doesn’t do the same work as the WPA listserv. Granted. That’s where RSS readers come in. Don’t let the techie-sounding name intimidate you. (It kept me from using them for far too long. They’re easy.) An RSS reader is simple, personalized technology that collects any news or updates from sites that you want to keep track of. It’s simple. It’s simple. You go to a site like GoogleReader or FeedDemon (that’s NetNewsWire for Mac or iPhone). It takes about 30 seconds to signup for an account. Then you start adding the addresses of the sites you want to keep up with. Every time you log in to your account, you’ll see a list of all of the new items on the site you keep track of. Usually in the form of a list of entry titles. You only have to click on the entries that might interest you. You can mark some for reading later, too. All sorts of cool functionality. But at it’s simplest, a one-site location where you can track ALL the sites you want to keep up with. I’ve got lots of Rhet-Comp blogs already in my own feed reader. It saves me lots of time, and it keeps me from forgetting about some of the sites that don’t post new material that often. Also, as feed readers become more common, it will be easier for blogs to maintain traffic numbers even if they post infrequently or inconsistently. The beauty is that I can check 30 sites at once, with the click of a button, and it doesn’t take any extra time if a site hasn’t posted something.

Techno-emergence: Don’t freak-out. That’s just a short way of saying that technologies are continually pulling away from email in terms of power, usability, flexibility, customization, ownership, and interconnectivity. Believe it or not, generating and circulating a blog post can often be much easier and effective than posting a message to the WPA listserv. For instance, let’s say you want to comment on an image or a video. The listserv (from what I understand) doesn’t allow for embedding. Even links are stripped of their interactivity. Even some of the most basic font features like bold-, italiticized-, or underlined fonts are incompatible. Sure this allows the listserv to serve thousands of users without overloading servers or email inboxes. But I want to tell you that it’s only a concern because listservs are legacy technologies. They’re not built for twenty-first century discourse communities. Blogs are. (And so are Wikis, but they accomplish something much different than blogs. Wiki are a fundamentally different model of discourse than blogs and listservs. That’s a different conversation.)

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The idea here, is that blogs and feed readers have the ability to generate a similar type of community that the WPA listserv already does. Logging into your feed-reader is would be akin to checking the email associated with your WPA listserv subscription. But the blogosphere approach I’m advocating has some advantages. Each contributing member not only participates in a conversation, but also creates for themselves a more autonomous digital persona. Each contributor’s posts and comments would be organized into a single position (his/her blog) that people could access.

And there are some drawbacks, too, of course. People would have to get used to the idea of posting in response to other people’s posts, as well as leaving comments on various blogs. Also, creating parallel locations for discourse will seriously affect conversations in both locations. As people transition to blogs and rss-readers, the comprehensiveness of the WPA listserv would inevitably decline. That wouldn’t be good for disciplinary conversations. And the alternative would be to have people participating on both. That would be great, but asking colleagues who are already overworked, under-resourced, and underappreciated to do even more work doesn’t seem fair either. A quandary for sure. My guess is that this transition will eventually, and slowly take place. Mostly it will start with a few people who see it as worth it (I’m cheating. That’s already been taking place for a while. Again, see my blog roll). As that network of blogs grows and becomes more active, vibrant, and vital, it will attract new bloggers who want to generate discourse in the same ways.

So, I’m pulling back a bit here. Trying to let you off the hook if you’re skeptical.

And yeah, I know that I’m entering this parlor a little late. Kairos has been handing out disciplinary blog awards for several years, and various bloggers (see my blog roll) have been trying to establish a disciplinary blogosphere for many more years that I have. So consider this post my contribution to that impulse. You want a blog. You need a blog. Consider this an invitation to the WPA Listserv After-party.

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Questions: What keeps you from having a Rhet-Comp blog? Do you have one, but don’t post on it much? Why? Do you read other Rhet-Comp blogs? Which ones? Do you use an RSS-reader? Which one? Why not?

This article has 2 Comments

  1. Another reason to blog? Documenting your work, archiving it in a database, and searching it a few years later, only to learn you said that already!

    Of course building and sustaining communities is great, as is dialogue, but I think people under-value the blog as a portfolio in the iterative development of projects, thoughts, and … well … life. Even without an audience (e.g., passcode-protected), they have plenty of value for me.

    And I don’t think they are going anywhere soon. Look at how many websites are using WordPress as a platform these days! Designers get hired to build for WordPress, not Dreamweaver or the like.

    I like the new look, btw. Thanks, Trauman.

  2. I agree, Jentetry. I like the idea of this blog as being some sort of a record of how my own scholarly identity emerges from a relative discontinuous set of musings and preoccupations. Also, I’ve been searching it already, per your usage-guess, to find/follow/connect different dissertation threads. Thanks for the comment.

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