Art Imitates Life
What makes a blog successful? Over at Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden points us to a post at John Scalzi's blog wherein Scalzi eviscerates a "how to make your blog successful" article. As far as I can tell, these people count blog success by number of hits. The advice they give is how to network to get more hits. I don't really get this.
When I started blogging, lo, those 5+ years ago, it was because one of my best friends, Cranky Professor had pointed me to the now sadly-defunct Invisible Adjunct. At the time, I was in the process of returning to academia, and was myself experiencing the woes of adjuncting. After a short while, I was commenting at lots of blogs, and it seemed only polite to set up my own place where I could hog all the space I wanted, rather than hijacking other people's comment threads. So Blogenspiel was born. I still wish I'd given it a second 'g' for phonetic reasons.
The first readers, and some of the people who are now RL friends, were also readers of IA's blog. As we read each other's blogs, we also added new blogs we'd found through each other to our blogrolls, and made new blog friends and acquaintances. Or at least I did -- I can't really speak for anyone else's process, except that it seems to me that mostly this has been pretty organic. I suppose this could be called networking, but really, it's much more the way we meet at conferences when colleagues who are also friends introduce us to other colleagues who are also friends. Unquestionably the professional connections are important, but I still differentiate between meeting as colleagues and meeting as friends who are also colleagues. But then, I'm kind of a sad person in that I don't have all that many friends who aren't connected through academia. When I was married, I did, and I still have friends through X. I've started to meet a larger range of people in the last year or so, especially in the sf/f community, but even there, most of the people I know are connected to the academy in some way. Hell, I met Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Kazoo last year, and I probably wouldn't have met her otherwise, at least not till LDW makes good on this promise to take me to a con -- maybe Worldcon in Denver? (I'm thinking the SFRA paper might not happen. I have good ideas, but my dean will shoot me if I present a third paper this year before getting a medieval article in press!).
Somehow, while all that was happening, a bunch of people started reading this blog. The numbers have gone down as I've stopped writing as regularly -- and probably as I stopped writing about my divorce and job hunt? But I figure people aren't reading as much because there are lots of other interesting people out there who are writing regularly. I'm also not reading as many blogs, nor am I commenting as much, mostly because I am still feeling very overwhelmed with the living of the new T-T life -- which I still haven't managed to chronicle. Part of this is not being able to objectify some of the constant drama at SLAC, especially in my department. Part of it is just that I feel like, even though I've got 13 hours of face time in classes a week, a couple of new preps, and committee work (not to mention a whole passel of advisees), I am now in a position where I really have to show myself and the world that I am a productive academic type. I don't have the excuse of a constant job hunt or a long commute anymore (even though my time has been sucked up by other things!).
But anyway, I don't consider this blog any more or less successful than I ever did. It just is. Ironically, however, I'm giving a paper on blogging and networking this year. One of the points I'll be making is that blogging, even anonymous blogging, can do wonders for one's career. It's not why I started blogging. That was about feeling like a medievalist in the wilderness. At SLAC, I still feel that way. But whatever my intentions, blogging connected me to a wonderful group of medievalists, some of whom are now participants in a locked-down work blog; it reconnected me to some old and very valued friends, one of whom gave me my first opportunity to present a scholarly paper; it connected me to another bunch of medievalists who became RL friends, and who also invited me to present with them; it connected me with another RL academic service opportunity, which I really enjoy -- and through that, to a number of book reviews; it's given me a collegial community with which I can exchange ideas about teaching and from which I can beg for help with readings; and it has inadvertantly garnered me an invitation to fill in at a prestigious conference where I'd never have dared to submit. So ... from the points of view of the people Scalzi complains about, I guess the blog has been a route to their kind of success. But it wasn't planned. I just wanted not to feel so damned isolated. Funny how things work.