Why I (Edu)Blog – Questionnaire Response

Alice Bell is “currently working with colleagues at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology on a small research project exploring communities of education blogging”. She has a questionnaire here. Below are my responses…
Blog URL: blog.ouseful.info

What do you blog about? My blog is a catch-all searchable notebook, where I tend to post code fragments and tutorials relating to tools and techniques that may be of interest to “digital scholars” and/or relevant to open, online educators. I also posts thoughts, observations and round-up posts on things that interest me (open data policy and data visualisation at the moment, but in the past I’ve also focussed on search engine matters, the role of digital libraries, information skills). The style of writing is at times quite unforgiving – the blog is primarily my working open notebook, and makes heavy use of links to previous posts of my own (eg https://blog.ouseful.info/2010/08/30/the-structure-of-ouseful-info/ ), as well as third party posts. Which is to say, some things I post only make sense if you know what I’ve posted before, or follow the links! I also use blog posts as a hub for linking to other resources I’ve posted on Slideshare, for example, code snippets/gists on Github, data scrapers and UIs on Scraperwiki, bookmarl stacks on delicious, etc. The blog (and blog feed) also syndicates occasional “feedthru” links tagged as such on my delicious account.

Are you paid to blog? I blog in work time and my own free time, but the OUseful.info blog posts are always done with a view that folk may associate them with activities I am engaged with as an OU academic, albeit working to a personal research agenda. I see the OUseful.info blog in part as a knowledge transfer/public engagement activity that tries to demonstrate how to work with information by using and appropriating tools that are freely available ‘in the future that is already around us’. I post several times a week, with posts that typically take anything between 10 mins and an hour or two to put together. For practical write-ups, it often takes longer to write the blog post than to it took to work out how to do the thing I’m blogging about..

What do you do professionally (other than blog)? I am an academic in the Open University’s Department of Communication and Systems. I’ve worked on a variety of courses (Artificial Intelligence, robotics, information skills, game design and development) as well as chipping ideas in a variety of OU projects where my activities and ideas may be, erm, OUseful…

How long have you been blogging at this site? On wordpress.com, since July 2008, but I had a Typepad blog with the OUseful.info name on an OU blog server from 2005 and had been blogging for a while before that using Blogger.

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?) My communication activities are based around OUseful.info, the blog, my Twitter account (@psychemedia), and conference/workshop presentations (slides from which get posted to slideshare – psychemedia again). I occasionally post short “blog like” annotations to images/screencaptures posted to flickr (psychemedia again) where I think I may want to point folk to the image their rather than posting about it on the blog, or as annotations to bookmark links on Delicious. I’ve also started pulling together curated Delicious stacks (ordered bundles on bookmarks, account name is… psychemedia) on particular topics. The important thing for me is that: 1) I can rediscover whatever I posted, wherever it is; 2) point to it via a URL.

Can you remember why you started blogging? Searchable, personal notebook. My assumptions were (and still are) that: no-one would read it; only people who were interested would find it; if they were interested they may either find it useful and/or be able to correct something I’d said or answer a question I’d raised. I also believe that the power of the web (at least, in a web dominated by search engines that in part rely on PageRank/link related SERP rankings) is related to its link structure, and that it it part of my *duty* as an open digital scholar to help shape that terrain by linking together content that seems to me to fit together. My PageRank influence may be weak, but it’s there.

What keeps you blogging? If I don’t blog my notes, I don’t have any notes. Having been a blogger for several years, and having been tracking odd bits of technology on a daily basis for years, I’m also finding there is value in the archive, for example as a way of recalling what was current or upcoming two, three, four years ago, or what we thought the future might be in years past… It’s also interesting to see the extent to which weak predictions either play out, or don’t… Some posts I “maintain” with updates that show the progression of a particular idea (eg https://blog.ouseful.info/2008/10/22/amazon-edge-services-digital-manufacturing/ ).

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How? WordPress blog stats, which are pretty ropey, suggest daily views of about 1000 on the blog.ouseful.info site (it was around 1500 a day a couple of months ago but a Google search engine algorithm change knocked me back) over 950 (in total) or so posts, and 150 or so email subscribers. A handful of posts pull 50-100 views each per day, then there’s a long tail. I was getting about 30-50 views from a single shared link on twitter (~3k followers) but that has dropped off too (I guess more folk are following more folk, so there’s less chance of seeing a particular tweeted link; I don’t tend to try to socially optimise when I tweet a link). Feedburner stats give me syndication stats – 1700 or so subscribers, reach of around 200. My original ouseful blog archive gets about 25 visits a day, according to Google Analytics.

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog? I don’t get a lot of comments, but there are some regular folk who either remark on what I have said/challenge claims I have made or point to additional resources. WordPress shows trackbacks and referrer sources, so from my site dashboard I can see something of who else has linked to me. (Links in from third party sites is as low as it ever has been; folk aren’t creating the link structure that helps the web work…)

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology) Techie notes and rants? I get a better view of where the interests of “my audience” lay from Twitter social positioning maps (eg https://blog.ouseful.info/2011/06/11/a-map-of-my-twitter-follower-network/ ).

If so, what does that community give you? An imagined audience, which means I try to write as if someone else might read it (lots of typos slip through, but as and when I spot them I go back in to posts to correct them). I also occasionally get comments back with useful responses, questions, links to other resources etc. I try to respond to comments… That said, I’m as likely to get personal emails that thank me for the blog then ask a question or howto based around one or more particular posts.

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?
Advantages: searchable notebook; increasingly valuable archive; contribution to the structure of the web (if you link); profile raising (possibly); pull model knowledge transfer (folk finding things they need by searching for it); fishing (eg corrections, comments, related resources from comments and trackbacks); community/relationship discovery (eg monitoring trackbacks, referrals).
Disadvantages: it takes time to post (but then, it also saves time wrt looking up things you’ve done before); profile raising (possibly); struggle to find a voice, then potentially feel as if you are locked in to that voice (even if no-one is reading;-) “Formal record” – I have pretty much given up on formal academic communications; folk are often unwilling to reference “informal” blog posts; granular nature of albeit linked posts means there are no comprehensive summary statements of a tool, technique or idea that I have written about. I am starting to explore use of delicious stacks and delicious category/tag feeds as a way of pulling together sets of posts that may (possibly) be used as the basis for longer form formal writings.

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss) I think my family knows I do things around the web, but it’s way too geeky for them and their interests often don’t extend much past Facebook, if that far… Friends know, ish, but it’s way too geeky for them too… If truth be told, it’s probably way too geeky (and too frequently posted to…) for many of the people I work with/know professionally;-) I do have a couple of other blogs – eg f1datajunkie.blogspot.com – which I use for particular niche interests that I don’t want to swamp OUseful.info with and that tap into other communities. On occasion, I cross link between them. So for example, the F1DataJunkie blog is trying to explore ways of communicating knowledge and techniques about data viz tools into a technical audience via a common “other” interest; so in a sense, it’s an outreach activity, or so I like to claim ;-)

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?
Do you syndicate your content? Yes: for example, my RStats blog category feed syndicates content to Rbloggers [ http://www.r-bloggers.com ] and my onlinejournalismblog category is also disctributed via the Online Journalism blog [ http://onlinejournalismblog.com/ ]. I post specific items to these feeds knowing that they will be further syndicated to audience groups with very particular interests; they also generate small amounts of traffic back to my blog.
<emTechies stuff – what platform do you blog on? I use a hosted blog on WordPress.com with a custom domain mapping that I pay for personally (I think I may also pay to stop WordPress ads? Maybe?!). I don’t want the grief of administering/updating my own installation, although it would be useful to be able to install plugins, use Google Analytics etc. My employer do offer WordPress blogs that I could add plugins to, but I’m not sure how kindly they’d take to the domain mapping?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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