This cartoon is on a card my sister sent me a few years ago; I have kept it on my refrigerator along with the gallery of dogs past.
But I’m not that dog, I’m still at the blogging, April of this year is rolling up to the 10 year mark for CogDogBlog. I’m still figuring it out. And that is what I was musing about today for the people in the open #etmooc course/community (were I in the business of making acronyms would I be aiming for “COURSMUNITY”? No) that launched this month. My part so far has been setting up the blog hub, and in verifying the feeds for that site, I have glanced at over 450 blogs.
I’ve not seen any alike. Quite a few are new blogs, maybe new for the course but also it seems some educators first efforts. That’s awesome. I tuned in for the Intro to blogging session last week with Sue Waters just cause I like Sue.
I cannot tell you how to blog (well, the key skill is typing in a box and clicking a “publish” button, no more complex or time consuming that doing email). I won’t tell you how to blog, and if you come across a web site telling you how to blog, here is my advice.
Close the window.
But I will talk about what I find is important about the act.
Your mileage/kilometerage will vary. It should vary greatly.
I am selfish, I blog for me. Not in the shameful self-promotion sense, but because I have found it a way to process my ideas. Perhaps the most relevant description of what blogging means to me goes back to the Stone Age of blogging, in 2002. Writer Cory Doctorow wrote then on My Blog My Outboard Brain:
Writing a blog entry about a useful and/or interesting subject forces me to extract the salient features of the link into a two- or three-sentence elevator pitch to my readers, whose decision to follow a link is predicated on my ability to convey its interestingness to them. This exercise fixes the subjects in my head the same way that taking notes at a lecture does, putting them in reliable and easily-accessible mental registers.
Being deprived of my blog right now would be akin to suffering extensive brain-damage. Huge swaths of acquired knowledge would simply vanish. Just as my TiVo frees me from having to watch boring television by watching it for me, my blog frees me up from having to remember the minutae of my life, storing it for me in handy and contextual form.
It gives me context, connections, and meaning to the things I am focusing on, wondering about, pissed off at, or just triyng my best Steven Johnson hunch chasing.
That’s all obvious in the moment.
Try this exercise. What were you thinking about on February 14, 2006 (besides Valentines Day)?
What do you remember?
This is why I blog:
It’s not just a reference thing, of looking up factoids, this is my history of ideas, almost 10 years worth.
Here is what I think is important in blogging, for me, in no real order.
- Leading with an interesting title. I don’t write until I have a title. It is maybe the most important piece! It’s what shows up in search results, RSS feeds, tweets. You want to grab interest with the title. Do you remember those things called “newspapers” – they had headlines.
Okay, it’s obviously not the most important. But don;t blog with dull titles. “Introduction to etmooc”? yawn. Play with your titles, tease us, leverage references, puns, metaphors, Even just doing something like “Hello etmooc! It’s Me, Alan”. Do us all a favor and write interesting titles.
- Find your writing style. This evolves over time. BUt you need to figure out what is the comfortable way for you to write. It’s like finding that favorite pair of broken in jeans. You know you would rather where them than the polyester dress pants! And how do you find that style? You just start, You try different things. You read other blogs. You lift from writing you like. You work at it like exercise, like making bread. It happens over time. It never stops evolving.
Don’t try to sound like someone or something you are not. Be human. Make typos. Be real. Or find a character. I’ve had students who emulated pirates, princesses, animals in their “voice”. A blog ought to belong to you, and be you.
- Use and Embed Media. I always lead with an image or a video. That’s how I do it. Once I have nailed the title, I am off to Compfight to find a creative commons image that is a symbol, metaphor, of what I plan to write about. The web is a visual and textual medium. Use those affordances.
- Link Like Crazy I remain puzzled by my students who start blogging; they are experienced at the surfing part of the web, they must click hyperlinks all the time, but most do not intuitively use hyperlinks (until they get a string of comments from me). The web is not a web without hyperlinks they are the building block of the web. Theya re what adds context and connection to your writing.
- Participate in Other People’s Blogs. I have not met one blogger who did not feel good about getting comments (except for spam comments). Yet many blogs are full of apologies for not commenting (or not blogging- the main blogging topic sometimes is blogging about not blogging). Comments are a catalyst that generates more commenting. And I am not talking about “Nice Post” Use a comment to add meaning, connection, or to disagree. Make it meaningful.
To me commenting is just another place to blog. It’s like being a guest at someone else’s house. Respect them and don’t crap on the carpet. I go back to a 2003 post by Matthew Kirschenbaum where he describes how a dude named FranÃ§ois Lachance blogged solely in the space of other people’s blogs:
I take his point, and think I can predict the range of theoretical positions such a “blog” (should we call it a comment blog?) might be said to occupy: this is blogging in the margins, distributed blogging at the interstices of the discourse network. FranÃ§ois appears on no one’s blogroll, his entries are not tracked by blogdex or weblogs.com or similar sites. He is an utter non-entity in the standard ecological renderings of the blogosphere, yet he unquestionably has a presence “here.”
Do you know how I found that reference? I searched my outboard brain.
During Sue’s blogging session quite a few people asked “What should I blog about?” That’s part of finding your own style and voice, but I hope that educators blog from their viewpoint, connecting their perspective and experiences. We have more than enough people writing about the top 50,000,000 ipad apps or the best tools for content curation. Puleeze. This is how I feel about that kind of blogging:
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) November 19, 2012
If you are going to write about a technology, a web site, a tool- then use it. Make something. Write about your experience with it. We have more than enough echoing what all the popular blogs say. What is interesting to me is YOUR experience, not Wired or Mashable or TechMeme or ISTE or The Chronicle of Higher Education…
Below is a likely incomplete outline of how / what I blog about. Suitable for wrapping fish or lining bord cages.
Stuff I am doing / trying. This is my R&D. Trying a new technology. Working on a new web development project. Experimentation. Or its things I am trying in ym teaching, my thinking as I develop lessons or look back and reflect on them. I spend a large part of my day doing stuff. There’s a lot of material there, for you too.
Stuff I am thinking about. Quite often I formulate an idea for a blog when I am doing something else. Driving. Hiking. Pulling weeds in the backyard. Shopping. Often I work this through in my head, it’s almost like blogging without a computer. It’s not like I have paragraphs done, but I can almost feel it forming in my head.
Then there is the stuff I cannot let go. Times where I cannot rest until i get the idea blogged out. It’s like it will cause me more pain to not write then to stay up til 3am writing it. It reminds me of The Who’s song Guitar and Pen, where Pete Townsend writes about the buring need to write (in his case songs):
When you take up a pencil and sharpen it up
When you’re kicking the fence and still nothing will budge
When the words are immobile until you sit down
Never feel they’re worth keeping, they’re not easily found
Then you know in some strange, unexplainable way
You must really have something
Jumping, thumping, fighting, hiding away
Important to say
That happens to ne. It’s like I cannot NOT blog. I have no idea if other people have this issue. And it was not always there for me.
I don’t do drafts. I know colleagues who have drafts they slowly work on, sometimes taking years to write. I sit down and don’t stop until I press publish. I write full of typos and bad grammar. I am sorry but that “jumping, thumping, fighting, hiding away important to say” thing has to be let out.
Stuff that Makes Me Mad No one says your blog has to be kum=ba-yah all the time. What makes you angry? Those are fine fodder to get passionate, or to be making an argument. My approach is to satirize. Like MOOCs. They are funny to me, funny as cows.
My blogging tone? Imagine some blog snob swirling a red pen, like a wine connoisseur, “Juvenile, sarcastic, with overtones of grandeur and petty peccadilloes. Ridden with typos.”
Stuff That Comes From (or Near) My Heart I would never tell someone to reach for the personal. That’s your decision. But for me, opening up in writing, about things I might have trouble telling someone– is super magically cathartic. It takes me places I do not expect to go.
There are things I don’t blog about. Politics. And umm.. well there are probably a few other categories.
Life Stuff That Happens in My Day I have these experiences during the day that have nothing to do with my work but I find a connection, or it reminds me of something. I cannot walk without tripping on a metaphor. Find meaning and connection with your life and your work. Here’s two things that happened today that might have been made into blog posts.
(1) I was at a store and pulled out my iPhone to look something up, but I did that thing where in pulling it out of my pockets I was actually pressing buttons. In fact, I got an alert message asking me if I really wanted to delete an app:
And I have no idea, I was distracted, or thinking of something else and I clicked ok! I did not want to delete an app and lose my settings? How many times to I get those nag reminder screens and make fun of them? This experience could take several directions, on thinking about what we do, or how no system is perfect given out human faults, or … It was an experience with technology yes, but it was really that whole experience of doing something dumb that has me thinking about extending that into a topic.
Sometimes I start these with a story like that and only in the writing do I find the direction I want to go.
Sometimes I just delete them and say, Meh.
(2) I am trying my hand more at cooking (I traveled for 2 years and hardly cooked, and was pretty basic before that). I really enjoy making soups. I started noticing as I looked at multiple recipes for the same soup, that the variation in recipe is pretty wide. It’s almost that the recipe writer uses what they have in the kitchen.
So I tried that today. I bought a Butternut squash- I have a basic recipe I use for that – its pretty much brown some onions and garlic (A lot of garlic, I have not found a recipe that recommends enough garlic), add water and soup stock (be it vegetable, chicken broth, bouillon).
I then slice the squash, pop it in, let ir cook soft at least an hour, then move the lumpy stuff to a blender and smooth it. Add spices. What spices? I am not consistent. salt, pepper, a dash of cayenne. Dried sage. Parsley if I have (I didn’t).
But I am leaving town end of te week, and I figure I would use up my other vegetables. So I tossed in about 5 potatoes and the rest of the carrots.
The soup is good. Maybe unique. It could be better.
Cooking. It has metaphors. Experimentation. Trying. Or failing- look at my bad bread experiment:
I could take this into many directions too in a blog post.
I find I have more non-education non-work related activities in a day that I could use as connections or metaphors for my thinking.
And here I am almost 2200 hundred words into a post. Some expert out there will tell you not to write long blog posts. Fooey on them. I don’t need any stinking rules. I write my own. I don’t write for them. They can get their own blog.
So thats what I say to those starting out blogging. Don’t worry about the form and and function. That will come in the process of blogging.
You know how you get better at blogging? You blog. Then you blog again. And again. It’s pretty simple if you ask me.
Yes, it is pointless, incessant, barking.
But it is my pointless, incessant, barking.