As I have been asked by a junior faculty member if it is a good idea to join a group blog I thought I would write a bit about why I do this.
I should note that I am a very authoritative source on the topic, as I have been doing this since 2005 and have made over 400 posts, some of them worthwhile. Lots of people blog for a bit and then quit. One thing that has helped is that Frog is (or was) a group blog, so I was not required to attract and keep an audience on my own. Technically you don’t need an audience, as you will see below, but it does help to know someone is listening.
So why do this? I can think of three reasons.
To become famous.
Yes, you, a mild-mannered shoeshine scholar could become an Internet celebrity like Fafblog or the Invisible Adjunct. Or your site could become the a go-to site like China Beat. This was never my goal, which was good, since all glory is fleeting in any case those things are hard to do. It takes a lot of work to build an on-line community, and it involves things like managing a comments section and having a consistent theme and posting regularly and writing well. Sounds like a lot of work to me, and given how quickly sites like that burn out it seems that some people agree.
I have been consciously posting less on contemporary China (the thing that really attracts attention and comment and links) specifically because those topics tend to attract more trollish commenters and, frankly, I usually don’t have much new to say about these things. Plus the more Hot Topic you get the more your blogging pace is dictated by events rather than your own interests. Still, somebody needs to do that and it is an option.
Research and contacts
A blog is a good place to make contacts and think about your research stuff before you publish it. I do some of that here. At least one post from here has been cited in print I have had posts turn into articles and posted about conference papers, which sometimes contain ideas suggested by people coming to the blog. People have contacted me because of the blog, and they have sent me books because of the blog. I do a lot less of this than some people, but you can really expand your public footprint through blogging. Heck, I won a major award! I don’t think having a blog (particularly this one) has hurt my scholarly reputation.1 Of course a lot of people are reluctant to post their ideas since they are not “ready for publication.” Frog in a Well is not the Journal of Asian Studies however. I see it more like hobnobbing at a conference. The things you say don’t need to be exhaustively researched or fully edited here.2
For me the blog is mainly part of my teaching. By that I don’t mean that I refer my students to this blog (as far as I know none of them are aware of it) nor do I see it as some sort of proto-MOOC. Rather it is a place for me to think a bit about things that I come across that I might (or might not) teach or write about in the future. Obviously I could file away a picture or quote or idea I come across and think about it later, but it is better to think about it now and put it in my google-able commonplace book. Other people may get some use out of it, they may suggest something interesting and if nothing else it encourages me to think a bit about whatever it is now, rather than in the long run. If I have not posted for a while I start asking myself what I have been doing with my mind lately. Obviously there are lots of fine answers besides ‘blogging’ but it does encourage you to think and write about what you are thinking. Writing and thinking about the past is what historians do, and if you want a venue that is somewhere in between publishing a monograph and talking to your bathroom mirror a blog is a good one. Obviously you are opening yourself up to criticism, but that is also true when you publish things, teach a class, or open your mouth at a faculty meeting.
This post is an example of what I use the blog for. I told the Junior Faculty Member most of this in person, but this slightly more worked out version may help the JFM, me or someone else. It’s not what I would write if I was publishing an article on academic blogging, but I can always update it if I want. 3
Well you old bore, I’m glad you’re blogging 😀
I’ve been lurking here for years, and I wholeheartedly agree that from my own blogging it’s been nothing but positive. I’m not in the usual academic circles, but I think those divides are breaking down anyway, and I’d second your impression that a blog is really a fine place to develop ideas and learn. If it hadn’t been for our Sinoglot group blog, Kellen and I probably wouldn’t have started our Chinese languages project, Phonemica. And now that’s become a big chunk of my life. For a “junior faculty member” in the same way, I’d guess that at worst it will do no harm, and at best it can lead down paths you’d otherwise never have taken.
It also helps you stay engaged with and relevant to readers outside of academe, if you update enough. This looks to be the only Frog in a Well blog that tries. And it’s probably also healthy to blog to and chat with people in different audiences; keeps you from getting dull and tedious.