It’s a common assumption that ‘bloggers’ and ‘blogs’ are unavoidably intertwined. There’s a sense in which it’s true but it can also be slightly misleading. It’s possible to be a blogger without having your own blog. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to doing this. Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson from the LSE PPG summarised this issue helpfully a couple of years ago and everything they said is just as true now:
According to some good estimates, perhaps 80 per cent or more of the single-author blogs on the web are currently inactive, or are ‘desert blogs’ that very rarely updated. And this is because people start them with high hopes, in determinedly individualistic mode, but find that hard to sustain after a while. Coming up with fresh content, day after day or week after week, is hard work for any academic, especially in the current climate where there are so many other demands on people’s time. But if you don’t post regularly, in a rhythm that is clear to readers so they know when to come back, then it can be hard to keep things going.
We don’t think single-author blogs are a sustainable or genuinely useful model for most academics – although all praise to the still many exceptional academics who can manage to keep up the continuous effort involved. By joining together and forming multi-author blogs, academics can mutually reinforce each other’s contributions.
It’s difficult to build an audience for a personal blog. Many people manage it but, if and when they do, it tends to reflect a sustained commitment to blogging on their part. It can be quite dispiriting to recurrently throw your polished thoughts out into the wilds of the internet only to find they receive little to no attention. While twitter has changed this dynamic slightly, it has only done so in a limited way. While it may have made it easier to provide an audience for your blog, it has also led to an entirely different set of pressures, leaving two rather than one platforms to engagement within in a sustained way.
These dynamics of audience building often mitigate against the upkeep of blogs, as Patrick and Chris point out. In one sense I disagree that this means personal blogs should only be for a committed few – this claim overlooks the overlap between blogging platforms and content management systems. So it might be useful for someone to setup a wordpress blog as an alternative to using something like academia.edu or an ePortfolio i.e. producing a static website of a form that is extremely familiar within higher education. However this isn’t really a ‘blog’ per se so in another, more meaningful sense, I entirely agree with the claim above.
The obvious worry that stems from this is that people who want to write online immediately setup personal blogs, rapidly lose interest and their contribution to the blogosphere is then lost. So if you’re someone who wants to write online but isn’t interested in committing to sustaining a blog on an ongoing basis, these are some alternatives which might be of interest to you:
- Does your department have a blog? See for instance the Sociology@Warwick andPolitics@Warwick* blogs.
- Does your university offer opportunities to write online? See for instance the Warwick Knowledge Centre.
- Discover Society is an online magazine publishing commentary by sociologists and social policy academics. Potential articles can be discussed in advance with the editors. Guidance for contributors is provided here. My perception is that it’s seen as a prestigious online outlet but then I’m rather biased.
- Sociological Imagination covers a diverse range of topics and accepts a broad range of formats. I think it’s great but then I’m even more biased in this case. You can find notes for contributors, which I wrote years ago and should really update, online here.
- There’s a number of LSE blogs which accept contributions: LSE Impact Blog, LSE British Politics & Policy, LSE EUROPP, LSE USAPP and the LSE Review of Books. All these links go to instructions for contributors, apart from the LSE Review of Books which has a slightly different process.
- The Conversation is a great initiative which is expanding internationally. Much like the LSE blogs, articles are edited by professional editors. Unlike the LSE blogs, these editors are journalists. I think there are strengths and weaknesses stemming from this which you can see if you compare the two sites. I think the Conversation articles can sometimes be a little sterile, as if the communicative impulse has been edited out of them. On the other hand, the grammar and syntax is impeccable. You can find information about becoming an author here.
- Open Democracy is a “digital commons not a magazine” (though personally I can’t see the difference between a ‘digital commons’ and a large, sprawling and well established online magazine) that has been around for a long time. You can propose articles here.
- Medium and other new generation blogging platforms work in a rather different way. I’ve written about this here recently. If none of the ideas listed above take your fancy then it’s worth considering the use of Medium.
Unless you’re blogging on at least a weekly basis, it’ll be difficult to build an audience. There are exceptions to this (e.g. Deborah Lupton’s blog) but, unless you’re already well established, it’s unlikely that an audience will consolidate around your blog. People might read articles, particularly if you make the effort to disseminate them in the networks available to you, but it’s unlikely that they’ll get into the habit of reading it i.e. choosing to check your site or subscribing to an RSS feed because they have an expectation there will be new material for them to read.
This is not to say there’s anything wrong with blogging in the absence of an audience. I did it for years because I fundamentally enjoy blogging. This is rather my point: if you think a personal blog is something you’ll enjoy then I couldn’t be more enthusiastic in my support of it as a practice. But you should do so in awareness of the practicalities involved in using a blog for purposes over and above this. If you’re more interested in using a blog for impact or public engagement then you are in blogging as a form of self-expression, it’s unlikely to be worth your while to pursue a personal blog. In which case, any item from the by no means exhaustive list above would likely be more useful.
One final thought is that these different platforms can be combined. So for instance you could archive all your guest blogs on a personal blog. Or you can republish articles you’ve written for one site on your departmental blog. The key thing is to ask: many sites are covered by a Creative Commons license anyway but editors will still appreciate it if you ask permission before reduplicating a post. My standard practice is to get put a ‘Originally posted at X’ link but there are different ways of doing this.
*Though they’ve made such a mess of one of my favourite wordpress themes.