This week we’re exploring the Blogosphere. As you’ll see from this tweet by @AcademicsSay, blogging can provoke strong reactions:
Is it a vital platform in the 21st century? Or the exclusive preserve of those who have plenty of time on their hands? Well, blogging certainly does take many hours of dedicated effort. Fortunately, though, you can still benefit from other people’s online endeavours in just a few minutes a day. In this post, we’ll look at how to find and follow the best blogs, before moving on to how you can create your own … also pausing to consider whether this is actually a good idea.
Estimates vary, but there are probably 500 million blogs. Cripes! How on earth do you find the relevant content amid all those bytes? One of the best places to start is curated lists by respected sources, such as The Guardian and LSE Blogs. Also check out the comments under the posts, as readers often post links to their favourites.
Twitter is also a rich source of recommendations. Ask other users to make suggestions and you’re bound to get some responses. After all, there’s no shortage of opinions on the internet.
Once you’ve identified a bunch of blogs, how do you keep up-to-date with them all? If you’ve applied last week’s Thing, you might create a Twitter list of bloggers, as they are very likely to tweet links to their latest posts. Some bloggers offer the option to subscribe by email. This means every new post is automatically pinged to your inbox. Although this means that you’re unlikely to miss any content, you could soon become overwhelmed by emails.
A better alternative is to use a blog aggregator. This is an app or website that allows you to subscribe to multiple blogs, then read all the posts in one place. Google Reader used to be the most widely-used aggregator until the tech giant cruelly snatched it away. Many replacements have been developed since, but none has gained quite the same traction.
A popular choice is Feedly, an attractive and flexible phone app and web-based tool. With the free version, you can organise up to 100 blogs by category. The premium version – costing around $5 per month – offers a wealth of fancy features, including the ability to automatically save posts to Dropbox and Evernote.
Another good aggregator is The Old Reader. Its functionality is similar to Feedly, and you can add up to 100 blogs for free.
By using Twitter lists and blog aggregators, you can sit back while all the useful information comes to you.
Blogging for Beginners
Why not just let everyone else do the hard work? That’s a fair point, but there are lots of benefits to blogging. It can help you:
- Record research and reflect on it – we all know that writing about what we’ve learned helps in stick in our memory. It’s certainly more effective than a few highlights and a Post-It note.
- Stake a claim to ideas – getting an article through the peer review and publication process can take years. If you want to plant a flag in an area of research, then blogging is a great way to publicly associate yourself with it. And fast.
- Get feedback – none of us enjoys criticism, but early input on a work-in-progress can be hugely beneficial.
- Develop a writing habit – nearly everyone struggles with transferring ideas from brain to screen. Regular blogging keeps both our minds and fingers nimble.
- Boost your visibility – blogs are a public platform through which you can promote your work. Blog posts are also a valid academic source, complete with citation formats in all the major styles.
If you’re not sure what to blog about, here are a few ideas:
- Book reviews – these help you to refine your response to a book, and it’s also helpful for other researchers to see your thoughts and summary – especially if they’re trying to decide whether to invest in an expensive monograph. If you frequently review books, publishers will start sending you free copies.
- Conference reports – it’s difficult to attend all the events in our field, so reports give us a sense of the main action.
- Preprints of articles – most publishers will allow you to upload a preprint of your article – this is the version before it’s been through the peer review and editorial process.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, blogging is a lot of work. Before you dive in, take a look at this post from QMUL. If you’re still game, you need to think about the right platform. Your university might offer you a blog on its server, but do consider what will happen when you move to another institution. You want a blog that’s portable. WordPress is the biggest blog host, and one of the most powerful – there’s also plenty of guidance available through their support pages. In Thing 4 we’ll take a look at an easy way of getting a WordPress blog without needing a lot of technical knowledge.
If you fancy blogging but don’t want the faff of your own blog, you could write a piece for The Conversation. With the tagline Academic rigour, journalistic flair, this site provides editorial support to make your research reader-friendly and help you reach a wider audience.
Blogging certainly isn’t for everyone. But you can still be part of the community by reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.
Here are some activities to try this week:
- Find some useful blogs in your field, either through directories or asking on Twitter
- Create an account with Feedly or The Old Reader and subscribe to your favourite blogs
- If you’re feeling adventurous, set up your own blog on WordPress