Blogging 101 for Academics

So you’re an academic who wants to start a blog.

The first thing you should decide is what kind of blog you want to have. Will it be about your work? Do you want to try and angle into the public intellectual racket? Will it be largely personal and written in a confessional mode? Or will it be a mix of all of the above?

If you write about sound technology and your blog’s about sound technology, then it’s fine to have it on your own professional website. If you write about sound technology and post pictures of your cats on Fridays, it can still be on your professional website as long as don’t mind certain colleagues thinking of you as someone who likes to share cute things. If you write about sound technology, post pictures of your cats on Friday, and occasionally muse about your strained relationship with your advisor/partner/cats and/or have long posts about your travels or hobbies not related to your work, you should seriously consider some level of anonymity.

Pros of blogging under your own name: everything’s easy to find, you appear as a “whole person” to people who read your site, you don’t have to worry about “keeping your story straight” etc.

Cons of blogging under your own name: The discursive frame of most blogs is confessional. People will think they know you no matter how much or how little of yourself goes in the blog. You will have a “persona” anyway, since there are no doubt certain aspects of your life which you will leave off the blog. You will inevitably say something stupid/wrong/bizarre and it will be attached to your name on the internet forever, where your colleagues/pets/kids can look it up. At least until you delete/edit the relevant post and google updates their cache. Which leads us to the advantages of the other kind.

Pros of hiding your “true identity”: You can say pretty much anything you want. You can make up fun or funny names for people you don’t like. Go ahead and call that difficult, mopey administrator “Marvin the Depressed Robot”! Go ahead, make fun of your advisor’s taste in clothes and music! People will love it. You can freely mix the personal and the job, though obviously you can’t blog about your own research. Nobody can google you and find your blog.

Cons of hiding your “true identity”: Now you’ve got an extra secret to keep and a story to keep straight. If you tell the wrong person that “Confessions of a Raving Sound Studies Grad Student/Professor” is actually your blog, it’ll eventually get back to people whom you don’t want it to get back to, effectively eliminating the anonymity of it all.

There is no such thing as truly anonymous blogging. You should think of it a pseudonymous, since you’ll be writing about real people including yourself. Come up with consistent names for your “characters” that are easy for you to remember (e.g., change all first names by one letter—Jon becomes Ken, for instance, though I would never want to be a Ken).

You also need to think about how anonymous you want to be. For instance, if you want your friends to read it, that’s relatively anonymous (see, e.g., http://gonecompletelyferal.blogspot.com/ for an example) but you will need to avoid self incrimination because unless you swear each one to secrecy, it could eventually come out that “Blog Y” is really “XXXX’s blog.” Still, you have plausible deniability.

The other option is to go completely “dark” and just have one or two confidantes or none at all. In this case, your set of readers will come as you comment on other blogs and link back to your own (people will follow).

You need to also think about tone and personality. A blog, like any other autobiographical writing, basically creates you as a “character.” Since my blog is under my own name, my character is perhaps more consistently positive about all matters than I might be in person (though I am a chronic optimist). I also can’t write about certain really funny things that happen while I’m at work because they involve others whom I may not wish to discuss in public. A mean blog can make you sound like a mean person.

As far as front end goes, I recommend blogspot over the others. Seems relatively straightforward and reliable. And it doesn’t come with a “rep” like livejournal (though livejournal is perfectly fine as a system and the rep is undeserved and I read people’s livejournals all the time). If you’re interested in setting it up on your own server space that you buy from a hosting company (which is what I do), WordPress is amazingly convivial, scalable, malleable and free.

Finally, either way, you may want to do a short test run before going public. See if you like it. Like restaurants, most new blogs fail within a few months.