Monday, June 04, 2012

Blog Quality Standards, Blog Maintenance, and Blog Fatigue

This blog was begun as an experiment and has continued as a labor of love.  It's become an acceptable excuse to spend my time pursuing whatever tickles my brain.  For the most part, spending quality time with my brain and the blog, is stimulating and occasionally seems to add some value to the world at large.

But at times I find that my self imposed schedule (at least once a day) and content standards (see below) cause me tension. Thus, a little blog self reflection is a way to
  • think through what is important here  
  • share thoughts with other bloggers facing similar issues
  • let readers see behind the scenes,  and 
  • stall for time.

What do I think my content standards are these days?  (As I write that I'm thinking there are earlier posts where I tried to do this.  And that's one of the problems with blogging today - I have higher standards for myself.  I'm tempted to go back and compare my current standards with the old ones.  No, stop.  That's overkill.  Do this one now, then maybe later, compare them.)  I have these battles with myself constantly.  Less work doesn't usually win like it did just now.  Let me try to articulate my present content standards:

Types of Content
  • Mostly self-generated material  -  I should be posting my own original work in most posts.  It would be interesting to go back and see what percent of my posts are mainly original.
  • Enhanced borrowed material  - This leads to the question of where do I draw the line between borrowed and original?  
    • A movie or book review is original if it focuses on the review with, possibly, some clips or passages, from the original work.  Or an idea from a news article should lead to either my own thoughts or other added meaning such as an overview of what a lot of people thought about the topic.  The original part could include the synthesizing of facts or opinion from various sources including a description of my analytic process.
    • More value than just reposting other people's work as filler  - Even if I just find a great idea or video or a picture from somewhere else, I should explain why its important to me to post. The percent of such posts should also be low, maybe once or twice a month at best.  These should be posted either because I found something I thought remarkable and/or that would lift people's spirits.  Sometimes I save things like this for a day when I don't have time to write anything.
  • It's ok to plug something I really like - But not just because they asked me to, or even worse, because I'm getting paid (in the broadest sense) for posting.  And all such promotion should identify any connections I have with the person or organization you are promoting.
  • Don't post something just to boost hits - Posting a topic only because I know it will boost my ratings is something I don't consciously do.  I've learned to be aware that some topics will get more attention and I have debates with myself about my motives before I post.
I don't think it's necessary to set percentage goals for each type.  General terms like 'most'
and not too often are good enough.  
Content Quality
  • Originality - There's very little that hasn't been said before.  One of the brutal tasks of academic writing is making sure no one has written what you are writing.  I don't have that high a standard here.  I do tend to google around to find out what others have said.  My standard seems to be that I'm writing what is original in my experience and if I knowingly get ideas from somewhere else, I'll cite and link them. 
  • Respect and Fairness - I try (note I don't claim any particular level of success) to treat the people I write about with respect and fairness.  This means I force myself to think about them as human beings, as people who have parents and children and are struggling to find a way to their own self-respect in a challenging world.  I try to see how the situation looks from their vantage point. That doesn't mean I can't raise questions about their actions, and even their intent, but I constantly remind myself that I really cannot know what they were thinking.  I can only infer.  Raising questions rather than making declaratory statements seems safer.  Would I want someone writing about me the way I'm writing about them?  The qualifications necessary to accurately express how little we truly know about the world can slow down the pace and dim the sparkle of good prose. Can, but doesn't have to.
  • Good Prose - This is a goal, often compromised by (self-imposed) deadlines and late night writing.  Strunk and White are my practical guides to succinctness.  They remind me to seek solid nouns and verbs. . . . but, I'm afraid I'm usually in too great a hurry.  Oh, dear.  Time waits for no word.  For particularly sensitive posts, I'll proof and proof and proof to be as clear as possible and avoid unnecessarily offending readers.  For most posts, I've come to realize, I'm scribbling notes to myself that I might be able to use in something later on.  But almost nothing here is a first draft.  Many have been played with five or ten times or more before I hit the publish button.  But I'm still appalled at how many typos manage to slip through.
  • Process and Self-Awareness - My inspiration comes from British novelists such as Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), Anthony Trollope (Barchester Towers), and Charles Dickens. [I never realized how much influence that British Novels class would have on me.] All of these writers chat directly with their readers behind their characters' backs. They talk about how they are writing the book and about what's going on in their characters' lives. They make process into substance.  I've already done a post on Dickens' discussion of meandering at the beginning of David Copperfield.
These are standards that I find myself striving to meet.  I'm not prescribing them for other bloggers. And I make no claims to how often or how well I achieve them, but they're what I'm aiming at. [I never bought into the prohibition against dangling participles.]

Blog Maintenance

Sometimes I think of my blog as an attic for ideas.  Just write them up as they come and shove them into the blog.  But even though the structure of a blog makes it easier to find things, there is a need to do some maintenance now and then.
  • Keeping the Pages Up-to-Date - The "Page" tabs on top make it possible to give readers an easier way to find posts on some topics.  My Redistricting Page, for example, lists all the posts on redistricting, but I'm still a few posts behind.  
  • Updating Old Posts - Occasionally, through Sitemeter, I see that someone has gone to an old post and I check it out and find it needs fixing. 
    • Fixing errors -  If I find typos, I have no problem with fixing them without calling attention to the change.  That holds true if I clean up the writing by eliminating an unnecessary word or two.  
    • Fixing Content - But if I'm changing the content or meaning, then I need to let people know I've made a change and when.  I try to use strikeout and [brackets] to show what's but changed. 
    • Fixing missing pictures or bad links - For some reason, some pictures stop working.  These are glaring.  Links are harder to check, but as I write this I remember some tool for checking if your old links are bad.  I haven't tested this out.  It's for Blogspot blogs.  But google will find others. 
    • Updates - I don't think I have any obligation to update old posts, there are just too many, but sometimes it just makes sense.  If I do a follow-up post on something, I try to link the old one and new one to each other.  For example, I wrote about Child's Glacier in 2011, and later that year, a bridge to the glacier was closed for repairs and it won't be rebuilt for at least five years.  Driving to Child's Glacier is out of the question now and it seemed relevant to add that to the original post too.  But sometimes I just have to trust that readers are smart enough to look at the dates of posts, so when someone googles "Seward Highway Closure"  they realize the post they found was written in 2009.
  • Labels (also known as tags or categories) - Grrrr.  These are the reference terms bloggers can attach to posts to help search engines find the post and that form a very rough blog index - in the right column at the bottom on my blog.  I'm not sure how much they are still used by search engines - based on tracking people's search terms and what posts google offers them.  My labels list is pretty uneven.  I have some labels with just one post referenced.  There are other names or topics which show up in many posts, but I never made labels for them.  I'm not sure how valuable it is to try to add labels to old posts or get rid of labels that only have one post.  Mel, at Bent Alaska, has suggested this as a reason to move to WordPress, but things aren't broken enough to switch.  
  • Blogger Changes - Blogspot regularly offers new ways to do things, new ways to organize the page.  It's well past time I catch up with the latest improvements to see if there are ones that fit my needs.
  • Basic Review - It's coming up on six years now.  It's time to update things like my profile. I should probably write a Page (again, this means here those tabs on top) about what I'm trying to do here. Then I could link to pages like this one for those who want to know why I'm doing what I do.
Generally, blogging is fun.  Sometimes though, I need time for a post to germinate, and it has to just sit until I'm ready to tease it out.  Sometimes, blogging is a way to avoid doing things I need to do - like battles in the Clutter Wars, or doing other house maintenance work.

So, recognizing this, I'm thinking about limiting my blog time until I get necessary chores completed.  I may even take a few breaks this summer.   Or maybe I'll find a way to do decent posts that don't take up too much time.  Or highlight some older posts that deserve a second look.  It's still an experiment in what can be done with this medium. 


  1. Your blog is great. I learn with it. Thanks to your blog I'm getting in touch with Alaska (althought I don't understand your long posts about the territory or districts)... I can found many interesting things (your L.A. visits, for example). Go on!

  2. And to think, to avoid cleaning my cottage this third day of the Queen's Jubilee in London, I simply enjoyed a nap. Blogging as avoidance, you say? Bloody brilliant avoidance, I say!

    Carry on.

  3. Thanks, Tomás. Very few Alaskans read the long redistricting posts. They're for a specialized audience that has a need to know.

    Jacob, I hope you're not napping through the whole Jubilee.

    1. Actually, just came back home from standing across from horse guards entrance. Saw the Queen and a handful of other royals zip by in her carriage in a light rain. Got some snaps, some video clips and then retired for a good afternoon tea and cake afterward. Not too bad.

      Tonight we go to our favourite local Irish pub to wash away the royalist taste in our mouths! (smile)

    2. Good. Sort of like the Venus transit - since it's nearby and of significance one should at least check it out.

  4. I recently did a similar reevaluation with regard to the blog,(mine not yours), though with a lot less organization.

    Started blogging to blow off Progressive-living-in-Fairbanks steam, and found it was also a great outlet for creative tendencies that are not fed by the day job. There seemed to be a huge growth in Alaska blogs at the time, and it was fun to have a conversation of sorts across our vast distances.

    However, I think my blogging partner and I got sucked into the crazy vortex of Palin (after VP nomination) and it really pulled us off into the weeds. Instead of a local perspective on Alaska stuff, we ended up part of this mass of bloggers (in-state and Outside) shouting about how much she sucked. There wasn't much original in that, and it got boring as well as depressing.

    Both of us at FBH just quit writing for a while. Was tempted to let the whole thing go, but went back and read the old posts, and upon reevaluation:

    * We are not a news blog that breaks stories - both of us have day jobs that are pretty mentally taxing at times
    * Our style will remain deliberately conversational, as I have to deal with style enough in the Day Job
    * The world probably doesn't need another general U.S. politics blog (plenty of people with more time and ability doing it better)
    * While outrage is our thing, there is a fine line between it and constantly bitching without being funny

    After not even reading a blog for months, I was shocked to see how many of the blogs I used to regularly read have stopped updating. Where did everyone go, I wonder?

    Reevaluation is good, glad to see you are still around.

  5. CD: Good to hear from you. I don't know how one can keep up a blog working full time. Maybe give up sleep altogether? Or post irregularly perhaps. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.


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