söndag 21 januari 2018

Blog post #500

This is blog post #500! I started the blog in September 2010 - more than seven years ago. This is also the fourth installment in this particular series of blog posts:
Blog post #200 + 3rd anniversary of the blog! (September 2013)
Blog post #300 + 4th anniversary of the blog! (October 2014)
Blog post #400 + 6th anniversary of the blog! (September 2016)

It took three years to publish the first 200 blog posts, a little more than a year to write the next 100 blog posts, the better part of two more years to publish the next 100 blog posts and slightly less than one and a half years to publish the last 100 blog posts.

I recently wrote some about statistics and trends so this is a good time to more qualitatively reflect on the blog and how the content and my blogging has developed and changed over time. My intention was that this should be a short blog post - in this particular blog post I feel I have nothing in particular to prove! - but that didn't come to pass.

1. Blog frequency; "blog burnout". The first observation is that I have, for the most part, lived up to the goals I set up in the very first blog post, i.e. to publish a minimum of one and a maximum of two blog posts per week. There have, during these seven and a half years, by now been three periods when I hardly publish anything at all for about 4-5 months each. Part of it is that I have experienced cyclical blog "burnouts" when a combination of factors coincide like a) not having enough time to blog (due to a high work load or matters in my personal life in combination with b) having too high demands on the quality and length of each blog post. The result is a backlash, a longer "blog vacation" - but I always come back. The blog is just too useful and too much part of my life by now to stop blogging permanently. I also try to handle these "stress factors" by (mentally) lowering the demands on each blog post, for example by trying to be a bit more relaxed and not feel the requirement to write really long blog posts about a workshop or a conference (that can easily take hours to write). It's ok to pick a few notable parts and write only about them rather than to feel a compulsion of having to cover everything from start to finish.

2. Blog frequency; "busy beaver". As apart from the behavior of not writing at all during longer periods of time, it has also happened that I, during shorter periods, have written more than twice per week. This is unusual but I am as a matter of fact doing that right now so as to "catch up" with a multitude of recent events and activities. There was so much work in December that I didn't have time to write about any of it! I only hade time to take up blogging after the Christmas break started and the first thing I did (Dec 22) was to backdate a blog post 16 days to when it "should" have been published (Dec 6). I then realized I had so much to write about and modestly speeded up the publication of blog post in December from twice per week to every three days. This was later, in January, increased to three blog posts per week - while simultaneously striving to decrease and get rid of the backlog. So I have as of lately published blog posts every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday but since I'm still "behind", I have also strived for (but not always succeeded in) publishing and backdating a new blog post every 36 hours or so (ex. Monday morning - Tuesday evening - Thursday morning etc.). Since I recently went on a sabbatical, I have by now almost caught up with the backlog - this blog post is published on Tuesday morning January 23 but was supposed to have been published (and will be backdated to) Sunday January 21. So I have almost caught up and I will start to publish in realtime at the end of this week. My next goal is to decrease the pace from a staggered three blog posts per week to a more manageable two posts per week (so as to not suffer "blog burnout" a few weeks or months from now).

3. My publication plan. A recent "invention" of mine was to set up a relatively serious "publication plan". The publication plan is housed inside a constantly evolving draft blog post (which will never be published but) that you get a peek of below. Instead of sitting down in front of a "blank paper" every week or every single time I will write a blog post, I now jot down notes about current or future bloggable topics (events) that I might write about (for example by glancing at upcoming meetings and events in my calendar). These topics are pitched against each other as well as against the number of free slots and I can now all of a sudden plan by reflecting on which topics are most relevant and interesting to develop into blog posts and only then move them into the publication plan. I can of course switch them around up until the very last moment, but I all of a sudden have foresight and can now see into the future. I also think this might partly be good a remedy against "blog burnout".

This is how I came to the conclusion that I needed to write three blog posts per week in January; there was a backlog of things to write about and this became clear when I tried to match a long list of topics with specific upcoming dates. This is also how I can state (promise) that I will shrink the backlog of books that have read but haven't yet written about on the blog from 18 to 6 months between now and the summer. I will write a new blog post about "Books I've read recently" every three weeks during the spring, I just published the latest installment in that series (see my previous blog post) and I already have the next nine batches of books and dates mapped out (between now and the end of July).

4. More research, more papers. Looking back at the blog's history, I write a lot more academic papers now so the blog has become more of an archive of what I do research-wise than an archive of topics I think about, reflect upon and analyze. Many blog posts are a relatively quick write nowadays as they are just milestones that document that something (say a paper) has been submitted somewhere. Such a blog post will have some information about the venue the paper was submitted to, perhaps some previous information about the paper (if the paper has a history on the blog) and the paper abstract. I also strive for always saying something about the paper that isn't in the paper, for example an anecdote about how the paper came to be, something about its history and development, about the process of writing it up (quick of fast, easy or difficult etc.) or perhaps something about my cooperation/relationship with the co-authors. I would like offer someone who reads the paper at a later point in time and then comes across the blog post some additional information about the paper.

5. On the functions of this blog. A long time ago, back in November 2011, I wrote a blog post about the many functions of this blog. I basically made a long list and I have read through that list and thought I'd comment on what is still valid and what has changed since then.

Much is the same since the basic functionality of this blog or indeed any blog is pretty stable over time. This blog is (still) a diary and record of my work-related activities. It is also a place where I collect and keep track of work- and career-related information. (It's for example a good place to go when I need to update my CV). I can quickly find blog posts I'm looking for despite the fact that there are 500 blog posts here by now. It is harder to find/remember those blog posts I haven't looked for - I'm sure there are blog posts that would be useful to remember but both the name and the content is non-descript and doesn't stand out. I have as of lately started to add a keyword to some blog post like (workshop), (paper), (books) and (course). Perhaps I should go through the blog with a focus on those blog posts that don't stand out at some point. It isn't be too hard to find these blog posts with the blog management tools that are at my (but not your) disposal. I might then also rename some older blog posts to make their titles more memorable (the link will not be changed - only the displayed name).

One effect of keeping a diary/record is that it becomes a permanent archive where I can go back and look for things (what was the link to that conference? what was the name of that person? what were the memorable quotes from that book?). I can also direct others (for example students) to specific blog posts that has some leads or links that might be useful for them. Creating blog posts with a lot of links is however hard work. I believe that as the proportion of research (e.g. papers) has increased, I can instead just give away a paper that has many references and links to further research in an area.

Another effect of having a blog is that other people can follow me (my teaching, my research, my thoughts). I have no idea how many people follow me in the sense that they are notified every time I publish a blog post (say, through RSS). As I always post a status update on Facebook, I think more people "follow" my new blog posts through Facebook and then selectively check out specific blog post. I don't have a very good grasp of exactly who reads or how often though. I would assume that colleagues read blog posts about events they themselves have participated/are interested in (if they see a link to the blog post in Facebook). Except for that I just don't know. Perhaps some of my students or even some ex-students follow the blog? I would also assume that (some) non-KTH researchers who have overlapping interests follow my blog or at least selectively read some of the blog posts.

One of the goals back then was to encourage others (primarily colleagues) to start (academic) blogs. Some have expressed interest but few have acted on that interest. The one exception is my ex-colleague Jonas Moll who has blogged since October 2016 at about the same pace that I do. I might have known but can't remember if he has explicitly stated that this blog of mine has inspired him to start blogging but it might be that that is the case.

I end with yet another new year's promise that I just thought of (I will add it to the Jan 1 blog post with a long list of such promises). I spend a lot of the time writing blog posts but haven't been so diligent at keeping the static pages updated. So I should do that and make sure that (for example) the list of publication is current at least at some point during this year. That shouldn't be too hard as I will hand in an application for promotion sometime during the next six months. I might as well update the blog after I hand in the application.

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