This blog post is also motivated by a recent post shared by Aaron Davis alerting me to a discussion about the purpose of blogging that has been underway online. Davis notes that this discussion started with a post from Tom Critchlow in which he discussed a new mental model for blogging focused on the difference between small b and big B blogging. I recommend reading the original post from Critchlow, the post from Aaron, and these posts from Jim Groom and Alan Levine.
small b blogging
In his post, Critchlow frames this new mental model of blogging by relating the general power of the market and networking online. He indicates that the “old” model of blogging, which he labels “small b blogging” is an iterative model of learning to write and think with the network.
Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.
This is a process of producing, remixing, refining, and reproducing your content over time, thereby (hopefully) refining your message. You are your own audience, as you’re writing for yourself as well as your audience. You are teaching and learning along with your audience. You’re writing what you’d like to read. Critchlow shares the post from Venkatesh Rao which dictates that “bloggers” release work often, reference your own thinking, and rework these ideas over and over again.
While we’re on the topic of small b blogging, I’d like to take a second to focus on that word with as we talk about writing and thinking with the network. Yes, small b focuses on writing for yourself and your audience. But, I think sharing, connecting, and collaborating is an important element of being a digital citizen. When we blog, or write online, I think that there should be a focus on connecting and collaborating with your audience. So, in terms of your blogging practices (and this is something I could do a better job of), I think there is a need to read, link, respond, and connect to the work of others.
Big B blogging
Critchlow frames Big B blogging as focusing on fame, wealth, and glory in content creation. This is a focus on large audiences, and designing for “scale, for gloss, and finish.” As Aaron Davis indicates, Big B bloggers also focus on process and product, or “fit and finish” of their blogging space(s).
It’s mass media, whether it’s made by a media company or an individual acting like one. So when people think of blogging their natural reference point is create something that looks like the mass media they’re consuming. Content designed for pageviews and scale.
This focus on process, product, and polish resonates with me as I continually refine my spaces. This also impacts the ways in which I guide my students/colleagues as they create and curate their personal cyberinfrastucture. I think there is a need to focus on purpose, audience, and design as we create or write. We need to focus on the what, the who, and how of our content. I think that your spaces should be personal and carry your identity, but you also should understand that it is a reflection of who you are. People make judgements about your site and content based on colors, images, fonts, links, grammar-usage-mechanics, and visual aesthetics.
In this description, Critchlow also describes the benefit of writing for “built-in audiences” (i.e., Medium, Fast Company, Huffington Post) that will bring more ideas to your content. Your posts are included in a larger feed that already has plenty of eyeballs that might serendipitously come across your materials. Writing from your own space can be a challenge as serendipity is a bit harder as your regular readers, and members of your personal learning network will continue to find and value your content. Expanding out from that base sometimes is a challenge, but that again depends on your purpose.
In terms of the Big B blogging, I would by no means consider myself in this category. But, I have noticed over the last year a change in my thinking about writing and publishing. As an academic, I need to be a bit of a hybrid. I believe in open and digital environments, and as such I regularly blog, share, and connect with others in digital spaces. This is also my area of focus in research, teaching, and service…so it is a good fit. As an academic, I need to regularly have empirical research publications in top-tier, peer-reviewed journals. Nothing else matters. Many senior colleagues bemoan the fact that I need to play double duty…yet the system still exists.
I’ve brought this same focus on where you post to my thinking about blogging. This means that when I have something that I want to write about, the genesis of a new idea, if I feel like it is “big enough,” I’ll often think about where else I could send it. As an example, I’ve written a lot on this blog about open scholarship and research. Most of this was directed at colleagues in my fields. Finally in 2015…I had enough. I wrote up this post bringing together many of my ideas, and sent it out. I prepared to get lambasted by colleagues. Instead…I heard nothing. That silence, as a content creator, can sometimes be deafening. A year later, I went to one of my professional conferences and the same trends and habits continued. I once again left (much angrier) and started to write. This started as a Google Doc that I sent around, and then I spent a lot of time thinking of a place to send it instead of just posting it to my site. I thought about The Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, The Conversation, or Huffington Post. With each of these, I thought about the audiences I would reach, and the audiences I would miss with publishing in this venue. I ultimately published this in Hybrid Pedagogy, and value the experience. But, as I publish, I continue to think about purpose, audience, design…and spaces as I write.
Does it even matter?
One thing that I should indicate is a general consideration about what “matters” as we create, share, and connect online. We’re deep in an unrelenting news cycle of filter bubbles, echo chambers, and computer algorithms impacting how much we really connect online. We also have concerns and questions about the ways in which businesses are creating these digital havens for us to connect, and then sucking up all of the data and breadcrumbs that we’ve left behind to see to others as a composite of our identity. Finally, we’re beginning to see questions arise about the role of screentime and plague of notifications from our devices as it relates to our health and well-being.
Across all of these challenges, we’ve seen many individuals (probably far smarter than I) choose to distance themselves, or delete accounts. I have chosen to double down and switch up my signals. This is an attempt to build and learn more from Indie Web philosophies as I strive to “own” more of what I create and share. I’m trying to be a bit more thoughtful, balanced, and intentional in the ways in which I create and utilize these digital, “blogging” spaces.
In terms of the signals, disruption, and notifications, I do still have questions about whether this all matters. As I share out a blog post, or link to someone else’s comment, I wonder what value the signals I send out actually have. Does a notification, ping, like, or comment provide value? Alternatively, does a lack of these interactions provide or detract from value? Once again, I think this is a muddled mixture of purpose, audience, design, community, and connecting with others. There is also the role of the “lurker” or “observer” in these interactions. I know that there are several individuals that I regularly follow, and read everything they write/create. Yet, I have never given them a notification of this currency of value. These are all issues that I’m working my way through, and will soon show up in a research project and/or post.
So what’s the big deal?
One of the challenges/opportunities that I see in teaching/learning/creating/sharing in digital environments is that there are a wealth of materials available online. The benefit is that you can pretty much learn anything about anything you’re interested in. The challenge is that there is so much good stuff, it can be difficult to get noticed online. This means that you need to work, interact, and share with an emphasis on production. You cannot do anything quietly, or you will not get traction.
If I could do it all over again, I would possibly start with a focus on community through, as noted by Alan Levine, commenting. Commenting is one of the aspects that I always have a tough time building up in classes. It’s also one of the pieces that I need to do a better job with online, before I even worry about small b or Big B. I think there is a need to connect, and learn how to comment as you’re building your voice online. A need to build your network as you’re thinking about creation and sharing. I wish I had heard this 10 years earlier.
In terms of my view on the process and product of blogging, I think of these spaces as a vehicle for idea generation and knowledge construction. Across many of my posts you’ll notice this common theme of consumption, curation, and creation. As Jim Groom notes, I have been able to use my blog (and these online connections) as a way to stay messy, break things, and find my voice. I’ll note that after around 500 posts on this blog, and countless other dead MOOCs, websites, blogs, and social media posts…I’m still finding my voice.
Currently, my main blog serves as a space for me to narrate my work, or think out loud. I see it as a machine where I consume, curate, and archive materials on my breadcrumbs site, synthesize each week in my newsletter, and then perhaps pull together the loose threads (as I see them) in posts on my blog…or elsewhere. All of these ideas are half-formed at best. They may go on to other things or spaces. As an example, bookmarks saved in the breadcrumbs often turn into blog posts. A series of blog posts have turned into keynotes or lectures. A collection are currently morphing into a book or two. But, all of these ideas are raw, and serve as pre-prints to work that may live later on, or always exist in their current format. When content turns into an article, publication, or other content outside of my main website, I usually bring it back to my spaces by providing a “Director’s Cut” version of my work that includes the Google Doc of the original draft or other insights.
This practice impacts my work as I prepare teaching materials, conduct research, and write elsewhere (e.g., book chapters, journal articles). Some of this is captured by the following quote from Cory Doctorow’s famous post, My Blog, My Outboard Brain.
Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.
Blogging helps me clarify my thinking and is a valuable part of my toolkit. Sometimes I think about the audience and the best capacity to reach or impact others. Sometimes I write for myself and document or archive my thinking. As these ideas take shape, morph, and possibly evolve, my blogging habit gives me a way to think through concepts and get this work out in the world. Content that resonates continues, or evolves into other formats. Most of all, the focus for me is on generating and organizing knowledge, and having a vehicle to do something with these kernels.