October 27th 2017, 1:30pm to 5:00pm, Manchester UK

In only a matter of years, blogging has become a mainstream part of academic practice. Research projects, networks and centres regularly maintain blogs, with the intention of promoting their work and building their connections. However it can be difficult to ensure this activity is worthwhile, rather than an additional burden in already busy working lives.

This afternoon workshop will help you ensure that blogging contributes to your research project, research network or research centre. It is led by one of the most experienced academic bloggers in the UK: a personal blogger for almost fifteen years, founding editor of The Sociological Imagination, digital fellow at The Sociological Review, former editor of the LSE’s British Politics & Policy Blog and founding member of the editorial board at Discover Society.

This three hour session will address the full range of issues faced by those maintaining blogs for research projects, research networks or research centres:

  • How do I find the time for blogging?
  • What should I post on our blog?
  • How do I increase the audience for our blog?
  • How do I assess the success of our blog?
  • How can I make our blog more visually appealing?
  • How can I integrate our blogging with other social media?
  • How can we collaborate effectively on our blog?
  • How do we use the blog to promote our publications and events?

There will be plenty of time for general questions, as well as opportunities to network with other academic bloggers. In addition to this, participants also have the option to purchase five hours of additional coaching via Skype to offer ongoing support. This includes a free copy of Social Media for Academics.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-research-projects-centres-and-networks-tickets-36779381119

What does social media mean for academic writing? Most answers to this question focus on how such platforms might constrain or enable the expression of complex ideas. For instance, we might encounter scepticism that one could express conceptual nuance in 140 characters or an enthusiasm for blogging as offering new ways to explore theoretical questions beyond the confines of the journal article. However these discussions only rarely turn to writing in a more biographical sense, as a recurrent activity which is both personally meaningful and professionally necessary.

Social media is certainly offering us more occasions for writing. The most obvious form this takes is the personal blog, providing one with a platform for exploration whenever we are taken by the feel of an idea worth exploring. However I suspect that many academics who sustain a personal blog do so because it serves a purpose prior to writing, serving as a common-place book or ideas garden. In such cases, the time spent blogging serves as a preparation for writing, even if it is sometimes an oblique one. There is no necessary tension here between blogging and writing, even if sometimes the former can hinder the latter, for instance when the familiarity of the blog draws us away from more formal writing that might not be going well.

What about online writing that doesn’t serve this preparatory function? In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the challenge of ephemera increasingly confronting academics. I mean ephemera in the literal sense of “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time”. Long-established examples include book reviews, newsletter articles and short pieces in magazines. With the growth of social media, we are seeing a rapid expansion in opportunities to produce such ephemera. Multi-author blogs and online magazines will often be sources of invitations to write, as well as offering opportunities for this to qualified parties who are seeking them out. Such writing rarely constitutes much of a commitment in its own terms. One of many reasons I enjoy writing of this sort is that the usual temporal horizon rarely exceeds a few hours work. For instance, it might take a while to read a book for review but not to write the review itself.

To call ephemera a ‘challenge’ may be misleading. In many ways, I remain convinced this is an opportunity, for the enjoyment of intellectual richness and diversity at the level of both individual scholars and scholarly communities. But unlike blogging in the preparatory sense discussed above, it can often take away from time and energy available for ‘real’ writing. The number of opportunities can itself prove problematic, as invitations and inclinations lead to over-commitment in the face of this abundance. For instance, in the next couple of weeks, I’m supposed to write an article for a magazine, a book review for a blog symposium, a blog post for a newspaper and a piece of sociological fiction for a zine. If I’m being realistic, it seems unlikely I’ll complete them all and thus the writing that was chosen rather than invited is likely to fall by the wayside. Though I think it’s a shame that I experience this as in some sense a distraction, despite my enthusiasm for the planned pieces. Much of this is related to journal articles, as things I should be writing but feel little inclination to, leaving it hard not to see a distance from academia as involving a gain rather than a loss of intellectual freedom.

A subsequent conversation made me think back to Richard Rorty’s remark about universities enabling one to “read books and report what one thinks about them”. Is the promise of ephemera a matter of keeping in touch with this aspiration within a university system which militates against its realisation?

I wrote a few months ago about the potential value of the Medium blogging service for academics. It’s one of a range of new services which are popping up (see Kinja, Svbtle and Ghost) that differ from older platforms in a range of ways. Given the effective hegemony of WordPress, an obvious question is posed by this new generation of blogging services: what’s the point of them?

Three things immediately struck me about Medium when I experimented with it. Firstly, it offers a beautiful and immersive writing experience. Secondly, it  aggregates an audience across the ‘blogs’, if that is indeed an accurate term for what Medium facilitates, massively reducing the need to build an audience which constitutes a barrier to blogging for many academics. Thirdly, it is astonishingly easy to quickly get setup (using a twitter social sign in) and writing, precluding the need to fiddle with design and acquire technical skills in order to ensure the finished posts look visually attractive.

Medium has now added another feature which could be really significant for academic blogging. It’s now possible to embed your posts into another website:

View profile at Medium.com

I’ve noticed twitter feeds becoming more common on academic websites in the last year or so. Is it much of a stretch to imagine Medium embeds joining them in the not too distant future? It’s a pick-up-and-play platform to write online that is fully integrated with Twitter and requires zero technical skill or tweaking to publish attractive features. It’s far from perfect and, in some ways, it’s intensely limited. But there’s a lot of potential here and it has been launched at a really interesting time in terms of the uptake of social media within higher education.

It also includes interesting curatorial functionality. It’s possible to produce ‘collections’ of medium articles. It’s only a matter of time before a social media savvy academic department or research centre starts embedding medium posts on their website alongside a departmental twitter feed.