Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What does the internet want?

This blog is just a little more than five months old. In that short duration its readership has climbed from a dedicated audience of one (me) to -- on a good day -- more than a hundred readers. Looking over the statistics, I'd guess that about 30 people peruse "In the Middle" regularly, perhaps 30 more read it occasionally, and then perhaps that many more find it by chance every day, typically by googling things. [Favorite recent search: "medieval cannon law." I was not aware that there were regulations for the firing of heavy artillery during the Middle Ages, and it is even more surprising that Google thinks these pages have anything to say on this under-researched topic].

I've used these pages as a forum for work in progress, for sharing reading that I enjoy, for posting articles and book reviews that might be otherwise hard to track down. Newsclippings about monsters, medieval studies, and medieval-related topics appear from time to time (though I do try to limit the cut-and-paste stories since I don't want this to be a blog of work culled from elsewhere). To my delight, many of the comments have made the blog their own, and taken us down intriguing roads. The best part of all of this has been how these readers' comments have surprised me, and how much I have learned from them. There have also been a few personal posts, though none (I hope) that turn this into a gratuitous and self-promoting forum. Not that I would deny that I am both gratuitous and self-promoting.

In a month I become chair of my department. The demands on my time have already begun. I don't know if I'll be able to continue this blog; it was born during a time of sabbatical. But if I do have the ability to maintain it, I am wondering: where should it go? What should it be? Is it good the way it is? Could it be better? What else might it cover? "In the Middle" is technically my blog, but I don't feel too great a sense of ownership: should it have guest bloggers? Most of its readers are silent, and that is fine, but I wonder: what do people seek here? What do they find that gives pleasure, joy, instruction?

Any and all thoughts welcomed.

14 comments:

JKW said...

It might be interesting if you were to have guest bloggers on from time to time, but I suspect that most of your die-hard readership is in it to see what you personally are working on.

As for cannon law, I can't help but think of that great portrait of Alfonso d'Este leaning on a cannon. This, certainly, is what that Googler was looking for.

meg said...

It depends on why you're blogging, really. That may sound like (and/or be) a stoopid comment, but speaking only for myself, I found the enterprise of crafting each entry much easier once I'd thought all the way through the question of what I wanted the blog for.

If it's raw hits, kids and politics seem to be the big winners ;-)

anhaga said...

I'd have to say that this is a blog I enjoy entirely "as is." Guest bloggers could be fascinating, but I'd have to agree with JKW -- from time to time. It might be interesting for purposes of generating discussion -- I forget where I've seen it, but you could always have a short response to what's been blogged about to get things going.

But, in the end -- I'd definitely have to go with "good the way it is."

Eileen Joy said...

Until very recently--and mainly because several friends told me that both your blog and "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog" were "must-sees"--I have avoided blogs like the plague, mainly because of time constraints and because part of being "modern" is feeling continually overwhelmed by an information avalanche. After brief forays into political blogs [Arianna Huffington, Andrew Sullivan, etc.] and gossip blogs [Defamer, Gawker, etc.], I gave up because, for the most part, these blogs were giving me information I was already getting elsewhere in magazines, journals, NPR, New York Times Online, etc. On other occasions, I have been appalled at how literally *boring* most blogs are--sadly, I am one of those people who do not want to know what other people's children are doing, what you ate for breakfast, where you went on vacation, what you watched on television, UNLESS it can somehow be "turned" to some kind of interesting commentary on life, culture, etc., which I must say, in the case of THIS blog, it almost always IS turned that way, and that is why I have really enjoyed this blog EXACTLY the way it is. For me, the value of this blog ultimately lies in its ability to:

a) let some of us in on the musings--intellectual and otherwise--of a scholar whose work we admire [and genuinely enjoy--how often can we say that?];

b) spark certain lines of thinking/debate that we usually can only muse upon in our own solitary heads or at conferences or in the hallways and office of our campus departments, or when it's "too late"--when we're commiting our ideas to published print;

and,

c) make us aware of the really good and interesting work that other scholars are doing.

I'm not sure you really need "guest bloggers," since anyone who leaves a comment is, in essence, a guest blogger. My only complaint would be that I wish more people would post and less would lurk.

Cheers, Eileen

Eileen Joy said...

Okay, okay--at the risk of having possibly offended any bloggers who value using their blogs to record the mundane goings-on of their lives, no matter how ordinary or seemingly trivial, I can see the future cultural value of such documentation a la something like Pepys' diaries. But what if, in 18th-century England, there had been 100,000 diarists like Pepys? The horror, the horror.

J J Cohen said...

I doubt you'll offend with that suggestion, Eileen, because you're only stating what you prefer. The great thing about blogs is that once they do not appeal, we simply no longer read. It's not like my flagging interest in PMLA caused it stop appearing in my mailbox.

This blog does have its moments of cuteness overload and familial self-indulgence. I figure that is OK, though, as long as it (1) comes in small doses, (2) is somewhat tied to the themes of the blog [for example, I didn't blog it when my 2 year old daughter asked me in a shocked tone why I don't have a "gina" (you can guess what she meant) -- as if I'd affronted nature by not possessing one. It did crack me up, though, and seemed a simple but searing rebuke to all fantasies Freudian], and (3) helps to counteract what otherwise happens in the scholarship we scholars scribe for scholarly consumption, conjuring as we do the illusion of a disembodied existence.

I'd thought of guest blogging only because I've seen brilliant examples of it elsewhere (Amanda Marcotte's defense of "pettiness" in her guest stint at Le Blog Bérubé, for example, resonated with the issues being explored by Eileen and Anonymous in Austin here).

Thanks for your feedback JKW, Meg, Anhaga, and Eileen. Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Like you I am a professional medievalist who started a blog a few months ago - around last October (what a surprise!). I have just given it up.

I started because my SO nearly died and I was so distracted by that and by the demands of being Head of my department that I wanted to find one space where I could write creatively and deal with some of the personal and professional issues relating to 'History' at the same time. I had some fun - made some good friends and found a few (very few) interesting blogs - one of them yours.

I am giving up because - well I am nearly 50 and there is so much stuff left that I want to achieve and I now value the time left to do it in far more than I once did. The blogging stuff was becoming circular and repetitive and virtual conversation is definitely a limited form of exchange. I just decided to prioritise. Oddly - I don't think that I would ever 'corrupt' a sabbatical by blogging - my reasons were in that sense the exact opposite of yours. Maybe you should blog *more* as your admin load increases!

J J Cohen said...

Thanks for that post, Anonymous. You've given me quite a bit to chew over.

One reason this blog worked well in tandem with a sabbatical is that I had booked myself up with so many commitments that I have been on an unrelenting schedule the entire time. The blog gave some freedom from (perversely) the constriction of my own leave time.

Thanks for your thoughts.

ljs said...

JJC,

I'm afraid I'm going to embarrass you by confessing that some students in my Compostion class took a look at your blog as part of a research essay project, and one wrote a very interesting essay on "new media" and it's role in altering the academic experience. There was a strong feeling among these students that more time might be spent considering blogging as a resource within the university.

This speaks to what I see as one of the things your blog is doing which I hope will make it possible for you to continue once you start as Head of Department. Namely, the site of "academic" discussion is increased and necessarily changed by what you post on your blog. Even what you refer to as "cuteness" becomes a part of the discussion, reminding us that the study of medieval literatures and history never exists in a critical vacuum.

Rather than discussions occupying a seemingly finite space and time - the conference, the journal article, the university course - the posting of musings, syllabi, excerpts, works in progress, and the response by commenters (I think Eileen Joy is right to see commenters as guest bloggers, especially since many have blogs) allows for a continuity and therefore development of discussion.

So I guess what I'm saying is that the blog, although we will likely continue to accept its ideas as somewhat more in progress than a published paper or conference article, is an important step forward for medieval studies. I'd like to see more who are within the community blogging: my own background is as a poet, and the development of poetry blogs has stimulated study and criticism, rather than devolved into self-promotion, and brought a wider community together.

I hope you're able to continue this blog, since I think it's a great read and has also inspired others to start their blogs. The great thing about the internet, however, is that even if or while you can't post to In the Middle, we'll be able to see you guest-blogging elsewhere!

Sorry for the length of this...with more time I'd be more succinct.

J J Cohen said...

Thanks, ljs, that was a heartening post! I'm glad you took the time to write something so full, and that this blog was useful for an undergrad research project.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that Anonymous was probably right: a blog will be an attractive outlet for creative and scholarly energies as more and more of my time vanishes into all things administrative.

Are there any poetry blogs in particular that you would recommend, ljs?

Emile Blauche said...

I can't say what the Internet wants, but I will say that I would love to hear your thoughts on the thread discussing "what is real?"

I read the pettiness defenses by Marcotte and Andrea Rubenstein (http://blog.shrub.com/archives/
tekanji/2006-05-24_170)
and found them disturbing, if predicatable.

Karl Steel said...

JJC,

Exhausted, married, and throwing myself deep into the well of my diss., I say: as much as you can, keep at it as you have been.

Otherwise, what would I read over breakfast?

As for cuteness: I have an inexhaustible desire to read stories about kids doing things. If I had time, I'd analyze that: maybe in a few days.

Eileen Joy: I think you're giving political blogs short shrift. JJC mentions Amanda Marcotte. Her feminist material at Pandagon is unlike anything you'll ever find in the Times. Chris Clarke's 'Creek Running North' is a necessary read, too, for his prose.

--

JJC, looking forward to your review of Haidu's Subject of Violence. I read a little for this Yvain thing I'm doing now, and was, nastily, pleased to see he hadn't changed his Yvain argument one iota since 1983 (the bib. for that is the same + Maddox's book on Chretien). I didn't go much further into it because, so far as I can tell--perhaps incorrectly--it seems that Haidu's doing one more 'birth of the subject' book, pushing that birthpoint back a few centuries, sure, but still caught up in a project that should instead be about reconsidering subjectivity.

ljs said...

A little belatedly (I'm moving apartment, and there are so many books to box!) some poetry blogs for JJC and others, if you're interested.

The father of all poetry blogs, and the most visited, is Ron Silliman's, ronsilliman.blogspot.com. He also has a fairly exhaustive set of blog links, including Joshua Corey's blog, which is very intelligent and inquisitive (joshcorey.blogspot.com). My friend Craig Teicher wrote an interesting article about poetry blogs for Publishers Weekly; his blog is slickerchumways.blogspot.com, and the article is here http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6323184.html.

One response to his article pointed out there is a thriving community of women poets blogging, including Shanna Compton (www.shannacompton.com/blog.html), Janet Holmes (www.humanophone.com), and Maureen Thorson (http://www.reenhead.com/mole/mole.php).

And I have to mention a good friend of mine who doesn't really blog often about poetry, at least at length, but who is a (really great) poet with a blog I love visiting, for its fascinating reticence! Stephanie Anderson is at octoberinapril.blogspot.com

(Apologies for the lack of hyperlinks...I'm slowly entering the html era).

J J Cohen said...

Thanks, ljs -- great stuff.