SAA Blogging Carnival: Popular Blog Posts and Networked Reading

If you haven’t checked it out, the summary of last month’s SAA Blog Carnival is posted at Doug’s Archaeology Blog. It’s pretty epic in terms of number of contributors and range of responses. My contribution got a bit lost in the shuffle, but it’s still there and the energy from the entire undertaking has motivated me to keep with it.

This month’s prompts are as follows:

What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why? Compare and contrast your different bests/worsts.

While is a cool question because it opens the door not only to reflect on our own blogging efforts, I’m going to mostly ignore it and use it as prompt to speculate a bit on the entire blogging ecosystem. After all, the best and worst posts are only partly determined by our own judgement and partly by their reception by our audience.

Anyway, I have three observations.

1. My best posts and networked knowledge. On my blog, my best posts are those read by the most people. It’s pretty simple, really. I write stuff. People read it. And when people read and appreciate my contributions to their online worlds, I get happy.

The great thing about blogging (or writing on the web) is how transparent networked reading is. I remember as a graduate student, one of my prized possessions as a graduate student was a copy of Eriki Sironen’s Helsinki dissertation: “The late Roman and early Byzantine inscriptions of Athens and Attica.” It was hard to get in the U.S. and I had no idea how many people had copies. My copy carried from Athens and photocopied with a purloined copier code at night in a dark corner of the history department.

Today, we read in a different way. Articles circulate at the speed of light, and social media, email, and blogs compose part of this networked reading infrastructure. When other people read our posts and like our ideas we know it. Our reading habits sway with the flickering of other people’s interest on our social media dashboards. It appears in our blog analytics and sketches out the barest outlines of a community who shares practices, habits, and interests. The attention a post gets from this community shows the community of readers (and writers) at work.

My most popular posts were primarily driven these days by their prominence on social media. When a popular Facebook or Twitter personality likes what they see, my daily page view jump from the hundreds to over 1000 within hours.  

2. The Ephemeral and the Persistent. One of the most interesting things about blogging is attempting to understand the relationship between posts that receive significant immediate attention and those that linger and gain page views slowly over time. My “New” Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog has existed for close to three years now and some posts continue to garner attention indicating that our idea of blogs as kinds of digital ephemera is perhaps over stated.

In the past, I have suggested that blogs can fill a gap between the almost completely ephemeral media of the conference paper and the institutionally protected status of traditional academic journals. As blogs continue to mature on the web issues of visibility and persistence will shape how we understand their value and their place in the academic ecosystem. A post that’s three or four years old and continues to get attention has greater meaning than a post that attracts a few hundred hits in a day and then fades into obscurity.  

At the same time, I’ve tried to strike a balance between posts that enjoy momentary or situational popularity (for example, I had a post featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed page) and those that have persistent significance to my reading community. The sensational or situational post has the advantage of making by blog more visible on the web and attracting new, interested readers. As I continue to experiment with using my blog as a platform for other people’s writing, I feel even greater obligation to draw attention to it through ephemeral posts and a greater social media presence.

3. Blogging is Dead. A few weeks ago Jason Kottke (one of the great “old” men of the blogging community) wrote a short piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab titled “The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog.” In it he talked broadly about the transformation of reading on the internet and how he almost never reads proper, traditional blogs any more. In fact, he suggests that the traditional format of the blog with posts arranged in chronological order has slowly given way over the past few years to more topical or thematic arrangement of content. He notes the emergence of sites like Medium which  look to present content for various authors in a more stylish format than most blogs, and without any concession to chronological format.

Over the past few months, I ran a series of posts on 3D imaging in Mediterranean archaeology. One of the complaints voiced by a number of contributors was that there was no proper table of contents and they had to scroll through pages of content to read the entire series of posts. That was an easy enough problem to fix, but it shows that as the blog developed, the suitability in the traditional blogging format has limits.   

At the same time, the narrative structure of blogging with its clear, chronological trajectory seems suitable for telling the story of archaeological work and academic research as ongoing processes. It invites a regular reader into an archaeologist’s world and has obvious parallels with the format of a archaeological field notebooks. It also assumes a particular practice in the part of the reader who makes daily visits to a blog and reads it in sequence getting to know the authors over time. Whether this is enough to keep blogging as the format of choice for archaeological outreach remains to be seen.  

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