I finally made it to 50. When I started blogging, I decided that once I reached 50 posts I would decide whether to continue or stop. Either I would not make it, through boredom, fear, too much hard work or I would get here and want to keep going. I figured that if I could make it 50, I was doing something right. Most importantly, it would show I had not run out of ideas or enthusiasm.
I had a shaky start blogging because I had no understanding of what blogging required. I did not know how to set up a blog nor did I know how to publish it. I saw so many professional, well designed, blogs, that I thought the bar must be very high. I did not realize the tools that are available to bloggers on various blogging platforms. Having gotten started, I have more respect for the early bloggers who, literally, built their own pages. However, I was not a novice when I started.
I have written regularly online for the past 16 years. My first online writings were on various H-net lists, in particular H-War and H-Diplo (my dissertation is based on the Vietnam War). Most of my writing was on H-Diplo because it was a chance to interact with other scholars, many quite experienced, of Diplomatic History. At the time, I did not approach these lists like blogs; I viewed them as personal learning networks. As I was doing my dissertation in the UK, I was removed from the main areas of Vietnam War scholarship. The online discussion networks connected me to the wider scholarly community. The connection helped me develop my understanding of American foreign policy.
Even though I was not writing a blog, I was writing regularly. When it came time to blog, I had already developed my thinking and writing skills. However, the content and intent of the writing was different from what is usually in a blog. The list was moderated, required registration, and this helped with a stronger interaction with list members. What was defining about the list is that it is moderated. The moderators worked incredibly hard to support a high standard, academically as well as intellectually in the discussion. Instead of personalities or point scoring, the focus was on sources, expanding the discussion, but also being able to give evidence to support the discussion. To put it crudely, though, at times, it was like an intellectual Fight Club where academic reputations were left at the door. You had to know what you were talking about on the list. Either you could defend it or you left the debate.
When my academic career finished, I continued to contribute to the lists but without access to an academic library, it has proven difficult to sustain. In 2003, I moved to the UK and began working in local government. In 2004, when the Freedom of Information Act came into force, I was volunteered to work on the council’s FOI group. From there, I found out about another discussion list, although not moderated in the same was as H-Diplo. The list JiscMail was another online community. The set up was similar to H-net and H-Diplo, except that the ethos was different. Instead of the cut and thrust of an academic argument, the list was focused on practitioners sharing information. The ethos was to help each other resolve an issue rather than explore or debate ideas. Ideas are still discussed but the FOIA list was focused on dealing with the Act. I realized that my writing and my approach to the topic would have to adapt.
From that list and my work in local government, I learned about the collaborative tools, like blogs, were developing. What the list taught me was the power of collaborative work through the various tools of social media. When local government was reorganised in 2009, I had to find a new learning network to understand what was happening. I started to work on the IDeA’s Communities of Practice (CoP). Recently, this developed into the Knowledge Hub. I had started to post things to the CoP just as I had with H-Diplo and JiscMail. However, the CoP blog while interesting, were still a closed, relatively speaking, community.
In time, I subscribed to a number of blogs. I never thought I would blog publicly until I read some posts by two bloggers writing on local government related ideas who were also encouraging others to start blogging. At the same time, I became aware of the blogs from FOI officers and others working in the field who were regular participants on the Jiscmail list.
Many bloggers have inspired me to write. I mention these four because they cover different areas of my development as a blogger.
The first is Dave Briggs. His DavePress blog taught me a lot about social media and I continue to learn from it. The other is Dan Slee. I started blogging after he wrote this post, which also recommended I read this post on blogging. Since then, I have been writing this blog and another blog called thoughts on management. The other two blogs are FOIMan) and information rights and wrongs. I mention them because they are knowledgeable in my area of work (freedom of information, and data protection). Most importantly, though, is that they wrestle with complex issues, with a strong public interest, and do it well. I am inspired by their knowledge and a willingness to share that knowledge.
My first 50 posts show the learning curve I am on with blogging. The first few, for example, were without hyperlinks. I also have discovered that blogging is different again from the discussion lists and the communities of practice. As with those lists, my writing is still adapting to the medium. For example, I am still considering the right word count and the right “tone” for the blog. I am certain that future posts will be improved from the earliest based on that experience.
I have enjoyed the first 50 posts and I hope you continue reading for the next 50.