Blogging about blogging

Andrew Raff
July 17, 2005

Blogging is so many different things to different people and includes many different ways of using blogs that it is difficult to peg down any single rule or lesson. This post will attempt to bring together a bunch of links and ideas that I've seen over the last few weeks.

The Dangers of the Personal Blog
The biggest danger of having an identifiable personal blog is the negative impact it may have on one's career. Getting Dooced may become more common as more people blog from and about work, since labor law offers few protections for bloggers.

Today, we get a view from both sides of an employer firing an employee for the employee's blog posts. In today's Times, writer Helaine Olen describes her reasons for firing her nanny, based on reading the nanny's blog: The New Nanny Diaries Are Online: "Within two months of my starting to read her entries our entire relationship unraveled. Not only were there things I didn't want to know about the person who was watching my children, it turned out her online revelations brought feelings of mine to the surface I'd just as soon not have to face as well."

This being the internet, the former nanny posted a response: Sorry to Disappoint You: "If you have come to this little blog today looking for prurient details of a "nanny gone wild" and another "nanny diary" detailing the sordid life of a family she works for, I am very sorry to disappoint you. Contrary to an essay published in the Style section of the NYTIMES, I am not a pill popping alcoholic who has promiscuous sex and cares nothing for the children for whom she works with."

Follow-ups to this story at Bitch Ph.D and Pandagon.

A pseudonymous essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned potential college faculties members about the dangers of blogging: Bloggers Need Not Apply

A candidate's blog is more accessible to the search committee than most forms of scholarly output. It can be hard to lay your hands on an obscure journal or book chapter, but the applicant's blog comes up on any computer. Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few. Others persisted into what turned out, in some cases, to be the dank, dark depths of the blogger's tormented soul; in other cases, the far limits of techno-geekdom; and in one case, a cat better off left in the bag.

The AP also took this angle: Blog it now, regret it later? "Blogs are everywhere — increasingly, the place where young people go to bare their souls, to vent, to gossip. And often they do so with unabashed fervor and little self-editing, posting their innermost thoughts for any number of Web surfers to see."

But the personal blog is not the only way to use reverse chronologically posting things to a web page. For individuals and companies, the blog is a way of keeping track of and categorizing new information and sharing that with co-workers, clients, or potential employers.

The upsides of smart blogging likely outweigh the dangers of imprudent blogging. Let's look at two general ways of using blogs for good:

  1. Knowledge Management
  2. Communication and Shameless Self-Promotion

The Private Blog: Knowledge Management
Posting relevant links to a blog is the easiest way of filing such information. It gives you an archive by date and by subject and is searchable. At the job I had immediately before starting law school in 2002, I launched the use of blogs to keep track of information. If nothing else, I found it very useful. Of course, a blog is not the only way to do this-- a wiki or expensive software may be used for the same purpose, but with blogging, it is obvious when the information contained within is dated.

These blogs are not meant to be posted to the internet as a whole. Living on private servers or behind password protection, these blogs will not have the same potential external impact as a public site, but may be substantially more useful, as private bloggers do not have to worry about the rest of the world reading their posts.

Bruce MacEwen, Adam Smith Esq: Blogs As KM Platforms: One Result Is In

After six months or a year, your firm would have a valuable—and proprietary to you—knowledgebase in, to my mind, a near-perfect format: By default, sorted chronologically so that whenever "timeliness" is deemed important, it's automatically presented in that format; archived by category so that subtopics can be immediately zeroed in on; and open to comment threads so that the author's first draft is not necessarily the last word, and ideas can be refined through interchange. Even better, no one has to be trained to create and maintain a blog; as a Sun Microsystems analyst observed, "they're like pencils and paper; people know what to do with them."

Blogs may not only be easier to use than specialized software, but also much cheaper.

Keeping a constantly updated flow of information is valuable. The value of transparency and a flow of information can make blogs a useful tool on the public web, as well.

The Public Blog: Communication and Shameless Self-Promotion
Robert J. Ambrogi: Blogging's contrarians: ""As sure as thesis breeds antithesis, blogging's popularity within the legal profession is drawing some to question its value, mostly with regard to marketing."

The more transparently the blog is used for shameless self promotion, the less valuable it will be as a tool for that purpose. Simply putting forward well-written information is the best way to make a good impression.

In Between Lawyers Roundtable: The Future of Legal Blogging, Tom Mighell elaborates on how lawyers can use blogs to promote their practices: "By publishing regularly updated content in your area of practice, you can become known as a 'go-to' person in that field. Clients and would-be clients will send you work because of the valuable information you provide to them, and other lawyers who read your blog will refer work to you because you are a trusted authority in that area of law."

Kevin Heller emphasizes the importance of having an authentic voice and not trying to be obviously marketing, "Fundamentally, blogs are about connecting with others, not shilling"

For example, Wired editor Chris Anderson addressed concerns about the magazine's subscription policies on his blog: Wired subscription concerns

I normally don't delve into my day job here, but I'll make an exception today for expediency's sake. On Friday, the SF Chronicle's consumer-rights columnist ran a piece about complaints from Wired subscribers that they were getting threatening letters from a collection agency when they let their subscription lapse.
Without using his blog, Anderson would have had to wait until the next issue of Wired or edit his response to fit the constraints of a letter to the editor in the Chronicle.

For aspiring writers seeking to break into a different field, a blog is a cheap and easy way of getting noticed.

Gawkerist blogged about Gawker and eventually got a job at Gawker Media: Nick Denton Finally Pays Us to Stop Blogging: "Many correctly guessed that Gawkerist was a stunt to attract attention and finagle work through nontraditional channels. What I didn't necessarily expect was that the first people to guess this (on day 2 actually) would be everyone at Gawker Media."

Jeremy Blachman managed to turn The Anonymous Lawyer from a blog into a book deal. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people who have managed to use a blog as an entrée to a book deal, paid blogging gig, or simply a better job vastly outnumbers-- by an order of magnitude-- the number of people fired for indiscriminate personal blogging.

However, these two examples of people who managed to turn their blogs into something more lucrative were both anonymous. Those of us who are looking for work while blogging under our own names may be creating more problems for ourselves with pointless non-proofread posts that have no worthwhile conclusion.

(also posted at AndrewRaff.com)

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