Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Pause for Reflection - October 2006

Looking at the dashboard controlling the four blogs that I am directly involved with, I see that I am now up to 233 posts. This is in fact a lot of writing.

I have always written, I like the process because of the thinking processes involved. But until recently much of my writing has been done in one way or another in a work context. I have had a number of books in outline, at one stage working in Canberra I even kept a writer's diary writing down descriptions and thoughts for later use, but somehow day to day events always intervened. Now I seem to be writing steadily.

In conversations, an earlier post on this blog, I reported on some of the things I liked about this blog in particular. More recently, I have been looking across all four blogs that I am involved with to see what I have learned.

One thing that I have learned is the need to distinguish between the writing and publishing function. Most bloggers - and this is true of me as well - think of their blogs in writing terms, sharing thoughts with a broader world. But blogs also involve publishing, a very different activity. Let me try to illustrate.

Traffic on the four blogs that I am involved with is tiny compared with some other blogs. I can only stand in awe of the traffic and involvment flowing to blogs like John Quiggin's or David Maister's. John sometimes gets 70+ comments on a single post, David 50+. Even so, my own numbers are instructive.

The total number of page impressions has grown from 1,792 (July), 2,983 (August), 4,384 (September) to 5,761 (October month to date pro-rata). These raw figures are affected by my own visits, they are quite frequent, but on the basis that my own activity is reasonably constant, I am now attracting perhaps 3,000 page impressions per month.

Putting this in publishing terms, my four blogs are now equivalent to a small stable of e-publications. So I need to think about publishing issues in much the same way as any other publisher. For that reason, I have just run an editorial statement on all four blogs primarily addressing myself so that I have my own policy statement.

The varying experience across the four blogs has been interesting in itself. In all cases the blogs went through a search process as I tried to define what I was on about, tried to build initial content. There seems to be a basic critical mass rule here, that accumulated content has to get to a critical minimum point both to attract readers and make subsequent content creation easier. Beyond this point, experience between the blogs has varied.

Established to provide information about work, life and play in Regional Australia, the Regional Living Australia blog is a partisan blog in that I am trying to sell as well as tell the story of Regional Australia.

This has so far proved the most difficult blog to establish. This is partially due to its newness (the first post was on 23 July), but also reflects the breadth of the potential target audience on one side, the huge diversity in the regional experience on the other. Only now after two and a half months and 42 posts am I starting to get a feel as to direction. One conclusion - one that applies on other blogs as well - is the need to develop a thematic approach that might interest readers while also building content for reference/search purposes.

The Managing the Professional Services Firm blog is very different in that it is a professional blog intended to encourage discussion about the professions and their management while allowing me to publish some of my material.

This, too, proved a difficult blog to get going. Again I needed to build content, while the breadth and silo nature of the professions also creates targeting difficulties. One of the messages that I have been trying to get across are the commonalities across the professions, the way in which different professions can learn from each other, but this runs up against the silos that I am trying to overcome.

I still do not have enough feedback on this blog to know whether or not I am getting it right. However, I take some initial comfort here from the way that the traffic figures have suddenly accelerated if from a very low base.

New England, Australia and Personal Reflections and have been the easiest blogs to get going and also a lot of fun.

Like Regional Living Australia, New England, Australia is a partisan blog in that I am trying to sell as well as tell the story of New England.

Originally established primarily as a vehicle to self-publish some of my own historical research that would otherwise have been lost, the blog has evolved to serve a broader purpose focused (as the mast head says) on the history, life and culture of Australia's New England. There is just so much to say here that selection is a key problem as is balance between topics.

One of the pleasing things about the New England blog is that I am getting enough feedback to suggest that I am achieving at least part of my objectives, although this can make it a little hard to stay on topic in that it takes me in all sorts of interesting directions.

Exactly the same thing happens on Personal Reflections. I try to avoid commenting on daily events unless I can add something, then I read a story like Neil's story today on the HSC (this began in NSW this morning) and feel like commenting. Then, too, I get a comment like Lexcen's on problems in Australian manufacturing I know that there is something else I should write about. And all this at a time when I have yet to finalise other series.

One interesting issue that has emerged is the nature of cross-overs between blogs. I suppose that this is inevitable given the way in which my interests link together. So I wrote the story on Bill Hughes on the Opera House on this blog, but it could have gone just as well on the New England blog. Then you get another cross-over in education and training between this blog and Managing the Professional Services firm.

Another interesting issue is to find the best way of managing an increasing volume of content. At the simplest level, I would rather not make unintentionally inconsistent or contradictory statements. Then, too, I want to be able to find past material so that I can draw from it again, present linkages. And I would also like to be able to consolidate and re-present material to make it more easily accessible.

When I can afford it, what I would really like to do is to have a personal web site backing the blogs up to give people easier access to more complex stuff in different formats. Ah well, one step at a time.

I had intended to conclude this post with a section summarising main discussion themes. This will have to wait given the length of this post.

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