The Twilight of the Blogs

A few months ago Bill Caraher declared that this is a “golden age” of blogging about the ancient world, a sentiment that I find hard to disagree with despite the popular idea of a blogpocaplyse. And yet when Neville Morley posted last week about a decline in blog traffic, that, too rang true.

Caraher subsequently posted a reflection on the changing rhythm of blogs, suggesting: “Instead of blogs maturing into a less-formal and more intimate complement to the scholarly discourse, blogs have become places where we negotiate the social conscience of our fields.

I am perhaps a little too aware of my blog traffic. Since switching to the WordPress platform I have had slow, but steady year over year growth. Although much of this growth is attributable to the WordPress reader, the single largest referrer, particularly when a post blows up, is Twitter.

(The exception to this statement is an intermittent flurry of activity from India any time there is an election because I once wrote about Intizar Husain’s Basti.)

Ultimately, though, I am small potatoes. “Growth” here is relative in that I started virtually from scratch and do very little promotion outside linking to each post in a tweet.

Nor do I really engage with scholarship or sources like most substantial classics-related blogs. I’ve written about this before, but, in short, my writing has passed through several iterations before settling into what it is now: a catchall where I can write about things for which I do not have another outlet. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, and, for instance, I don’t write about books for any other outlet (at the moment––I would love to start), so those posts go here.

At the same time, blog posts are as resource where I can direct people should I not have space to give a substantial answer. To give just one example, a Twitter-friend asked about The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, a book I wrote about last year and so in addition to a short answer on Twitter, I was able to point to the longer thoughts here. Similarly, I wrote reflections about the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting in San Diego and in defense of graduate programs at non-elite schools, as well as posting a reading list for teaching at the college level. Like the examples Caraher gives, the most trafficked posts are those grappling with the social or structural issues in academia and rely on viral (at least by my standards) transmission.

Other platforms serve other purposes. Podcasts give the sense of being a silent participant in the conversation. Instagram allows me to post pictures of things I bake and places I go. Twitter tends toward the ephemeral, albeit with a long public record, as it flies by in quick drips that fit both hot-take culture and the large number of demands on our attention.

Does this mean that the current blog landscape is populated not by survivors living in a new Eden, but those who are already dead and just don’t know it?

Yes and no. A few years ago I noticed that a blurring between reportage and analysis or opinion on news sites. The suggested “articles” were increasingly from the latter category, on blogs hosted by the site. This says to me that the problem of declining traffic isn’t a matter of “blogs,” but of unaffiliated blogs. Based on the comments on Morley’s post, I am hardly alone in struggling to see value in writing substantial posts for a personal blog since the odds of it being picked up are significantly lower.

But, as Caraher notes, blogging has matured in a somewhat different direction, and each blog will reflect the individual author(s). Traffic is a sort of validation, but reasons to blog exist beyond that alone. So long as I see value in using this space to organize my thoughts I will continue to blog. At the moment I am confident enough that I plan to use student-run blogs in two of my classes for the upcoming semester.

Programming Update, June 2018

Summer 2018 has set in, making this a good time to update what is going on here. The spring semester concluded a few weeks ago and I promptly left on a whirlwind road trip that included Savannah, Washington DC, New York City and Vermont, before returning to a 94-degree day in Central Missouri. It was a good trip, but a busy one that left little time for reading, let alone writing.

I am resolved to spend time recuperating this summer after a busy semester that included some medical issues that were probably related to stress and/or anxiety. At the same time, though, I have been hired to teach a three-week World History course in June and am trying to submit a book proposal by the end of the summer. The proposal itself is essentially set, but I am still editing the accompanying sample chapters. (My current worry is that that the chapters are weaker than the proposal.) These are my two concrete projects, but I also have ambitions to rewrite my application materials, rethink the structure of my Greek history class, and work on some of my other academic projects—before considering any of my non-academic projects, including some work to expand and develop some of the pages on this site.

Suffice to say that I have my work cut out for me this summer. I will be writing here this summer as topics come up, much as I have in this past and hopefully without lengthy lulls. To that end, I have two book write-ups planned and will probably write about writing, historical topics, and other varia. This space remains adjacent to my professional identity, but not limited to it, more John Scalzi’s Whatever than Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s Classics at the Intersections or Joel Christensen’s Sententiae Antiquae. I admire people who run dedicated professional blogs and have found myself writing about professional issues with more regularity in the past few years, but still like to have a space to write about other topics.

New Beginnings

Time-stamps on blog posts can be misleading because the one associated with a post can be manipulated. (There are more exact markers, I am sure, but those are beyond me.) Nevertheless, the time stamp with this post can be trust: I am writing this in the afternoon of January 15, a Sunday.

There are hundreds of posts that come before this one and yet this is the first post written here. This morning I had a spurt of what might be termed inspiration (or mania or ambition or whatever) and finally got around to trying to build a new site. One of the main things holding me back from doing so long before this is that while I wanted to be more integrated with the WordPress (or some other) network and to have the site more closely associated with my own name, I also wanted to keep the things I had written before, warts and all. So I did some research, and then some more, and some more. Nothing was quite what I was looking for.

This morning I took the leap. I am sure there was a better way to make this transition and that my way was needlessly complex and now that I have slowed down fiddling with what I was doing I am second guessing the route I took, but the main thing is that I did it. I did not shut down my old blog, but wrote a post redirecting readers here and that is how it will stay for the foreseeable future. (This decision is practical as well, seeing as I may yet decide to transfer my hosting back at some point.)

This site will change in the coming days, weeks, months, and years in ways both small and large. The main thing right now is that it marks a new beginning even as I continue on from what was there before.

Life Online: Putting the Meme in Memoir

Life Online

Patrick Rothfuss is the host of Storyboard (presented by Geek and Sundry). I have only seen a few of these, but the latest episode–featuring Jenny Lawson, John Scalzi, and Wil Wheaton–was particularly worth seeing. It is an hour and a half of watching four smart, thoughtful and engaged people commenting about writing and blogging. The individuals had a great rapport and that is entertaining to watch. As authors, bloggers and people, the participants have some insights for people who struggle with audience, self-image, depression, writing and performance…and have some comments about parenthood.

I highly recommend this episode for bloggers, authors or anyone who is interested in knowing more about any of the authors.