February 4, 2009

If you don't have a blog you don't have a resume (Part 1)

I was just going to call this post "On Blogging" but I decided I like Robert Scoble's rather provocative statement better. This is not to say that I agree with his rather extreme stance, because I definitely don't, but I think it's an interesting way to frame this rather long list of links I've collected over the last little while.

The point here is to make the case that blogging is good for your career. It's been good for me and it's been good for a lot of other people and I think it has potential for everyone.

Now, is everyone a blogger-in-waiting? Of course not. Would absolutely everyone actually benefit from blogging? Probably not. And if absolutely everyone did take up blogging, would the massive amount of noise generated actually cancel itself out and end up hardly benefiting anyone at all? Probably.

That being said, let's take a look at what's been making me think about blogging lately.

First of all, let's take a look at the Wired article that started all the fuss:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug.

Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

As Walt Crawford said during his recent OLA presentation, you know for sure that blogs have entered the useful tools stage of the technology life cycle when Wired says that they're dead, buried and useless because it's no longer possible to become a famous blogger overnight.

Well, I don't know about you, but I long ago gave up on being an A-list blog. So, does blogging actually offer anything to the average person? Is it possible to use a blog to build a reputation in a niche area?

Let's see what the blogosphere is telling us about these questions:

What's the motivation for any user-generated content on the web anyways? Why toil away in obscurity, commenting on YouTube videos or gaming sites or anywhere? Because there truly is a reputation economy out there that is divorced from money. And if you can build reputation that way, it's often possible to leverage that for real-world benefit (or just egoboo): Will Work for Praise: The Web's Free-Labor Economy
Beyond brand-hungry strivers, masses of free laborers continue to toil without ever seeing a payday, or even angling for one. Many find compensation in currencies that predate the market economy. These include winning praise from peers, earning an exalted place within a community, scoring thrills from winning, and finding satisfaction in helping others.

Of course, a lot of what happens is merely attention seeking, shouting "me me me" into the void. What's the point of attracting attention?
Attention is easy to measure:
  • You can record the number of people subscribing to your blog.
  • You can count the number of people citing your research papers.
  • You can point to your number of followers on Twitter or your number of friends on Facebook.

However, I do not blog or write research papers merely to grab attention. Instead, I seek to increase my reputation. While attention fluctuates depending on your current actions, reputation builds up over time based on your reliability, your honesty, and your transparency. To build a good reputation, you do not need to do anything extraordinary: you just need to be consistent over a long time.

So, blogging can build your reputation.

What does a library school student have to say about the benefits. These ideas are certainly applicable to anyone starting out in a new career or even faced with a potential job hunt mid-career:
A list of reasons why every library school student should become a blogger:
  1. Self-promotion.
    Let's face it: when you apply for your first full-time gig after graduation, your potential employer will be going through a stack of CVs from people just like you, and every single candidate will have an MLIS, and the vast majority of them will have some experience working in the field. If you don't make your CV stand out, it will never make it to the top of the pile, so you need something to show how special you are. Blogging shows that you're interested in the field and have ideas to contribute, so when you include your blog's URL on your CV, employers will take notice...

  2. Becoming part of the community
    As students, we're already part of a community; library programs tend to be small enough that we get to know most of our classmates, and this is important since we will likely work with many of these people in the future. But wouldn't it be great to have a network of contacts outside of school, made up of people who share your interests and are able to provide advice and support?...

  3. The opportunity to put your thoughts into writing
    If you're like me and enjoy writing, then keeping a blog is a fun way to organize your thoughts. If you're not like me, then keeping a blog is a way to encourage yourself to practice your writing.

There also seem to be a lot of caveats to the whole blogging thing in academia, though. Are the downsides real or just myths?
Blogging is dangerous for non-tenured faculty: Blogging will not get you tenure. Neither will giving talks worldwide. Tenure is usually granted because you were able to hold a decent research program, and you showed respect for the students. However, if blogging prevents you from getting tenure, something is very wrong with your blogging or your school...

Serious researchers have no time for blogging: Indeed, there is always another paper to write and more time to spend at the library, isn’t there? Let me quote Downes on this: If you are spending time in meetings, spending time traveling or commuting to work, spending time reading books and magazines, spending time telephoning people (or worse, on hold, or playing phone tag) then you are wasting time that you could be spending connecting to people online.

Blogging distracts you away from the research: bloggers do not tend to write about their latest research results. We tend to write about ideas that will not make it into our research papers. Is it a distraction? It might be, but does blogging cause you to lose focus in your research? I doubt it...

That's it for now. Next time we'll have four more posts that take a look at the concrete benefits of blogging.

Update 2009.02.11: Part 2!


Anonymous said...

I have to admit that my primary reason for blogging is to become part of a greater community. Not everyone is in a position to become part of a faculty or school and to interact with other scholars on a regular basis. If you're feeling somewhat isolated, blogging helps to break down the barriers.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the comment about Wired. Certainly there is a difference between the desire to be famous and the desire to be a participant in the issues and discussions of a profession.

Anonymous said...

just an fyi: some employers are quite rigid when it comes to blogs, even if you put up the usual disclaimer "these are my personal opinions...", going so far as to discipline employees...sad but true...also, maybe it's just me but a lot of library bloggers seem to be posting a lot less these days (yourself being an exception), I wonder why?

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, everyone.

rvitelli, ultimately, the only thing that keeps us all blogging is for what it brings us. I think that reputation accrues to us as a byproduct of blogging about what interests us.

Joe, like I said above, the reputation aspects have to be secondary to making a contribution in the chicken-egg aspects of all this. If you blog to become famous, that will be your reputation.

Anon, yeah, it's a problem. There aren't really any ways around it in the corporate setting. Employers should realize that their employees reputations reflect on them -- but they worry about this in the context of employees building *bad* reputations.

Anonymous said...

Great post and links--thanks for writing! It's funny how timely your commentary was--I've been mulling over similar thoughts re: the benefits of blogs and other forms of social media. I think I'm going to post a link to your blog in mine--let me know if you mind, and if the latter I'll put it down.


John Dupuis said...

Thanks, Ev. I don't mind at all. Link love is what blogging is all about!

the.effing.librarian said...

I comment so I can see my name on other people's blogs.

ok. kidding. I blog for fun and the ego boost of seeing that people are willing come back to read more. it bothers me that a blog might "give me a reputation" because my only real intent is to have some fun.

John Dupuis said...

Effing, that's the joy of blogging pseudonymously.


Daniel Lemire said...

Thanks for this great post.

I would not be so quick to replace blogging by Twittering or Facebooking. Jumping on the latest and newest tool is not always the best long term strategy.

I am convinced that the real blogs are here to stay. They may evolve, but I do not see anything that can replace them, yet. What is a real blog? A place where someone writes good prose and share thoughtful ideas.

anjith said...

my first reason for blogging is to become part of a community,i'm also a member in orkut,face book etc..i think latest tool for creating a commuity or joining a community is blogging.we can create it by blogger with google account,a good blog contains useful and informative articles...as daniel said Jumping on the latest and newest tool is not always the best long term strategy.