It’s been a year since I started this blog and tradition dictates I do a spot of navel-gazing – talk about this blog and the process of blogging, that sort of thing.
Over the past year I’ve published 58 posts, received nearly 200 comments and received over 20,000 page views. It’s been fun, exciting and educational. For me at least.
My first post here in August 2011 was about Sexy Geology. You probably didn’t know that as very few people read it; August is a rubbish time for geo-blogging, as you’re all out enjoying yourselves in the field. When I say started here, I mean at all-geo.org/metageologist. I’d already written a few posts at Erratics slightly to the left of here on all-geo.org. BTW, if you’d like to try geo-blogging then start doing it now. There is no down-side, no commitment and you’ll get publicity and encouragement to die for.
This support won’t just come from Chris and Anne here at all-geo, but from pretty much everyone you’ll come across. The geoblogosphere is a really friendly place. Of the comments I’ve received, a few have pounced on lazy, slack mangling of fine details of the science but none have been simply negative. Most are positive and encouraging, which is very motivational indeed. I speak as someone behind a good spam filter of course.
My second post here was Relict of the flood? which is part of a type of post I think of as ‘what I did on my holidays’ – picture led, light on geological detail, often with a historical twist. My next post, the perhaps over-provocatively named What you ought to know about metamorphism started a whole series. When writing about the Vredefort impact crater I wanted to quickly describe how pressure and temperature estimates are derived for metamorphic rocks. Starting as a sentence sub-clause this quickly swelled beyond a paragraph and eventually into seven blog-posts. I enjoyed writing multiple posts on a theme, so when I scanned some photos of Mount Everest I took the opportunity to write 10 posts about the geology of mountains before finally posting the pics.
Given the way blogs are consumed, I wonder if following themes in this way is of more use to me than to you. Looking at my usage statistics (which I do too often) there is a clear bimodal distribution. When a post goes up there is a flurry of activity over a few days. I use Twitter to publicise new posts, but in practice most traffic comes from @geoblogfeed or related traffic. The size of this initial spike depends a lot on whether the post is (re-)tweeted by some of the movers and shakers of geo-Twitter.
Once the dust dies down, its down to the Gods of Google to decide if a post sinks or swims. A big chunk of my traffic comes from search terms relating to metamorphic petrology, partly I think because there is not a lot else out there. Another lump of traffic is using terms like ‘world altitude map’ because a wikicommons altitude map I borrowed comes up first on my site in Google image search. What I learnt from this is that lots of people search for images, so if you have good ones always tag them properly (even if they are not yours). I think of images as my weak spot, but I find there is an awful lot available under Creative Commons on flickr, searchable via a handy site. I always try to act in accordance with the wishes of the creator, of course.
Some search terms that lead to hits look like sections of questions that students have just thrown into Google. A lot of the enjoyment I get out of writing posts is explaining complicated things. When I was a post-graduate student I enjoyed demonstrating in practical or field classes, for the same reason. There my job was to work alongside the formal teaching provided by the lecturer, helping with student’s understanding. When I get feedback that my blogs are helping in a similar way, I’m very pleased.
As well as indulging the bits of my brain that are still full of geology, blogging has allowed me to learn new skills. Regular practice of writing must have done me some good; I’m quicker at it certainly, also more likely to delete text during review. I now realise that writing is more about what you leave out than what you add – a sign I am no longer a complete novice. I think more about structure than I used to; I’m more likely to start writing an outline rather than just pile in with writing text. My default structure that has diffused into me from years of reading the Economist is: <opening paragraph with context, striking image/story/etc> <facts and explanation> <closing paragraph, summary and link back to opening paragraph>. It works, but at some point I’ll feel the need to try something different.
One of the things motivating me to blog is a strong case of book-envy. A number of my friends from university have written books. While I may never find the time, or discover a suitable subject, or acquire the skills to keep a reader’s attention for hundreds of pages, my blogging might be a step towards becoming a published author one day. In the meantime I can tell myself that books are sooooo twentieth century.
What next? More of the same I think. One of the nice things about the blogosphere is that putting in the work seems to makes a difference. The people who have put the most work in for the longest are the ones with the most Twitter followers, the biggest profile. In such a meritocracy I need to keep plugging away, improving and keep trying to produce interesting well-written posts and see what happens. This isn’t my day-job so anything is a bonus.
A staple of scientific blogging is writing about specific scientific papers. I’ll be doing a lot more of this and I like the idea of focussing on open access papers, or to be precise papers that are available on the internet. I like the idea of guiding folk without access to university libraries towards real-live scientific papers. I may follow some specific themes with these posts such as “how mountains die”, eclogites and how granites intrude.
My blogging is guided by my academic experience, hence the hard-rock bias. Often I catch-up with a subject and see how it has progressed since I studied it in the 1990s. Posts that talk about what ‘people used to think’ and what ‘we know realise’ are tracing my own journey of discovery. At some point I will write about my own PhD research as well. I’ve referred to it occasionally, but for some reason I’ve never got into it. One day I’ll bore you silly with the west of Ireland, the glories of Currywongaun and how I argued with a zircon and won.
Enough. Having talked about the importance of structure, I’m worried I’ll prove my point with a long rambling post that goes nowhere. I’ll wrap-up with a request. On the Internet, concentrated attention and thought is a precious resource, so I know I’m asking you a biiiig favour – please provide a spot of feedback on this blog. What do you like, what do you dislike, what would you like to see more of?**Please don’t be taken in my British self-deprecation. I think many of my posts here are really rather good, I’m just not comfortable saying so in public except in small italic font. I know this blog could be even better though, so I’m not looking for encouragement (although its always nice) so much as genuine constructive criticism and suggestions of new avenues to explore. Thanks!