Personal blogs are so 1990s, yes?
This is not the late 1990s. Hey, it’s not even the early Naughties, and has not been for a while. I have had my own tiny corner of the Internet (then hosted on university Web space as it was the norm in the day) since Mosaic came under pressure from Netscape and the NYT experimented with releasing content as (I kid you not) postscript files, because PDF was not invented yet. I did this mostly because I liked computers, because it was new, and because it provided an excellent distraction from the things I should have been doing. By and large, not much changes over 25 years.
Later (that was before German universities had repositories or policies for such things), my webspace became a useful resource for teaching-related material. Reluctantly and with a certain resentment, I have copied slides and handouts from one site to the next, adding layers of disclaimers instead of leaving them behind, because some of this stuff carries hundreds of decade-old backlinks and gets downloaded / viewed dozens of times each day.
And of course, I started posting pre-publication versions of my papers, boldly ignoring / blissfully ignorant of the legal muddle surrounding the issue back in the day. Call me old fashioned, but making research visible and accessible is was the Web was invented for.
In summer 2008, I set up my own domain on a woefully underpowered shared webspace (since replaced by an underpowered virtual server). A bit earlier in the same year, already late to the party, I had started my own “Weblog” on wordpress.com, writing and ranting about science, politics, methods, and all that. A year down the road, I converted www.kai-arzheimer.com to wordpress, moved my blog over there, and have
never looked back continously wondered why I kept doing this.
Why keep blogging?
In those days of old, we had trackbacks and pingbacks & stuff (now a distant memory), and social media was the idea of having a network of interlinking personal blogs, whose authors would comment on each other’s posts. Even back in 2008 on wordpress, my blog was not terribly popular, but for a couple of years, there was a bunch of people who had similar interests, with whom I would interact occasionally.
Then, academically minded multi-author blogs came along, which greatly reduced fragmentation and aimed at making social science accessible for a much bigger audience whilst removing the need to set up and maintain a site. For similar reasons, Facebook and particularly Twitter became perfect outlets for
ranting “microblogging”, while Medium bypasses the fragmentation issue for longer texts and is far more aesthetically pleasing and faster than anything any of us could run by ourselves.
It is therefore only rational that many personal academic blogs died a slow death. People I used to read left Academia completely, gave up blogging, or moved on to the newer platforms. Do you remember blogrolls? No, you wouldn’t. Because I’m a dinosaur, I still get my news through an RSS reader (and you should, too). While there are a few exceptions (Chris Blattman and Andrew Gelman spring to mind), most of the sources in my “blog” drawer are run by collectives / institutions (the many LSE blogs, the Monkey Cage, the Duck etc.). I recently learned that I made it into an only slightly dubious looking list of the top 100 political science blogs, but that is surely because there are not many individual political science bloggers left.
So why am I still rambling in this empty Platonic man-cave? Off the top of my head, I can think of about five reasons:
- Total editorial control. I have written for the Monkey Cage, The Conversation, the LSE, and many other outlets. Working with their editors has made my texts much better, but sometimes I am not in the mood for clarity and accessibility. I want to rant, and be quick about it.
- Pre-prints. I like to have pre-publication versions of my work on my site, although again, institutional hosting makes much more sense. Once I upload them, I’m usually so happy that I want to say something about it.
- For me, my blog is still a bit like an open journal. If I need to remember some sequence of events in German or European politics for the day job, it’s helpful if I have blogged about it as it happened. Similarly, sometimes I work out the solution to some software issue but quickly forget the details. Five months later, a blog post is a handy reference and may help others.
- Irrelevance. Often, something annoys or interests me so much that I need to write a short piece about it, although few other people will care. I would have a better chance of being of finding an audience at Medium, but then again on my own wordpress-powered site, I have a perfectly serviceable CME which happens to have blogging functionality built in.
- Ease of use. I do almost all of my writing in Emacs and keep (almost) all my notes in orgmode code. Thanks to org2blog, turning a few paragraphs into a post is just some hard-to-remember key strokes away.
Bonus track: the five most popular posts in 2017
As everyone knows, I’m not obsessed with numbers, thank you very much. I keep switching between various types of analytic software and have no idea how much (or rather little) of an audience I actually have. Right now I’m back to the basic wordpress statistics and have been for over a year, so here is the list of the five posts that were the most popular in 2017.
- #5 nlcom and the Delta Method. This is a short explainer of the Delta Method and its implementation in a Stata command. It was written in the summer of 2013, presumably when we were working on surveybias, as a note-to-future-self post. It was viewed 343 times in 2017. Not too shabby for an oldie.
- #4 State of the German polls: The Schulz effect was real. Part of my 2017 poll-pooling exercise, this post demonstrates that the bounce for the SPD early in the campaign was real but short-lived. Just like this post? It got 620 views, but most of them (559) in March, right when it was published.
- #3 Similarly, Five Quick takes on the German election was viewed 869 times, but almost exclusively on election night and on the following day. Which is a pity, because some of it is still relevant (I think).
- #2 I looked up the AfD’s women’s organisation on Facebook. You will not believe what I found Posted only on December 30, this one got 878 views in the few remaining hours of the old year, almost bringing down my server in the process. Traffic was driven by Twitter, thanks to the click-baity title and the incredible image. You will not believe what I saw until you see it.
- #1 Me at the Margins: Average Marginal Effects, Marginal Effects at the Mean, and Stata’s margins command. Another short explainer involving statistical stuff and Stata. It was written in March 2011, but was viewed 1010 times in 2017. It was also the most popular post in 2016 and 2015. In all likelihood, it is the most popular thing on this blog, ever. Go figure.
Also published on Medium.