I published my first piece to this blog twelve months ago to the minute. Has it really been that long? Yes, it has really been that long. And what have I learnt? What I have learnt is that the use for which I intended this website is not perhaps the use to which a website is best put. This is how I expressed myself in my very first post (just this once, I’ll dispense with a full bibliographic reference):
I am conceiving it firstly as a means by which to show how my various publications and other projects fit together into a body of work (hence the static pages), and secondly as a platform on which to publish shorter pieces of writing that don’t fit into my publication schedule (hence this blog).
Note the ‘firstly’ in the above. What I imagined was that someone who had come across my work by more conventional means – for example, in a scholarly journal or an undergraduate textbook – might be curious to discover, as the saying goes, ‘where I was coming from’, and thus might Google my name and find my website and learn that the person who had written about book clubs (say) had also written about how casualised teaching staff enact their low status in the classroom. So, for example, this site has a large number of pages with abstracts, bibliographic data, and repository links for almost everything I’ve published as an academic.
Maybe what I envisaged is happening to some extent; I don’t really know. What I will say is that after a year, the most popular of those publication pages has yet to rack up 200 views, though the publication in question has been distributed in at least 4000 physical copies in the last two years, while, by contrast, I’ve had two blog posts with over 4000 views. So, while these are all quite low numbers (there are academics whose personal blogs get millions of hits in a typical year, and undergraduate textbooks that sell in their hundreds of thousands), it’s the ‘secondly’ in the self-quoted paragraph above that has clearly won out on the quantitative level.
Here’s the other thing I’ve learnt. With regard to hits on blog postings, anything on academic politics seems to beat anything on research hands down. There’s an obvious reason for this: the potential audience for a research blogpiece is limited in much the same way as the audience for a research article, i.e. by the size of the academic community that researches its specific topic, but the potential audience for a blogpiece on academic politics crosses disciplinary boundaries.
What to do with this information? I don’t know. One thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want to spend my days blogging about academic politics just because it seems to generate more hits; when I’m motivated to say something, I’ll say it, but… I’ve got work to do.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to me from this website and my other online activities is that there are people I’ve never met who know about work I’ve done that hasn’t yet seen print. If you’re currently in the position of weighing up whether or not to launch your own academic website and/or blog, the main thing I’d recommend you to do would be to consider how important that potential benefit might be to you (unless, of course, you feel yourself destined for the upper echelons of the academic blogosphere). Speaking for myself, I’m happy with it as a payoff for the large amount of time and (relatively) small amount of money I’ve invested in this website over the last twelve months and more. There are good reasons why conferences, scholarly journals, and academic presses remain the main channels for the communication of research – but it’s nice to be able to put something out by other means, from time to time.