Sunday, February 11, 2007

Raising the Profile of Medieval Bloggers

Ms. Laing posted the following as a comment to "A Rant on Medieval Blogs and Links":
I am teaching an online freshman medieval history and literature course for Western Michigan University (yup, I have the joy of living in the heart of Kzoo's congress). I am having my student groups write essays on various pieces of medieval literature as a part of their course and we post the drafts at http://www.mdvl1450.blogspot.com/ in order for them to get real life responses to their work. I want them to see that more people than just their professor care about the Middle Ages, but I am not getting much/any traffic to comment on their essays. I linked to your blog and a few others I found, do you have any other suggestions for a newbie?

It seems so weird to me that I've become known as a veteran in an activity I've only been doing for a year-and-a-half, but such is the cyber life. Rather than responding in the comments of that old post, I thought I'd move the conversation up here to the forefront.

Blogging, like any other form of writing, has its own conventions. These conventions are still ill-defined for blogging because of the newness of the genre, but they are there. Because of its ease, blogging has become a sort of catch-all form of quick and simple publication, but in some cases the genre acts against the purposes of the writing. I think that the specific case of Ms. Laing's class might be that the conventions of blogging don't exactly mesh with what her class is trying to do, which may be the reason she isn't getting the traffic she would like. Rather than deal with her specifics, though, I'd rather deal more generally with the issue of how we increase blog medieval blog traffic.

First of all, let's acknowledge that though there is a potential problem about profile among medieval bloggers, it could be worse. A Google search I performed on the word "medieval" today yielded not one single blog in the first 20 pages of hits (and I got sick of looking at that point), but for the most part the hits in those first twenty pages were decent sites promoting books or medieval studies programs. In trying to raise our profile, then, it should not necessarily be our goal to displace those other sites. Our goal should be to create a complimentary structure, not a competing structure.

Blogging is about conversation. In my view (and I know I have colleagues who disagree vociferously about this), blogging is about public conversation, not just scholarly conversation. I'm always glad when I get comments from other scholars, of course, but we've also got Listserv e-mail groups that perform that same function. Though the cliche of the blogosphere is as an "echo chamber," in my mind the goal is to reach beyond our little communities.

As of this writing, the Wordhoard has had just under 50,000 unique visitors. To give some absurdly exact figures, as of this moment the Unlocked Wordhoard has averaged 69.6 unique visitors per day. We have regular visitors from every continent except Antarctica (and I'm working on researching Antarctic medieval issues, such as the Frozen Knights of South Frisia). Pretty fancy, eh? Pretty successful, eh? Gosh, I must be the most influential medievalist in the whole woooooorld!

Well, not really. Let's consider the first month. That very first month I had 56 unique visitors, and I was pretty happy to get them. When measured against current events sites like Little Green Footballs and the Daily Kos, that number is so tiny as to be microscopic, but this isn't a current events site, and can never hope to get that kind of traffic. So how did I go from 56 visitors a month to more than that every day?

Currency. Not money, but the true currency of the internet: links. Links are everything. No links and you are bankrupt. Many links and you are cyber-wealthy. And like any other good capitalist, I understand that currency gets its true value from being traded.

My first big incoming link was from Poliblog. A colleague here at Troy University has a successful blog named Poliblog, and when he discovered my blog he linked here, and got me my first bump in traffic (by the way, his post on The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging is required reading for anyone intending to blog, and it was written as a gentle rebuke to me, at that time an unrepentant sinner). The second big bump was Evangelical Outpost, where Joe Carter has linked to me a few times. Interestingly, being put on The Truth Laid Bear's Academic community, which I thought was THE BIG TIME, has yielded almost no traffic -- indeed, I can't remember the last time I got a single referral from there.

About 90% of my traffic is from Google, which often sends people to my page when they are seeking information about a midieval literary topic. Somehow I've gotten into a golden circle wherein people search for terms, are sent to me, and link to me, which in turn raises my Google profile even higher. The bumps from Poliblog and Evangelical Outpost aside (please note that neither are medieval or literary sites), I did this quite on accident, through a very simple method -- engaging in a conversation.

Aside from the very, very good advice Steven Taylor gives in his Seven Deadly Sins (pinging your blogroll, using Trackbacks, etc.), my main advice is to engage in conversation with the kind of people you want to link back to you. Be a promiscuous commentor and linker. When you go on someone's page and make an interesting comment, they'll become interested in YOU, and will more likely click that profile link back to your page. Sometimes, nothing comes of that, but sometimes they add you to their blogroll.

Commenting, though, is not enough. You need also to have extended responses on your own page. If your comments are more than a few sentences, consider writing them up as a post to your own blog and linking to the original post. Even if you have zero traffic on your blog, this can get you noticed. In my own case, I check my list of referrers every few days to see if there is anyone I should add to my blogroll. Linking to me will often get me to add you to my blogroll, with a few exceptions (such as static sites that don't update). Get into a real conversation, and people will begin to take notice of what's on your blog.

Now, back to the problem of the conventions of blogging. It strikes me that Ms. Laing's blog isn't really conducive to conversation. It has multiple posts, but these are all posted on two days. Since these are student papers, scholars aren't likely to comment much on them, because we've got our own student papers to comment on. Non-scholars are even less likely to comment. It isn't that there's anything wrong with putting papers out in the public domain to ask for comments, it is simply that a blog might not be the best forum for that. Presumably this post and the link will send a little traffic there, but in a week the link will have slipped into the archives, and then what? Somehow you've got to get those student papers in conversation with the blogosphere.

People look at the prominent medieval bloggers and think, "those guys all talk to each other because they are prominent" -- but that's backwards. We're prominent because we all talk with each other. Look at how many of the medieval bloggers are grad students or are off in academic backwaters. The difference is that we talk to one another, and so we notice one another, and trade in the currency of links.

So, medieval bloggers out there, let's raise our profile. Link like you work in a sausage plant. Praise the work of your colleagues when it is praiseworthy. Spread the word about interesting medieval events. Make off-the-cuff-but-on-topic comments. Respectfully but firmly disagree with one another. Be funny, be intimate, be academic. Remember this above all: Your field is medieval studies, which is INHERENTLY COOL! People will be interested if you start talking about it publically! Don't believe me? I've got 50,000 unique visitors who say otherwise, and would probably love to hear what you have to say too.

14 comments:

  1. Your audience is probably bigger than you suspect, given the number of people who subscribe to your feed but don't click over unless it's to comment (like me, right here).

    How much bigger, I don't know, but certainly bigger.

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  2. Medieval Geek1:50 PM

    I believe part of the issue as well might be that there are several somewhat overlapping but individual blogging communities as well. I wrote a bit on my own experience with this.

    Most people that join one of the blogging communities such as livejournal, facebook, or myspace aren't going to move outside of their comfort zone. Which means that you're losing those audiences unless you have a presence on those media (whether or not you _want_ an audience on those media is another story). Luckily in the case of facebook and livejournal at least you can create an rss feed for your journal, which means you don't have to copy and paste it. Myspace used to be able to do such things, but they've subsequently closed up their system.

    What would be ideal would be something that would update comments across all the various groups as well as your actual blog you post at. This, I think, would have the benefit of creating a meta-community and helping to facilitate breaking down some of the barriers social-networking platforms have created for, well, social networking.

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  3. Scott,

    Yeah, it probably is more. My point was not really to make the silly claim that I'm "the most influential medievalist in the whole woooooorld," but to point out that if tens of thousands are making their way HERE to read my posts, those same tens of thousands would likely be just as interested in reading the enlightening and pithy posts of my blogospheric colleagues. All we've got to do is get into conversation with each other.

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  4. Rounding up there quite a bit aren't you?

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  5. And speaking of links, I'm hurt that I'm not longer on your blogroll. :(

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  6. Darn, I wish I'd known about the Heroes and Villains blog project *before* my class read Beowulf, or, ideally, before I made my syllabus. If I had, I might have assigned my students to read *her* students' posts, comment, and post longer responses on their own blog! That might be a way to make a class blog lively and a way to satisfy Ms. Laing's purpose of showing her students that other people care about this stuff, too. Or at least have to suffer through it. ;)

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  7. Medieval Geek7:10 PM

    Dear god, after having gone through the day and being on the other side, my post sounds like bad composition writing. I blame freaking out about grad school applications taking up way too much of my headspace these days. Hopefully my point still made sense?

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  8. Jan,

    Yeah, the 50k was a typo. It should be 40k. And, truth be told, I'm not sure HOW you got dropped off my blogroll. You're still on my list of permanent Troy links, you'll notice. I'll re-add you today.


    And, Medieval Geek, your post really helped me create a meta-community and facilitate breaking down some of the barriers social-networking platforms have created. Heh heh.

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  9. Jan,

    Yeah, the 50k was a typo. It should be 40k. And, truth be told, I'm not sure HOW you got dropped off my blogroll. You're still on my list of permanent Troy links, you'll notice. I'll re-add you today.


    And, Medieval Geek, your post really helped me create a meta-community and facilitate breaking down some of the barriers social-networking platforms have created. Heh heh.

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  10. Thanks for the re-add. And I did notice that I was still in the perma-link section. Thanks for that too.

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  11. I linked here from Evangelical Outpost and immediately added it to my Bookmarks. We do a bit of blogging on topics medieval over at Mere Orthodoxy, so I'm encouraged to encounter a medieval professor in the blogosphere.

    We'll do our best to follow your advice and get our readership up!

    I also recommend medieval bloggers to attend GodBlog Conference hosted annually at Biola University in the Autumn. Yes, the name is cheesy, but it draws quite a few high-profile bloggers, and medievalists would fit right in. You can check it out at www.godblogcon.com.

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  12. Oops, here's the link to our blog: www.mereorthodoxy.com.

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  13. Soon the Medievalists.net website is going to have a blogging section which I hope will become the go to list for bloggers to go and see who is blogging what. The site is taking a long time to do, but I promise it will be up soon.

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  14. Hi everybody :)
    This is a great post.I have started a blog on medieval topics , but not from a academic perspective, `cause my studies are in social science, but from a passionate person`s view.
    It is only the beginning for me, but I`m glad I have discovered this blog and use it as source of information.

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