Friday, November 26, 2004

What's the Point?

Now that I have a few posts under my belt, it is time to ask the pertinent question: Why? I have been perusing some of the writings on the subject. If you are interested in a single source to start, I would recommend a slim volume by Rebecca Blood, The Weblog Handbook (you can find it on Amazon here).

There seem to be two parts to this:
  • personal to the maintainer (for the moment, that's me)
  • focus/objective
These two are related, but let's separate them for discussion purposes.

There is a reasonable commitment related to maintaining a blog. Whether the maintainer is a person or a group/community, it has to have a point of view or opinions you feel worthwhile enough to share with others. If you don't want to share them you may as well keep a private journal. And if the opinions are essentially conventional wisdom there is no need to share them. They are already available. In addition, since most "writing is thinking" committing opinions to writing helps clarify them, refine them and, for others, making explicit and explaining them and possibly persuading some in the audience.

But all the advice I see on this subject emphasizes that the level of commitment is such that tailoring posts to "build an audience" or appeal to as many people as possible is a bad strategy. Blog editors express themselves by what they write and (importantly) by what they link to. The personality of a blog (as opposed to an electronic magazine, say) is directly related to what the links are and the voice that is used to put them in context. But just collecting a bunch of "public health" links (of which there are probably hundreds or thousands of candidates, daily) isn't either that interesting or that useful. Anyone can use a free news aggregator like NetNewsWire for the Mac or SharpReader for Windows for this purpose. So to make this work you need to link to and comment on things that truly interest you or the community. Without that, I think the effort is eventually doomed. With it, it will evolve and prosper. The Weblog Handbook quotes Cyril Connolly as saying, "Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self." Seems like good political, as well as personal, advice. Are you listening John Kerry and DNC?

As regards focus/objective, it is already narrowed down quite a bit to public health concerns, not a family journal, election politics or food, to take common examples of blog subjects. But that still leaves a lot of territory and prompts the original question, "To what effect?"

Here are some functions I think a blog can fulfill:
  • Filter information from the web and elsewhere pertinent to our point of view and of use and interest to the public health community;
  • Provide context for that information;
  • Provide alternate points of view (challenging the conventional wisdom or the unspoken assumptions that get in the way of finding "out of the box" solutions);
  • Encourage argument, examination and evaluation of important issues for the purpose of fashioning a coherent point of view that can be framed and efficiently and effectively communicated;
  • Accrue an audience specifically interested and attuned to that point of view, which may be small, but if coordinated can exert significant influence and leadership.
These are advance ruminations, made without much experience doing this (although with more hours than I care to admit reading other blogs). I expect that if I continue things will evolve and (I hope) mature.

So having done my due diligence of reflection, I'll return to trying this out some more. I hope to post later in the day.