Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

An anniversary, a reflection

My wife, the remarkable Velveteen Rabbi, just announced her 10 year blogiversary, a decade since her first post about her journeys in spirituality, from a layperson who thought, read and spoke about liberal judaism and social change, to rabbinic student, to ordained congregational rabbi. Along the way she’s shared reflections, poetry, liturgy, scriptural interpretation, and a great deal of personal information about what she’s experiencing and wrestling with, including a miscarriage, a birth, parenthood, and her engagement with issues personal and political. It’s a remarkable document, one I congratulate her for building and maintaining, and urge others to read.

When Rachel tweeted that this was her 10th anniversary, I realized that it meant that I’d missed my anniversary, as I began blogging before she did. My blog started slowly. In late 2002, I met Dave Winer, who was setting up a blogging server at the Berkman Center. I started a blog and put up a test post, then forgot about it. I returned some months later when the blog post was one of the leading Google results for me, and realized that I needed to put some content on the damned thing. My blog initially whined that I had been “guilted by Google” into blogging, but I quickly got the hang of things and started blogging about African politics and what I was learning about media attention and agenda setting.

In November 2003, I moved off of Berkman’s blogging platform and onto WordPress. My first few posts are lost to history, destroyed with a Berkman server move, but I’ve got everything I published on my own site starting on November 9, 2003. Two posts from that first month are particularly interesting. On November 10th 2003, I wrote about the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda and a refugee situation described by a UN official as “worse than Iraq”. Ironically, the most visited blogpost I’ve ever written also addresses Joseph Kony and his army, when I argued that a focus on fighting the LRA in 2012 was misplaced and that Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign demanded scrutiny and reflection.

If that post shows that some issues stick around for years, another post just demonstrates how slow I am. On November 26, 2003, I wrote about a lecture I gave at Harvard Law School about Sean McBride and the UNESCO movement for a New World Information and Communication Order, an idea that is pretty central to Rewire, and a helpful reminder that I was working on that damned book a full decade ago.

I knew I’ve been blogging less in recent years, but realizing I’d missed my blogiversary sent me to the database to see just how sharp the dropoff had been. Here’s what I found:

bloggraph
Blogposts per month, November 2003 – November 2013

The data is messy because my blogging has always been inconsistent. I enjoy blogging conferences and speeches, and the peaks on this graph represent conference blogging, usually the TED or Pop!Tech conference where I blog dozens of talks in the course of three or four days. But ignoring the peaks, I hit my blogging stride somewhere in 2005 and between then and 2008, averaged about a post a day. I began having serious eye problems in 2008 and had multiple surgeries, two of which show up as low points in terms of blog postings.

I assumed that I’d started blogging less when I became a Twitter user, but the data doesn’t bear that out. I joined Twitter in March 2007, when my blogging was at its peak. More likely is that my blogging fell off when I stopped posting bookmarks from Delicious as blogposts, which I did in September 2011. I thought my lessened blogging might correlate to becoming a father, but while there’s a dip when Drew was born, I rebounded quickly. Writing a book is more clearly correlated – I signed the contract for Rewire in January 2011, but I’d worked on a proposal for at least a year before that, and my blogging took a dive in 2010 and has never really recovered.

For me, the most striking correlation in this graph is the sharp fall in blogging that takes place in June 2011. Before then, I wrote at least ten mosts a month unless I was in the hospital or tending a newborn. Since June 2011, when I began working at MIT, I’ve never written more than ten posts a month.

This is not to say that MIT is responsible for making me a bad blogger. Working is responsible for making me a bad blogger. Prior to my time at MIT, I worked part-time at Berkman as a researcher, and spent the rest of my time as a board member, social entrepreneur, blogger and public speaker. Since the summer of 2011, I’ve had wonderful new uses of my time – advising students, new lines of research – and less wonderful uses of my time – performance appraisals, grant reporting.

I don’t regret the move. Running a research center has been an amazing opportunity and has taught me tons. But this graph helps me understand why I’ve felt something missing from my life. This blog has always been a place to toy with ideas, to work things out, to figure out what I’m interested in. I hope I can change my life and make more time for it in the coming year.

3 Responses to “An anniversary, a reflection”

  1. Happy belated blogiversary, sweetheart. I thought I remembered that you’d started off at cyber.law.harvard.edu!

    It’s kind of amazing to see what you were writing about when you started — and the throughlines between then and now.

    The graph is totally fascinating. What cool data to have. :-)

    I hope there’s more space for blogging in your future, too.

  2. Andrew W says:

    Congrats (to your both)!

    I’m glad you labeled “Twitter”, Ethan, because it’s both an event in time and, at that moment, a new medium to figure out the benefits/limits of.

    For me, I can pinpoint each of the major changes in my writing to the “best available medium” rather than life events. Whether hand-written letters in high school and college, typed-up fiction in grad school, blogging in early professional life, and then Twitter and Facebook, the motivation had always been “How do I communicate my thoughts to others both well and where there are others? Letter-writing (and email) was no doubt where I communicated best but reached the fewest people; posts to Facebook are often the worst but reach hundreds, including the occasional “acknowledgment of a well-communicated thought” through likes and comments.

    So it’s always great to read your blog, knowing that the writing is thoughtful — in both senses, that it’s on topics of significance to others and that you’ve taken the time to think things through — and that one can see other readers engaging with it, that it’s not a diary left open in the back of the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” warehouse.

  3. Alexei says:

    Beautiful graph and a thoughtful post, as usual. Just one thing. The social networks are clearly somewhat responsible for the relative decline of blogging, as you hint. But too many people are just referring to that fact blandly, as though it must simply be accepted. Actually, it is a major problem. There is no equivalence between blogging and “Twitter ‘n Facebook”. One is an open and democratic extension of the web, the other is proprietary technology controlled by data-hoovering corporations. When bloggers and post-bloggers talk about these technological changes, it would be nice if they remembered this fact, and perhaps threw a word out to the people trying to do something about it. Dave Winer, for example.

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