Monday, March 31, 2008

Changing the world, one blog at a time

I am teaching a unit on media to my Grade 12 English students. We have been looking at a number of media-related topics, including “blogging”. On Friday, I came across this article in the Hamilton Spectator about the influence one blogger had on AOL. (Click here for “Got a beef? Your blog can make a company tremble.”)

According to the article, there are 35 million blogs on the Internet; there are even more blog readers. As a blogger myself, I wonder how useful, illuminating or informative my blog actually is. In the past month and a half, my blog has been viewed over 600 times. A handful of those visitors are friends and family; the bulk of visitors are people looking for information on a range of topics posted on my blog. Most of those visitors come from Google searches; for example, type in “Why study Shakespeare” in the Google search window. Today (March 31st, 2008) , my blog, galumphing, is the sixth hit on the Google search out of 449,000 hits. I think what I have to say about Shakespeare is worth saying, and worth reading. I am a professional educator, so my ideas about literature are peer reviewed by my department as well as by my colleagues and substantiated by my formal education. However, when someone blogs, there is no guarantee that he really know what he is talking about. I also blog with distinctly Christian worldview and perspective; to some, that would undermine what I have to say.

The daunting reality is that anyone (and their dog, it seems) can create a blog. There is no peer review, there is no formal training required, and there is no overt ethical screening. The individual “blogger” is the only one who reviews, sensors and ultimately decides what appears online to the thousands of Internet surfers. The individual reader is left to discern truth from fiction, detect bias and evaluate the relevance of the posts. This is disconcerting, given the steadily declining level of analytical literacy among average university undergraduates, much less the average reader.

Twenty years ago, the hot-under-the-collar, ranting person found an audience with a handful of friends at the local Tim Horton’s. If the rant turned ugly, then the manager would probably turn you out. Today, that hot-under-the-collar rant is published worldwide.

Ultimately, people need to be extra cautious what they say: we need to think before we “write.” The irony is, this caution comes at a time when people rarely think before they do anything.

8 comments:

Mike Wilkins said...

Wow! #6! That's impressive. You are a best seller, Dr.!!!

Barbara said...

so sorry. At least half of those 600 views in the last month and a half were me trying to see if you and Mike were having another charming conversation I could join. I suppose I've ruined the statistics? :-)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad there is SOMEONE I can trust on the internet! I'm glad you have this creative outlet.... L.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

I don’t think 600 visitors makes a best seller in the blog world! Perhaps 600,000. Also, most of the 600 visitors (those who weren’t Barbara, that is…) are “one time only” visitors. The true test of a brilliant blog is regular visitors, of which, it seems, I have a few (albeit, delightfully faithful and encouraging).

I just started gathering data on my blog in February and I was surprised by the number of visitors coming from Google search engine. You can see for yourself by clicking on the Histats icon in the sidebar. Under “Referer” you can see “webpage” or “search engine.” When I log on to my statistics counter, I have access to more detailed information. What the stats don’t tell me is how long each visitor stays on my blog (although an average time length for daily visits are given); all I know is where they come from, how they came to my site (e.g., search engine results or webpage) and what pages they viewed. If they ACTUALLY read my posts is still a mystery!

Most of my posts are too long anyway, so I suppose they aren’t read en masse. Good blog posts should be short because, generally, people will not read lengthy posts.

Speaking of good blog posts… your “blog” posts, Mike, on the WLA webpage are great examples of short, tidy and engaging posts. You are in no way “blogless”---I particularly enjoyed your Easter post (again!).

As an educator, my concern about blogs remains. Like “Wikipedia” and other self-published online sources of information, blogs lack a significant degree of credibility. Am I the pot calling the kettle black? Probably!

Nonetheless, I will continue to blog away for Barb’s 599 visits and the other stragglers who pop by.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Laurie mentioned to me last night how ironic it is that I complained about my "long" posts in a really long comment... I think I am becoming a verbose windbag... Oh, the chagrin...

LL said...

Jeremy,

While I wouldn't call myself a true "regular" on your blog, I do slide through and read what you have to say on a fairly regular basis. (Honestly? When you leave me a comment I come by and see what you're up to. BUT, even when you don't, if it's been a while, I still come by and see what you're up to - like today!)

I just wanted to encourage you that I really do love reading your blog, especially when you get into Shakespeare or Lewis or talk about literature. It provokes and challenges me and I always carry something away with me.

I guess the staggering amount of media options available to people today (esp on the internet) is indeed a double-edged sword. All the more reason to keep putting quality out there so that it's not all garbage to pick through!

Keep writing!!!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. I am an educator of gifted talented kids. it's more or less an advanced literature class. I have found your posts on brit lit very helpful. I also love cs lewis and though I wish I understood more-- I only make attempts at his really heady stuff, I love the narnia chronicles!

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Thanks for your comment!