Q: What do you see as the purposes for keeping a blog? What is the purpose for keeping a blog now in particular even if it's changed maybe since the original purpose for keeping it?
C: Torill Mortensen and Jill Walker have an article about blogging as a research tool, and I really think that's great...that's one reason why I do it. Everything is in a database, and you can search for stuff or something that you wrote; it's kind of a depository. When I was doing my coursework, I took a lot of classes where the professors wanted us to write weekly responses to readings, and I would always just post those to the blog, because if I'm going to write it, I want people to read it. Then I would have it in the repository; it would be tagged with various categories, and it's a good way to have, or a way to be able to keep track of what you do in your research. [You see] how your thinking may change over time. So that's a big part about why I do it. Also, it's been good for my career in terms of presenting various opportunities.
Q: Could you discuss the amount of time you devote to your blogging ventures? Creating, maintaining, reading other blogs . . .?
C: Right now I'm a contributor to three blogs: CultureCat (my personal blog), Kairosnews, and MediaCommons. That's as thin as I ever want to spread myself blog-wise. I've noticed that a lot of people have general blogs, then they create separate blogs for their book projects, parenting, reflections on teaching, and other special projects. Of course it's great if that's what works for them, but I've never understood the advantage to doing that. It seems far more difficult for the blogger and a bit more difficult for the readers as well, insofar as they have to go to two or three URLs or subscribe to more than one RSS (Rich Site Summary-- format for delivering web content that is regularly updated) feed for you. It hasn't been my observation that readers are deterred by one particular topic - as if they're saying, "I like reading Clancy's blog, but I find her posts about teaching boring; I wish she'd shunt those off to a teaching blog." Usually if someone reads your blog, it's because that person finds you interesting, and that includes your book project, your teaching, your cooking, your children, your responses to news stories, everything.
The one good reason I can think of for dividing interests into separate blogs is if you're trying to make a case for your blog as scholarship and count it for tenure and promotion; then it may make more sense to keep the other content out. Otherwise, I think that's what weblog categories are for. Drupal allows category-specific RSS feeds too, so if someone reading my blog only wanted to read my posts about copyright and intellectual property, he or she could subscribe only to that feed.
Q: How did you decide how to develop your blog? What made you decide to include a tagcloud? What are your thoughts on design--in terms of what you're projecting through the design of your blog?
C: The tagcloud, that is something that Drupal, which is the software tool I use, probably a few versions ago (maybe 7.0) showed that now you can have a tagcloud. I thought, "hey I want one of those," and so I installed the module that lets you have that. I had seen them and thought that they were really neat. It shows that you don't just write about one or two things, but you write about a lot of different things and that you write about some topics more than others. It gives you at a glance a lot of information about where people's interests are clustered. Like, I write about knitting but not very often. Instead, I write a lot more about composition pedagogy, and people can see that really quickly and understand that.
Also, the design is done through a lot of iterations because I like to change it up a bit every once in a while. I had a post about this recently about the rolling mastheads. I uploaded them to Flickr and just showed them in chronological order on that blog. A friend of mine from college designed the first couple of mastheads for me, and he's a professional graphic designer. I started designing them myself, and they were okay, but they have never looked as good as his. I kind of like the whole do-it-yourself idea; that appeals to me, and I like messing around with graphics software and doing a little bit of CSS, although I don't really know much about it.
I don't know a lot about CSS, but I can make some minor changes to my template. What I'll do is open it up in text edit, the CSS code and then I'll do an edit/find and I'll search for color. Then it'll show me where the colors are, and I can change the colors of links and backgrounds, but those are really the only changes I can make. Then I change the mastheads, banner images at the top of the page. The first few I used cat images from children's books. But then after a while I thought, why does it have to be so literal? The cat thing, you know? And so I started using old Sweet Valley High book covers that I used to read--scanning them and making them images based on those. So that's what I've been doing ever since.
I wonder sometimes what kind of message that sends, if it looks unprofessional, but I guess I don't really worry about it, because I've never been one to want to have a personal blog and then a whole other one that's [a] research blog. I want to have it integrated, and I don't want to have it parceled out. I don't have a problem with other people doing it, but that's not really how I want mine to be. I think that it's pretty cool to have the pop culture imagery there, and it's not really going to have a negative effect on a professional reputation. Obviously, something really inappropriate would, but I wouldn't put that on my blog anyway.
Q: So you see it more for your purposes in terms of the design and your choices rather than doing it for somebody else's or for your audience?
C: I guess it is...I want to like what the design is, and I want to do something that I like. If other people like it, then that's great. I think most people do. Anyone who doesn't like the design can subscribe to it on an RSS reader, and they don't have to look at the design.
Q: Is it challenging what others in the field are doing with their sites?
C: I don't know. I've seen other bloggers who kind of have whimsical or fun imagery in their sites too, and if I were the only one, I might be a little more cautious about it. I don't know if you've [seen] Collin Brooke's blog; it's called "Collin vs. Blog." He has this great little image of toy robots, and so there's precedent for it. Other people have done it, so I don't feel so out on a limb because of it.
Ratliff's recent publications include "Attracting Readers: Sex and Audience in the Blogsphere" in Scholar and Feminist Online (2007). Her work, "Weblogs with Creative Commons License" has been accepted for publication in the upcoming collection, Composition, Copyright, and Intellectual Property Law, edited by Stephen Westbrook.