At the TIES conference earlier this month (just two weeks ago, but already receding rapidly in the rearview mirror), a presenter commented that the most valuable part of any conference is typically the informal, spontaneous conversations between colleagues that take place between sessions. This usually means a group of similarly nametagged people standing around in a tight circle near the coat rack talking animatedly and waving conference programs around. The presenter’s comment was part of a larger observation about the potential of blogging and podcasting to extend the conference experience, widening the discussion and diversifying the commentary. Ideally, he said, a veritable parallel conference could be—and should be—happening at the same time. Or something along those lines. . . my colleagues and I were engaged in a fascinating informal side discussion and missed most of his presentation.
Just kidding. But we really did talk after the session about the hows and wherefores of blogging, and our varying degrees of readiness to jump into the Web 2.0 pool. After comparing notes, we found we’re all over the map: Cara has been maintaining a professional blog for a couple of months; Michael is an avid and informed reader but isn’t interested yet in publishing; I’ve been playing with personal blogs of various stripes for a while but have only now added a professional dimension. Three former English teachers talking about writing and the writing process—you can imagine some of the rambling turns the conversation took. Revision! Audience! Purpose!
Cara, practical demon of efficiency that she is, gets right down to business in her posts. She sets aside the figurative red pen and writes with gusto for her immediate purpose, whatever it happens to be. Recently, that has included fearlessly posting raw notes from sessions she’s attended at conferences like TIES and NECC—a perfect example of the 2.0 extended experience. And she’s not the only one posting unpolished conference notes. What I’m getting at here is a sense of audience. Cara’s blog may have a dedicated (read: fanatical) readership of students and colleagues, but often her primary audience consists of one person: herself. Those conference notes? A contextually-meaningful placeholder, a container for her thoughts about what she heard and learned that day. And if someone else can pick up something valuable from the outline version, that’s icing.
This strikes me as smart, pragmatic, and well-suited to the idiosyncratic strength of the blog as an unrehearsed, spontaneous, immediate medium. And it’s right in line with the findings of the July PEW Internet & American Life Project report on bloggers: more than half of bloggers write for themselves. If nothing else, posting notes for yourself is a form of metacognition, a way of paying attention to what’s going on around you.