Feb 19, 2011

Beyond 3,000: Thanks to Orexis Dianoētikē's Readers

Sometime last night, Orexis Dianoētikē's total number of total page views passed the 3,000 mark.  It might appear a rather arbitrary occasion for me to to stop and take note, celebrate, retrospect, reflect, and actually, in certain ways it is.  I started the blog in September, and by the end of October, it had 500 views. It passed 1,000 in December, then 2,000 in January.  At each of these small milestones, my partner, encouraging in so many needful ways, pointed out the growth in readership to me, and we chatted about prospects for new posts, interested readerships.  She reminded me that many blogs go on consistently for over a year before provoking a single comment, and  -- except for allowing vacation, visits with family, and a few other projects to distract me from blogging much in December --  I stuck with the writing, willing to see where it might go.

There's two main reasons why this round number takes on a different meaning to me.  One, which I'll write about momentarily, is that I feel as if Orexis Dianoētikē now has not only its space, not only a small but persistent readership, but also its groove, a clear direction, lines to follow out.  The other reason, much more of the moment, is that last night -- or so Bloggerstats tells me -- my blog attained an international readership of a different depth and diversity than ever before.  Here's a readership map of the last 24 hours:

For once, the USA was not the location of the majority of my readership.  27 readers hailed from the UK, 20 from Taiwan, 16 from Mexico, 11 from South Korea, 7 each from Australia and the USA.  Others read from Germany, Greece, India, and Kuwait.  Oddly, nobody from Russia yesterday -- I do seem to have some readership there, and even to have made it into a Russian search engine.

Still more gratifying is seeing that people were reading back into older posts.  Pleasure in Student Failure: An Aristotelian Perspective has long been the most-read post (over 500 page views), clearly due to referral traffic from the Chronicle of Higher Education, a forum in which I took a stance on a controversial essay, and left my blog address in a comment.  That particular post barely figures in the last 24 hour's traffic, however.

Readers have been looking over such varied fare as: Kant at the Book Club, On VYou: Carving New Turf for Philosophy in Cyberspace, New Year, Old Blog, New Name?, Last Call for Integrated Course Design, and my companion pieces exploring the thought of John Cassian on Anger (and Revisited).  They have also been also have been looking through my Pages, which I'll optimistically interpret to mean that they're interested in knowing more about Orexis Dianoētikē's writer.  

I started this, my first blog written for a public (I'd used one for intense personal reflection, and then collaborated on another my tech-savvy partner created for us after we broke Facebook's limits on messaging -- but that's a story for another time), with three main motivations:  one scholarly, one personal, and one professional.

 Having long read blogs by other academics, I've been struck by the fact that, though blog entries do have their own format, and a certain ideal range of lengths, they afford today's academic freedoms from the constraints the industry and disciplines impose on publishing.  For instance, in my field of Philosophy, there's really three main formats-- until you're famous and can do what you like -- you're stuck with:  the conference paper, the article, and the book.  Each has its own length, and depending entirely on where you're publishing, its own set of idiosyncratic, just-pretendedly-rational requirements, guidelines, strictures -- and unless someone absolves you of these, you'd better squeeze your writing and thinking into them.  Your writing also has to pass through at times very good, at times abysmally terrible, processes of "peer review".

Blogging offers the opportunity to write about what one chooses, in the way one wishes to, as long or as short as the topic requires.  The blogger can take up old, unfinished threads, unravel them, and rework them into new, finer material.  I do keep up, of course, with my own academic writing and publishing.  Originally, I'd intended to use my blog as a repository for partly-worked-over ideas which I might then later incorporate into papers or book chapters.  That is still the plan for some material -- the pieces exploring theories of anger, for instance -- but I've started to appreciate the well-written stand-alone blog entry (alas, more on others' sites than on my own yet) as its own worthwhile genre.

On a more personal level, I wanted to use blogging as a way to free myself to explore topics captivating me.  As it turns out, since I follow the news, and daily read through a number of other online sources (I'm kind of a Twitter junkie, and have followed the right people to get a great mix of perspectives), some of those topics are current issues in the world -- like the still-uncertain revolution taking place in the Arab world; some of them are less immediately topical, longer-term matters, like discussions about education and assessment. Others, like my ongoing series of pieces on anger, range from musings responding to other bloggers' pieces to examinations of the theories of renowned philosophers and theologians.  Sometimes I reflect on an intellectual engagement I just had in person with, for instance ,business educators who want to incorporate ethics into their curriculum.

My third motivation was to attempt an experiment, one that could open doors professionally.  I've been writing and teaching for a living now for about a decade, mainly in academic settings -- giving a few popular talks to more general audiences here and there when invited.  My partner --  reading through some of my articles dealing with practical rationality, and then observing the effects of one-on-one conversations with people in which I, whether I intend to or not, do teach about academic subjects, but not in a pedagogically pedantic way, just conversing -- was, and is still convinced that I could write and speak for a living, beyond the strictly academic sphere of a college professor.  This is one of those sorts of matters in which I can't judge well.  I don't think of myself as (though I will cop to daydreaming about) being a particularly gifted, clear, interesting speaker or writer.  I tend to focus on what I should have done,better, what I could have said, how I could have turned the conversation or rounded out the paragraph, and I'm always pleasantly surprised when I receive good evaluations.  So, somewhat like Socrates trying to prove the oracle wrong -- or at least to understand what it means --  I started blogging.   For, if there is anything to her idea, I'll need the practice and the portfolio.

Building up readership from the ground up requires time -- and in different ways than one might first expect.  The passage of time is needed, to be sure, for people to come across your blog posts, in their own time, on their own tempo.  Some entries I posted months ago will still get several new readers each day, rather surprising to me at first.  But it makes sense in the online context.

It takes more time than I ever expected -- or usually allotted myself -- to simply write the entries.  Thinking of what one ought to write about -- that's a snap.  Actually thinking it all out while you're writing, not so much. . . .  I have at least a dozen parked draft posts, mostly just ungrammatical notes, for topics I plan to get to writing, when I successfully carve out the time. I can think of at least five entries I've promised, but not yet delivered follow-ups to (though on the other hand, I can think of at least two where I did deliver the follow-up).

Tinkering with the format of the blog -- for someone as HTML-challenged as I am -- also consumes considerable time.  When I say that I've found Orexis Dianoētikē''s groove, that doesn't just mean that I settled on a good name, realized what my blog is mainly about, and got myself into a pattern of publishing finished entries roughly three times per week.  It also means that, after far too much monkeying about with templates and tabs, widgets and code, the blog's format and organization is fairly well settled.  I may, of course, add more pages, once I get those I've thrown up fully fleshed out (I keep adding new videos).  I ought to spend a day sometime standardizing the labels to make navigation a bit easier.  But, overall I'm quite happy with Orexis Dianoētikē both as my workspace and as my work's showcase. 

So, after 6 months, 3,000 perusals.  I have to thank all of my readers, particularly those who have commented on an entry, but also all the return readers and the first-time scanners. We'll see where Orexis Dianoētikē is, number-wise, in another several months. As far as the writing, I do know where it's going.  Next, hopefully later today, I write on the stoic philosopher Epictetus's very interesting teachings on anger.