Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series! You can also see other resources in this series.
Update: Added quote from Donald Knuth, thanks to Mohamed!
The value of blogging: Part II: Archive
Blogging provides value immediately and in the long run. Blog posts are saved in a chronological archive that can be browsed, searched, and organized into categories. The more you write, the more valuable this archive becomes.
But men are men; the best sometimes forget.
What did I ever do before writing? I’m not sure, but it probably involved reinventing the wheel again and again. My blog archive saves me time that I would’ve wasted re-solving problems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched my blog for notes. I’ve even come across answers to things I’d completely forgotten solving.
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes I don’t remember the words I used. I have a sneaky suspicion that Google might not have indexed all of my blog’s pages, too. But I can usually turn up what I’m looking for, and that’s good enough to keep me writing.
What is past is prologue.
Where did all that time go? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question or struggled to fill in the boxes during annual performance reviews, you might find a blog useful.
I use my blog for weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews. My archived notes make it easy to remember what I was working on and what I achieved. As a result, annual reviews are more fun than painful. This helps set a rhythm for my life, too.
Regular reviews keep me on track. I can review my plans and see how I’m doing, or change them if my priorities have shifted. I can tell when I’ve been procrastinating something for a while (it shows up on multiple reviews!) and I can think about whether or not I really want to do it.
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.
Writing about my decisions helps me review them later. For example, I wrote about limiting my blog posts to one a day. A year later, I revisited that decision to see if it still made sense for me. I’ve got notes about what I want to do with IBM and some of the reasons why I love my husband, and I add to those regularly. Being able to read through my blog archive makes it easier to remember the reasons for my decisions and to detect when things are changing.
Written accounts allow me to compare my past selves with the present. How have I improved my skills? How have I changed my mind? What have I lost and what have I gained? I can trace my stick-figure skills from my first such presentation in 2008 to my most-recent presentation through the evolution of my sketches. (I’ve gotten better at drawing quickly, but I don’t draw with many colours as I used to.)
The very act of communicating one’s work clearly to other people will improve the work itself.
How do you know what you know? If you were to make a list of things you could teach other people, you’d probably be able to quickly list some recent items, but you might forget to mention things you learned several years ago. Blog archives can help you remember what you know so that you can build on it, combine it with other ideas, or share it with other people.
My archive helps me get a sense of what I know about a topic and how to organize that logically. I can see the gaps that I need to learn and document. As I revise, I improve my understanding.
By looking at what I tend to write about, I can get a sense of where I pay attention and how that attention changes over time. I can also use my archive to slowly build resources for summary posts with links to details.
A good blog archive’s value goes beyond the value of its individual posts. When people come to your blog because of a search result or a referral, they can explore your archives to learn more about the topics they’re interested in and about you as a person. This is the compounding value
I’ve written enough that I don’t remember what I’ve written, and I enjoy rediscovering myself. It’s weird, isn’t it, getting to know yourself like that. I enjoy flipping through my past posts and hearing my past self. She’s very much like me: perhaps a bit deeper into open source (time and the ability to freely participate), less confident in the kitchen, but cheery and reflective all the same. I don’t flip through my archive frequently, but it’s fun to bump into my old self through random posts or "On this Day" posts.
I gave Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature a try today in order to learn more about it and rehearse for my upcoming presentation of "Remote Presentations That Rock". I announced it on Twitter a few minutes before I wanted to present. Around 12 people turned up to say hi, learn, and share. I was a little nervous with excitement (and lack of water nearby), but I relaxed as I got into the swing of it.
Zipcast has the usual web conferencing system features, with more in the works. Attendees need an account with either Slideshare or Facebook. You can flip through slides, broadcast video from your webcam, and use the text chat for discussions. Where it shines is in its ease of sharing: no unusual plug-ins or software downloads, Twitter and Facebook announcements built-in, and no meeting limits.
People can flip through slides on their own, too, which could be either useful or distracting for people. You may want to avoid slide-based jokes with lots of lead-up, considering that people can flip ahead and see your punchline.
You can’t point to specific things on the slides or record your presentations, but I hear those features are in the plan. You also can’t get the list of attendees yet, so you might want to ask someone to track that for you. Don’t look for screen-sharing in this system yet, but who knows what the future will bring?
Zipcast’s an interesting entry in a crowded web-conferencing space. The ease of presenting and attending will probably win over many users of other conferencing systems, and the price is hard to beat: free at the moment, no matter how big a web meeting you have.
Zipcast’s a promising way to reach lots of people on the Internet, and I’m going to experiment with it more. I’ll still use LotusLive for my IBM web conferences. I like the features of LotusLive, including the ability to draw on my slides in real-time and the ease of inviting people without requiring accounts. (Besides, LotusLive is IBM!) But Zipcast is a nifty (and currently free) way to reach people online, so it’s worth a try.
Tips on using Zipcast:
Things that would make this even better for me:
Here’s an interesting thought: How would you structure a presentation to take advantage of the sharing capabilities of Zipcast, including the “post to Facebook” checkbox in the text chat? Maybe you can sprinkle “Twitter/FB/Q&A” breaks throughout your talk. If you get someone (or program a macro) to paste in retweetable or repostable soundbites, that would be a way of sharing ideas with people’s networks. Hmm…
I’m thinking of doing presentations every Saturday in March, from 12 noon to 1pm EST, at http://slideshare.net/sachac/meeting. My planned lineup: The Shy Connector, Remote Presentations That Rock, Get More Value from Blogging, and Six Steps to Sharing. It’ll be good to share tips and learn from others. Anything you’d particularly like to see from my past presentations or blog posts?
What’s a good way to plan these upcoming events so that you can easily save them to your calendar and receive updates? Eventbrite and other event-management systems seem a little heavyweight compared to the ease of Zipcast’s sharing. Any suggestions?
In other news, I think I’ve figured out my studio setup: bounce the daylight-balanced lamps off the ceiling (low setup) or use umbrella reflectors (fancy setup), position the folding background in front of the cabinet to hide the My Little Cthulhu doll and other distracting things, and broadcast away. Now if I can figure out where to put a small hairlight…