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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!
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.
- Whenever you solve problems that took you a lot of time to figure out, spend a few extra minutes to write up your notes.
- When writing, think about whatever keywords you think you might use when searching. Use as many of them as you can, either including them in the text or using them as categories/tags for your post. That increases your chances of finding information again.
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.
- Build a habit of weekly reviews, then include monthly and yearly reviews as you get the hang of it.
- Use your review time to reflect on your past and plan your future.
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.)
- Write down your reasons for a decision. Set a reminder to review your decision and see if it’s worthwhile.
- Write about your feelings and experiences to help you revisit them.
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.
- Use categories to organize your posts so that you can view them by topic.
- Review your posts by category to see if you can write a better summary.
- Plan what you want to learn, write about the details, and then review your archives for the overview.
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
- Make it easy for people to discover related posts. Use a plugin that lists similar posts, or include links to relevant posts when you write. Encourage people to use categories to browse your archive.
- Keep writing, even if it’s one tip at a time. Over the years, your archive can become a valuable resource.
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.
- Write. Yes, even about the everyday things, the little memories. You never know what might make you smile in the future.
- When you have more posts, try plugins like Random Posts or On This Day to help you bump into older posts.
- Consider printing out a paper copy of your posts for easier flipping through. I do this every year.