Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Internet Scofflaw: Breaking the Blogging Commandments

I have the bad habit of site-jumping when a topic snags my interest.  Recently, starting with a tale of blatant plagiarism by a top YA book reviewer (who issued the standard non-apology and accused her victims of being mean to her, thereby setting up a bullying spree by her followers), I found myself skimming the plagiarized pieces.  Two dealt with blogging don’ts.  Those who know me will guess the rest: I looked up “blogging no-nos” in Google.

Several sites later, suffice it to say that the advice is as harmonious as a skua rookery.  There are, however, a few near-consensus points for non-business blogs:

  1. content über alles (if only);
  2. fast loading good, pop-ups and multi-clicks bad (unless they help the site’s hit count);
  3. also bad: spelling mistakes, eye-hurting design and music autoplay (the latter makes it hard to secretly net-surf at work, for one);
  4. well-chosen pictures are mandatory (a thousand words and so forth);
  5. so is replying to all comments and having painless spam filters (everyone’s whims must be catered to the max, otherwise they won’t keep reading the blog);
  6. don’t exceed a certain length (below 1,000 words good, below 750 even better – after all, people are busy surfing);
  7. use social media – newsletters, Share buttons, Twitter (establish a presence!);
  8. do 10-Things lists, polls, contests (with awards);
  9. update frequently or risk being forgotten (people must be constantly entertained, after all);
  10. find a content niche and stick with it like a burr (or else no community for you).

Now, the first four are commonsense and should be obvious – though judging from what I saw during this particular dip, they’re not.  This observance-in-the-breach includes the common associated clause of “don’t be negative” for point 1: if anything, flamewars seem to feed blogs like dry twigs feed brushfires.  However, I break the last six with abandon and in full consciousness.  This may explain why my blog flipflops wildly at various ranking sites, and why I haven’t yet been awarded a Pulitzer or a regular column at, say, Nature or Tor.

Points 5-9 can only be followed if your blog and the activities it promotes are the focus of your entire existence – or you’re paid what passes for a pro rate (whatever that is, in today’s “content yearns to be free” mindset).  It does so happen that I don’t live in my parents’ basement pushing XBox buttons: I have a research lab and an academic job that demand more than passing attention.  Besides, I’ve seen Twitter, Facebook and Livejournal close up and found them less than enticing.  “Loyalties” that spring from social media are shallow and brittle.  It takes more than exchanging snarky soundbites to build sturdy alliances that go beyond “Like” or “Headdesk”.

More fundamentally, having entered the last third of my life, I sometimes tire of old issues springing up again and again like dragons’s teeth: the relentless fundamentalist war on women’s rights in this country and elsewhere; grittygrotty SF/F authors calling their pornokitsch fiction subversive and invoking “rape modules in male brains” (although I and several others tackled this from the writing angle and I intend to discuss it in a near future post from the biological angle); young women and self-labeled “progressive” men saying that feminism is passé, having achieved its goals (equal pay? easy access to contraception?); fanboiz whining that I’m elitist because I don’t like Avatar, Accelarando or the pronouncements of Kurzweil, or that I’m hard on armchair tourist authors who get famous (or at least solvent) from tone-deaf depictions of non-Anglo cultures.  Which brings us to the major issue, point 10: content focus.

What people write on their blogs depends on their goals.  Some use them as pulpits, others as public diaries, yet others as marketing tools (“Here are my Hugo nominations, now go vote!”).  Focused-content blogs tend to become watering holes for the like-minded.  In some cases, their owners become oracles to a worshipping group of reader-acolytes.  Personally, I’m interested (more than casually) in several domains: science, history and language, literature and the arts, space exploration, politics.  I also believe that none of these strands can be examined in isolation.  To give a recent example, my critique of the John Carter film included all these angles – and when I was asked to take out “the review bits” for possible reprinting on a popsci-oriented blog, I realized I couldn’t do so without essentially rewriting the entire piece.

I’m also allergic to acolytes because at some point they take you over.  Not that women attain prophet status without becoming Ayn Rand or the equivalent, mind you – women who denigrate their own, thereby becoming pillars of the status quo.  Being a non-Anglo woman who is a non-joiner by temperament and falls between more stools than I can either avoid or count, I’m reconciled to the idea that if I were a man I would probably be knee-deep in accolades, awards and groupies eager to have my babies.  But I’m happy to be a feral nomad instead.  “I cannot be tethered, while I still hear the night winds moan and call.” [1]

So here we are – done in less than 1,000 words this time!  Bottom line: this blog will continue to be unapologetically eclectic in topic selections but neither a diary nor a collection of laundry lists. It’s a salon where friends and passing guests gather for conversations, subject to my tides of mood and health; a review along classic lines that reflects its opinionated editor’s interests and viewpoints.  For me it is a window to the world.  All kinds of neat things alight here as I sing for my own pleasure.  And that’s good enough for a pagan outlaw loner like me.

[1] From Though I Grow Old with Wandering… in Realms of Fire

Images: 1st, Curious Cat (Jane Burton); 2nd, self-explanatory; 3rd, how I see the blog.


21 Responses to “Internet Scofflaw: Breaking the Blogging Commandments”

  1. Walden2 says:

    Athena, don’t you dare ever change the tone and topics of this blog! It would literally be the equivalent of changing who you are, and what would be the point in that?

    Now what was this about someone wanting to reprint the John Carter piece and what “review bits” did they want to take out?

  2. Athena says:

    No fear, Larry, I’m too old and cantakerous to change substantially!

  3. Foxessa says:

    Particularly this:

    “I also believe that none of these strands can be examined in isolation.”

    Love, C.

  4. Athena says:

    Strands in the same tapestry, gears in the same engine. You can tease them apart, but eventually you must put them back together.

  5. Foxessa says:

    This isn’t really on topic but I’m curious to know what your opinion is of Sarah Blaffer-Hrdy(stet)’s work — if you have one, that is.

    She’s seem one of the sane, productive evolutionary biologists. All my ob-gyn amigas have studied her Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection. She was the first to describe in detail the physiology and chemistry of women’s reproductive system. Yet, her text is readable. She tracks all the changes and transformations in the various parts of a woman’s body, from the initiation of sexual attraction, arousal, intercourse, conception, pregnancy, labor, birth, after-birth, breast-feeding and into the first years of the mother-child relationship.

    That there are stages in this process, and one stage isn’ t the same as another, that you can monitor this by tracking the hormones and chemicals in the mother — and then fetus and child — were revelatory. Or so it seems to me — and that every male and particularly those expecting fatherhood would benefit by learning these things. (I have become sadly astounded by the daily revelations of how many so-called educated men of every age are entirely ignorant of the most basic facts of women’s bodies, sex and reproduction.) And thus so would the mothers and children.

    Of course some of the work may have been superseded by further research since it was published 1999. OTOH, scientific and medical research that deals specifically with women and reproduction has been under ever-increasing assault and siege since the 1980’s, maybe not.

    Love,e C.

  6. Athena says:

    Not at all off-topic given what we see transpiring with Bakker and his ilk, which prompted my decision to tackle “rape modules” in the near future. I have read two of Blaffer Hrdy’s books, The Woman That Never Evolved and Mother Nature (and plan to read Mothers and Others).

    The two I’ve read are very important works. They would be just from the simple fact that they focus on women; but beyond that, they document how cooperation and other derided “non-masculine” attributes are as crucial in human biological and cultural evolution as the vaunted values defined as “male” (which they’re not).

    Others have contributed to this vexed issue (Anne Fausto-Sterling, Cordelia Fine, Alison Jolly) but Hrdy is definitely one of the leaders in this domain. Her crucial work partially redeems the colossal harm evopsycho has wrought on popular perceptions of gender roles.

  7. Foxessa says:

    This is another time I’ve seen Cordelia Fine’s name brought up in these contexts in the last week. I shall have to seek out her work. It was shocking to see RSB mention her, and then, according to not only you, but others who know CF’s work, not have comprehended it, or twisted it according to his own lights or something.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. It’s always a pleasure to see such well-informed thoughts.

    Love, C.

  8. Athena says:

    If anything, Fine’s work extensively documents the exact opposite of what Bakker et al keep trying to pass off as “reality validated by science, no matter whether you cognitively challenged, hysterical feminists like it or not.”

    Such discussions are a pleasure for me as well, C!

  9. Dylan Fox says:

    The ‘find a niche and stick with it’ commandment is misguided at best. I mean, if I go to io9 I want to read something interesting and sciencey or geeky. So yeah, stick with that.

    But when I go to an individual’s site — instead of a corporate entity’s — then I’m going there because I’m interested in them as a person. If I find someone’s opinions on science interesting, I want to hear their opinions on films and cooking and DIY and whatever else they want to talk about. I want to know what they think about and how they see the world. An individual who only blogs on one topic is going to get, well, boring… And if they have more than 1,000 words of stuff to say, then fine!

    Like Walden says, don’t ever change! No matter what you’re talking about, I know it’ll give me an awful lot of food for thought.

  10. Athena says:

    Thank you for the vote of confidence, Dylan. That’s another reason why my posts don’t go up in regular intervals: unlike many practitioners, I know I don’t have non-stop interesting things to say!

  11. intrigued_scribe says:

    The wide selection of topics is richer, more interesting and thought-provoking by far than one — and the eclectic range is what preserves and reinforces this blog’s freshness and tone. (Much like a colorful tapestry stands out where one-tone creations recede.)

    As said above, don’t ever change!

  12. Athena says:

    Thank you, dear Heather — I am very happy you’ve been traveling with me!

  13. Walden2 says:

    Not sure where else to put this, so – they found another Earth Mother statuette, apparently in pretty good shape:

    Were there any Earth Father statuettes of the pre-civilization era? Just curious.

  14. Athena says:

    Most of these statuettes were indeed of female figures — but there are a few males ones, including ones among the Cycladic idols (the most famous is the flute-player).

  15. Asakiyume says:

    I missed this post when you made it, but enjoyed it very much this time around.

    I too enjoy blogs that cover many many things–blogging on just one topic gets repetitious. With print magazines, you get some that are dedicated to just one topic or sphere, but people tend to only read there if they’re into that topic. And, the magazine has the benefit of many contributors. To be the only producer of content for a one-topic publication … *shudder* … So, yes, I do prefer both to read and to write an eclectic blog.

  16. Walden2 says:

    Speaking of flutes, it still boggles my mind that they found a couple that are about 40,000 years old:

    Which means of course that humans were making musical instruments even further into the past than that!

  17. Athena says:

    Flutes are relatively easy instruments to create — a hollow reed or bone will do!

  18. Athena says:

    Francesca, indeed — boring for both writer and reader!

  19. tmi says:

    Blogs with more than one subject are a lot easier to judge, and useful for learning about new things. For example, I would have a hard time finding an intelligent, insightful writer in English on the subject of Hellas’ history and present, but I followed you here from some feminism blog because I respected your comments there. Arriving on a starship was a bit of a surprise, but I could also judge you on your writings on scifi, and together, I trust that even when you write on a topic I know nothing about, you’re probably being sensible. So it’s valuable.

  20. Athena says:

    Welcome to Starship Reckless. Which feminism blog was that?

  21. tmi says:

    I don’t remember for sure — it was a while back — but I think it was I Blame The Patriarchy. (I don’t remember you at Echidne, and there’s a limited number of places I can read comments.)