On rebuilding old habits


Honoring my New Year’s resolution—to get back on the daily blogging train—is hard.

About eighteen months ago, I shifted roles at my day job from a position where I had a lot of daily/weekly meetings, a lot of realtime decisions that needed to be made, a position of high blood pressure and email overload, to a new role where I had to produce creatively. As in, write.

I quickly learned that in the years in my old role, I had developed a sort of hyper-evolved ADD. The instinct to stay alert and always be on top of the latest thing that crossed my path served me very well in the old role, but it was a serious roadblock to getting any substantial work done. I practically had to isolate myself and make myself put on blinders so that I could get anything done at all.

Getting back to daily blogging feels a little like undoing the work that I did to focus my attention. It’s not really that, but it does require some thought about when. I used to be able to cook along, have a thought, stop and blog it, and go on my business. Now if I don’t do it first thing in the morning it eats at my attention all day until I have to stop and get it done so I can get anything else done.

This is very strange, and not at all what I thought would happen when I got back to daily blogging.

Maybe it’s just what happens when I don’t have anything to write about? Writing yesterday was a lot easier….

Ten years ago (soon): BloggerCon

Dave reminds us that it’s almost ten years to the day since the first BloggerCon. I was highly invested in blogging at that juncture of my life, having tried and largely failed to figure out where I fit inside Microsoft, and so I managed to combine a recruiting trip back East and attendance at the first day of BloggerCon.

I liveblogged much of what I saw of the day. I’m sure most of it is redundant with the other coverage, but in retrospect it’s interesting to read through the coverage and see how much of it was on target, or just off-target. I think the biggest bit that surprises me is the collective failure to imagine that blogging, per se, was just one manifestation of a million ways for individuals to share ideas and feelings with the world, or that most people would be most interested just in sharing those ideas and feelings with a few friends and family.

What blogging is (revisited)

I checked out a new people search engine (123people.com) on a link from Lifehacker and, of course, searched for myself. I was surprised to see a lot of discussion about an old piece I had written after the first Bloggercon, a two post thought stream called “What is a blog” and “Blogging and empowerment” that gave a technical definition of what a blog was, and then a sociological definition.

The responses, apparently for a high school class at City Arts and Tech in Digital Design (!–to Ted Curran, if you’re out there, drop a comment–would love to know how you incorporate blogging in your teaching), were interesting and made me go back and look at what I wrote again. Here are a few excerpts:

  • Peter Luc: “A blog can just be about anything you want it to be, from your daily lives to what you feel about something. Anyone can create a blog and start blogging right away… A lot of people use blogs to tell others what is going on in the world like what they see with their own experiences. This can replace the sites that people usually go to to check the daily news….Blogging has to do with relationships when you make it a personal blog. A personal blog to me can be like 2 people blogging about what they do in a day and the 2 people can share their day with each other. It’s kind of like when you pass notes during class to different people, but instead this is web based so you won’t get caught. :)”
  • Rukiyah Sanders: “Due to the increase in technology over the coarse of these past few years we are able to do so much we weren’t able to do back then.”
  • Brandon House: “There are no rules in blogging, one can make up things with their own mind. people have the freedom to express what they must. I believe that freedom of speech is one of the most powerful weapons and tools you can give to an individual with a mind.”
  • Holden Way-Williams: “i guess it shined some light on the mysteries of blogging, but for the most part it was not too helpful. blogging is very simple. you go online, and you write on this thing and everyone around the world can read it… the article was not interesting. the information was not very useful, and the guy who wrote it was pretty boring.”

Well, Holden, you got me. It was pretty boring. I was trying to make a real point, but got tangled up in the mechanics of blogging rather than focusing on the real thing.

Here’s what blogging is: It’s a person writing his thoughts down and sharing them with people online. For person, you could substitute a middle schooler or your grandma, or the CEO of a hospital. For sharing them with people, it could be the writer’s friends, or it could be somebody who’s Googling for something unrelated and comes across it months or years later.

What’s changed, in the five years since I wrote the original piece, is you don’t have to have a dedicated website of your own to blog. You can do it on Facebook or Myspace, or in short thoughts on Twitter, or in one of a million other places. The thing about Facebook that some folks don’t like is that the wider Internet can’t get the benefit of your thoughts, which is probably OK if you’re blogging to your girlfriend or boyfriend but might not be OK if you want people other than your friends to get into a discussion with you about something or learn what you thought about something.

For me, now, blogging is an investment in the future. When I write something in my blog, I make a bet that I’ll be interested in going back and using it again later, or that someone else will find it useful. It’s a bet that usually doesn’t pay off; I would guess that no-one has read three quarters of the stuff on this site. But sometimes it pays off big–like when a class of high school students thinks seriously about what I wrote about blogging, and you get to learn from what they thought about what you said.

And you get to learn that they take blogging for granted. Which is, in and of itself, pretty cool. When I was in high school, I didn’t have a public forum like blogging. (And I had to walk uphill, both ways.)

Not to slight anyone: here are other responses from Max Bizzarro, Roselle, Sschafra, Nataly, J. Pascual, Mara, Jessica Tang, Tatyana K, Hawkman, SJ, Noel, and Maureen. Hawkman’s response is maybe my favorite: “The fact that someone could have so much faith in a new idea as a means of solving age old problems is kinda funny, because there have been dozens of technologies that would supposedly solve such problems, but the results were never definitive.” Yes, you’re right, but on the other hand blogs were one of the things that helped get Barack Obama elected.

Why some website redesigns work

Generally, it’s because they aren’t just slapping a new coat of paint (er, HTML+CSS) on the same pig. In the most successful cases, they’re a complete rethink of what the site is trying to communicate and a complete new set of ways to make that happen.

That appears to be the case with the redesign of the MIT Sloan website. It’s a sign of how bad the previous site was that I missed the redesign happening back in March of this year. But the b-school that I came from has come a long way since I was the sole MBA blogger back in 2001-2002. There are podcasts, official and unofficial blogs, and news feeds galore, all of which combine to give a much richer picture of everything that happens at the school. Compared to the 2004 site redesign, which put a thin veneer of Annoying Flash Movie on top of largely the same static content, it’s revolutionary.

It all conveys what I think is the unique strength of Sloan: it’s a school that’s focused, despite its size and institutional veneer, on empowering individuals and encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors. And to that end, it’s great to see the aggregated feed of Sloan student blogs right alongside official podcasts and other school-developed content, all together in the Sloan master feed. Of course, it would be nice to see everyone posting more often, but nobody’s perfect.