Digital Studies 101: Intro to Digital Studies

DGST 101: Culture Module (2/4) – Blogging as a Topic

Prompt – Blogging as a Topic: What are the origins of blogging? Who is a blogger nowadays, and what elements make a successful blogger? Furthermore, what defines success as a blogger?

The Origins of Blogging

As with the start of any project, I find myself making a Google search. And as anyone would, I click on the first link that pops up, leading me to a staff-written article from a site called Web Designer Depot. The first thing I see is not information on the history of blogging, but rather, a pop-up ad prompting me to download a set of fonts.

The font ad tells me two things. It tells me that the algorithms have decided that most individuals reading about the origins of blogging are possibly interested in blogging themselves, and would, therefore, benefit from fonts, and it confirms my belief that a successful blogger is one who has an aesthetically pleasing brand, and therefore, specialty fonts.

A cursory read of the WDD article tells me that blogging originated in the late 90s, with the term “weblog” being coined in 1997. The word blog itself is the car-crash combination of web, as in website, and log, as in keeping track of information. Over the course of the late 90s, blogging shifted from collecting links to writing down thoughts, and in the early 2000s, blogging as a form of personal writing boomed.

WordPress, the platform I’m currently using, was created in 2003, the same year that AdSense launched, meaning that bloggers could make a profit off of their content. The emergence of AdSense is important because it marks a shift from blogging as a tool to share stories, respond to the news, and persuade others, to a hobby, or even profession, from which money could be made.

AdSense could make or break your social media career

Of course, not all bloggers will ever see a profit or even set out to make a profit. But the goal of some bloggers to turn a profit inherently leads to a different sort of content, with posts generally being more curated and purposeful, and often including affiliate links within the body of text.

Searching for Bloggers in 2018

In examining bloggers in 2018, I chose to look closely at education bloggers, teacher blogs, if you will. I searched for “Best Teacher Blogs 2018” and took a look at the results that came up. The most recently updated list of the best teacher blogs was, well, hosted on another blog. So I gave it a look.

Who curated this, and what authority on teacher blogs do they have?

Interestingly, many of the links on this “Top 100” post weren’t the classic, WordPress or Blogger style blogs that you would think of. There was a link to r/teachers, a sub on Reddit for teachers to posts classroom stories, interview questions, rants about their terrible administration, (hint: bad students don’t make or break a teaching career, bad administration does) and general education-related gossip. But while Reddit mimics the function of a blog, it’s fundamentally different. Content is a group effort, and the site doesn’t allow you to get a good “feel” for the individuals contributing to the discussion. Redditors are writers, but they aren’t bloggers.

Who is a Blogger in 2018?

Content-Based Bloggers: The Cool Cat Teacher

When initially searching for teacher blogs to explore, I chose a list of the best blogs compiled by Scholastic, a well-known publishing company that creates educational materials for parents, teachers, and children. (And that has great elementary school book fairs.) But there was a problem with this list – many of the blogs hadn’t been updated in a few years. Why do people abandon blogs? Is it because they had goals they never reached or are other reasons at play?

Eventually, I came across a blog known as “Cool Cat Teacher, run by a woman named Vicki Davis.” That sounds goofy, I thought. Must be good. 

Aesthetically, the site looks clunky and dated. Like, really dated. And yet, the most recent post was from today, September 18th, 2018 – so I knew that it was real. I clicked the link to Vicki’s Twitter, and saw that she is followed by both one of my education professors, as well as one of my peers. Must be legimiate, I thought. Why haven’t I heard of her? 

There’s something endearing about the straight-to-the-content nature of this blog

I explored Vicki’s page (that has close to 500,000 hits, according to her counter) and read a few articles to understand what makes Vicki a successful blogger. The majority of Vicki’s posts are mere “placeholders” for her podcast, the 10-Minute Teacher.

I would categorize Vicki as a content-based blogger. The theme of her website or her lifestyle is not the focus of her site. Instead, her site focusses on education and the perspectives of her fellow educators.

Vicki’s success seems to stem from her dedication and array of content. She has been blogging for more than 10 years and seems to have access to a wide variety of educators. Vicki’s blog serves as a central hub for educators to share views, and her blog features a mix of her own identity and the identities of others. Content is steady, making it more likely for audiences to return to her site, and less likely for Vicki to give up on her blog, like so many like her.

Why “The Cool Cat Teacher” is Successful: 

  1. Reliable Stream of Content: Vicki is steady and reliable with content, and audiences can rely on a steady stream of posts
  2. Meaningfulness and Sincerity of Content: Vicki’s content is integral to her identity, Vicki is a teacher and IT director whose content aims to help others in her field
  3. Access to Other Perspectives: Vicki has access to educators across the country, therefore expanding the range of content she is able to produce

These elements of success are not unique to Vicki Davis, nor are they the only elements of success to a blogger. Further, these elements apply not only to blogs but many other forms of social media, particularly Youtube – which is in many ways blogging in video form.

Brand-Based Bloggers: Rachel Aust

Alternatively, I wanted to compare the Cool Cat blog with a site I mentioned in my first post, the blog of Rachel Aust. Where I came across the Cool Cat Teacher when purposefully searching for good teaching blogs, reliant on a listicle to help me find said blog, I first came across Rachel Aust on Youtube when searching for videos on minimalism. (One of her videos is currently the second result.) Her content has nothing to do with teaching or education, and yet, it still remains professional in its succinct and focused nature.

Aust’s website is extremely well-organized and pleasing to the eye

Similar to Davis, the content of Aust’s blog is integral to her lifestyle. Without her reality, there would be no web-based content. Rather than finding success via applicable, semi-tangible content, such as advice for teachers or the best way to arrange your classroom, Aust finds success in selling her lifestyle and aesthetic. That’s right, you can quite literally make money selling your beautifully-designed Instagram highlights iconsbecause you’re that much of an influencer.

Aust’s website features a list of her favorite pieces of furniture, so you too can match your apartment to hers. She also runs an entirely separate blog known as Eat, Run, Lift, which features workout routines, healthy recipes, fitness advice, and more – and serves as Aust’s primary source of income, as she is a trainer. While fitness and home design may seem separate, they go together extremely well on Aust’s social media.

Why Rachel Aust is Successful: 

  1. Visual Appeal: Everything on both of Aust’s blogs matches. The color schemes of all of her photos, text posts, downloadable content, and fitness guides matches, which in a way, makes everything feel more official. You trust the content because it just looks so good. 
  2. The “Whole” Lifestyle and Sincerity: Every separate element of Aust’s website comes together to form a genuine, interesting stream of content.

What are the Measures of Success for a Blogger?

Central Information and Entertainment Hub

After looking at various blogs, I have come to the conclusion that a blogger is successful when they are recognized and trusted by a group of people for their content. If your blog is a suggestion when someone asks, “I need to learn more about ____” or “I really wish I could do _____,” then you’ve made it.

The notion of a “central hub” however, is not limited to the large-scale scope of the entire internet. A successful blog can be one that is read across all members of a community, such as a university, school, classroom, or even your own family. Are you a teacher with a class website that is visited by all your students, and receives comments and shares throughout the school community? Does your student think to check your website first for information, rather than a syllabus or school website? Then you might have a successful blog.

Alternatively, entertainment value is equally important in creating a good blog. There are plenty of blogs out there that share funny stories, cartoons, “storytime” posts and more, that aim simply to put a smile on the face of a reader.

Revenue and AdSense

Other measures of success are of course monetary – most often through AdSense. AdSense generates a profit for content creators when a certain amount of views or clicks are obtained on a post or video, and in turn helps the site that is hosting the content, such as YouTube.

Is my own personal goal to create revenue from my website? No, it isn’t. And honestly, turning a profit from my content seems like a burden, as it sets the bar for content much higher than I am capable of reaching on a daily basis. But for many, it can turn their hobby into an entire career, allowing them to focus their time and energy into content creation.

Positive Contribution to your Identity

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a successful blog is one that positively contributes to your digital identity. A well-run and well-organized blog can act as a summary of all of your positive traits, your life goals, and aspirations. Whether or not they want to, everyone is capable of running a blog.

From looking at different blogs, I have learned that your digital identity is what you make it, and that you are in control of those perceptions – and you can take your identity in whatever direction you want, whether it be focussed on graphics, comedy, business, politics, or selling Instagram highlights icons. In the next two entries, I will be

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