Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to start a philosophy blog

I've already had a couple of classmates ask about starting their own blog, which is an encouraging sign. (More philosophy blogs = more interesting conversations, more helpful summaries of interesting books or lectures that I didn't have time to read/attend myself, etc. Every grad student should have one!) In hopes of encouraging yet more people to join in, I thought I'd offer this 'Getting Started' guide.

(Step 1) Create a blog. Go to www.blogger.com and follow their instructions. It really couldn't be easier: select a pre-made template and you'll be up and running within five minutes.

(Step 2) Start writing posts. If you're unsure where to start, see whether any of the following three post types appeals to you:
I think there are three kinds of philosophical activity to which blogs are especially well suited. First is the exploration of half-baked ideas, to get some early feedback and test their potential for further development. Secondly, blogs are a great study and teaching tool, as students can attempt to summarize an issue, and their readers may respond to help correct any misunderstandings. (A good summary may also benefit the readers' knowledge, of course.) Finally, a tightly focused blog post can make technical contributions in response to other work, perhaps critiquing a particular step in an argument, or offering an alleged counterexample.
(I must admit I'd especially appreciate seeing more posts in the second category, e.g. distilling out and sharing the most valuable new insights you've come across in classes or readings, etc.)

(Step 3) Enhance your blog.
- You may wish to add a hit counter so you can see how many visitors you're getting, and where they're coming from. (You can also do a Technorati search for your blog URL, to see if anyone has linked to it.)
- Add a recent comments widget to your sidebar, if you wish. (I recently removed mine due to technical problems. But may reinstate it soon, since they're handy things to have.)
- Sign in to draft.blogger.com and navigate to your blog's 'Layout' page. Here you can add new gadgets to your sidebar, e.g. polls, subscription links, and blog lists. I especially recommend the latter two.

(Step 4) Join the community! So, you have a sparkling new blog, with groundbreaking and insightful posts, but nobody else seems to notice. That's not the end of the world: there's plenty of benefit in simply writing your thoughts down. But there's plenty more benefit to be gained by attracting an intelligent audience with whom to engage in discussion. There are several things you can do here.

The simplest is to submit posts to the Philosophers' Carnival, or even sign up to host a future edition yourself.

But it's probably more effective to interact with other bloggers that you like. (Hopefully there are some!) At the very least, add a 'blog list' to your sidebar, as mentioned above. Most bloggers regularly check who's linking to them, so this is an easy way to attract their attention (at least for a moment) and gratitude. That's a very minimal form of interaction, of course. Better: leave (intelligent) comments on their blog. They'll be more likely to reciprocate. Participate in silly memes and other forms of community-building -- any excuse to link, however trivial, will bring you closer together. Best of all: write a substantive post responding to one of theirs (and link to it, of course). You'll find yourself engaged in a fruitful back-and-forth discussion in no time.

[Any other tips? Add them in the comments below...]

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