I started blogging in late December, 2005. Initially, I was looking for a replacement for the monthly technology newsletters I used to write. Each month, I would create a two-page newsletter and distribute it to all of my staff members. It included 4-7 short items about current technology happenings in the school district, online resources, technology tips for teachers, and other short, useful bits of information that applied to teaching and learning with technology in our schools.
The problem with the newsletter was that it took too long. I was spending about two full days per month putting it together. Most of that time was spent working on formatting and editing, to make sure it looked nice. In the end, I had a very nice-looking, useful print document. That was great in the sense that my teachers liked it, but it was pretty limited. Even with emailing it out, I couldn’t really follow up on anything, solicit comments, or break format with more – or less – text.
So the blog was initially intended to replace the newsletter. I would post 2-3 items per week for teachers. They could sign up for the email notifications, and WordPress would send the posts to them as I posted them. We wouldn’t need to have a monthly newsletter, people could comment on and link to specific items, I could easily point people to old items that I’d already posted, and I could include an audience beyond the school district in which I work. I could also target specific posts at different audiences, which led me to create categories for students and parents, even though I’d never really targeted those groups with the newsletters. I started the year with the fairly ambitious goal of posting 100 items before the end of 2006.
Here, on the last day of 2006, I’m posting the 100th item. My audience isn’t really as large as I’d like, and I think I’ve strayed a bit from the original intention, but I still think this experiment has been a success. A few statistics on the last year:
- I have posted 100 items. The most popular categories (besides “Front Page,” in which almost everything goes) have been Teachers (64), Online Resources (49), and Opinions (41).
- During the year, I have had 28 comments, though most of those came from me when referring to earlier posts in later ones.
- I have 15 registered users (you have to be registered to post comments).
- I have four people on the mailing list, counting me.
A few things have surprised me about how this has worked out. Among them:
- I think I have more readers from outside the district than inside. My initial intention was to write for my teachers. If others found what I had to say useful, that’s fine. But they weren’t the target audience. In the end, I think I’ve written a lot of items that are of more interest to technology people than teachers, which may explain some of this.
- I only have four mailing list subscribers. I initially saw this as the best way for people to sign up. It didn’t require them to know anything about RSS. It’s a push technology, so they don’t have to “check back frequently for updates.” Essentially, it replicated the newsletter format, emailing the information out. With the amount of spam people are getting now, maybe they’re reluctant to sign up for anything. Perhaps the audience I’ve attracted just uses RSS. But this one surprised me.
- I’m more opinionated than I used to be. With the newsletter, especially, I stayed as neutral as possible. I’m no longer as reluctant to voice opinions, especially since I’m not pushing it into eveyone’s inbox.
Last night, I read through a lot of the old posts, and noticed a number of trends as the year went on. The posts I’m making now are a lot different from those early ones. Here are some of the things that changed:
- The posts are longer. I started out by writing a hundred words or so. Over the last few months, I’ve increased that significantly. The original point was to make posting easy — to allow me to put a tiny bit of information out there in a few minutes. Over the year, I’ve started writing more, thinking more, reading more, and linking more. This may be a bit counterproductive, because I’m spending more time on the blog than I intended. But I think it’s creating a better product.
- I’m not as local-centric. There are several posts at the beginning which assume that the readers are working for the same school district I am. The default audience has changed from my local colleagues to the broader audience of people working with technology in education. In September, I caught a little flack for posting a BBH-centric WordPress Getting Started Guide, because it only applied to my teachers. It’s interesting how much that has changed.
- I’m using graphics now. Every post since school started in August has included at least one graphic. I think this makes the blog more visually interesting, and it’s not that much more work.
- I write more about issues and less about resources. I think I’m becoming a part of the educational technology discourse, and not pointing teachers to as many useful ideas and resources. While these things are important, I think it makes the blog less useful for the classroom teacher.
So where do I go from here? I’m happy with how the blog is working. I’m pleased with the audience I’ve attracted, small as it may be. I think I need to do more work to write useful things for classroom teachers. I also need to promote the blog more with my own staff. And now that 2007 is starting, I need another hundred posts.
What do you think? How could I improve what I’m doing here? Feel free to leave comments.