Friday, June 03, 2011

Commemorative post - 8 years at

Earlier this year I realized that I've been blogging for almost eight years. In fact, the first extant post is from June 5, 2003 - my review of Latour's Pandora's Hope. (I've lost a couple of previous non-book-review blog posts when I moved from Blogger to the CWRL's Drupal platform and back again.)

In that time, I've posted 428 reviews, 1044 short items about net work, 39 items on coworking, and miscellaneous others. The blog has changed a lot over the years - for instance, most of the short items I once posted to the blog are now fodder for my Twitter feed - but the backbone has always been the book reviews. In fact, the blog solved two interrelated problems that I had noted back in my grad school days:

  1. Keeping track of my insights. Beginning with grad school, I've always annotated the books I read - but I've always been too cheap to buy the majority of those books. So my preferred method - sticking post-it notes in the margins - didn't work too well when I returned books to the library. At the same time, I had a hard time keeping detailed notes in a notebook or on a file. It seemed like a lot of work to get these notes in a format that would make enough contextual sense, and I had a hard time disciplining myself to take such notes. There wasn't enough external pressure to do it.
  2. Sharing insights with others. Also in grad school, I became interested in sharing insights with others and getting their insights from them. The big factor here was the reading list for our qualifying exams: what seemed like an endless number of books and articles we had to read and know. I thought: how can we share our insights and comment on each other's thoughts? Let's start a conversation about these items! (Maybe I had too much time on my hands.) The problem was that in the mid-1990s not many collaborative writing formats existed. I actually tried to get people to construct a hypertext in Windows Help format, but as you can imagine, it never went anywhere. 
At Texas Tech (1999-2001) I started keeping notes in text files and even putting my marginal post-it notes in folders. These efforts were okay, but didn't work out well. After moving to the University of Texas in 2001 and finishing up the manuscript for my first book the year after that, I returned to the problem of recording my thoughts about my readings. At the same time, people at our Computer Writing and Research Lab began writing blogs. So I decided to start one too. It had three simple principles:

  1. I blog a review of every book I read.
  2. My reviews should be helpful to external audiences. 
  3. My reviews should be detailed enough that I can slot them into background sections in my future papers.
Since I'm a little OCD, these principles really helped me to stay on track. The public nature of the blog meant that I had to live up to principle #2, and principles #1 and #2 got me started enough that I could follow through on principle #3.

Although I confess that I don't always follow principle #1 anymore - some nonacademic reading I've decided to keep personal - the vast majority of the books I've read have been reviewed on the site. Some are very short reviews and others are very long ones, but all have helped me develop a memory and an understanding of these sources that I couldn't before.

Re principle #2, I've also been surprised by how helpful these reviews have occasionally been to readers. One person told me that "Clay Spinuzzi saved my life" because she had trouble absorbing Bakhtin's work, and reading my reviews helped. People occasionally weigh in with their comments too, which I appreciate.

And principle #3 has paid off in spades. Nearly every paper I write has sentences in the literature review that I've copied and pasted from the blog. (It's okay if I do it  - but I don't encourage you to do this, of course.)

In 2008, I found another use for the blog. Intrigued by what seemed like a mysterious blog post, I met with a couple of guys at a "co-company" called Conjunctured. Soon afterwards, Conjunctured started the first coworking space in Austin, and I started interviewing space proprietors and tracking the fascinating emergent phenomenon of coworking. It's the first research project I've blogged, and for these posts, I always conducted member checks, running the text past the proprietors before I posted the profiles. Doing so gave me a sort of member check that helped me to deepen my understanding of these spaces and this phenomenon.

In any case, I can't believe it's been eight years. Hopefully the blog has been helpful to you too - it's certainly been a game-changer for me.


David Ronfeldt said...

way to go, clay. continued thanks and appreciation from here.

Bill said...

They grow up so fast! Almost ready for third grade. :)

Bravo and thanks from here too!

Tom Haskins said...

Clay: When David first led me to your blog, I expected you'd be helpful in deepening my grasp of the N in TIMN. Good job!. Since then you've opened my eyes to AT and ANT, inspired me to read several more books and gave me much to blog about too. Thanks for it all and what's yet to come from your sharp mind and clear voice here.

Sandra Taylor said...

I love your blog am glad I found it...

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Emile Silvis said...

Love the three might even go as far as to inspire me to do the same for the books I read. Keep up the good work!

Sandra Taylor said...

I knew about you blog thanks to a current professor and now from you reviews, I found some books to read for the summer. Thanks, I love your blog.