In a recent exchange on Twitter, @mattthomas expressed interest in reading “a blog post about how your link posts inform your longer written work.” I’ve been entertaining the idea of writing such a post for a while now, so Matt’s request seems like a good excuse to spell out exactly how those ephemeral, often very brief, posts ended up feeding into the book.
I think the short answer is that my blog serves as what Matt Kirschenbaum, several years ago, called a “public workbench.” Matt’s comments about the role of blogging were, however consciously on my part, an important influence, especially as I was recasting the frame and scope of my first book, which evolved from a dissertation on time-travel movies to a more productive exploration of emerging forms of digital cinema. Part of this process, for me, was the relatively obvious benefit of being able to work through ideas in a public format (more on that in a minute), but I think blogging also helped me to see what direction my interests were taking. In The Weblog Handbook, Rebecca Blood made a passing comment about how blogging helped her to identify interests she hadn’t previously recognized, and I think blogging had a similar effect for me and helped me to see that the time-travel film project, in its current form, wasn’t working. It’s impossible, of course, to know what direction my research would have taken without the blog, but when I began to realize that my posts on topics such as digital cinema and documentary were becoming more commonplace, I knew that was a direction I needed to take.
In terms of the link posts themselves, I think there have been several benefits. First, it’s worth noting that my usual practice for the last two years has been to skim my RSS feeds for interesting blog posts and articles, which I will then bookmark on the social bookmarking service, delicious, so that I can reference them later. Although I rarely annotate my delicious links, the mere fact of categorizing these posts becomes an early form of thinking about or processing the ideas in the posts. Thus, the links posts themselves become a slightly deeper form of freewriting, an early attempt to work through some of the questions that I see as worth writing about. It’s not a perfect example, but my “Blogger Critics Redux” post was one site where I was able to move toward some of the questions about blogging that I address in the book while also helping me to keep track of sources that I might want to address as case studies. Similarly, even a fleeting post, such as this “Monday Morning Links” post discussing a few articles on the newspaper critics crisis helped me (at the very last second, in fact) to slightly reframe my arguments about the relationship between newspapers and blogging. Often, for a post like this one, I’d write the post itself in the morning over my first cup of coffee (or, maybe, my second–I was drinking a lot of coffee last summer) and then, later that day, over my fifth or sixth cup, I’d turn to the manuscript itself, revising that section or adding new details or case studies that I hadn’t previously addressed.
But the other major component of blogging, of course, is that it is public (as Matt K’s “public workbench” implies), and even though my links posts may receive fewer comments than longer-form posts such as film reviews, I was conscious that these posts would be read and felt obligated to do more than merely point to a website or video without any comment. And after a while, I began receiving suggested links by email, though delicious, and in the comments, which were incredibly helpful. But in many cases, commenters, some of whom might not have access to my academic articles, could challenge me to rethink ideas or help me to see that something was working, and quite often those conversations would spill over into RL discussions at conferences and film festivals (and, as a result, many of my readers get a mention in my acknowledgments). This experience probably isn’t that unusual. Chris Anderson has made a similar point about his blog feeding into the publication of The Long Tail, but in my case, I’ve certainly found it to be true.
It’s pretty rare for me to directly lift language from the blog itself in the book, but as a first rough draft of the ideas I wanted to address, the blog has been indispensable, and I’m very grateful for all of the conversations, suggestions, and recommendations I’ve been given along the way.