Ten Lessons from Ten Years of Blogging

One final indulgence for my blog’s tenth birthday: a list of ten lessons I’ve learned from ten years of blogging.

Figure out why you’re blogging. I started blogging ten years ago because writing helps me think and I needed some public pressure to think through my lessons at the end of the school day. Nowadays I blog because blogging makes me curiouser and wiser. I don’t want to say there are bad reasons to blog, but if you’re blogging first and foremost for fame, fortune, or readers, you’re going to feel very fried very quickly.

Find your cohort. Then encourage each other relentlessly. Ten years ago, my cohort probably included more administrators and English teachers than math teachers. The pool of edubloggers was so small we all followed each other, encouraged each other, and griped at each other. Find people who started blogging around the same time you did. For many people, your blogging and tweeting cohort will be the faculty lounge you’ve always needed and never had.

Be careful with auto-generated #content. For a long time people used plugins that would algorithmically attach a stock photo or a set of related links to your posts. Those have fallen somewhat out of favor, which is a positive development. If your goal for blogging is to develop your ideas or create a community, there just aren’t many shortcuts. Do the work.

Be the blogger you’d want to read. Figure out what you like about writers you read. As you work to develop your own style and voice, borrow theirs for awhile. Me, I like short sentences and clippy paragraphs. I like a mix of confidence and humility – someone who has strong opinions but holds them loosely. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously. I try to write a blog I’d like to read.

Be nice. No nicer. No, dude, you think you’re being nice but you’re still really crabby. It took me awhile to realize there were, like, actual people behind the screen names and web addresses. I still struggle to criticize ideas online in ways that don’t bum people out. Related: punch up or don’t punch at all.

Figure out what blogging measures in your life. If you find yourself not blogging after a good run of blogging, that may just mean you don’t have the time for it. But in my case I figured out that it meant I wasn’t learning enough. Lately it means I need to get into a classroom or I need to do some math. That’s valuable self-knowledge.

Tend your comments. I delete spam quickly. I delete abusive comments. Occasionally, I email people privately to let them know they need to be nicer. If someone has a typo or an unclosed HTML tag or a link that didn’t get formatted properly, I’ll often fix those. Delete comments that don’t add value or propel conversation – even complimentary ones! If someone posts something positive but unconstructive like “Agreed!” I’ll often email a quick thanks and then delete the comment. People will rise to whatever bar you set, so set a high one.

Learn from your readers. A healthy comments section is like a really smart extra brain you carry around all the time and can consult whenever you want. Also, when people care about you and know what you care about, they’ll send you articles and ideas and links they think will interest you. That’s crazy. It’s better than any existing recommendation engine. The brain you carry around with you spontaneously generates knowledge for the brain you keep in your head.

Amplify your readers. I pull interesting comments up into the body of the post itself and let people know I’ve done that. I try to do that quickly, before the post gets emailed the next day, so email readers understand how much I value my commenters and can benefit from their thoughts too. This process creates a bunch of interesting and virtuous cycles. One is that I get more (and more useful) comments the more people know I’m paying attention to them. Another is that the next generation of interesting math education bloggers is in your comments right now. So amplify them. Embolden them to set up their own project. (See also: Ten Years of Blog Comments.)

Turn learning into more learning. If you do all of this and you do it regularly, my guess is you’re going to get offered some interesting opportunities. For me, I was offered chances to study with great researchers, to design curriculum with great designers, and to work with great teachers all around the world. I went into all of those opportunities thinking, “What will I find here that I can share with the folks back at the blog?” Again, not for fame, fortune, or readers. But because I knew you’d all make me curious and wiser.

Related, but not algorithmically generated:

Featured Comment

Michael Pershan:

The advice I’d give others about comments is simply to ask for comments when you want them. The way blogs work in 2016, you probably don’t have very many people reading you via RSS and not so many people regularly checking your comments sections. You are probably connected to other educators on social media, though these people might not know that you want feedback on your ideas. If you invite feedback, though, you’ll get more of it. That’s my advice.

About 

I’m Dan and this is my blog. I’m a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Dan,

    It is clear that you have been blogging for a decade to have such great advice for the new or not so new blogger. Your list resonates with me well because I think I’ve done the opposite of each of those points for at least a period of time.

    Your point about “figuring out what blogging measures in your life” is really interesting. It might be useful to explicitly mention that what blogging measures might change over time, so it’s useful to reflect on that piece regularly. Lately, I haven’t been blogging because I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really know anything. I’ve finally realized what Socrates meant when he said “the more I learn, the less I know.”

    This post will definitely keep me thinking about how I blog and how I can continue to blog while offering the most value to the math community. Thanks!

    • I’ve finally realized what Socrates meant when he said “the more I learn, the less I know.”

      Not a bad way to go about it. Thanks for your comment, Kyle.

  2. Great advice. I’ve been reading the comments here since 2010, which is also when I started writing my own blog. You’ve done a really great job of tending the community below the posts over those years.

    That your blog is categorically different than other blogs, as far as comments and readership goes, is something you’ve heard before. For most of the lessons on this list that really doesn’t matter. But I do think the idea of a “healthy” comments section depends on having a lot of people hanging out, commenting and reading the comments. It takes volume to tend.

    Also: “punch up,” you say, and that’s absolutely right. That also contributes to the health of your comments section.

    My favorite way to use my blog, lately, is as spill-over from twitter conversations. At that moment when a twitter conversation is getting too unruly to follow, I like writing a quick post and inviting my twitter conversants to continue there.

    That’s just my style, though. The advice I’d give others about comments is simply to ask for comments when you want them. The way blogs work in 2016, you probably don’t have very many people reading you via RSS and not so many people regularly checking your comments sections. You are probably connected to other educators on social media, though these people might not know that you want feedback on your ideas. If you invite feedback, though, you’ll get more of it. That’s my advice.

  3. Michael:

    But I do think the idea of a “healthy” comments section depends on having a lot of people hanging out, commenting and reading the comments. It takes volume to tend.

    Interesting chicken-v-egg situation there, though, isn’t it?

    My favorite way to use my blog, lately, is as spill-over from twitter conversations. At that moment when a twitter conversation is getting too unruly to follow, I like writing a quick post and inviting my twitter conversants to continue there.

    I’ve noticed that! Fun new blog genre.

    I’ve added your final paragraph to the post itself.

  4. Yeah. Have a very clear idea of what you want to cover is worth emphasizing, you don’t want to redo the work of changing your topics much later. Something is better done earlier once and for all.

    As with other writing, always make a habit of rereading through the drafts, try not to put out stuffs that you think has flaws.

    On the other hand, I find deleting complementary comments interesting, but when you think about it it makes sense, as it’s all about creating a neat user experience for the audience.

  5. I really love this post. You’ve got as much experience as anyone in the #MTBoS. The three lessons that resonate most with me are about tending to comments and learning and amplifying readers. I want to get better at all of those. I realize that I have been seeing the message board differently than you do. I see it as a record of all thoughts people have had and shared. I believe you see it as a way to further explore what you shared. As such, since you wouldn’t necessarily want all students to chime in but rather to have a curated experience, then it makes sense to do the same with the message board.

    Thanks for extending my thinking.