This is another in a series of case studies from people I interviewed in 2005 about their blogging efforts. Now as we move to 2013, I find it interesting to look back at the early days of business blogging. I will only include cases from people who are still blogging now. These cases have not appeared on this blog before
Jessica Baumgart is an information resources specialist for a major university. She participated in eleven blogs in 2005 when we talked. She still writes the blog, j’s scatchpad. It is the one she used for professional development issues when we spoke and it still covers her thoughts on journalism, librarianship and blogging.
In 2005 the blog’s readership had grown to over 2500 RSS subscribers and she got between 200 and 400 hits an hour, up from about 30 a year ago. Jessica changes the tag line everyday, often being humorous or thoughtful. Some of her readers check in to see the tag line of the day as it does not show up in RSS feed. On November 29, 2012 the tag line was, “I am thankful for not having to deal with a sudden windfall in the millions.”
The story of her blogging begins with a how and evolves into a why. She was the volunteer Webmaster for a professional association of news librarians. The woman who was overseeing her Webmaster work then was incredibly tech savvy. She was into blogging and kept pushing for the association to use a weblog.
While Jessica was under this pressure to start blogging for the association, Dave Winer came to the office next to hers to do an interview for the Harvard Gazette. During the course of the interview, Dave mentioned how he wanted to connect with campus librarians. The writer brought Dave to Jessica’s office when the interview was over. She realized that she could think about setting up a blog forever or she could just jump in and figure it out as she went along.
She set up j's scratchpad within days and started attending blog meetings at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society where was a very active participant, often creating the meeting notes. I participated in these meeting from 2004 to 2006 and this is where I met Jessica, as well as Dave Winer and many other early bloggers.
Like many bloggers, Jessica felt she had no idea what she was doing or what she was going to do with a weblog. She knew that she didn't want to write about personal things. She started focusing on professional development kinds of things and stayed with it. Blogging was a way for her to take notes, manage knowledge and information, share things with her friends and colleagues, and reach out to others.
Jessica noticed very few people writing about news librarianship. She knew from her days in graduate school and her work with the Special Libraries Association News Division that not many people outside of her field know about what these librarians do, including library/information science students. She saw a need for a source that talks about issues in the profession, not just one that shares resources or notes.
When we spoke, Jessica thought her blog had surpassed her original objectives. She didn't think she would still be blogging in 20 months. I will add that she is still doing it in 2012, seven years after we talked. She didn't realize how useful blogging would be and what she could do with it. Now she focused much more on providing resources for her readers than she did in the beginning. Part of that was just her training as a librarian: if Jessica knew someone might be interested in something, she tended to share information about it. If she saw something that was topical to her blog and she knew a reader might like it, she would definitely try to post it.
Jessica, like many bloggers, had found that her blog helped with community building and becoming more connected. She spoke about blogs at a local meeting on copyright law for librarians and mentioned her blog, j’s scratchpad. The person’s eyes lighted and said, “you write j’s scratchpad? I read it.” She has made connections with dozens of people who read her blog that would not have happened otherwise. Prior to a conference, Jessica would often look for blogs by the participants or people she might meet there to have a better understanding of them.
Jessica also felt more demand for providing new content than she did when she started blogging. There was also pressure to keep blogging, even though she joked about how some of her readers would like her to stop. Jessica felt a responsibility to her readership and knows what happens when a blog with significant readership stops. For example, she was following a colleague’s blog when this person’s employer, a newspaper, told this blogger to stop as they felt was a conflict of interest. Jessica felt a real loss as the blogger had been writing about her experiences in the job market as a librarian, providing much useful content to her fellow librarians.
Determining what is appropriate for her weblog was a challenge. What kinds of things would her readers like to read? What kinds of things won't get her in trouble at work? Will friends/colleagues be upset if she talks about them on her blog? How much information is too much, too personal? Jessica addressed these concerns by talking to a lot of other bloggers about things like how they decide when to use someone's name, how personal they want to get on their blogs, and what kinds of things they post.
Jessica said that everyone has to find their own voice and scope of content. She mentioned that she had a friend who would write in an open way each morning that conveys her mode. The colleagues of this blogger would read her blog before work to determine her mood that day to guide how they might interact with her.
The major source of content for her blog was the Internet and other blogs. Anyone who's interested in any of the topics her blog covers can benefit from reading j’s scratchpad. Jessica covered a range of topics related to news librarianship. She also tended to cover a lot of things related to beginning to blog, technology, and useful software. Some people thought she did a good job of translating technological concepts into plain English.
Jessica got some ideas for blog posts by reading other blogs. She also noticed that she knew a lot of things before others did. She noticed that she often knew about something a day or two before they showed up on discussion lists. Jessica felt that this was because she was more tuned into the world than she used to be. If she wasn't reading blogs, she wouldn't have know what a lot of her friends were talking about.
Jessica had the following advice to have for others in large organizations thinking about starting an individual blog. Jump in and do it. Don't worry about perfection from the start. Finding things to share could be easier than you think. Don't worry about whether you're blogging for yourself or for someone else. Just go for it. Take some time to figure out what you need or want in software and evaluate different systems. Jessica wrote about professional issues but she did not blog at work. She often got ideas and notes them for things to post after work.