Blogging archaeology: late to the party

Doug Rocks-Macqueen started a blogging carnival at his blog. I am only 11 days late to the party, so here you have the November steko-blogging-samba.

Why did you start a blog?

Honest: I was not aware I was starting a blog. I just created a website (that is, iosa.it) and after a while trying Mambo CMS, I settled on Drupal (version 4.something). The first year or so was all about creating a structured website, with a directory-like structure. Then came blogging about new free/open source software releases and their usage in archaeology. This blog was covered, to my surprise, in a survey about archaeological blogs conducted by Tijl Vereenooghe and presented at the “Cultural Heritage and New Technologies” Wien workshop in 2006. That same year, I had a separate personal blog created, on a multiblog platform hosted by the Italian Linux Society: that blog was mostly about short rants, politics and the occasional tech-savvy post (including my first steps with developing Total Open Station in 2008). A few years later I merged all my blogs into one, this one. Blogging became the least-cost path to sharing my thoughts and interesting things with other people, often colleagues but also casual readers (and almost always it wasn’t really working as a two-way communication channel).

Why are you still blogging?

With Twitter, and Facebook, and millions of other ways to efficiently have real-time communication with colleagues, researchers and the world, this is actually a question about the inner workings of our minds. My blog is still almost irrelevant ‒ in other words I didn’t succeed in creating a successful blog, mostly out of laziness and to some extent lack of coherence in the topics I am able to write about. Less than 2000 page views per month, 80 comments in several years: a nice definition of irrelevant IMHO. Even more frustrating is that, even though I write a lot in English, the vast majority of visitors come from Italy (ciao!). The truth is then that I’m blogging for myself in first place.

Last month I was very lucky and I took part in a panel about archaeological blogging and bloggers in Paestum. It was a first time in Italy ‒ that perhaps explains how antiquate Italian archaeology is ‒ and most of the discussion we had was about improving how bloggers are perceived as communication mediators by domain experts in archaeology and cultural heritage. It turns out that institutional, personal, academic and “promotional” blogging are quite different beasts and being proficient in one of those will lead you nowhere with the others. My attitude is definitely not appropriate for promotional 2.0 social [insert buzzword here] blogging ‒ I’m not saying it is worthless, just that I don’t feel able to do that, even though outreach efforts towards the public are extremely important: educating, engaging, entertaining are not an optional if our shared cultural heritage is to survive for future generations.

My blogging has always been mostly personal and academic (about research issues and smaller ideas that are not worth a paper ‒ more on this misconception I have below ‒ but also the occasional reporting from a conference I attended), and the two can be quite similar except in the quality of writing and sourcing of information. I struggle with perfectionism and most of the times even the most simple post will take me days, because I can only push that PUBLISH button in the WordPress editor when it’s more than acceptable, not too short, with some decent images, and as many external links as are needed for someone who will want to follow up on every single point.

But the trend for me is really towards consuming ridiculous amounts of written bits, on other blogs and on social networks, and producing a tiny fraction of what I consume. I can’t say I read everything that passes under my eyes any more. I skim a lot and concentrating on text on a screen has become difficult lately: a large screen, lots of zooming and going full-screen help to some extent. As a blogger, the issue with this difficulty is that it equally applies to text I am writing. And, although I have never finished writing the follow up to Archaeology as text and archaeology as image, I know how critical it is to master written archaeology ‒ blogging is a sort of spell to break into the magic world of writing archaeology without the barriers of academic writing. Being a PhD student in archaeology was a very good premise to do some serious blogging, and I utterly failed at that, always procrastinating the significant parts of my research for the “serious writing” that happens only rarely: you will find very little about my recent research on this blog and this is a mistake I hugely regret, especially because I know how much I rely on others’ blogs (Bill Caraher, Colleen Morgan, Kostis Kourelis, Sean Gillies, Giuliano De Felice, just to name a few), not much for the raw informational content but for inspiration.

So the truth about why I’m still blogging is that:

  1. writing is an insane necessity, not a rational choice
  2. rationally, blogging is mostly about visibility and networking, that I look for, without much success
  3. there’s always a new WordPress version every few months
  4. I’m so lazy I couldn’t come up with a fourth reason, but I never liked Hegel

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Stefano Costa

Archaeologist, I study the Late Antique and Early Medieval/Byzantine period on the northern side of the Mediterranean, focusing on pottery usage patterns. I'm also involved in open source and open knowledge communities, like OSGeo, the IOSA project and the Open Knowledge Foundation.