Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reflections on a year of blogging

Last fall, I started this blog for students in my new Law and Rural Livelihoods seminar at the University of California Davis School of Law. I wanted to use blogging as a way to get my students not just to observe the junctures where rural livelihoods encounter law and legal institutions, but also to tease out the possible legal relevance of rurality by writing about it. I wanted to get them noticing the rural in the midst of the urban-dominated U.S. I was aware of selfish motives, too: learning students' thoughts on the links between rurality and law would provide fresh insights for own writing, and giving students incentives to blog (extra credit for posts or comments) was my way of getting them to speak (that is, write) up. The students were terrific, as you'll see if you glance through the Sept.-Dec. 2007 posts. A few students have continued to post, and I hope I'll get to teach the course again so that I can once more tap into student insights.

I have the sense that the tenor and nature of my own blog posts has changed over the course of this year. I create more independent content than in the beginning, though I still like to use the blog to collect news stories about the rural, making it a repository of and for research. I've also become more likely to express an opinion, to go out on a limb (well, a little way).

Whereas I previously thought of myself as writing mostly to be in a different type of conversation with my students, I realize that I now aspire to a wider audience. I want to connect with others who are rural or are interested in rural people and places.

There's something very egotistical about blogging (duh!), as with other forms of writing for public consumption. I've been able to see that more clearly as the year has passed. That, along with having people ask me when I talk about my blog, "but who reads it?" led me to have a sitemeter installed a little more than a month ago.

The sitemeter is a fount of information. It tells me the locale of visitors to the blog and what search terms brought them to it, among a great deal of other information (most of it relevant to garnering advertisers). I've learned, for example, that lots of folks are interested in Track Palin's legal troubles, only peripherally touched on in this post. Probably the single most attractive item on the blog has been a photo of Track's mom. That's somewhat disappointing, I have to admit, but I'm nevertheless playing to the masses by posting it again. Somewhat fewer folks, but nevertheless a critical mass worthy of mention, are interested in wind farms and living off the grid. Quite a few Arkansans and Missourians found Legal Ruralism by searching for "Craighead County Fair." Who'd have thought that my post about these bridges in Craighead County, Arkansas, would prove so fruitful? That Craighead County Fair must really be something else.

Occasionally a really distinctive and unexpected search brings someone to the blog. I write from time to time about my hometown, but I was surprised to see someone from a neighboring Arkansas county search for "Newton County" "race" and "hate crime"-- surprised, that is, because Newton County is about 98% non-Hispanic white. On the other hand, I've written some about "otherness" in the rural context, and so the very possibility of hate crimes in my home county should not be so shocking.

It's always fun to have readers from other countries come to the blog, if still a little surprising. It turns out that they are much more likely to find Legal Ruralism by searching for words like "ruralism" and "rurality." This may mean that they are more interested in rural-urban difference in the abstract, that they are intrigued (as I am) by the very concept of "the rural."

Sitemeter has also revealed to me how people "game" their blogs to attract readers, but I really can't imagine doing that -- in part because I can't think of any link between Britney Spears and rurality. Maybe I'm overlooking the obvious. Never mind, I've got Sarah Palin as my "rock star," and her rural bona fides are fairly sound.

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