Happy 10th Blogiversary! (Blogiversary Celebration Part 1)
Today, we’re celebrating the 10th year anniversary of this blog! This is the first of a four-part series celebrating 10 years of blogging.
A Short History of the Blog
The blog traces its roots to my Internet Law course at Marquette Law in Fall 2004. Two students, Rex Holmes and Matt Goeden, approached me one day after class and asked why I wasn’t blogging. They both offered to read my blog if I launched one. I figured my mom would read as well (a mistaken assumption–my mom recently told me she hasn’t read the blog in years), so I already had three readers lined up.
Meanwhile, a blog would solve a problem for me. Law review publication cycles take at least a year, so they are too slow a format to opine on issues of the day. As a result, I often had perspectives about new developments but nowhere to share those thoughts. I was reminded of this constantly as I’d see other commentators interviewed by reporters, while I would think to myself that I had interesting things to say about the topic but no one was soliciting those thoughts. A blog would let me interject my thoughts on current events even if reporters weren’t calling me. In this sense, I feel like I was born to blog.
Although I’d had free-to-host personal websites for about 5 years before then (first at theglobe.com, then at Tripod), I didn’t have the skills to launch a more professional website or set up a blog myself. Rex had some experience as a web developer, so he offered to build my website and blog. I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to build the site or blog if he hadn’t helped; so it’s fair to say that Rex’s intervention changed my life.
Over the years, the most significant change to the blog has been the addition of Venkat Balasubramani as a regular co-blogger in 2009. Venkat was a successful blogger at his own blog (Spamnotes), and we routinely collaborated/competed with each other to cover cases of common interest. Eventually, it seemed redundant for both of us to blog the same material, so I pitched Venkat about relocating here. Venkat gets no remuneration from me. Blog earnings are so meager that I told him from the beginning that it isn’t worth trying to divvy up pennies (though I treat him to some good vegetarian food when we visit IRL). As a result, he blogs solely because he loves blogging. And while this has always been “my” blog (my name is in the domain name, and I’m responsible for blog administration), Venkat blogs at least as frequently as I do, and his posts get as much or more traffic as mine do (of the top 5 most-trafficked posts in the past year, four are Venkat’s).
Over the past 10 years, we (and numerous guest bloggers) have made more than 2,500 posts; about 1 post per business day. If our average post is 700 words, that’s about 1.8M words! Venkat and I often do “joint” posts, where he explains the topic and offers his perspectives and then I contribute supplemental comments. These posts, and other blog matters, require us to work together closely. Indeed, Venkat is the person I email most frequently–even more than my wife (see my email network mapping from 2013. Venkat is the big blue dot).
Lessons From Blogging
Like many bloggers of the era, initially I made several short quick posts a day. I’ve changed my blogging approach due to my observations along the way:
* many bloggers chased traffic avalanches from breaking hot news. I found readers also wanted to understand the implications of a new development. Thus, if I could add cogent thoughts about what a new development meant, I could get as much or more traffic by writing more careful thoughts later than if I rushed a short “breaking news” story.
* I NEVER EVER could rely on news reports on legal developments. Instead, I made it a personal policy that I would always review the original source materials (such as the actual court ruling) before speaking up. Furthermore, where possible, we link to the source material so readers can do their own inspection and form their own conclusions.
* I didn’t enjoy responding to or fisking other people’s blog posts as much as I enjoyed sharing new discoveries with my readers. As a result, I needed to develop a way of finding items that other people hadn’t already discussed. I have a complex network of alerts in a variety of databases to tell me when new developments are occurring. A substantial part of my daily routine–at least an hour a day–is spent reviewing those alerts to find the things I think are worth your time and attention (although candidly, I get some of my best blogging material from reader tips–THANK YOU!).
Some Challenges of Blogging
I’m just as fired up today to write a new blog post as I was when I first started. My time may be more stretched, but my enthusiasm has never waned. And when my schedule restricts my blogging time, I truly miss it. Still, there are three aspects of blogging I don’t love:
* I don’t enjoy getting phone calls and emails from random folks looking for free help. Sometimes, they want technical support from an Internet company. Because I’ve blogged about the company, they mistakenly think I can fix their problem. Other times, they want my help suing someone. Because these folks don’t always understand things clearly, I have had to adopt a strict hands-off approach to unsolicited inquiries.
* Blogging about legal matters necessarily means that we discuss real-life cases involving real-life people; and our defense-side inclinations mean that we are often chiding or mocking plaintiffs. The unfortunate reality is that these folks have demonstrated a propensity for bringing lawsuits; and often they really, really believe they have been wronged (especially the pro se litigants) so they don’t respond well to criticism of their matters. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve received legal threats for my blog posts (Venkat gets them too), but it seems like I get at least one a quarter. Invariably, these threats means that a jerk hijacks a few hours of my life and causes stress about whether I’m going to lose my house. In desperation, at least a half-dozen times, the unhappy person has spammed many of my colleagues hoping they will put pressure on me. The spam-my-coworker tactics aren’t novel, but they are irritating (I feel bad wasting my colleagues’ time) and totally unproductive (hello academic freedom and tenure!). I’ve also had to refer several matters to the university general counsel. Plaintiffs gonna plaintiff.
* Running the blog behind-the-scenes is a drag. Every now and then, I’ve run into serious technical problems, like the time a comment spammer took down the blog or various times when the blog has been off-line for hours. I also lacked the technical expertise to tinker with the Movable Type implementation, so the blog remained effectively static for 9 years. You may recall that we moved in October 2013 to WordPress with the help of my star RA Addam, and we subsequently shifted blog hosts from LivingDot to HostGator. Since the move, things have been more technically stable and the interface is a lot prettier than it used to be. I hope these changes have been working for you.
My blogging time keeps getting fragmented. The launch of my Forbes Tertium Quid blog in 2012 diverted some of my blogging capacity. I initially contracted to do 5 posts a month there, which ended up taking a noticeable toll on my schedule. After my wife’s lung cancer diagnosis, I eliminated my monthly minimum number of blog posts at Forbes because my personal responsibilities were too demanding. My schedule has improved slightly, but finding blogging time remains tough. I’ll be on sabbatical next academic year working on a variety of academic projects, but I don’t anticipate that will reduce my blogging capacity.
The only thing I can confidently predict about the future of this blog is that we’ll have 3 more terrific posts this week as part of our anniversary celebration! Something to look forward to.
Let me conclude by saying that I know many of you have been reading for a long time, and it means a lot to me–more than I can say–that you find the blog is worth a little piece of your busy schedule. You’re the reason why we do what we do, so thank you for your support over the last decade.
Venkat’s comments: Blogging here has been a hugely satisfying experience for me. When I started blogging on my own, initially covering spam cases, Eric was a titan in the legal-tech blogosphere. A link from this blog was a pretty exciting event. So Eric asking me to guest-blog was awesome (I’m probably stretching the analogy slightly, but I felt like someone in Oprah’s audience who had been asked to come up and start co-hosting the show). Blogging here has been beneficial in a number of ways, but most importantly, Eric is a great editor and source of topics. His tracking of cases is incredible and it’s fun to just bounce ideas off of him and hear what he has to say about stuff that is going on. Meeting and becoming friends with him is also a great byproduct of blogging. Although I can’t quite put my finger on the precise benefits (and maybe that’s the point), blogging is pretty professionally significant and beneficial for me, and as a result, Eric ranks up there with one of the more influential people in my professional life.
This is part 1 of a 4 part series celebrating our 10 year blogiversary: