I Had the Idea|
to write a type of 'look back' for the BrakBlog during the planning stages for Schrödinger, as a celebration of its completion. At the time it seemed like a great idea, but as the weeks went on it was the most dreaded item on my list of things to do for the blog transfer. Why? Well for one it would actually require me to take an honest look at what I wasted 4 years of my life attempting to maintain, as well as the fact that once this article is over, it'll mark the true final chapter in The Brak Blog. Both are hardly something easily dealt with.
In any case, here I am, and here's a retrospective look at The Brak Blog: What Worked, What Didn't Work, and How I'm Going To Improve. Through these three categories we can examine what I, and maybe even you, learned from this ever on-going project.
When examining the blog as a collective work, I find that there are very few things about it that I really like now. This suprised me initially, as throughout the project I felt pretty generally satisfied. Nonetheless, there are three things that I believe were strengths throughout the four years.
The first of which is undoubtably the song titles. I don't know why exactly; it could be that I'm the only person at all that really cares about these. There's just something about having a piece of music that matches the tone or message that you're trying to convey. I know a lot of the time these titles have no meaning because they're obscure songs that not many people have heard. If you've ever recognized one, and then read the entry with that sort of mindset though, I think it improves the experience.
The second, and equally as cryptic, would be the random-refresh banners. I can't remember where I got the idea for these for the life of me (in all honesty, it seems like something I'd've stolen from Isaac, but I specifically remember having to hunt up the code from a 3rd party, so I'm not sure), but I remember really liking them once they worked. It's something that keeps the site dynamic, and to some extent it gives you 7-8 unique homepages that the viewer may see. To vary your source material that much, even if it's just a little, I think is an easy-to-maintain feature that goes a long, long way.
Another interesting point here is that our of the 6 sets (2 on LandingClouds, 4 on BrakBlog.com) of 7-8 banners, my desire to make them was wholly inconsistant. One set would take me a week of desperately grabbing for something remotely clever, and other sets were churned out and online in under two hours. I was also never quite sure if people were annoyed that they typically didn't make much sense or not. Like the song titles: if you got it, it was cool/clever/funny, but if you didn't, I think it had a tendancy to be just weird. On the other hand, I'm writing this blog predominately for people who I interact with several times a week, so most inside jokes/pop culture referances should have been fairly easily gotten.
The third, and somewhat unfortunately final, thing that definately worked was the Semi-Personal Social Boundaries. A lot of blogs you'll come across on the 'net are these heart-on-the-sleeve types who rant on and on about how much they love someone, or how bad they're hurting because their parents eat meat, or something like that. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I don't really enjoy that. Granted, it's good to keep tabs on how people feel: it's very important. However, given a choice of mediums through which to do that, I think I'd pick 'The Internet' last. As is easily seen, I never typed up a weekly abstract of my personal life and posted it for the world.
Somehow that just seems tacky.
But I wasn't entirely removed either. If you look at the context clues, you could reasonably construe a myriad of facts about my personal life. By noticing the frequency of a mentioned name, you can easily determine who my closest friends are, who I'm dating, my family, and so on. If you just need to know, that stuff's in there, but if you're like me and would just assume check up on people by talking to them, then you aren't beaten over the head with mundane details of my personal life. I thought it seemed a good balance.
What Didn't Work
OK, I'm just going to come out and say it: While initially cute, and later on occasionally clever, the Cowboy Thing got really stale, really fast. It's an artifact from an older age. I remember I started it when I was: A) in my Cowboy Bebop phase [a story all unto itself] and B) a particularly introspective middle-schooler. I liked the vibe that it ended the entry with (deep, existential, et cetra), so I kept doing it. Later on though, it started to get cumbersome. When the last thing I talk about in an entry is how much I love cheese, an introverted sign-off is hardly in order.
Consequently, I tried to make it funny. But making a joke framed off an eye-catch for an annoyingly overplayed and overhyped (albeit fundamentally good) anime is essentially impossible. I think every once in a while it was an asset to the overall entry, but that was more the exception than the rule. At the end of the day it was me copycatting something I really liked. In and of itself that's not too reprehensible, but when serialized in every entry, it gets old quick.
Next, we've got to talk about attidute. Man. I read some of these entries and I can't imagine how unbelieveably pissed off I was. There's no other way to describe it. I lovingly refer to this time (circa pre-freshman year through sophomore year) as my Angry At the World Phase. Symptoms include over-use of curse words and inexplicable angst towards nearly everything. To go back and read these entries is sort of embaressing. I like reading my writing because it's my own thought progressions in written form, but to review that and have fairly decent prose jolted every 3rd line by profanity is... insulting, almost. Doing myself a discredit and all that.
The other problem this created was I could never forward adults to my website. I didn't need my teachers and relatives thinking I cursed like some sort of drunken sailor (which is not to say I don't; I do! But only in appropriate company). Many times I wanted people to see certain things that I'd posted, but not others. Thus, I was forced to err on the side of caution and keep a lot of interesting material from people who may have enjoyed it. Additionally, the "world is out to get me" attitude makes you look like a paranoid introvert, which I'm not. Anymore.
Probably the largest problem I noticed after some time with the blog is the entry format. The whole idea of a weblog is that it's easy to update. Why, then, did I hoard information in a little text document on my desktop, and sit down once every few weeks and compile it into a mega-entry? I think I felt more like a newspaper with a single story than a blogger. And once I started doing that, to go back to short, quipy, seemingly insubstantial entries seemed like I was cheating the readers. Ultimately though, that's exactly what I did.
The updates were so posted so sporadically that I lost people's attention; see: the decreasing number of commenters. And the length-of-time issue perhaps could have been circumvented by a regular frequency of postings. Something like an 'Every Monday' type thing. But often times I wouldn't have 'enough' content accumulated by the regular date for a mega-entry, and so I'd neglect to post. You can see how flawed this system was.
One final item that goes here, despite its brief success, would be the political spin-off of the blog. 'I Miss Nixon' was a blog I'd set up for the purpose of commenting on the politics of the world, as well as general current-events stuff. It was born out of my anguish with the 2004 Presidential election (which still haunts me too this day, almost as much of the one in 2000), and was quite active following its inception.
However, interest quickly waned, mine included. Though the idea of a group weblog still intrigues me. I can't definatively say why Nixon failed as a project, but my own speculation leaves me to blame. I didn't set the tone for the blog, or carry it through even when no one else was working on it; had I done that, The Brak Blog might have been succeeded entirely by 'I Miss Nixon'. Instead, it lies decaying in its subdirectory, at the merciless whim of the porn-posting bots that like to make raids on the comments system.
How I'm Going To Improve
In aiming to fix the problems mentioned above, as well as improve upon the things I'm already satisfied with, I've resolved to do seveal things in my next blogging venture, Schrödinger's Blog.
The frequency issue will be resolved simply, with a paradigm shift of 180-degree proportions. Instead of stowing away events as they happen to be compiled later, things will be posted as they happen. It's as simple as that. They'll be quick and concise. Which is not to say that I won't consolidate several points under a common 'category', but don't expect any mega-entries to make encore appearances. This new blog has been built from the ground up to accomodate a more 'blogger' approach to online journaling, and I intend to utilize it.
While, given the nature of the mega-entires, quality was never a huge issue, I intend to keep it at the forefront of priorities. I like writing a lot, and so I intend to do it more. Happily, I've crossed through my patch of irrational teen angst and have emerged a somewhat confident young adult. As a result, we've drastically decreased the level of profanity to what I believe is a solid PG level blog. By forcing myself to communicate emotive thoughts and feelings without cursing is something that I believe will produce better writing. I think the last few months of the Brak Blog itself have proven that on their own.
I'm hoping to promote the blog better as well. Why? Because I love feedback. I really enjoy it when people share their thoughts and throw them out next to mine by commenting on an entry. This type of communication helps me produce better content which is hopefully more enjoyable to read. In order to get feedback though, I need to get people reading the blog in the first place. What this does not mean is selling myself like some corner harlot in order to get eProps. What this might mean is biting the bullet and getting a Facebook, for the sole purpose of promoting my site. What this definately means is strategically placing obscene amounts of flyers around Truman's campus, and plugging the website every chance I get. I'm sure more barefaced opportunites will present themselves with time.
A final point is on organization: While not cited as a specific weak point, .brak//SIGN was never a particularly strong foundation on which to build a collection of content. I end up making a lot of weird stuff in the process of blogging, and I'd prefer if my efforts weren't lost to time, or more eminently the Recycle Bin. In order to keep track of all this stuff (junk, in many cases), I created the Rooftop Content Portal to better organize all my things. It's much more robust, and better equipped to handle the variance in mediums that I end up using in the blogging process, so it should be more manageable.
So There You Have It|
When examining the big picture that was The Brak Blog, I found it had its fair share of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Along with that, however, is a slew of lessons that, if properly applied, will make the next project far more enjoyable. Not just for me as an author, but for the readers as well. I'm truly thankful that I started blogging when I did, and made my feeble effort to keep it up until the end. When I look at the body of work produced, I see an accurate representation of how I grew and changed during my years as a high school student; and that was really my one goal, the very point of the entire exercise.
Thanks for reading,
Tom "the moTH, Topher, Radiskull" Hogan
August 11th, 2006