Sadly, the chap or chapess whose IP address is 89.243.102.# doesn't win a FREE LAPTOP!!!, iPAD3 or anything else because I don't possess any of those things.
It does feel odd to have laid my soul bare for 100,000 people over the past 3-and-a-bit years, since my very first - and astonishingly boring - post. Back then, I was young, surprisingly fatter than I am now, and dumb. I didn't found Plashing Vole with any grand intentions: if I had, it would have a catchier name and sleeker design. The sad truth is that it was started because I'd been asked to do a class on New Media (and it was, then) for the MA students. In my naivety, I decided that a practical demonstration would be better than a dry explanation, so I set up the blog in class using the projector, and required the students to set up their own blogs, link to each other and me, then discuss some American new media election campaigns (primarily Howard Dean's online activity) on their own blogs.
Was it successful? Er… not exactly. None had heard of blogging. One literally went to sleep. A couple commented on my post, and none of them set up their own blogs. But it worked for me: despite not having an audience, I realised that this was an excellent way to propagate my strong political opinions, find new friends and ideas, and rant about unfashionable books and music. I never developed the strong academic blog that's so successful - I'm too unfocussed, but I've had a great time. I still talk about work, books I'm teaching, relationships with students (not that sort) and so on, but I haven't used Vole for pedagogical purposes, largely because I've had some sharp things to say about my institution, and don't entirely fancy being sacked.
The best bit about blogging isn't the exposure it's given me, but the exposure I've had to other people: the whims of the internet are beyond my ken. It's hard to know what will catch the public eye: my rant about Baroness Warsi, militant atheism and the American Culture Wars got a lot of readers (2000 in one day) because comedian Marcus Brigstocke tweeted it to his 101,000 followers. A discussion I raised about the decline of public intellectual was republished by LSE and others, and has led to review offers and interesting conversations. I've had columns published in the HEA's English Matter newsletter, the Times Higher Education Supplement and the Guardian Higher Education site, and been a panellist on various HE-related discussions as a result of Vole. But perhaps the most viewed piece I've ever posted was a rant about 4x4 owners - simply because it included a picture of a horrible new Range Rover. Occasionally I think I've written something genuinely fine and it sinks unread to the depths - at other times I'll throw something out there and find it's hit the mark.
I know there are a limited range of subjects to which I return: books, teaching, politics and 90s guitar bands. I've been guilty sometimes of blogging for the sake of it sometimes, which is wrong - I've slowed down a little recently as I find myself with little new to say. I'm aware too that Plashing Vole is a massive distraction. People ask me how I get any work done and blog so much: the truth is that I don't have the confidence to produce good academic research, so allow myself to pretend that blogging is a form of public engagement deserving equal respect. It may be, but not the way I do it. My resolution is to force myself to get some more research done: blogging is a little bit too much like crack in this respect: very moreish.
I also tend to avoid talking about my private life: much as I admire the emotional openness of those who do, I'm not made like that, and I'm aware that I have a duty of discretion to friends, family and students. Which is a shame, because most of them are absolute freaks and I could tell you stories which would make your eyeballs pop out.
Who reads me? I have a dedicated band of aunts, colleagues, students and friends who drop in, and I've gathered a small network of other academics who might constitute a public, but it's hard to say otherwise: linking frequently and including pictures make me accessible via Google, so the vast majority of visitors are probably random people looking for a particular picture rather than supplicants seeking enlightenment. I think this is healthy: despite my frequent reference to establishing a Stalinist regime, I don't suffer delusions of grandeur about Plashing Vole's place in the media sphere. This is a good thing: sometimes I get a little too concerned when my readership slumps: it's usually between 120-200 a day. Obviously I'd like everybody in the world to read Vole, but chasing readers leads to controversy for controversy's sake, or a populism with which I'm not entirely comfortable. I would like more discussion though - more comments.
Finally, some recommendations. These are the people I look forward to reading most days, whom I admire for their intelligence, wit, emotional depth and erudition.
Adam Curtis: occasional lengthy posts encompassing all of political and cultural history seen from a unique perspective.
Blossom's Blog: one of my mature students who writes beautifully, bravely and honestly about her family, divorce, adventures with internet dating, being a student and much else besides.
BoingBoing: the grandaddy of cool fun left-liberal pop culture and new media and science and activism sites. Truly eye-opening.
CREWblog: rarely updated but key to finding out what the hip young kids of Welsh Writing in English research are up to. I'm a bit isolated in the field being at The Hegemon, so it's great being able to keep up to some extent.
Gwyneth Jones: she's hip, lefty, feminist and one of the best authors on the planet.
Distracting from the Now and Old Girl at Uni: blogs by a medievalist Canadian student and a mature PhD student: both full of enthusiasm, erudition and wit. Makes me remember not being broken-down and cynical. Tales From The Reading Room is the best place on the internet to talk about books: how Litlove manages to read all this stuff, let alone come up with such intelligent analysis astonishes me every time. If there's a definition of blogging perfection, TFTRR fulfils it: thoughtful, informed, conversational and always engaged in discussion with interesting readers. Similarly, I always look forward to new entries by The Rise and Rise of Tim Lovejoy. Produced by one of my students, it's always written with wit and verve, and an amazing degree of erudition from one so young. He's often just plain wrong about things - especially politics - but he's become an essential read. Even about bloody baseball. The same is true - minus the baseball - about my old friend Benjamin Judge. Fiercely intelligent and possessing the superhero ability to have an opinion about absolutely everything, he makes me laugh even when he's being mean about me. I keep sending him gourmet food, which temporarily assuages the rage and will hopefully kill him before my own time comes. That way I'll get a few years' peace and quiet in which to listen to The Field Mice without abuse.
Music for Deckchairs: Kate works in the field of academic and university affairs in Australia. Her intellect and learning are astonishing - and she can really write. I've learned so much from her and her network of contacts. Similarly @qui_oui's blog at University Affairs/Affaires universitaires is endlessly fascinating - a true intellectual. She's called qui_oui because she's a New Zealander in French Canada. Now THAT's witty!
Pharyngula: hardline, funny leftwing militant atheism and squid from a superstar of science communication. Another American I like is Post-Raphaelite Sisterhood, a personal, graceful blog from a Tennessean educator. Some Chilean Woman is also a lovely read: the adventures of an ex-Mormon worker, musician and Scotsman's wife in Utah.
I'm a huge fan of punchy Marxist architecture obsessive Owen Hatherley, a man who mixes incredible detail with a clear wider understanding of the relationship between power and public space. Buy his books. I'm also fascinated by Irish politics and culture, which makes Slugger O'Toole essential reading. I its author(?) owner (?) editor (?) once - charming doesn't begin to describe him. Tabloid Watch and the Media Blog are excellent ways to keep an eye on the vapidity and viciousness of the media.
What of Plashing Vole's future? Well, I'll carry on in my ramshackle fashion. I do need to get some academic writing done, but that depends on factors other than my blogging output. I'll try to stay varied and be a little bit interesting, but Vole is, after all, an expression of my largely boring personality, so I won't promise excitement, adventure and really wild things. Or LOLcats.
But in the spirit of the web: what would you like more of? Less of? How's it all going? Who are you? Why are you here? Tell us your reckon.
(One thing hasn't changed: Blogger is still a useless pile of dreck which has always and will always ruin my neat formatting. How difficult can it be?).