This isn’t going to be about trolls who just won’t give up, so apologies from the start about that.
Yesterday I spent my coffee-break reading about trains across Russia. Partly that was from a random thought, partly it’s because I’m a man-child who really struggles to concentrate, partly because the site I was reading about this was really engaging.
For those not in the long-distance-train-journey community, you only need to know that the guy behind this started off many moons ago, putting together some pretty basic info and, well, it rather snowballed from there.
I mention it because the site is a good example of someone not only carving out a niche, but turning it into the kind of resource that is both connected-to and thought-about as a place to go by a wide audience.
Of course, this makes me think about a number of things.
Most immediately, I makes me reflect that while ALPS has built up a considerable profile and reputation within the immediate L&T community in Poli Sci/IR/European Studies, we still have a way to go with other disciplines (or with those less motivated by the prospect of teaching): so do continue your good work of recommending us, and writing for us.
More generally, it touches on a thought that’s bothered me for a while about creating online resources: how do people find stuff?
Our decision here to go for a blog format, made nearly a decade ago in Albuquerque, made sense at the time for our needs and capacities, but we now have over 1400 posts and we didn’t do a particularly assiduous job of tagging stuff. Even I struggle to track down things, especially if different posts have covered different aspects.
It’s also becoming an issue with the Brexit-related graphics I’ve been making for a couple of years now. I tweet these out, and have hosted PDFs on a Google Drive folder, but it’s not searchable and if you don’t know me, or even couldn’t remember my name, then you’d struggle to even track down the things in the first place.
This isn’t an issue of “look at all my work”, but rather of the annoying feature of political life (and L&T) to keep on circling around to the same issues. Getting quick feedback in a class is just as much a problem now as it was in 2011.
It’s also a matter of trying to save colleagues having to reinvent the wheel all the time: if you knew what was out there and could access it easily and quickly, then you might not start from first principles. Sure, in some cases you still would, but at least you’d have more sense of what those first principles might be.
So the open question from all this is how we can build resources that are persistent, visible and useful to audiences?
In the case of ALPS, we have talked at times about making non-blog format material, but keep coming back to the challenge of creating – and, crucially, maintaining – a static site. The Man in Seat 61 has been able to do that, but we’ve not been able to make it work with our other commitments.
As so often, there’s not an easy answer to this, but it is something we’ll all have to keep on working on. Digital materials are only going to become more important with time and as academics we seem to be asked ever more about demonstrating our digital footprint. That means traffic data as much as content production, so that’s another can of worms.
But we can only continue to try. if you have some ideas that have worked for you, then let us know.
Maybe even write us a post and then we can share it with everyone who can find it.