I’ve been invited to give a TEDx talk!

So this week I was invited to give a TEDx talk.

(I accepted. Obviously)

I’m astonishingly happy – I’ve worked hard for a long time on a whole range of projects that I think make the world better, and being asked to give a TEDx talk feels so very validating.

I’ll be speaking at this TEDx.  Please excuse the suitably-TEDish intro. I think I’d have to be a little more self confident before I use that as my main bio…

Also please excuse the terrible shortness of this post – but there is only so many words that you need 🙂



Blog news: moving to a three day week.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 16.24.45I been taken stock of where I am with blogging. A lot of this has looked at long term goals and thinking about the implicit social contract I have with readers. Some of the data points that pushed me in the direction of this were:

  • I produced almost 100 blog posts in about 120 days before Christmas, but reviewing them, although there are many I’m very proud of, there are many I’m not – quite a lot are a little on the short side or a ‘hey look at this’, which, frankly I can use Twitter for.
  • This blog has been much more popular than I ever expected it to me, I’m constantly astonished by the rate of traffic and thankful for it. I’m responding to this gradually: in the last couple of weeks I’ve overhauled the site design considerably to something that looks much more ‘committed blogger’ than ‘academic with thoughts’ (you’d think there’d be no other type, you’d be wrong). My intention is to move more towards substantive issue-based articles, interviews, and guest posts and away from the ‘hey a news item’ style.
  • The last issue is that looking at my analytics, I’m astonished how few readers and looking at my stuff using rss-clients compared to just ‘turning up regularly’. The most astonishing part of this was that when Lifehacker.org linked to me a couple of weeks ago, only a tiny fraction of the Lifehacker readers arrived from rss readers and similar services. And if the Lifehacker readers aren’t using rss very much, then it’s fair to assume very few people are (I think everyone should, but that’s an article for another day).

After having thought about these things for a little while I’ve decided to try out a ‘three posts a week’ strategy. So I’ll be posting new articles at 10am Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The idea is that it will encourage me into more substantial posts (because that’s fewer posts than I would write if given free rein), while at the same time letting regular readers know that there isn’t any point turning up on Tuesday/Thursday looking for anything new (this will take down my visitor numbers obviously, but if that’s not an excellent example of number-blindness then I don’t know what is). It will also encourage me to write less ‘of the moment’ articles. Yes they might be interesting at the time, but having to ask myself ‘will this still be interesting next week?’ can only improve my writing.

I should say I’ve trialed this for the last few weeks, and I’d like to keep up a cushion of about a week, which I currently have. If it doesn’t work then I’ll happily go back to a slightly more ‘fire and forget’ approach, but I’d like to publicly commit to it.

Other admin  – style and comments

Some other bits of site admin – the site itself has had a small style overhaul – mostly behind the scenes but some more obvious parts. I’ve removed the ‘auto hold’ on comments. Previously I had to moderate a comment before it appeared on the site, now they appear instantly. I was surprised I was getting comments at all and I hope to encourage more of them – I think that engaged readers are the very lifeblood of a blog and I’d love to get more and more of them. To that end I’ve improved various aspects of the commenting system, and I’ve put the ‘recent comments’ right at the top of the sidebar on the home page so that everyone can see how much I value them.

(one of the advantages of holding posts, of course, is that I can put all this ‘about the blog’ information in one post, rather than spreading it out over a few weeks)




(Page image from wikicommons)

100th Post! Thank you all!

Whoop!  After four months, this blog has reached it’s 100th post!

I’m pretty proud of that. Pretty proud of that indeed. I should, of course, thank my lovely stable of guest bloggers for the posts they provide, along with everyone who tweeted, or facebooked or shared links to post and helped me build up traffic (I might, for a future post, pull up the list of twitter people who did, it’s reasonably easy to do with the API). I should also thank everyone who pointed out typos big and small, and especially everyone who commented on the blog. That’s really wonderful of you.

Some people to particularly thank, are the hard-core readers… This is the visitor logs for the last couple of months:

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 22.10.52


It’s not the thousands of people who turned up once that interest me (well I’d like to convert a few more of them to regular readers, but that can wait) it’s the 250 people who have turned up over 100 times. These are the hardcore readers, who are the people I’m thinking of when I write posts, and I thank you all for returning so many times (particularly because some of you are returning to find that I’ve not written anything since last time). By all means get involved more – comment or email me with the things you think I should start doing, keep doing, or stop doing – I feel like I’m only engaging with a fraction of you.

Press roundup.

My work has turned up in a few places since last time I did a media update…

For your interest:

An article about me in French… (Narrative Analysis work, the result of an interview I gave to a (obviously) French journalist)

The money I sent though the Royal Mail was covered  in this ‘World News Press’ article

From some time age, but I’ve only just seen it. An article about TooManyCooks :

Some coverage in a Scotlish local paper of the problems with Borders Health Border FoI process – this is the stuff upon which I wrote my guest blogs for FoIman…

From yesterday’s Google Analytics, I should expect well over a million visitors to my blog this year…

From yesterday’s Google Analytics, I should expect well over a million visitors to my blog this year…

…which is, of course, as good an argument for why people should look at trends over time as you’ll ever find.

So this is my website traffic over the last month:

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 12.00.28

…and sensible people might be asking why four thousand people turned up yesterday (normally I have about 100 visitors a day). It’s because I put a post up on reddit that proved relatively popular and was voted to the top of the UK subreddit, where it stayed for about 12 hours….


It would have been probably much higher than 4,000, except that the large amount of traffic overwhelmed the site, meaning it was offline for a good percentage of those 12 hours (I’ve now sensibly enabled caching and so on, so the site is much better equipped to handle such spikes, should they ever occur again. It’s difficult to estimate how much bigger, but one would expect that the two peaks in this chart would have been the sides of a larger surge (the second peak was just as I got the caching working) and the first is just as it rose to the top of the subreddit (the times are not in GMT unfortunately)

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 12.01.52


This is now my main space on the internet.

Stock photography for 'directions'

Today I got around to removing my academic homepage, which has been maintained since around 2006 and redirecting the content to this blog.  This blog is now my proper internet home.  I’d certainly advise all academics in a similar position to consider hard the idea of having their personal page hosted well away from any particular university.

I’ve also closed down www.projecttoomanycooks.co.uk, which has been active since about 2010. Unfortunately it’s also been fairly static since that time and has always looked a little thrown together. It’s also suffered from being the concatenation of two things that probably shouldn’t be concatenated: the TooManyCooks project which helps groups of people write, and the narrative analysis work that helps people visualise what’s been written.  The recent press we received for the latter convinced me that I need to bring those projects both within this site for at least the time being (and that I should have done this before work started appearing in the news).

(2016 edit: the TooManyCooks project now exists mostly within http://whitewaterwriters.com/ and the narrative analysis posts became Maps of books)