Is this my final blog post?

Two years ago yesterday I launched this blog. Somehow I convinced myself to post several times a week to just a loyal few readers. (Thanks Mom!). Then, unexpectedly, the rest of you appeared.

From the beginning, I decided blogging would be a two-year experiment. After that I’d pause, reevaluate, and maybe stop.

I’ll save you the suspense: I plan to keep going for now.

I still made myself pause and reevaluate, however, and I thought I’d share what I learned. Blogging has been more rewarding than I expected, and I think more academics should give it a try. Maybe these words will influence a few.

First and most important, I like blogging. That is probably reason enough. I like sharing ideas, hearing opposing views, inspiring students and, maybe if I’m lucky, shifting the views of a policymaker or two. I don’t have the time to advise all the students I’d like, or harangue policymakers one by one. The blog is a technology, one that makes me orders of magnitude more productive.

Some almost-bloggers worry for their academic careers. I think the days are over when a blog imperils the junior faculty member. On the contrary, if you can keep it professional, I think the opposite is now true.

Why? Well, I learn a lot. Writing daily forces me to read things more carefully and critically, and distill ideas to their essential points. This in turn stimulates research ideas, several of which are cooking as we speak.

Dani Rodrik called his blog his academic memory (but with Google). I agree. If I’m trying to remember an article I liked, or a old research idea, it’s only one search away. Since memory is not my greatest strength (this morning I left my suitcase in a taxi) an online diary has its uses.

Blogging also keeps me outside my comfort zone on big questions. When you run surveys and experiments for a living, you become obsessed with the world in miniature. Now I’m forced to raise my head and think about problems beyond my narrow expertise.

Finally, I learn because you send me interesting things to read, and pounce when my logic or leaning is weak.

Certainly there’s an opportunity cost to blogging. It’s probably 15 or sometimes 30 minutes a day I don’t spend writing research papers. But there are diminishing returns to that nth hour of research, and it’s not nearly as fun.

Either way, I can confidently say that blogging more than pays back that investment. I’d trace about a quarter of my current research funding to the blog, and more than one field opportunity. (Plus my mother has stopped asking what I do for a living.)

New and longtime readers: thanks for following. And Happy Blogiversary.