6 Year Blogiversary: Things I’ve Learned

Six years ago today I began blogging (well, at the old site) with a rather ambitious mission statement. While I don’t have quite as much hubris now as I did then, I was happy to see that I actually stand by most of what I said when I kicked this whole thing off. Six years, 647 posts,  a few hiatuses and one applied stats degree later, I think 2012 BS King would be pretty happy with how things turned out.

I actually went looking for my blogiversary date because of a recent discussion I had about the 10,000 hour rule myth. The person I was talking to had mentioned that after all these years of blogging my writing must have improved dramatically, and I mentioned that the difference was probably not as big as you might think. While I do occasionally get feedback on grammar or confusing sentences, no one sits down with bloggers and tells them “hey you really should have combined those two sentences” or “paragraph three was totally unnecessary”. In the context of the 10,000 hour rule, this means I’m lacking the “focused practice” that would truly make me a better writer. To truly improve you need both quality AND quantity in your practice.

The discussion got me wondering a bit…what skills does blogging help you hone? If the ROI for writing is minimal, what does it help me with?  I mean, there’s a lot of stuff I love about it: the exchange of ideas, meeting interesting people, getting to talk about the geeky topics I want to talk about, thinking more about how I explain statistics and having people send me interesting stuff. But does any of that result in the kind of focused practice and feedback that improves a skill?

As I mulled it over, I realized there are two main areas I’ve improved in, one smaller, one bigger. The first is simply finding more colorful examples for statistical concepts. Talking to high school students helps with this, as those kids are unapologetic about falling asleep on you if you bore them. Blogging and thinking about this stuff all the time means I end up permanently on the lookout for new examples, and since I tend to blog about the best ones, I can always find them again.

The second thing I’ve improved on is a little more subtle. Right after I put this blog up, I established some ground rules for myself. While I’ve failed miserably at some of these (apostrophes are still my nemesis), I have really tried to stick to discussing data over politics. This is tricky because most of the data people are interested in is political in nature, so I can’t avoid blogging about it. Attempting to figure out how to explain a data issue routed in a political controversy with a reader base that contains highly opinionated conservatives, liberals and a smattering of libertarians has taught me a LOT about what words are charged and which aren’t. This has actually transferred over to my day job, where I occasionally get looped in to situations just so I can “do that thing where you recap what everyone’s saying without getting anyone mad”.

I even notice this when I’m reading other things now, how often people attempt to subtly bias their words in one direction or another while claiming to be “neutral”. While I would never say I am perfect at this, I believe the feedback I’ve gotten over the years has definitely improved my ability to present an issue neutrally, which I hope leads to a a better discussion about where data goes wrong. Nothing has made me happier over the years than hearing people who I know feel strongly about an issue agree to stop using certain numbers and to use better ones instead.

So six years in, I suppose I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s read here over the years, given me feedback, kept me honest, and put up with my terrible use of punctuation and run on sentences. You’ve all made me laugh, and made me think, and I appreciate you taking the time to stop on by. Here’s to another year!

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