Five-year anniversary

It’s been five years to the day that I started writing this blog, in Tokyo. Herewith a look back at some of the highlights and ideas for the future. Some of it may come across as a big tap on my own shoulder, so read on being warned.

First off, stats — which by this stage you may have picked is something I like. I have almost published 200,000 words, enough for at least one PhD dissertation, which, alas, leaves the actual dissertation largely to be written. The average blog post is more than 500 words long, which I can only take as an occasion to thank the occasional reader for bearing with me.

Three Tokyo-related posts top the readership list, with about 2,000 unique page views each. These are the posts about the NOA Building, US embassy housing and some historical before-and-after photos from Marunouchi. The second post also made it on the embassy mailing list, which I found out when an American diplomat friend of mine wanted to forward me some information about the complex until he realized that I had in fact written it.

The top 50 of my posts have an average of 470 unique page views and each visitor spends about three minutes reading them. That to me suggests that about half of its visitors take the time to read each post, which is great. In vein moments (like now, writing this post as you may have noticed), I imagine that many people in an auditorium listening to me reading out the post. (NB: Blogs don’t help overcome the fear of public speaking.)

I have not been very aggressive in marketing this blog, bar the occasional tweet and Facebook share. There has been little active discussion here, with only about 100 comments altogether. That’s fine with me, given that the blog is more of a personal sounding board than a forum for debate anyway. But a little more reader feedback is of course always appreciated, dear lurker.

So what has the blog helped me achieve? In no particular order:

  • When you have just quit your nine-to-five job, it’s nice to have someone or something to be accountable to. A blog fills that gap quite nicely. It helped me stay disciplined during the early months. And that discipline, with its ups and downs, has largely remained in place.
  • Here in Tokyo, during the first stint from 2012-13, it gave me the perfect container to dump my experiences from walking through this beast of a city. Having a shitty phone camera and diligently opening up each post with a snap is great for training one’s memory. A blog primarily is a record keeper.
  • Speaking of records, I was also quite religious in documenting each major trip I (or we, as in my wife and I) went on during the last five years. This helps us reminisce and reconstruct our itinerary, something I have missed since the end of the Dopplr years. (I am sure there by now about 1,000 similar apps, but as the mere existence of this blog attests to, you may call me old-fashioned.)
  • The major gratitude I owe to this blog is the inspiration it gave me to launch and pursue projects. By putting something into words, you make lateral connections a lot more easily. It’s hard to see how, without this blog, the Yangon book would have come about. I hope there will be more of these as time goes by.
  • That said, I would not be doing my PhD at this very stage without the blog. As a record-keeper it has been fantastic for checking my enthusiasm, i.e. “am I still into this, three years in?”. I realized I kept coming back to urban studies, but did not entirely drop my more economics-based outlook on observing the world. All this moulded into my ongoing research.

So how about the next five years?

  • Now that I have become a little more confident in the research that I am doing, I would like to reach more people. This will hopefully mean publishing beyond this blog, in (academic) journals for example. Perhaps I should write a little less here and more elsewhere.
  • Although it depends a lot on the platform and technology used (I run this site on WordPress), stand-alone blogs can be solitary undertakings, going under in the vast ocean that is the web. I have shyly been embracing new platforms, primarily Medium, but will need to find out what it is that I want and what image I want to convey to the outside world. A blog allows you to be “all over the place”, other platforms benefit from a sharper profile.
  • Having said that, I would really like to still run this blog in five years’ time. I have never been a diary writer, so this is the closest I will probably ever come. While I disengage from Facebook and much other social media, this blog has become a permanent fixture in my life that I really would not want to miss.

Writing all this reminded me of this post here on Medium, on ‘why words still matter’.

A blog is a bit of a dinosaur. Unless you go at some length yourself to put it there, it doesn’t show up in any scrollable feed that we have grown so accustomed to when it comes to consuming information. You have to either stumble upon it (like most of my readers, via search engines), or make a conscious effort to “check in” with me once in a while. There is something archaic about this. But I also really like the continuity of it.

Lastly, a few people have been instrumental during this 5-year journey — above all my friend Ollie who set the whole site up for me and maintained its digital home all along. My wife, of course, is one of the most avid readers (or listeners) and commenter-in-private.

Many of my friends drop by here regularly to see what I am up to. I have bored them with near-endless babble on economic history and half-baked thoughts.

A few readers have also checked in with me occasionally and sent through some encouraging words.

Thank you to all of you. Here is to the next five years.

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