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Tiffany B. Brown
Bloggers on Blogging, August 2006
In 2002, Tiffany B. Brown started a website called tiffanybbrown.com to write about "Web technology and design, internet life, stuff that catches my eye, and whatever is rumbling through my head at the moment". Two years later, she started Blackfeminism.org, to blog about race, gender, and politics, and one year after that, CulturedWino.com (on permanent hiatus) to explore her interest in wine. She has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from American University.
Tiffany began her online career at the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia, and has worked as a producer for Cox Interactive Media and later Cox Newspapers (for AccessAtlanta.com and AJC.com), and as a web developer at Georgia Tech. She is currently an Interactive Developer at Fletcher Martin, and resides in the Atlanta area.
What is the first weblog you read?
Oh goodness. I can't remember. I think I was reading Zeldman.com and Meyerweb.com on occasion before I knew what a blog was. I think the first blog that I knew was a blog and followed with any regularity was Negrophile.com, by George Kelly.
What about that blog appealed to you?
Negrophile appealed to me because it was a weblog focused on black people. George is an excellent link curator. The bits he highlighted were always interesting and relevant.
Why did you start your weblog?
I started tiffanybbrown.com as a way to promote myself professionally. It worked. It functions as a code sample, and demonstrates my passion for what I do.
How has your site changed over the years?
At first, tiffanybbrown.com wasn't a blog in the traditional sense. I just posted a blurb every so often in a section called 'quickbytes.' I think I turned it into a blog blog in 2003.
I used to have a theme switcher, and crank out a new design every few weeks. But that became tedious to maintain, so I chucked it for the current look. I'm in the beginning stages of an overhaul now. I just don't think the blog design is working as well as it could.
Probably the biggest change to tiffanybbrown.com was my switch from my home-grown publishing system to WordPress.
What is your blog's rank on Technorati?
How much traffic do you get?
Tiffanybbrown.com gets between 400 and 600 page views per day, and about 300 unique visitors. Most of that is search engine-generated.
I'm not sure about BlackFeminism.org and CulturedWino.com. I never paid much attention to their stats, but I pay even less attention now that I'm taking a break. I know BlackFeminism.org received way more comments and attention than tiffanybbrown.com.
Why do you think that is?
“ Never underestimate the power of comments and community. ”
There are a few reasons. A big one was comments. I rolled my own publishing system for tiffanybbrown.com and just never got around to building in comments. But I used a blogging package for BlackFeminism.org and enabled comments. Never underestimate the power of comments and community.
I also don't think my web voice was distinctive enough as a web designer-developer to build a following when I started. Why is what I have to say about web development so different or distinctive when compared to, say Tantek Celik who helped shape W3C specs? Or Molly Holzschlag and Eric Meyer who have written books about the subject? There are 5011-plus web designers and developers who blog, so you really have to bring it content-wise.
There weren't , however, a lot of black women blogging about race, gender and culture when I launched BlackFeminism.org. And I think I had a lot more original, funny stuff to say about life as a black woman in America than as a web developer in America.
Of course, there's a simpler answer: more people are interested in race, gender, and culture than web development.
Do you make money on your site? How?
I make some pocket change with Google AdSense for content and search.
Which tool do you use? Why?
I use WordPress because it was incredibly easy to install, written in PHP, and it's open source. I am a big, big fan of Open Source software because I like the flexibility of the licensing terms. Price is also a big motivator. If I had to pay for a blogging package, I probably would have just kept using the system I developed.
What would your ideal blogging tool do, that available ones don't offer?
It would write for me :-). About the only thing that comes to mind is a way to flag a commenter as someone who is disruptive, or a blog regular, or a new visitor. I'm not sure if this should be managed by the blog's community or by it's writer, but I'd like to see that. Heck, there's probably a plugin somewhere.
Do you have a background in writing?
Sort of. I was a journalism major in college, and I wrote for my college paper. But I have never been a professional writer.
How do you choose items to link?
I typically choose items that catch my eye, make me think, or piss me off. I try to stay 'on message' as much as possible, choosing links that relate to the focus of the blog in question. On my personal blog, that means lots of technology-related links, although I also post links about politics and culture.
How long does it take you to write an link entry? Do you spend time editing link entries?
When I write a 'link dump' type of entry, it usually takes an hour or two. I find and read the links, then write a couple of sentences about it. Sometimes I will add a new link or two to a published post. I'll also edit link dumps to fix typographical and grammatical errors.
Where do you find interesting links?
I use Bloglines to keep track of regular reads. I check out del.icio.us once a day. Many times, I'll find links with good old fashioned web surfing. I'll see a link in a blog post, and then explore that site.
How do you choose items to write longer articles about?
My longer posts tend to be critical in nature. I think they fall into one of two categories (a) "This is cool or funny, and I want to tell you all about it" or (b) "This completely sucks, I'm outraged, and I want to tell you all about it." Sometimes they're more analytical if I'm trying to make sense of or interpret an issue, particularly on BlackFeminism.org.
“ I usually mind-map when I have a topic that can go in a few directions. It really helps me structure the post. ”
How long does it take you to write an entry?
Writing an entry can take as little as thirty minutes. Sometimes it takes days, particularly if I'm writing a review or commentary. It depends on whether the issue is time sensitive. If it's time sensitive, I usually bang out something in an hour or so. Then I'll refine it either through updates, or in the comments. There's no point in commenting on a two-week old news story.
For more 'evergreen' issues, I'll start with a note and some links, or thoughts. Then I'll either create a mind-map or roughly outline the post in my head. For mind-mapping, I either use paper, or Freemind. I usually mind-map when I have a topic that can go in a few directions. It really helps me structure the post.
Do you ever write to deliberately provoke a reaction? Any tips on how to do that?
Sometimes I write to provoke a reaction or discussion. I think the trick is to ask a question. People always want to answer you. Ideally your question will require introspection or invite readers to share something they're passionate about.
How do you handle corrections?
I typically mark the differences using the insert and delete HTML tags, and write the correct information afterwards. If someone brought the correction to my attention, I will also link to his or her site. If it's a typo, I don't bother with the markup. I just change it.
How has your writing changed since you started blogging?
I think the biggest change has been the conversational tone. Most of what I wrote before blogging was journalistic or academic. Now I can use a first-person voice with impunity. I certainly write more frequently.
How often do you update?
If I'm feeling particularly inspired, I may update my blog twice in a day. Usually it's once every couple of days. Lately though, I've been in the midst of a blogging frenzy, writing much more frequently. I think once a day is enough though. More than that, and both I and my readers will go batty.
How many hours a day do you spend online?
I think I spend eight to twelve hours online every day. Most of that is job-related though. I'm a web developer.
How much time each day do you spend on your site?
I usually spend three hours or so on my own site. The bulk of that time involves finding stuff to blog about, and writing actual posts.
When do you blog?
I try to blog early in the morning, before I leave for work, or at night. I've been guilty of BWW—Blogging While Working—on occasion. But only when I'm between projects at work. I try to keep it to a minimum.
“ My day job is 8 fewer hours per day that I can devote to blogging. ”
How does your day job affect your weblog?
Well, my day job is 8 fewer hours per day that I can devote to blogging. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Blogging alone doesn't yet pay the bills, and probably won't do so ever.
Would you like for your blog to be your job?
Of course I would love to blog full-time and make a living with it. Who wouldn't want to get paid for their hobby? I don't think it will happen, though. And I'm not complaining. I love being a web developer as well.
How many weblogs do you follow?
I think I follow about 70 weblogs. I also subscribe to about a dozen other media feeds. Most of those are tech-related.
In your reading, do you actively seek out differing points of view? How?
I don't seek out different points of view unless it's a topic about which I'm undecided. Sometimes I'll browse Technorati for others' opinions. But I don't, for example, read conservative political weblogs. Their point-of-view frustrates me rather than enlightening me.
Has your weblog led to any other opportunities?
Yes. My web log definitely helped me get my last job. It absolutely helped me land speaking opportunities at South by Southwest, ConvergeSouth 2005 and this year's BlogHer. I think blogging in general is a great self-promotional tool. If nothing else, my blog demonstrates my abilities to code and to form a sentence.
How does the possibility that you may be flamed affect your writing?
I tend to couch my writing in gentler terms when I think I'll be flamed. Usually, though, I write first and worry about the reaction later.
At SXSW you appeared on the "Blogging While Black" panel, and then on the Blogher/SXSW panel "Public Square or Private Club: Does exclusivity strengthen or dilute?". In theory, on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Is blogging really different for African-Americans than it is for white folks? For women than for men? How?
True, nobody knows you're a dog on the Internet, but without cues to the contrary, I think most people—most English-speaking users, at least—will assume that you're a straight, white, American male. I think that's why and how blogging is different as a black person, as a woman, as a gay person, and as a non-American.
Obviously race and gender aren't critical to every web conversation. It doesn't really matter that I'm a black woman when I'm discussing CSS, except to the extent that someone may think of me as a role model.
But think about political and cultural conversations where opinions are heavily affected by someone's identity and experience. When someone middle-class says, for example, "Why can't they just go to college and get a job like I did?", well, someone who grew up poor could very easily explain why "just go to college" isn't as easy as it sounds.
So for women, people of color, GLBT people, international bloggers, etc—I think we tend to reveal our identities as a way of informing readers about our perspective and adding our voices to the discussion.
Sometimes the ways we reveal our identity are obvious—a photo or other image, our name, our blog's name or domain, boilerplate text. Sometimes they markers are subtle, say through language—writing in hip-hop slang, Spanglish, UK English, or Black Vernacular English.
In terms of attacks, I have noticed that verbal attacks against women seem to be gender-based. If the attacker is not using "bitch", they attack a woman's appearance, or use traditional anti-woman code words like "hysterical." I heard of one feminist blogger who was threatened with a "hate fuck". That, I'm sure, is a different kind of verbal abuse than men experience.
My experiences with race online have been a bit different. Because BlackFeminism.org had a heavily-black audience, the verbal attacks tended to be gender-related rather than race-related.
“ I heard of one feminist blogger who was threatened with a hate fuck. That, I'm sure, is a different kind of verbal abuse than men experience. ”
Did a lot of men read that site?
No. But when the attacks came, they were usually about gender-related posts, rather than race related posts.
What is your sense about the people who attack other people rather than their ideas? Do you think they are actually threatened by the race/ gender/orientation of the attackee, and the contrary viewpoint just gives them an excuse to attack; or do you think that when their own ideas are challenged, they attack because "otherness" is such an easy target?
I think it's a combination of the two. Otherness is definitely an easy target. At the same time, I think we have cultural expectations about how women are supposed to behave, how black people are supposed to behave. So when you have someone who isn't passive or shuffling, and is actually critical of our culture or of your own behavior, that's threatening. But they'll attack your otherness because they don't have a better comeback. Once people know your identity, it gives them something or someone on whom they can project their issues.
Whose writing do you particularly admire?
Oh goodness. That's a big question. I am a big fan of Kortney of Blac(k)ademic. I love one of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's dating bloggers, Wise Diva. danah boyd always writes stuff that makes me think. I dig Jason Toney's stuff too. Offline, I like Chinua Achebe's novels. bell hooks is my black feminist idol.
Is there a certain type of entry, or a certain kind of day that is most satisfying for you?
I really enjoy writing thoughtful, critical pieces. But I think my favorite kind of entry, though, is the tutorial or the how-to. I wrote a post, for example about when to use the PHP function is_numeric() versus ctype_digit(). It was short, but I was fulfilled because I had just learned something and was then able to share the knowledge.
“ When I get burned out I have to walk away for however long it takes for me to feel whole and healed. ”
Have you ever burnt out? How did you handle it?
I burn out like clockwork—I'd say every six months without fail :-). I usually just make it a point to back away. With blackfeminism.org, actually, I've been on a semi-permanent hiatus since April or so. I was posting furiously almost every day about rather enraging topics. It began to take an emotional toll. So I unplugged from mainstream media for awhile, and stopped updating the site.
When I get burned out like that, I have to walk away for however long it takes for me to feel whole and healed.
Since you started your site, what is the longest length of time you've gone without updating?
I think the longest I've gone has been six months. It may have been longer with BlackFeminism.org. There was one stretch in its first year where I just forgot about the site. Usually when I drop off the virtual earth like that, it's because I've burnt out somehow, or run out of things to say.
Is there anything you wish you had time to do with your site?
I wish I had the time to do more critical and journalistic writing. I'd like to redesign my blog at some point. I need to make time to do that.
What about books and other offline reading - do you have time for it now?
Yes. I take mass transit 5 days a week. I devote my train time and my lunch break to reading. I probably read two to three books per month.
How does offline input contribute to your blogging?
Offline input works in the same way as online input. It gives me another view of the world, more ideas to consider. I know my life philosophy has been heavily shaped by my offline reading, and that's reflected in what I blog about. Probably the most obvious example are book and music reviews. But usually it's a general "food for thought" kind of thing.
Why do you blog?
I blog to connect, to share, and to debate. To some degree, my blog is also a notebook of items and knowledge that I want to come back to.
How has your weblog changed your life?
My blog has helped me career-wise, without question. I've landed interviews and been approached by recruiters because of my blog. I've also made friends through my weblog. It's been quite amazing.
With regard to blogging, what was your most memorable moment?
What are your hobbies?
Does blogging count as a hobby? I read a lot. I paint, draw and make jewelry on occasion. I haven't painted in quite a while though. But for the most part, blogging is my hobby.
What is the most telling thing about you?
My music collection. I like to think of myself as a broad-minded, urban individual with eclectic interests and tastes. Whether I've succeeded is up for debate, but I've got quite a pretty diverse music collection.
Mac or PC?
I'm bi-OS-ual. I have a MacBook laptop and I work on Macs at my job. But I have a Windows-based desktop. I have a slight preference for the Mac OS though. I want a Linux machine too though. But I think Linux might be a little too DIY for me.
Would you read your site?
You know, I don't know if I would read my site if I didn't know me. I think I read flaky.
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