Johan Fourie's blog

I'd rather be a comma than a fullstop

Posts Tagged ‘blogging

It’s five years!

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Five years ago, on a warm January day, I started a blog. I tend to forget detail easily, but I somehow vividly remember sitting at my desk, squeezed into a bedroom that was also a living room and home office space, and watching a hawk land on the small balcony. They say you have to write about what you see, so that is how I started my first post.

It’s five years later. Life is different. Helanya and I have moved twice since that day. We’ve travelled. I’ve graduated my first (soon to be two) student(s). But we’ve been fortunate, too, in that many things have not changed at all. We’ve attended many baby showers and few funerals. We’ve gained wonderful new friends through travelling. My students keep on inspiring me. And my colleagues and co-authors continue to have too much patience.

My blog has remained, too, although a long-time reader would recognise some change. As with most new things, I was productive initially, writing 10 posts in my first month. I soon realised I couldn’t keep up the pace, and the frequency declined to average between four and six posts. I blogged about many things that interested me, but Economics-related topics seemed to take precedence.

At the beginning of last year, I was offered a contract to write a bi-weekly column for Finweek magazine. Due to time and (more importantly) idea constraints, I began to post my columns as posts instead of writing altogether new posts. The result has been that the length of my posts has increased, but that the frequency has declined. It also means that the average number of visitors per day has declined somewhat. I would like to think that there is a quality-quantity trade-off, though. There is some evidence to support this claim: the number of permanently registered readers has continued to increase.

It’s strange to reread some of the posts that I wrote several years ago. They are recognisably me, but they are also different from how I would write about the same topic now. I guess that means that I’m learning. Or unlearning.

Or just growing older.

Blogging is a difficult business these days. What I had hoped to do when I started was to debate, to challenge, to offer a different, sometimes unpopular, perspective. But I have become less eager to do this, probably because I have lost some of my youthful big-eyed optimism, but mostly because of the uncritical social media platforms that now dominate public debate.

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I would like to think the blog has had some impact, though. My 258 (this will the the 259th) posts have attracted 295 659 visitors to my site, who’ve read my posts 417 095 times. That is an unfathomable number, and much more than I could have hoped for. The large number is largely the result of one post I wrote – Why and what to study in South Africa – which I wrote in May 2013 and has since received more than 156 000 views. It also has 251 comments. The most views in one day actually come from a book review about Ken Follett’s Century trilogy. He retweeted the blog post, and I was swamped by visitors. Most of them were there for the images of the characters, which I had borrowed from someone else (with due credit, fortunately.) My favourite post? There are many that I like (of course), but I think the one that stands out is my response to Zuma’s remarks at the beginning of 2015.

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This morning the Stellenbosch heavens finally opened up for some much-needed rain. I hear doves cooing, playing in the temporary ponds in our new flower bed. Perhaps they are descendants of the chicks that hatched five summers ago… (but then this will likely be the third or even fourth generation, as Google tells me that doves only have a 1.5-year lifespan in the wild.) It’s the start of a new year, a time when we tend to look to the future. And I wonder: Where will we be in another five years’ time?

Written by Johan Fourie

January 27, 2017 at 10:28

One hundred posts later

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Global audience: The redder, the more read.

Global audience: The redder, the more read.

This is my 100th post on this blog. Since my first post in January 2012, I’ve had 35,563 views of my posts. I know that this is less than more popular blogs receive per day, but I am still astounded that so many people have taken the trouble to read what I’ve written. Especially since I sometimes struggle to even get my wife Helanya to voluntarily listen to my naive (but brilliant!) ideas. (My students have no choice.)

I sometimes (actually, never, but for the sake of the argument let’s go with sometimes) get asked How I Choose My Topics. The last-page-of-Time-interview answer would be: I don’t, they choose me. But that would be a lie. In fact, I sometimes have a hard time finding a topic to write about, which is the reason I struggle to keep to my one-post-per-week rule. Even so, I’ve managed to fit in 100 posts in less than 100 weeks, which shows that I did find something to write about. This is helped by the fact that I live in South Africa where there are enough silly people saying silly things to write several thousand blog posts about.

I know you want to know which one of the 100 is my favourite post. Statistically it seems obvious: The Slow Demise of the Farm Worker received a whopping 6,468 views, 34% of all the posts on my blog (if the figures don’t make sense, it’s because I’ve excluded the 16,803 visits to my Home page, Archives and About page). That post was also responsible for my Most Views per Day-record – 2,655 on 15 November 2012 – and for invitations to write for Rapport, an Afrikaans national weekly, and some consulting work for a farmers organisation. I even received a phone call to appear on an Afrikaans TV-show. But, to be honest, I don’t consider it my best piece. It was actually one of those days when ideas were in short supply. I remember thinking, after finishing the post, that this is little more than reciting a first-year Economics text book. Turns out 6,468 people wanted to know what first-year Economics could tell them about the surging labour unrest.

My favourite post would have to be Stellenbosch, Sandton and Soweto, partly because I think it is still extremely relevant. If I have to identify a theme for my first 100 posts, it would be about incentives and institutions that shape our society, and that post crystallizes most of my thinking about the (formal and informal) incentives post-Apartheid South Africa created. It also stirred some debate, which I had hoped to encourage by my strategically-positioned Coldplay soliloquy “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop”. Although I’ve received excellent feedback – on the blog itself (216 comments, an average of 2 comments per post) but also on Facebook, Twitter and on Finweek’s website, where most of my recent posts have been reposted – I hope to further encourage debate in future.

The community of Economics bloggers in South Africa is still small. Prof Waldo Krugell, department head at North-West University (Potchefstroom campus), leads the charge with his Eat, Sleep, Blog Economics-blog. Nic Spaull, recently elected as one of the 200 coolest young South Africans, is also active. The Econ3x3.org blog, run by editor Frederick Fourie (no relation) and with a prestigious editorial board, is probably best known for policy analysis on Economic issues. Yet the South African network pales in comparison to the active US bloggers like Tylor Cowen’s Marginal Revolution, Noah Smith’s Noahpinion and, of course, Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman who established or expanded their reputation by blogging actively. People (could potentially) ask me whether it takes a lot of time writing a blog. Only about three hours, I’d say, less than half the time many of us spend on Facebook. Hopefully more South African economists will take up the baton.

This is necessary because blogging is increasingly not a domestic affair. Exactly half my viewers have been from South Africa (15,819); the other half have come from 152 countries, including the UK (4,326), India (the first developing country outside South Africa at 406 visitors), Kenya (the first African country outside South Africa at 94), and even far-off places like Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Bahrain and Liechtenstein (all 1). Strangely enough I’ve also only had one visitor from China which, with its more than 1 billion citizens, has contributed less to my readership than visitors from the Occupied Territories of Palestina (3), the Falkland Islands (3) or the Cape Verde islands (2). In marketing terms, this is certainly an exploitable market opportunity. I’m also keen to get my first visitor from South Sudan. I hope to achieve this by writing South Sudan in this post repeatedly. South Sudan. South Sudan. South. Sudan. That should work.

A lot has changed since my first post. Two summers passed. I turned 30. I graduated. Helanya and I moved into our own apartment. (A word of thanks: Helanya still edits nearly all my posts. She has saved me a lot of embarrassment.) My first post on January 22, 2012 was written in the early hours of the morning watching the sun rise.  “There certainly will be growing pains. Hurdles. Obstacles. But there is also the joy of new things, of learning and of, well, sending that cosmic question into the void. Let’s fly.”

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Written by Johan Fourie

June 18, 2013 at 22:17