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5 Lessons from Blogging about My School

In nine months,

  • 145 e-news subscribers and 15+ blog subscribers via RSS
  • a few comments on every post
  • a prominent position on Loyola’s leading community at Orkut
  • links from Loyola bloggers,
  • 19,000+ pageviews, and
  • 3,750+ absolute unique visitors.

In the first year of blogging about the school, could I have asked for greater acceptance and recognition?

As year 2007 ends, here are a few lessons, sweet and sour.

  1. Loyolites are hungry for news about the school, teachers and old boys. Even though the biggest discovery of my blog was probably the composer of the school song, it got overshadowed by two news reports: Deepa Madam Moves On, and IAS Exam: 3 Loyolites in Top 10. There is a lesson in this for Loyola Old Boys’ Association, the school, and other ventures based in Trivandrum.
  2. Readers come to read online, not act offline. Your blog can pump out ideas (like digitising school magazines, Great School Campaign), but you should not expect readers to take the initiative for implementing them. At best, readers will do activities that can be done online; primarily, supplying intellectual inputs. They don’t lead, they follow. For getting things done, you have to write to people personally, ask for funds privately, and mobilise action offline. Like the Joseph Uncle Campaign. You will get support, not leadership. The blog is in a wired enclave.
  3. You can’t please everybody. One of my beliefs when I started the blog was that the content would be attractive to not only Loyola old boys, but also old boys of other schools in India, especially Kerala. People who read about the school song will think of their own school song, people who read about Loyola’s buildings will think of their own school building, and to go back to their school, they will come to this blog, that was my train of thought. The meagre feedback I sought from non-Loyolites suggests that they do not find the blog attractive. “You are writing about your school, and I can’t identify with it,” said one. But the bigger surprise was that there were Loyolites who did not find this blog appealing. Why? The language is not casual (none of the “Hey dude! Gr8 to c ya”), the matter-of-fact tone is dry, there is no nostalgic “Loyola is great” tom-tomming, the topics are too intellectual…you can add your grouse to the list.
  4. Blogging steals time, like television. As a blogger based far away from Loyola, I knew that I could not channelise a news river from the school. That’s why the blog was to revolve around the social history of the school, rather than what was happening in Loyola now. Blogging about people, places and the past wouldn’t be difficult, right? How wrong I was! Writing a new and interesting article every fortnight drains your energy and time. Replying to comments, answering queries via e-mail, planning and co-ordinating specials (like on Fr Pulickal), writing posts…phew! Where’s the time to market and monetise this blog, to make it self-financing?
  5. To be a happy, amateur blogger, find a niche and be regular. I chose Loyola’s social history as the pivot for my blog, after months of research on blogging. When I floated the idea, there was silence from some quarters and opposition from others; not even one person welcomed the choice of topic. All wanted me to blog, but friends (including Loyolites) and relatives groaned and asked, “Haven’t you grown out of this Loyola thing?” But within months, the same friends and relatives were applauding. Whatever success the blog has achieved is mainly due to (a) the niche topic; (b) the regularity of postings; and (c) basic writing techniques.

I enjoy every interaction that arises via the blog and thank all of you for your encouragement through online visits and offline phone calls, blogpost comments and e-mails. Two among you have been regular and unwavering in your support from day one — Jiby (online) and Roshen (offline). I cannot thank you enough. Syam appears villainous on screen but is a hero backstage — he scouts energetically for the Loyolites’ Blogs section.

My blogging goals for 2008

  1. Deliver good content and regularly.
  2. Build the great school campaign and spark a few more ventures.
  3. Make the blog self-financing, at least to pay the webhosting charges ($10/month).
  4. Do all this more efficiently, i.e. in less time.

Loyola’s Harappa

Have you seen an ancient site built for old boys of Loyola School? There is one at block 7744 in the Acropolis suburb of Athens. Ten years after the site was built, I dug up the place and here’s what I found.

Long long ago, circa 1996, Geocities.com was one of the most popular websites. It was also among the first webhosting services that allowed users to host webpages free-of-cost. If you wanted to build a site at Geocities, they would first ask you to pick a neighbourhood (“SiliconValley” for tech-related websites, “Hollywood” for entertainment-related websites). And just as your postal address carried your neighbourhood’s name, your web address too would.

It was in this world of Geocities that Mathew Joseph Pongonthara (1976), the school leader of his batch, decided to build a “cyberhome” for schoolmates. He appears to have been inspired by the other Loyola in his life — Loyola College, Chennai — whose old boys had set up an alumni website the previous year, and on which, Mathew had posted a comment.

The Loyola College alumni website was at Geocities, in the neighbourhood for education-related websites (“Athens”), on block 6166. Mathew built his school’s website in the same neighbourhood, but a few blocks away, in 7744. By the time Mathew decided to establish our school’s online presence, owners were required to choose a suburb too. Mathew chose “Acropolis” inside Athens.

Thus the two Loyola websites had strikingly similar addresses.
http://www.geocities.com/athens/6166/loyola.html
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/7744/LOYOLA.HTM

If you look under the hood — the source code of the school’s page — you will see that Mathew did not envisage the school’s webpage to be vanilla white. He seems to have wanted the same background design as his personal website. But the school site ended up having a plain, white background.

The Loyola College alumni website existed as early as July 1996 and has survived to this day. The school website appears to have come later — in August 1997 — but was not updated after October 1997.

The school site mentions a reunion held in the US; perhaps the idea of setting up the website was discussed in that reunion. To find out, this month I began my search for Mathew and a couple of old boys who might have attended that reunion (in 1997?), but efforts so far have drawn a blank. Webpages tell me that when Mathew is offline, he is in Canada. If Mathew or his friends read this, let us get in touch and fill the gaps in the story of Loyola’s rise on the internet. At loyolites.com, we love the past as much as the future.

The Birth of loyolites.com

Update: This post is now available as a podcast. [display_podcast]

The idea of launching loyolites.com sparked in 2004.

The previous year, as president of the Old Boys’ Association (LOBA), I had seen that:

  • an increasing number of Loyolites were moving out of Kerala after graduation;
  • the internet was enabling inexpensive, faster, frequent, and direct communication among old boys;
  • LOBA was rapidly growing in size, yet failing to attract volunteers to run it; and
  • the needs/expectations of old boys varied across generation and location — a Loyolite from the 1970s based in Kerala expected LOBA to do x, while his classmate in California wanted LOBA to do y. And then there was the Loyolite from 2000s, who wanted z.

My reading was that the alumni movement would soon shift — from a monopoly model to a network model. If in the past, old boys looked to LOBA for meeting all their needs, in the future, they were likely to pick-and-choose the best ventures to meet each specific need. So in 2004, after stepping down as president, I bought the domain name www.loyolites.com.

By 2007, e-groups, batch websites, and e-communities have sprung up, thanks to enterprising Loyolites with energy and ideas. loyolites.com, we hope, will make the mela merrier.

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