Andrew Jones blogs at TallSkinnyKiwi. He is one of the pioneers of Christian blogging. For those of you who may not be familiar with Andrew, you may recall his name from his endorsement of Pagan Christianity. I caught up with Andrew for a full-on interview about blogging in the Christian world. His insights are fascinating.
Frank Viola: Andrew, you are one of the pioneers of the Christian blogosphere. Tell us the story of how you first learned about blogging and what motivated you to begin your blog.
Andrew Jones: Around the end of 1997 I started “Andrew’s Tea Salon” on a free Geocities webpage. I used it as an online journal and for each entry, I added the date above it. It was just a way to record my thoughts, link them to a place and time, and make them public. The word “blogging” was not yet used and most web sites were static vanity sites rather than dynamic interactive journals.
A few years later, Blogger.com came out and I saw an automated way of date-stamping my thoughts, as well as sorting them into monthly sections, and I was hooked. That was the birth of Tallskinnykiwi in 2001. Amazingly, it made number 3 in the world in 2003 according to Blogger Forum, even beating the political blogs. It’s not as popular today and I don’t have the time I used to have to blog, especially with all my travels and non-wifi zones that I spend time in. But I still enjoy blogging and sometimes get to teach it at conferences and universities.
Frank Viola: What are some of the themes that you blog about?
Andrew Jones: One of the main themes that ties it all together on Tallskinnykiwi is the new Christian movements happening across the world, in the 40 or so countries I have visited while blogging. Related to my mission travels are some posts on traveling on a budget, cooking, pilgrimage, history, and raising a family on the road, but I have other blogs that tackle these subjects in a more focused way. Jonesberries.com, for example, is our family travel blog that covers nomadic life and global cultures.
Frank Viola: As you look over the many years you’ve been blogging, what kind of posts have generated the most traffic? What’s the common pattern they share?
Andrew Jones: The controversial posts have generated the most traffic, which is unfortunate. And the posts where I have made a mistake or said something stupid. Even my trivial posts have often outperformed my profound and insightful posts. Sometimes a phrase or word gets ranked highly on Google and I end up with a huge amount of traffic. I wish it were different. But occasionally I hit the target and that is often when I do my research, take my time to write it, bait it well with links, and give it some time to mature before posting it. But readers have to link to it and promote it if it is going to be successful, and that is something that’s out of my hands.
Frank Viola: I’ve noted that when people begin their own blogs, they have less time to read the blogs of others. How can bloggers resolve this dilemma?
Andrew Jones: I find that the art of blogging is not just to publish but also to be involved in a blog conversation with others who either agree or disagree with you and that interaction is vital to the post as well as the comments that follow. To blog is to join the blogosphere and the best blogs are connected to the wider scene. And if people are reading and promoting your blog, it’s just polite to reciprocate.
Frank Viola: What has been the greatest challenge in your blogging experience?
Andrew Jones: The most pressing challenge has been to stay vulnerable and raw which seems harder to do the older you get and the more influential your blog becomes. I wish I could be as carefree as I was when I started. The other more recent challenge is to blog from restricted countries and balance sensitivity with responsibility. In countries like China and Egypt, this has been hard for me to do and I have tended to not say anything at all.
Frank Viola: What has been the greatest encouragement in your blogging experience?
Andrew Jones: Comments. Just the fact that people read what you write and have the ability to speak back, either in agreement or disagreement. How amazing that anyone can publish! I love the internet for that reason.
Frank Viola: What has been the greatest discouragement in your blogging experience?
Andrew Jones: The encouragements far outweigh the discouragements but I sometimes find it depressing how the inconsequential, the trivial and the controversial discussions take away from what might be really important.
Frank Viola: Many have written on the problem of “trolls” today. Web experts define a troll as someone who goes on a campaign to stir up trouble for others. They traffic in misrepresentation, slander, gossip, innuendo, distortions, etc., leaving comments on other people’s blogs and other online outlets that tear others down while lifting themselves up. Media experts continually warn, “Don’t feed the trolls; ignore them.” What has your experience been with dealing with trolls on your blog and what advice can you give to other bloggers on the subject?
Andrew Jones: Controversial topics and speculation is currency for the trolls. I try to avoid controversy as much as possible unless I feel it is something I can add balance or perspective to. Bloggers need to be careful in speaking negatively about other people online because it creates a permanent impression and becomes viral very quickly, taking it out of our control. We should be slow to speak (blog) and quick to listen. Be careful what you say on your own blog, but on other people’s blogs also, where you cannot edit your thoughts later on. Be four times more careful.
Frank Viola: Finally, what are 3 pieces of advice you would give to those who have been blogging for a year or less?
Andrew Jones: 1. Blog because you love to blog. If you blog about what you love to do, and use your natural voice, blogging will come easily and naturally. If you blog for yourself, even if nobody ever reads or comments on your post, you will probably still be blogging in a decade.
2. Don’t blog for money because you will most likely be disappointed with the results. You might make some but it will probably be as an indirect consequence of blogging. “A good name is better than riches.” Reputation is more valuable than remuneration.
3. Don’t fear criticism because you will get plenty. See it as response, correction, feedback, respect. If you find yourself afraid to crawl into your comments section for fear of finding nasties, then you need to either find another hobby or toughen up.
Frank Viola: Great advice. Moderating comments is essential for handling the “nasties.” Every blogger I know has had to moderate their comments diligently lest their blogs be used as platforms for sinning against others through defamatory speech. It’s sad that this would be the case in the Christian world, but it’s the reality in which we live. I trust this interview has encouraged other bloggers through your valuable tips.
Thanks Frank for including me in your series of interviews. I have enjoyed your blog and your books very much.