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Secret no more

I almost posted about this a couple of weeks ago, but I managed to rein it in long enough for other things to take over my brainspace. So much for that:

In the last month or so, IHE's Around the Web, Crooked Timber, Sivacracy, and BlogHer have all shown the linklove to, and in some cases positively fawned over, a new site called Academic Secret. You can follow any of these links to see what I mean. The premise behind AS is simple. It tropes on PostSecret, the project that made its way from art installation to blog to nationally marketed book.

Here's the thing, though. PostSecret, although it's since jumped the shark into a little bit shock-fest and a little bit Photoshopping contest, was actually an interesting project at the time. There's something profound, cathartic, and occasionally touching about telling "everyone" the things that you can't tell anyone. There's something kind of cool about the inversion of public and personal/private that PS accomplishes.

It will probably not surprise you to learn that I find nothing of the sort over at AS. I don't discount the possibility of interesting discussions in the comments, but the site itself just feels really banal to me. Let's go to the tape:

Secret #3? "I enjoy reading academicsecret more than the blogs of people I know."
Secret #4? "Sometimes I exaggerate a bit on academicsecret."
Secret #12? "I devote more time to coming up with publishable a.secrets than I do to coming up with publishable research ideas."

Ah yes. Pretty heady stuff. We also learn "secrets" like academic writing is boring (#1), academics don't always like their jobs (#13), academics sometimes fantasize about leaving academia (#17), academics sometimes feel lonely (#2), academics sometimes lie to appear more attractive (#19), and so on.

It's hard not to get sarcastic here. One of the differences between PS and AS, it seems to me, is that PS solicited those secrets that themselves couldn't be spoken or told. There are some heartbreaking things about that site. The only real secrets at AS, on the other hand, are the identities of the people themselves. Their "secrets" in most of these cases (are ineffectual panel moderators at conferences not anyone's pet peeve? (#21)) aren't. It might hurt a few people's feelings to learn that their trusted colleague wants to leave, or that the article they submitted was thought boring, or that their workout buddy would rather listen to music than chat (#6), but these "stealthy moles inside the grove of academe" aren't exactly turning the academic world on its ear.

If the people posting there are getting something from the community that they don't otherwise get from their more immediate social networks, then more power to em. Goodness knows, if there are audiences for Fear Factor and America's Funniest Home Videos, there's an audience for this stuff, too. I'm just not among them.

The site itself leaves me pretty indifferent, but the fact that it's getting attention from all these high-profile portal blogs is a little bothersome. I felt the same way about the Rate My Students nonsense, which was another of those banal parody sites that (a) sounds great over beers at a conference, (b) was impossible to actually execute, and (c) makes us all look a little worse than we actually are. Every time I see a link to sites like these, a tiny part of my belief in the possibilities of blogspace dies. So, no, I don't think they're "great."

That is all.


yeah you know, it's that old "me too" thing that people love to read to feel validated: "OMG! *You* like pizza?? *I* like pizza!!!"

Go see a professor rapping out that first part of the Canterbury Tales -- it'll make you feel better.

Wow, we get some early positive notice for our premise, which you actually misunderstand, and then you take it out on us. You are probably the sort of person who has a bad day at work and goes home and kicks your dog. Anyway, your critical points are actually well-taken, and while we are pleased to have you not reading us anymore, we are quite aware of shortcomings so far. I don't know how it will shape up in the future. It might just die, at which you can rejoice in the failure of others. Although I understand that we have not done well to convey this, the idea was less that we were taking off on postsecret, and more about the idea that we would provide academics with a space to blog pseudonymously where they wouldn't even know one another's identities, in part to see what might emerge. I think that idea has promise even if our own management ends up not being able to carry it off.

Clear, you say this as though there is no space where academics can blog psuedonymously--this is the premise that I've misunderstood?

Here's what you've misunderstood--I really am pretty indifferent to whether your site "succeeds" or "fails," whatever that might mean. I acknowledge above that I can see as how your participants might gain something from the discussions in the comments or from whatever community might emerge, and I have nothing against that.

But I don't think it's a great idea, and I don't think this makes me abusive, or someone who delights in the misery of others. If it makes you feel better, though, to imagine that I'm that "sort of person," feel free. We have different ideas of what will make our shared profession a better place to work and live in, and I'll stand by mine as you will by yours.

You were the one who took the time to write a weirdly long and intense post criticizing our blog for not providing you with some kind of lurid entertainment about academia.

Anyway, although I know you are not interested, I'll explain the premise anyway: it's easy to have a pseudonymous blog if you want to start your own blog. It's also easy to have a pseudonymous team blog where the members of the team all know each other. Our goal was to offer academics the chance to be part of a team blog and yet be pseudonymous even from one another. The idea for picture secrets was something we added after the fact and with quasi-kitschy intent.

Regardless, I don't disagree with your assessment of early posts as entertainment value. It's more like: sheesh, give us a break. I guess getting linked by widely read blogs makes us a target for this sort of thing, although it does seem strange and petty from a fellow member of "our shared profession."

I suppose, as name-calling goes, that I'm happier with strange, petty, weird, and/or intense than I am with abusive. But you're wrong to think that I was criticizing you for not providing me with "lurid entertainment." In fact, that's the opposite of what I wrote.

Nor do I believe that the press you got for your site was for the idea of a pseudonymous group blog. Quasi-kitchy or no, the format implies, whether it says it or not, that the site is "exposing" the "secrets" of academia, and that further implies a kind of sensationalism that I take issue with. None of that may be intended, but that's the vibe I got from the site.

And I reacted against that, which to my mind is the opposite of wishing that there was more of it. I think the Chronicle gives in to that vibe too often, and I think IHE does as well. And when I've thought so, I've been critical of them as well. And I'm fully willing to grant that in those cases, I've banged out weird, intense, strange, petty posts. I do that from time to time here.

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