Thursday, July 19, 2012


This blog is actually a pretty sleepy place; if you don’t believe me check the stats by scrolling down, clicking on the little green button and reading who comes in, where they come from, and how long they stay. Yes, it’s true, I can know this about you also, and so can anyone, but that’s one of the hallmarks of the digital age. We know what kind of browser you have, where you went from here, etc. Get used to it! But that’s not my point. Its main purpose is for me to explain my ideas about teaching, about language, etc., and I’ve never really varied much from that. I learned how to commercialize blogs but I’ve never done that to this one. I learned how to maximize traffic, but I’ve never done that either. I learned how to change that little picture at the top that says, ‘ancient pink template from the earliest days of blogs’ but I’ve never changed this one.

One reason this blog gets the traffic it does is that there are very few blogs that actually sustain themselves over time and maintain a consistent kind of reputation, without commercializing, changing focus, taking on too much of a media stream, etc. Therefore more people have come to me recently for commercial purposes, hoping to make a deal or have a joint publicity exercise. And this is where it gets interesting. Recently I was approached by a prominent grammar software marketer with a proposition: I write a blog post about grammar software; I link to their software; I link to that post permanently in the template; I get a free Kindle. I salivated at the thought of a Kindle; those are cool. I noticed that they didn’t require me to say anything, good or bad, about the software itself. I think it’s kind of taken for granted at least that I wouldn’t slam them, but nothing in the deal said that I couldn’t be clever, say things tongue-in-cheek, or even give an endorsement so lukewarm that it was obvious I didn’t care for it. Now the thing is, they made me give a credit card number to try out the software (even on a free 30-day trial) and I balked at that, for some reason. So, bottom line, because I’d never used the stuff, I never successfully followed up on the deal.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching what happens when students use software, or use free online services, or even respond to the ubiquitous red and green lines when they write. I’ve taken paragraphs that they write and submitted them to free grammar checkers to see what happens. I’ve written volumes on why teachers should pay attention to what is happening here, how it is certain to influence students’ learning arcs, how technological influences such as the red line and green line play an integral role in determining what gets written and how we interpret it; and finally, how this process of technology altering the language production process is likely to change the language, not only the vast majority of what we ESL teachers read, but in fact the vast majority of what everyone reads. It doesn’t take much writing to be considered an “expert,” though I’d never call myself that, but I suspect I was asked for the sponsorship deal more because I was there, I was reliable, and my reputation wasn’t necessarily bad.

Incidentally, even in that short time, when I’d written something very much like this, but hadn’t yet put it on my blog, I started seeing that this company had made advertising buys everywhere online. On Google, there would be their name on the template. It’s not like I get around so much, though I go to sites that are related, directly and indirectly, to grammar and ESL. But I’m saying, everywhere. I don’t know how much online advertising is going for these days, but these folks are truly investing in it. And that made me wonder: is it really possible that there’s a good return on this kind of investment? How many people are really going to plunk down regular kind of money for grammar software? And, does online advertising really generate that kind of business? I’m telling you, as far as I can tell, these folks really believe in online advertising.

The truth is, I have a sneaking suspicion that they want to harvest all that writing for some other kind of reason, much like the bookstore owner who knows he can’t make a living selling books, but doesn’t worry about money anyway, and just needs a store to hang around day in and day out, giving him/her a legitimate cover or the appearance of an occupation. This may sound totally implausible, and so be it; I have no real evidence that they’ve ever done anything except try to make good grammar software, try to make it useful for writers everywhere, and market it aggressively online, but somehow the whole picture didn’t add up, and I just couldn’t accept it for face value. I still can’t.

In the end, I found it impossible to say nothing about what was happening out there. The fact is, the ESL market is probably an insignificant chunk of the business they want; my blog attracts few other people besides a few ESL teachers (and possibly my own students and former students); I’m sure I’m not the only “authority” they approached; they’re getting plenty of hits even without me; and, if they get the lion’s share of the grammar software market right now while the gettin’s good (so to speak), this might be a very shrewd and timely investment. But, in the end, I have to admit that I don’t have a clue. I am not ready to make an endorsement, for or against anything; I couldn’t even bring myself to use it. I don’t really need a Kindle, all that badly, in fact, you can get Kindle apps that turn your computer into a Kindle and give you everything a Kindle could give you. Now that I’m retiring, I may have time to actually use a Kindle or something like it. But I have nothing, nothing to say about my own process of using grammar software when I write. I don’t. I do, however, keep my eyes on the red and green lines, as everyone should, and I have more than passing concern about what happens to the English language as a result.

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