The ability to discuss and nominate content in PressForward makes it a valuable tool for groups producing collaborative online publications, but PressForward can also come in handy for individuals working on their personal websites. I use the plugin on my own WordPress site (most prominently in a section I call “DH Reads”), so I’m sharing my experiences and giving some advice on how graduate students can use PressForward to consolidate their digital work, stay up-to-date on their field, exercise their critical writing and thinking skills, and build their online presence.
Consolidate Your Work
Grad students are frequently tasked with writing blog posts or creating other kinds of digital content for department websites, course websites, and the websites of the labs and centers where they work. However, when the products of a grad student’s intellectual labor are scattered around the web, it can be difficult for a potential employer, academic peer or collaborator, or anyone else to find it all. PressForward makes it easy to republish these scattered posts to your personal website so that all of your work is available in a centralized location. You might be thinking that no one wants to read those posts anyway, but visitors to your website can make that decision for themselves. They’re certainly not likely to search all over the web for things you’ve written if they don’t find them on your site.
One of my assignments as a Digital History Fellow at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is to write blog posts for the DH Fellows blog, and I use PressForward to republish these posts on my site (for example, this post). I could copy and paste, but it’s easier just to use the bookmarklet right after I’ve posted something. This way, I don’t forget about it, and I can do almost all of the editing in the pop-up screen. If I wanted to, I could even change my PressForward settings and publish right from the bookmarklet’s pop-up, without having to go into my WordPress dashboard at all.1
All it takes is a few minutes to install the PressForward plugin and add the bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, and you have a simple, streamlined way to consolidate your digital work.
To stay informed about the latest research and trends of a field, grad students should not only be following relevant academic journals but also paying attention to the news and scholarship published informally on the websites of academics, departments, labs, centers, and organizations. Blog posts go up much more quickly than anything in the world of academic publishing, and the internet allows much more space for experimentation and still-forming thoughts. With the feed reader, PressForward allows you to subscribe to the feeds for all of the websites that you want to keep track of, giving you a single destination for the latest updates in your field.
PressForward has all of the features you need to make it your designated feed reader/aggregator even if you don’t take advantage of its republishing functions. Most importantly, PressForward is completely free; you can do things that are only available from other feed aggregators at a premium, such as search, filter, and sort. Although designed primarily for collaboration, PressForward’s internal commenting feature enables you to leave notes for yourself—reminders of what you disagreed with or what you found important (also without paying a premium). You can “Star” posts to return to them in an hour, a day, or even months or years later, and Twitter users can even tweet a post directly from the PressForward dashboard.
Having used other feed aggregators before, I can say that what I love about PressForward is that it doesn’t make seeking out the latest news feel like a chore to be checked off. It keeps track of which posts I’ve already clicked on by filling in a check mark bubble in the corner of the post (which you can also adjust manually). But unlike some other aggregators, it doesn’t use boldface to shout at me that I have 67 unread posts. As a busy grad student, the last thing I need is the anxiety of feeling like I’m falling behind on one more thing that has to get done. PressForward lets me catch up to where I left off if I want to, but it doesn’t make me feel like I have to when my schedule is too full.
Think, Write, and Build Your Online Presence
PressForward is built not only for discovering content but also for sharing it. Looking at some of the sites that use PressForward, such as Digital Humanities Now or Ant Spider Bee, it’s probably hard to see how an individual grad student could create something like that. But you don’t need to create anything on the same scale as those publications, and you don’t need to create anything even resembling them. You can use PressForward to share as frequently or as infrequently as you choose. You can dedicate a section of your website just to sharing content, you can give the posts their own category designation, or you can treat the posts the same as any other blog post. You can write multiple paragraphs of commentary on each post or you can add just a sentence or two of description.2 For my own site, I decided to create a category just for sharing content, called DH Reads, and separate it from my regular blog posts. I’m always looking for new things to post, but I don’t adhere to any schedule, and when I do post, sometimes I write a little and sometimes I write a lot.
But why would a grad student want to share other people’s content on their website? First of all, it allows you to develop and express your opinions on the latest scholarship in your field. Reading and thinking are obviously good things to do, but actually writing out what you think about something in a way that’s presentable enough to be shared online, even if it’s just a few sentences, is better. Doing so lets you gather your thoughts on the topics that interest you and might inspire you to write your own hefty think pieces.
Using PressForward is also a great way to populate your website and build your online presence. Just because you’re not always posting lengthy blog posts doesn’t mean you’re filling your website with junk; selecting content to share is not (or at least should not be) a mindless endeavor. Finding and sharing important, interesting, and controversial posts demonstrates that you are fully engaged with your field and capable of critically evaluating the work of other scholars. Anyone who visits your website will be able to see that, and it will make a much better impression than if the last thing you posted is a blog post from a year and a half ago.
Finally, republishing posts from around the web might draw more traffic to your website. When you link to another blog post on WordPress, it’s called a pingback. If the original poster has them enabled and allows your pingback to go through, a link to your post will show up as a comment on the original post. Visitors reading the original might be interested to see your opinion on it and click the pingback. Of course, if you prefer whispering into the void over being heard, pingbacks might seem like more of a drawback, but don’t let that stop you from participating in the digital discourse of your field. You shouldn’t, however, abuse pingbacks just to draw more attention to your website; republishing everything you see doesn’t help you grow as a scholar or demonstrate anything about your critical thinking skills.
I find sharing content with PressForward to be a productive use of my time because one of my tasks as a Digital History Fellow is to keep up with the latest news and posts in digital humanities, and forcing myself to repost what I find and add my own commentary helps me make sense of what’s happening in the field and what I think about it. I also hope that when my second year of the fellowship ends, using PressForward on my site will be a way to create some accountability for myself so that I continue to keep up with and reflect on the field. In all honesty, it’s pretty fun, too—probably more fun than it sounds.
If you’re ready to use PressForward to republish all of your digital work on one site, stay informed on the latest updates in your field, and/or join your field’s digital conversations by evaluating and sharing content, download the free WordPress plugin for your site!
1 To do this, go to PressForward > Preferences > Site Options and change “Post status for new content” to Published.
2 It’s important to note that even if your site is strictly for educational purposes, you should not be republishing the entirety of someone else’s work on your website. After all, you want to attract more traffic to the original post; not draw traffic away from it. PressForward pulls in the full text, but you should use this feature to select a particular passage that you want to draw attention to or discuss. It’s also important to make it obvious to all readers that the content you repost is not your own. PressForward automatically adds a link to the original source and adds the author’s name to the item_author field. If your site is set up to show the author of a post, you might want to clear that field and put the author’s name somewhere else in the post. Depending on how you set up your site, you might accidentally give the impression that the author writes things to go on your website. If you add your own commentary, you can differentiate the republished content by putting it in block quotes. Finally, you should consider adding some kind of disclaimer that your opinions are your own and that you are not endorsed by the original authors. For example, on my site, I added an explanation/disclaimer to my sidebar that’s visible on every DH Reads post.