The Uses of Blogs collection has just been released, which includes my chapter “Scholarly Blogging: Moving Toward the Visible College,” along with some really interesting work by a bunch of blog-minded folk. The introduction and a table of content’s can be found at Axel Bruns’ site. The publisher has asked that we not blog our entire chapters, but I hope that no one will object to a teaser: the first few paragraphs of my chapter.
Scholars who blog are engaging in more than personal publishing; they are shaping a new “third place” for academic discourse, a space for developing the social networks that help drive the more visible institutions of research. The number of blogging scholars and the novelty of the medium mean that what blogging is and how it relates to being a scholar in the networked age remains unresolved, but the inchoate informal networks of blogging scholars that exist today already hint at the potential of the practice.
New technologies inevitably draw on earlier models to make sense of how they should be used, and to offset the potential social disequilibrium brought about by the technology . We are in the midst of a quiet, uneven revolution in academic discourse, and blogging and other forms of social computing make up an important part of that revolution. We may filter our view of blogging through a set of archetypal scholarly communication settings: the notebook, the coffee house, and the editorial page. For now, scholarly blogs are a bit of each of these, while they are in the process of becoming something that will be equally familiar, but wholly new.
Bias of Blogging
As noted in earlier chapters, so varied are the behaviors of bloggers that it is a bit surprising that the same term is used to cover them all. Nonetheless, there are four themes that seem to form a core set of practices and beliefs among many bloggers. First, blogs rely on networked audiences that may share little in common except for being regular or irregular readers of a particular site. Mass media act to collect audiences and aggregate opinion and attention, blogs encourage individualized views of the informational world.
A second hallmark of blogging is that it encourages conversation. Often commentators have focused on so-called “A-list” blogs which many not value exchange as highly. Other bloggers might be classified as “mumblers”: without obvious comments or readers. Even in these cases, though, it seems that bloggers are seeking a way of conversing with the world.
Third, blogging is a low intensity activity. Producing microcontent requires little commitment of time, and free blogging platforms provide an inexpensive outlet for this microcontent.
Finally, blogs represent a relatively transparent and unedited view of thinking-in-progress.
While there are examples of websites using blogging software that do not exhibit all four characteristics, they are accepted broadly enough to constitute a bias of the medium, a tendency of practice. It is not difficult to find antecedents to these overall themes in both the history of hacking and of scholarship—two cultures that share significant common ground . A decade ago Harrison and Stephen explained that computer networking was of such interest to academics. It played to long held ideals among scholars that had yet to be realized: “unending and inclusive scholarly conversation; collaborative inquiry limited only by mutual interests; unrestrained access to scholarly resources; independent, decentralized learning; and a timely and universally accessible system for representing, distributing, and archiving knowledge” . Blogs, while not addressing all of these ideals, have already shown themselves to be effective in ways that other, centrally-organized efforts at scholarly networking have not.
[To read more, you’ll have to buy the book…]