Uses of Blogs

Uses of Blogs coverThe 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…]

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One Comment

  1. Posted 8/20/2006 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Hi, Alex. I just came across your blog today and am always happy to find such a nice collection of interesting articles. Thank you for maintaining and sharing this.

    Since you mentioned free platforms and you are using and benefiting from the excellent free WordPress software, it leads me to bring something up that is really not my place to be commenting on. I notice you are licensing the contents of this site under the non-commercial non-derivatives license. I’d encourage you to remove the non-commercial clause and to instead use the Share-Alike clause. This way you’d be contributing more to the free sharing of information.

    Isn’t this ridiculous? Here you are providing all this great stuff for free (as in gratis) and I’m complaining about how you license your own material because I want it to be free (as in free speech).

    I think the non-commercial distinction is problematic. For one thing, what if I used some of your work on my site that has advertising on it? Is that commercial use? I might make money from people viewing your work on my site. And there are other circumstances where it becomes an issue of not knowing if it is acceptable to use your work.

    Crosbie Fitch says here and I agree: “I’m wary of encouraging a proliferation of non-commercial culture given that this can make it particularly tricky for any artist to chase down the provenance of their work in order to sell their derivative.” Although of course, you’re not allowing derivatives either. Which I’m not objecting to, but I also struggle with the question of what is a derivative? If I quote a substantial part of one of your blog entries, am I making a derivative work? Or is that just fair use?

    When I see people using Creative Commons non-commercial non-derivative licenses, I wonder what uses there could be for this kind of material? Do people want to share, but not that much? (Although I should point out shamefacedly that I’m recommending that very license for my sister on web site I’m making for her, because I don’t think I can convince her otherwise. Her site is more of a specialized commercial website.)

    The thing I like about the Share-Alike license is that even if someone makes money from the use of your work, they have now committed their entire work to be licensed under the same conditions, and therefore will contribute that much more to our freely-shared common culture. I like that viral aspect.

    Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to promote my own agenda. Reading your copyright / license policy makes it very plain that you are open to sharing your work, and for that I’m grateful. It always gives me a thrill to see people using “free” licenses that only ask for attribution and that you share alike, and that compelled me to go off on this long, uncalled for questioning of what you’re doing with your own work.

    And this is all very off-topic to this particular entry, of course. (I didn’t see an obvious way to drop you a line otherwise.) To be on-topic, I thought your four themes were interesting. I’m just getting started blogging myself. I’ve been reading blogs for years and have often thought about starting one, but knew that it would be a challenge to sustain one and feed it regularly. I agree with what you’ve written elsewhere that there should be a focus. I have one now (perhaps unsurprisingly, about free software and free society), but still don’t really know how I’m going to go about the writing.

    (Your footer link to the Creative Commons license is broken at the moment, by the way.)

One Trackback

  1. […] The first book is Uses of Blogs, as contributed by several blog-related scholars. In it, you’ll find Alex Halavais’ chapter entitled “Scholarly Blogging: Moving Toward the Visible College“. In Alex’s chapter introduction, he notes how 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. He also highlights four themes that seem to form a core set of beliefs among many bloggers. I’ll add some of my own thoughts: […]

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