Uses of Blogs

by John Quiggin on August 6, 2006

One of the big questions for academics engaged in blogging is whether and how blogs should count towards measures of academic output, like traditional journal articles and book chapters. The obvious answer is to write journal articles and book chapters about blogging. Uses of Blogs edited by Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs is the first edited collection of scholarly articles on blogging (at least so the blurb says, and I don’t know of any others), and includes a chapter from me on economics blogs. With the book coming out of QUT, there’s a strong Brisbane flavour including chapters from Mark Bahnisch (who’s already posted on this and Jean Burgess ditto.

I’ve only had time to dip into a few chapters so far, but it looks very interesting and the opening chapter by Axel and Joanne is available free

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Organizations and Markets » Econ Superblogs
08.07.06 at 2:32 pm

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1

John Emerson 08.06.06 at 7:29 am

It shouldn’t take more than 10-20 years to get academic blogs to conform to official manners of expression, thus ruining everything forever. I’m looking for the blogging supplement to the MLA style sheet.

2

Anthony 08.06.06 at 4:51 pm

Careful, next they’ll be using technorati scores to judge your own personal impact factor for staff appraisals.

Some rushed thoughts. Personally, I’m skeptical about the use of blogs in this manner, if anything they divert attention away from producing peer-reviewed work, as I seem to remember one Crooked Timber contributor suggesting. I can accept there may be differences between subject areas, and some areas may suit this approach. But consider someone in an extremely tight specialisation in a scientific area (say in particle physics). Their blog readership will be terribly small, unless your blog strays out of your field to make more general scientific points or you post some cat photos. I’m not sure you can strictly say that is the same as publishing a peer-reviewed paper in a journal or book chapter.

There is also the point that your blog may not have the longitivity of a journal publication (When I stop paying my hosting company the site dies) and is also at the whim of Google, rather than the specialised databases used for journals. I think the role they serve is one of allowing experts to talk to a more general audience and perhaps another way of engaging with students. (I had the strange experience of a student referring to my blog this year in a presentation.) So perhaps, they may be considered useful in your job, and worth noting, but I’m not sure about the output idea.

3

Daniel Nexon 08.06.06 at 7:33 pm

“One of the big questions for academics engaged in blogging is whether and how blogs should count towards measures of academic output, like traditional journal articles and book chapters”

Why is this a question? The answer is No.

If one day a consensus emerges that a CT blog entry is equivalent to, say, a NYT op-ed, that might make sense.

But blogging is the modern-day equivalent of pamphlet writing. Some of it may, like pamphlets of old, represent significant contributions to intellectual, political, literary, and scientific thought. But it is, after all, self-publishing. I’d like to think we do it because we enjoy it and glean certain rewards for it; the day it becomes “academic output” is the day that reputable academic programs treat vanity press publications like university presses.

Anthony: thanks for the image of technorati scores standing. I suppose they’re only marginally easier to manipulate and more arbitrary than cite counting….

But this does raise an interesting issue: I suspect high-profile (and even some of us low-profile) academic bloggers sell more books and get more people to read our articles because of blogging, which might have an indirect effect on a traditional metric of academic stature.

4

Jim Johnson 08.06.06 at 9:45 pm

(1) The half-life of the average academic journal article is roughly epsilon; to put it differently any (non-authorial) interest in it depreciates faster than a new car as you drive it off the dealer’s lot.

(2) Blogging is a hobby and you should not get more or less credit for it in re: academic hiring or promotion than you do for e.g., kayaking or stamp collecting or listening to alt-country CDs. Conversely, if you are making a living (or hope to) with your blog why do you care about tenure?

(3) I use my blog as a sort of interactive notebook and I do not think I am alone in doing so. I wouldn’t have submitted my notes with my tenure packet (back in the day). This whole issue (as reflected in the recent Chronicle exchnage) strikes me as wholly miscast. Of course, I have tenure – I made it the old-fashioned way by writing papers and publishing them (combined with luck, more than a garnish of gender privilege, amd so forth).

5

Tyler Curtain 08.06.06 at 9:48 pm

Into the Blogosphere appeared a while back. I’m proud to have contributed an article myself ….

6

S.J. Redman 08.06.06 at 11:00 pm

Hey there,
I have to say, I’m not so sure I agree with Jim that blogging should count about as much as stamp collecting. I think that it might be different if you blog about your daytime soap opera tv shows, but I have to confess that I know about the scholarly achievments of several bloggers I read simply because I’ve read their blog and become curious about their scholarship.

I’m going to make an analogy here – please tell me if I am crazy. In some ways, writing a blog, and reading other blogs is like attending conferences. Sure, part of the reason you go to a conference is to listen to the sessions and the papers, etc. etc. But another reason you attend conferences is to meet people, make connections, and learn a little something about their ideas. When I read someone’s blog, I tend to get curious about their research and scholarship. I’ve made several nice friendships by e-mail bloggers with my ideas, and so forth. If a post in a blog makes you think about your research in a new light, it has been worth your time, in my opinion.

I hope that makes sense.

I’m not sure if a blog should neccessarily be considered when someone is up for tenure; but I certainly don’t think it should count against them unless it can be proven that it jepordizes their relationships to other members of their discipline. Running a gossip sheet about people in your field is probably not a great way to make friends.

Connections you make via blogging should be self-evident. Maybe they will lead to a co-author a paper, or to meet someone to exchange thoughts and ideas with . . . it beats playing video games!

7

John Emerson 08.07.06 at 12:26 am

It would seem to depend on how well blogging is done, and what is done on the blog — how contentful it is, and how high the quality is. It seems to have been assumed that quality will be low.

Blogs have an enormous potential for enabling interactive work at a physical distance, which should especially make work in obscure specialties easier. They also make dissemination of research enormously quicker, though electronic publishing does that too.

Questions of publication priority are also in the air. Suppose A posts an idea and B develops it and publishes it formally. At the present time, my guess is that B would take sole credit unless he voluntarily credited A; I don’t think that A would have any recourse at this time if he had blogged the idea earlier than B published.

Not an imaginary situation, because I just saw my self-published interpretation of a Classical Chinese being used uncredited. I can’t be absolutely sure that I have priority, but it seems likely based on the evidence I have.

8

John Emerson 08.07.06 at 12:28 am

I’m going to make an analogy here – please tell me if I am crazy. In some ways, writing a blog, and reading other blogs is like attending conferences. Sure, part of the reason you go to a conference is to listen to the sessions and the papers, etc. etc. But another reason you attend conferences is to meet people, make connections, and learn a little something about their ideas. When I read someone’s blog, I tend to get curious about their research and scholarship. I’ve made several nice friendships by e-mail bloggers with my ideas, and so forth. If a post in a blog makes you think about your research in a new light, it has been worth your time, in my opinion.

I hope that makes sense.

No, that makes perfect sense. It’s crazy only to terrified, bureaucratized professionals.

9

Daniel Nexon 08.07.06 at 10:25 am

The conference analogy works reasonably well–for certain blogs and certain posts–but that’s part of the point: conference papers, at least in my field, aren’t worth squat in terms of “merit” evaluations unless they are published in proceedings.

And taking ideas or text from a blog post without attribution is just plagiarism, plain and simple. Definitions of plagiarism, at least where I come from, don’t distinguish based on whether the source is an academic monograph, a newspaper article, a conference paper, or a leaflet.

Now what blogging does is make research slightly more difficult, as it may impose a burden to check through google or technoratti the same way you might now search academic databases. But that’s not a big deal, IMO.

10

S.J. Redman 08.07.06 at 10:46 am

Whew. I’m glad the hounds weren’t out to get me on that last post. Great thoughts guys.

11

Gustav 08.07.06 at 6:00 pm

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang wrote something interesting about the use of blogging for academics.

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