Academic Blogs Wiki

by Henry on April 16, 2012

A public service announcement – the Academic Blogs wiki that I used to run under academicblogs.org is now up again, under new management at the Center for History and New Media. Many thanks to Dan Cohen and Ammon Shepherd for taking it on. I had been running it on a version of Mediawiki which was not (to put it mildly) optimized for anti-spam, with the result that I had to spend a few hours each week cleaning out the garbage. The transition to a new, more robust system has taken a little bit of time, but it is now up and running again. XKCD has a cartoon this morning on the relative decline of the blogosphere. However, as best as I can tell from personal browsing, academic blogs appear to be relatively robust. It’s a lot harder than it was nine years ago to create an academic blog that can attract substantial public attention, but if you’re primarily interested in talking to other academics and a few interested bystanders, it’s still relatively easy. Academic blogs, unlike e.g. tech blogs or some political opinion blogs, don’t usually have sufficient potential audience to become commercially viable. But most academics are used to talking to smaller audiences, and as long as blogging technology is cheap or free, there will be some people at least who’ll be interested in doing it.

{ 45 comments }

1

chris 04.16.12 at 3:31 pm

ISTM that that graph doesn’t show all that much decline of the blogosphere, but mainly a surprisingly rapid growth in tumblr (which may or may not actually continue as projected).

Also, I wonder why twitter didn’t make the graph.

2

Tom 04.16.12 at 3:44 pm

I believe they’ve had this discussion before at Lawyers, Guns, & Money, but basically all discussion about “the decline of blogs” is really limited to amateur political/policy blogs which capture a wide audience and eventually give its authors a full-time job, usually at a mainstream media establishment. In other words, it’s hard to be the new Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias anymore. But if you want to cultivate a small audience to discuss some specialized topic which interests you, that’s definitely still possible. And, frankly, that’s what blogs are best at anyway. (Reading comments at blogs over a certain threshold of popularity is unbearable.)

3

J. Otto Pohl 04.16.12 at 3:50 pm

It seems to me that blog readerships especially among academics have reproduced most of the dysfunctions of the profession as a whole. There is a rather homogeneous character to academic blogs that emanates from this. There are of course some blogs with very, very small readerships that have dissenting opinions. But, their readership is not any larger than could have been easily reached using much older technologies.

4

tomslee 04.16.12 at 4:04 pm

Here, I hope, is the same graph with Twitter added: link.

5

tomslee 04.16.12 at 4:05 pm

This is better, as it includes the terms.

6

Kenny Easwaran 04.16.12 at 4:23 pm

Did the news media declare a moratorium on the word “blog” in 2007, or is there some funny artifact of Google’s coding of the news?

7

rea 04.16.12 at 4:56 pm

J. Otto Pohl goes to Crooked Timber comments to protest that academic blogs don’t allow dissent. The Worm Ouroboros, meanwhile, continues to devour its own tail . . .

8

J. Otto Pohl 04.16.12 at 5:05 pm

Rea at 7:

I did not say they did not allow dissent. I said they were rather homogeneous. The two are not the same. If you look at the main posts you will find that the types of topics and the angles they are approached from are quite similar across most academic blogs. This is not the same as deleting all comments that express disagreement. But, academic blogs are hardly bastions of intellectual diversity.

9

LFC 04.16.12 at 5:51 pm

J.O.P.:

Defining “academic blogs” rather broadly and at least w/r/t blogs that deal w intl politics, it’s not true that there’s no diversity. I’d refer you, e.g., to the debate that took place around the Libya intervention and R2P, during which, for ex., an undergraduate, D. Trombly, could and did spar w/ an Anne-Marie Slaughter. Or what about the recent debate over J.Y. Kim? There is diversity, maybe not perfectly distributed across the spectrum, but it does exist.

10

Barry 04.16.12 at 6:03 pm

J. Otto Pohl

“It seems to me that blog readerships especially among academics have reproduced most of the dysfunctions of the profession as a whole. There is a rather homogeneous character to academic blogs that emanates from this. There are of course some blogs with very, very small readerships that have dissenting opinions. But, their readership is not any larger than could have been easily reached using much older technologies.”

No, because the older technologies did not allow for that level of ‘publication’ without massive money. Trying to set up a newsletter to reach hundreds of people/month is a chore, and that’s nothing in the blogosphere.

Just think of that blog – can’t recall the name – ‘Bent Stick’?

11

J. Otto Pohl 04.16.12 at 6:15 pm

Well maybe my blog is the smallest one in the world. But, it does not get hundreds of readers a month. I am guessing I have maybe six actual human readers and sending six letters out a month used to be affordable in the US during my youth. This is what I mean by very, very small readerships. I would classify an academic blog with hundreds of actual readers each month as very large and certainly not among those with opinions dissenting from mainstream academic orthodoxy.

12

chris 04.16.12 at 6:22 pm

Thanks tomslee. So, to sum up:

1. Blogs aren’t declining, or at least not much; they’ve been plateaued for about half a decade.

2. The coming tumbularity is not new; we welcomed our new tweeting overlords years ago. It’s questionable whether tumblr is headed for eventually reaching #1, or how long it will take if it does.

3. It’s not clear what if any value this kind of ranking has anyway; if blogs are still popular but tumblr is more popular, then blogs are still popular, aren’t they? It’s not like they’re sinking into livejournal-like obscurity. Surely in this case the actual values are more important than their rank order.

13

Sumana Harihareswara 04.16.12 at 6:41 pm

I had been running it on a version of Mediawiki which was not (to put it mildly) optimized for anti-spam, with the result that I had to spend a few hours each week cleaning out the garbage. The transition to a new, more robust system has taken a little bit of time, but it is now up and running again.

Henry, I’m the community manager for MediaWiki. My sympathies on the trouble. Should I talk with Dan Cohen, Ammon Shepherd, you, or someone else to advise on antispam stuff? Short version: people report success if they install the QuestyCaptcha or Asirra add-ons to the ConfirmEdit extension.

14

Henry 04.16.12 at 7:10 pm

Sumana – if I had known that, I’d have likely asked you for advice a long time ago (shamelessly playing up the CT reader and sibling of former student angles as far as I could push them). I was running a pretty ancient version which didn’t play nicely with the more recent add-ons – my hosting provider had a clunky old installation of PHP. But Dan and Ammon are the people who have (to my great gratitude) taken on running it – they have resources as a center that I as an individual trying to manage this in the odd spare moment here and there did not.

15

jseliger 04.16.12 at 7:24 pm

One observation, perhaps obvious: academicblogs.org doesn’t appear to be accepting new registrants at the moment. This makes it hard to update the wiki.

16

Barry 04.16.12 at 7:45 pm

J Otto Pohl: “I would classify an academic blog with hundreds of actual readers each month as very large and certainly not among those with opinions dissenting from mainstream academic orthodoxy.”

The first is is your opinion, and a bad one at that. The second is not that much better founded. John Q (or should I call him J Quiggin?) is IMHO at the level where previously orthodox economists would have either ignored him totally, or called him a jumped up (teeny who cares about it) niche specialist who shouldn’t argue with the VIP’s.

17

J. Otto Pohl 04.16.12 at 8:11 pm

The average academic journal article does not have hundreds of readers. Even a number of well cited monographs never get beyond a few thousand readers years after publication. So I think a couple hundred readers a day, and I think CT is actually in the thousands, is comparatively a very large audience. On the second point I will point out that on a comparative international level that Quiggin’s position looks quite prestigious from my vantage point. Just his position at a university in Australia alone gives him a huge perception advantage in North American and Europe over people like me. So position is all relative.

18

Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.16.12 at 8:43 pm

I noticed the inclusion of Law and Letters, which has been defunct for some time (several years) but did not see any of the three blogs I contribute to: Ratio Juris, The Literary Table, or ReligiousLeftLaw. Perhaps it’s something I’ve said!

19

Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.16.12 at 8:47 pm

And my cyberspace friend, Professor Daniel Goldberg, has closed his blog: The Medical Humanities Blog (where I guest blogged for a time), although it is still listed as well.

20

J. Otto Pohl 04.16.12 at 8:53 pm

18 Patrick:

My blog isn’t listed either. So maybe you are just too insignificant to be listed. :-)

21

Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.16.12 at 8:58 pm

That could very well be true, at least it helps makes sense of my affinity for the Buddhist doctrine of “no-self.”

22

John Quiggin 04.16.12 at 9:23 pm

@Barry I answer to John Q (at home in Oz, where blogging professors are still pretty rare, I also go by Prof Q).

@J Otto, the question isn’t whether my position is prestigious relative to yours, it’s whether blogging has enabled me (and you for that matter, when you comment here) to reach an audience that I couldn’t have addressed through traditional academic methods. I think the answer is yes.

23

Henry 04.16.12 at 9:49 pm

jseliger – as far as I can see, you are able to edit anonymously – not handling the technical parts any more meself, so am not sure why the registration system is not working here . Patrick – the idea behind it is that people themselves can edit the wiki to remove (or mark as defunct) dead blogs and add in live ones.

24

Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.16.12 at 10:11 pm

Thanks Henry. I suppose it’s the case that I don’t care enough to learn how to do such things! (I’m one of those ‘old dogs’ you’ve heard about.)

25

Doctor Slack 04.16.12 at 10:25 pm

Am I missing something here: Tumblr is a form of blogging, right? So Randall is essentially predicting that in October 2012, blogging will be overtaken in popularity by blogging.

26

P.D. 04.16.12 at 10:45 pm

I was scrolling down, thinking to make the point about the XKCD comic that Doctor Slack has just made: ‘Tumblr’ is a specific service, and their instructions refer to a tumblr site as a blog. So the tumblrverse is a proper part of the blogosphere.

27

Watson Ladd 04.16.12 at 11:02 pm

If J. Otto Pohl posts something interesting on his blog, we can all see it, even if we hadn’t signed up to read his blog. That’s something that letters cannot do.

28

UserGoogol 04.16.12 at 11:43 pm

Doctor Slack: “Microblog” seems like the more precise term, but yes. The key distinction being that Tumblr kind of sucks when judged on the merits as a blogging site-qua-blogging site, but as a quick and dirty way to share pictures it gets the job done.

29

Tom T. 04.16.12 at 11:53 pm

The rise of the academic tumblr cannot be far away.

30

Bill Benzon 04.17.12 at 12:11 am

Henry — I tried to edit anonymously and was unable to do so. When I went to submit my edit I was directed to copy words from a nonexistent captcha.

31

Salient 04.17.12 at 12:22 am

Am I missing something here: Tumblr is a form of blogging, right? So Randall is essentially predicting that in October 2012, blogging will be overtaken in popularity by blogging.

The couple dozen tumblrs I’m familiar with are all pictures-only, but I guess probably not all tumblrs are pictures-only (?), so there’s some issue with figuring out how to sort the flickr-tumblr tumblrs that are just pictures from the part-of-the-blogosphere-tumblr tumblrs with text. (And I guess if you allow pictures-only sites to be part of ‘blogs’ then it would be vacuous, but for me blog = mostly-text-based stuff.) I’d go try to collect more concrete data on the proportions, but wayyyy too many tumblrs are NSFW, so trying to take a random sample at a coffee shop is not a good idea…

32

tomslee 04.17.12 at 1:19 am

The rise of the academic tumblr cannot be far away.

It’s already here.

33

Sumana Harihareswara 04.17.12 at 1:31 am

Henry, I only got the gig at the Wikimedia Foundation a year ago, so the opportunity cost is/was limited. :-) I’ve emailed Ammon with a useful link or three. Glad you were able to hand the logistical worries over to someplace more able to handle them. You might be pleased to know that programmers at the Wikimedia Foundation are hard at work at a visual editor to make writing and editing wiki pages far easier. (And a bunch of other stuff too but I figure the visual editor might lead to the largest sigh of anticipatory relief.)

Hmm, not only does the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason support your wiki, it also hosts work on Zotero, THATCamp, & more – cool!

34

Neville Morley 04.17.12 at 8:16 am

I’ve just tried to edit anonymously, and it ignores all my changes because I’m an unauthorised intruder or words to that effect. Can’t find any indication on the page as to whom I should contact about this…

35

J. Otto Pohl 04.17.12 at 12:22 pm

John Q:

But, the reason you are able to reach an audience on this blog and be taken seriously is because of your position in Australian academia. Whereas nobody other than my family, a few friends, and an occasional former student from Turkmenistan reads my blog. Academic blogging reproduces the same hierarchies that exist in academia at large. That includes a predisposition by most blog readers to automatically give far more credence to scholars at universities in the US, Europe, and the white commonwealth over those at other places. No academics from the US, Canada, Australia, or Europe are ever going to read my blog and take my ideas seriously simply because I do not occupy a position of prestige in academia outside the Blogosphere.

36

Katherine 04.17.12 at 12:27 pm

A tumblr I know that’s sort of a blog (sort of) is Yo, Is This Racist? in the sense that it’s not pictures. But it’s also quite Twitter-y, in that it’s short and sweet. Everything else tumblr-y I’ve ever seen have been pictures based around a particular meme (eg Privilege Denying Dude) and not in the least bit bloggy.

37

Barry 04.17.12 at 12:59 pm

John Quiggin 04.16.12 at 9:23 pm

” @Barry I answer to John Q (at home in Oz, where blogging professors are still pretty rare, I also go by Prof Q).”

I was actually making a bad joke (Simpsons reference).

J Otto, your figures were for articles or monographs, and I’d agree that many of them don’t get read much. A blog is the equivalent to a newsletter, and a blog with few updates would be equivalent to a weekly newsletter. Running a weekly (print) newsletter with 100 readers would be quite the chore.

38

jseliger 04.17.12 at 6:45 pm

@Henry—true, but one gets an error that says “input error: invalid referrer:” http://imgur.com/LNKla . I’m looking for a tech support address but not finding one, sadly.

39

LFC 04.17.12 at 6:58 pm

J.O.Pohl:
Whereas nobody other than my family, a few friends, and an occasional former student from Turkmenistan reads my blog.

What you really mean is that no one but these people reads your blog regularly. There is a difference between regular and occasional reading of a blog (or anything else), which you seem determined not to understand.

40

sc 04.17.12 at 7:00 pm

j. otto:

i’m not even a college graduate, and yet the name “j. otto pohl” is known far and wide as “a dude in ghana who craps on about the academic establishment a lot”.

you’re famous, dogg!

41

X 04.17.12 at 7:13 pm

Otto: There are counterexamples out there; for instance, Language Hat is a fairly influential linguistics blog with a large commentariat, whose author isn’t even in academia. I suspect that academic blogs are more likely to influence the discourse “indirectly” through interested non-specialist readers, rather than changing the minds of specialists with prior positions and knowledge of the literature. But building up such an audience takes work and a certain amount of showmanship; non-specialist audiences are a lot more demanding in terms of presentation and style than academic journals are.

42

Lee A. Arnold 04.17.12 at 9:15 pm

I just asked YouTube a question, which isn’t exactly the non sequitur you might suppose:

43

magistra 04.18.12 at 6:17 am

I’ve been writing a blog writing on early medieval history, religion and gender for nearly seven years. For the vast majority of that time I didn’t have an academic position (and was indeed, technically pseudonymous), but I still gradually got other academics reading my blog. Others of my friends in similar positions have done the same thing and also got a positive reception.

Maybe medievalists are just more willing than some other historians to judge people’s work on their own merits rather than rely on credentials, but some of it is also about building an online and real-life community: commenting on and linking to related blogs, meetups with bloggers etc. Blogging about seminars/conferences I’ve attended is a very popular feature, for example. There’s an art to getting a mix of very specialist posts that intrigue other researchers and the more general posts that draw in people who work on vaguely related topics and want someone online to discuss things with.

As for J Otto Pohl, I’m afraid that anyone who announces on his blog how quickly he got his PhD, but not what field it was in and who doesn’t tag his posts (so a reader can see if a particular topic of interest is covered) is immediately alienating a lot of potential readers.

44

J. Otto Pohl 04.18.12 at 8:53 am

I got my PhD in history. But, I am not sure how that alienates anybody. I don’t understand the other criticism because I am not sure what tagging is or how one does it. However, I would have thought that the titles of blogposts indicated the topics covered.

45

Henry 04.19.12 at 8:24 pm

jseliger etc – it seems as though there was some misunderstanding about the status of the wiki as an ongoing project – changes will be made to make it more user accessible etc while keeping it robust against spam. Sorry about this – hope to have more to announce about this.

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