In the early days of blogging, when there were only a handful of us at it (among biblioblogs, Davila, McGrath, West, Carlson, Cook, AKMA, Williams, Brannan, Seland and co), it was pretty easy to have a conversation if you wanted. You only had a handful of blogs to read. I used to look forward to the day when more would join in. Excuse me if this sounds disgustingly nostalgic, but I liked the conversational aspect of the the blogs, the exchange of ideas that made them like a virtual academic common room. Several of us had cut our teeth on the academic e-lists that were in their heyday in the late 1990s and often the blogs took over where they left off. As the popularity of the e-lists waned, so the blogs increased in popularity, all the more so as several of the bloggers were those who already had an internet presence, whether through websites, e-lists or both.
Now there are so many blogs in our area that it is practically impossible to keep up. Broadly speaking, this is a wonderful thing. There is a richness of resources available, a hundred different conversations on lots of different topics. I am often lost in wonder at how many brilliant conversations are taking place. Although, of course, the blogs vary in quality, I tend to be impressed -- I learn a huge amount, often far more than I learn from journals or monographs, from those who blog in our area. Perhaps it's something about the skills required to write in a digestible, current, coherent format that makes the blogs in our area so strong.
I have always thought of the blogs as being "horizontal", sharing with one another, interacting with one another, critically engaging with one another in a kind of global conversation. I love it. I think of it as a community in which I participate, often unevenly, often passively, usually quietly, listening rather than contributing, but still part of the community.
But there is a new trend too over the last year or two towards a different kind of blog, what I call the "vertical" blog. I don't mean to be critical here (and even if I were, the bloggers concerned would not read my post anyway, so it would not matter), but the vertical blog conceives of the blogging phenomenon a little differently. It sees blogging less as a conversation among like-minded colleagues and more as a kind of educational service, a means of disseminating the results of scholarship to a broader audience than can be reached through books alone.
The vertical blog is usually written by a senior, well respected professor in the discipline who is taking time to set out the issues for the broader public. As such, the vertical blog performs a hugely important service, touching many who might well be turned off by the wordy, technical, in-house nature of some of the horizontal blogs. Just take my frequent posts on the Synoptic Problem over the last nine years, for example. They generally get few comments, and occasional expressions of bafflement.
Vertical bloggers generally just look up and down, up at the post that they have written and down at the comments that it has generated. This kind of blog does not look sideways to engage in discussions with the myriad other bloggers, perhaps not surprisingly given the ever-increasing numbers of us.
The vertical blogs have value for the rest of us, the horizontal bloggers. Most importantly, they are granting the medium a kind of legitimacy that may in the long run be hugely beneficial. Blogging is no longer a kind of fringe-activity for the mavericks on the edge of the academy. Now even the big boys and girls are doing it.
Although I am grateful for the advent of the vertical blogs, I must admit that I still have a preference for good, old-fashioned conversations among the horizontal bloggers who read one another, listen to one another and engage critically with one another. But it is a personal preference, and it may well simply be the result of a kind of nostalgia for the way we used to live.