Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Vertical Blogs vs. Horizontal Blogs

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.

16 comments:

Geoff Hudson said...

Would you tell us who you think are vertical bloggers? Or do we have to make our own minds up? I could think of quite a few that could be classed as vertical. Does a vertical blogger not want any comment on his blog, then? More than likely, our vertical blogger doesn't like his/her opinion challenged?

On the other hand our horizontal bloggers seem more like a private club.

J. L. Watts said...

A very important distinction. As on who benefits greatly from these horizontal communications, I would rather read them than the others. I may be selfish here, but a dialogue has always helped me to understand the subjects better.

Geoff Hudson said...

Vertical bloggers are horrid. I don't know why they bother. Is it to prove how clever they are? Why not simply produce a paper.

Some horizontal bloggers, in NT studies, are a little better. But they usually close ranks, and often seem to close their minds.

Horizontal (lateral) THINKERS however, are more my cup of tea. According to the Oxford Dictionary, they would try to solve something by indirect methods. In NT studies, for example, by use of archaeology.

exlibris1 said...

@Geoff: It might not be the case that vertical bloggers don't want comments, or that they don't want their opinion challenged. It could just be the case that, because they are usually senior scholars (per Mark's description), they are probably entrenched in the mindset of traditional humanities publishing, where the monograph is king. That, and being new to the blogging game, they may not know where to look for conversation partners among other bloggers, or they may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of other bloggers in the same field and feel that they couldn't possibly keep up with the pace of the conversation. Added to that, a senior scholar may not have very much time on his/her hands for writing a blog -- much less keeping up with more than two or three other blogs -- so their blogging output is (for lack of a better word) monographic.

There are other vertical bloggers, too -- young graduate students trying to make a name for themselves. I know this because I often am one, and it's usually unintentional. Blogging, in cases like mine, becomes a means of putting ideas down in writing and trying to get some exposure and pushback for them, before revising and combining them into traditional papers to submit to conferences and such. It becomes an intermediate step on the way to traditional publication (which itself roughly translates into job prospects after graduation).

Cory

Geoff Hudson said...

Cory

From experience, the lack of response that I get from vertical bloggers, is that they don't like to be challenged. And I can think of quite a few. They churn out their point of view and the others can go to hell. After all they did a Ph.D on a particular topic, and what they concluded must be right for ever and a day. Classic examples of that are "Essenes at Qumran" or "the Siege of Masada". Surely you can recognise this syndrome. If they are entrenched in the mindset of traditional humanities publishing, then blogging, even on a national magazine's blog, is not for them.

It is a pity that students have to conform to what their masters tell them in order to get a qualification and a job.

Ron said...

I don't always read your word for word (time constraints), but I always open it up to see if it catches me with a topic I fancy. It is likely, when I have a couple of dollars, I will purchase your new book - primarily because of your blog.

timbulkeley.com said...

As you said Mark, the sheer volume of blogging on biblical studies means no one can read everything. This means that more and more of us end up as semi-horizontal bloggers ;)

I have been wondering if the answer is to prune drastically my RSS subscription list. But that would mean old "friends" (often hardly met in face to face life, but I think you know what I mean) slipping from view.

I have also wondered if something of the "old" conversation could be reinvented by more focused group blogs, like the translators ones at Better Bibles and BLT...

Danny Zacharias said...

Great post! You forgot deinde in your list of early blogs and I too miss the good old days. I remember occasionally doing what I called blogger-cooler posts tracking a conversation - it wouldn't work very well today :-) I think we tried to keep it alive with the carnivals, but even those could only cover some as blogs exploded.

However, I think we need to embrace the change and recognize that for the most part it is the comments area where conversation occurs. And comments have come a long way, like subscribing to comments and comments programs like disqus. plus the automatic mentions help to engage other bloggers who do discuss your post.

I think the blogs that can maintain a semi-horizontal status are those that post regularly - while there has been an explosion of blogs, there really isn't that many that post regularly (minImum once a week) - I'm not even in that group anymore.

James McGrath said...

I prefer being horizontal to being vertical, although in blogging unlike in other areas of life, it may be that the latter is more restful...

cruciality said...

Mark et al., I have observed something of a waning in theo-blogging over the past 3-4 years. I have wondered if it's because many of us who began as doctoral students and are now teaching are (i) too busy preparing lectures and, what is more likely, swamped in admin, or (ii) more timid to put ideas out there. (There's a hell of lot of testosterone in the theo-blogging world, a reality that seems to be shared among bib-bloggers too). I would be interested to know if you and others have noticed a similar waning off of popularity in bib-blogging. Your thoughts?

Peter M. Head said...

The other big issue in recent days is money, whether in the paid-to-blog Patheos style or the behind-a-wall Ehrman style or in the blog as an adjunct to selling books style. Most of the vertical style blogs appear to be more presented with copious advertisements.

Geoff Hudson said...

"The other big issue in recent days is money,"

What a sad state we are in!

timbulkeley.com said...

As a wise man once said: "The love of money is the root of all evil."

PaweĊ‚ said...

five months without any NTpod episode - this issue bothers me more, than vertical/horizontal issue ... ;P

Geoff Hudson said...

So who are the vertical, one way bloggers? Or better who are the vertical communicators who dispense their knowledge to lesser mortals without risking their necks? They make money by giving public lectures and writing books, but they do not engage in public debate.

Danny Zacharias said...

See my modest suggestion about this: http://nt-studies.tumblr.com/post/30098821963/a-modest-suggestion-to-all-bibliobloggers