2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?
I suppose one could ask about the benefits to the blogger and the benefits to the reader. It's easier to talk about the benefits to the blogger. Academics are a big-headed bunch and blogging gives them a nice outlet for their desire for self-publicity. And the nice thing about academic blogs is that not many people read them, so the academics can get on their soapbox and go and sound off to a handful of readers and get that out of their system, hopefully honing their purer and better thoughts for proper publications like books and articles.
I sometimes wonder whether one should think of publication as being on a continuum, from tweets to blogs to critical notes to articles to introductory books to monographs. The summit of all publication is the monograph, and the well-written monograph actually takes some real skill and effort. Tweets, on the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, are forgotten almost as soon as they are uttered. Blogs are somewhere in between. They take a bit more effort than a tweet but like them they are pretty ephemeral. It's remarkable just how quickly we forget them, and that's if we ever read them in the first place.
When it comes to the benefits to the reader, I think there is one major benefit and here, again, I have to point to Jim Davila's Paleojudaica as a fine example of the genre. The blogs have genuinely had some success in holding the media to account. Extravagant claims in the media have often been successfully challenged in the blogs. Here the collaborative, "horizontal" nature of some of the best blogs has made a key contribution because where many eyes look at the same data, they are more likely to notice key elements. Further, the range of different expertises in the different blogs also plays its part.
I'd like to think also that the blogs have helped those who read them to be a bit better informed about developments in our area. I know that when I talk to the (vast majority of) colleagues who never read the blogs, I am often surprised about news items they have missed. If you read the blogs, you do get to hear about interesting discoveries, new TV and radio programmes, sad deaths in the area, conference announcements, new books, new journals, new journal entries and so on.
So while we might poke fun at the bloggers, and laugh at their self-indulgence, in fact they have proved their worth in recent years by keeping us all informed and engaged, and sometimes, if all too rarely, entertained and amused.