Friday, August 02, 2013

Academic Blogging: What are the benefits?

Continuing on with Joshua Mann's questions (see Why Blog? and When and Why?), he asks next:

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.


Joshua Mann said...

Very helpful, Mark. Thank you. I like the publishing-on-a-continuum perspective, too.

I'm not one to make predictions, but I will not be surprised if at some point the 'social' nature of new and developing web technologies will help offer a solution to peer review digital publishing (I mean something beyond traditional peer review publishing that simply provides digital copies of material online). I have some ideas on what this might look like, but I'm afraid those ideas are only embryonic.

Donald Smith said...

I much prefer blogging to posting comments on other media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Glad to have found Mark's NT Blog! D.C. Smith said...

This is helpful, thank you. Blogging really should be about fun and being more precise - probably both equally. Writing does make us more precise. It's a great comparison between twitter and a fully-fledged monograph. It's often frustrating to me that more people don't engage more with blogging, as they do with, say, twitter. Everyone would learn so much more - the art of gret debating/conversation is generally so lost to least, I find.