Thursday, April 20, 2006

Disintegration of the Biblioblogging Community?

Jim West has a most interesting post, The Disintegration of the "Biblioblogging" Community, lamenting the way in which the biblioblogging community is disintegrating, as the one-time members of it separate "and go in individual, almost isolated ways":
Before the SBL, bibliobloggers frequently dialogued via their various and sundry blogs concerning issues of interest to the Biblical Studies Community. But over the months since, that sort of communal inter-relatedness has almost become non-existent. Several of the panelists themselves- then the "stars" of the biblioblogging community, seldom or infrequently post. Others have abandoned posting altogether. And still others have turned towards the biblioblogging equivalent of "splendid isolationism"- addressing themselves to a very small, even fringe audience of people who share their very narrow interests.
Jim continues:
If I may offer a personal perspective, I would say the cause of the disintegration is directly related to Paul Nikkel's complaint that the "biblioblogging community" was too closed, too elitist, too focused, and too exclusivistic. Paul, and a few others, complained that there were not sufficient "outsiders" "allowed" to enter the dialogue then ongoing amongst the bibliobloggers. This disposition had a chilling effect. In essence, what Paul's complaint accomplished wasn't the inclusion of supposed "outsiders" (because, quite frankly, no one was ever excluded from the discussions) but rather the implantation of hesitancy to participate in dialogue because bibliobloggers were afraid to seem or appear a "club of elites". So Ed and Jim D. and Torrey S. and other panelists retreated to their special preserves and Mark focused on his load at the new institution with which he was affiliated and Paul himself and his blog turned in other directions (primarily) and the other bibliobloggers have simply slowed to a crawl in terms of publishing their ideas.
Let me add that to a large extent I share Jim's sense of nostalgic lament. I enjoyed the days when there was a good deal of intra-biblioblog discussion, and the creation of something appropriating to an informal community who were regularly exchanging ideas. But I'd want to say too that I don't entirely share Jim's concerns. Allow me to make a few comments:

(1) The main problem for me is the one mentioned by Ed Cook in Ralph:
If, as Jim asserts, the other "classic" bibliobloggers are blogging and communicating less, this may be a function of the expansion of Biblioblogdom. When I started blogging in November 2004, there were approximately 4.5 million blogs (according to Technorati); now there are 35.8 million. This exponential growth has been felt among biblioblogs as well. The community that started out small has grown too large to keep up with even in a passive read-only way, to say nothing of engaging in daily back-and-forth debates.
It did not used to take me too long to read all the blogs I wanted to read in the area. My blogroll had ten or fifteen feeds, and it was never difficult to get on top of those. Now with over fifty and counting, and that already a trimmed down number, I just don't get through them all. I read Jim, Jim, Stephen, Ralph, Torrey, Loren, the Evo TCs and the like as often as I can, but then find that days and even weeks can go by until I get a moment to catch the rest. In other words, we are a victim of our own success. I bet that there are lots of comments and links to Jim's post here. Bloglines tells me that there are at least six, but it will be a while until I have followed all of those up. I am pleased that we did have that session at the SBL while the community was, in a sense, still a manageable group of us with some kind of identity. It's funny, in retrospect, to look at those arguments about inclusiveness and the setting up of fences and identities, because none of them have proved accurate, as it turns out. People continue to start up new blogs with no concerns whatsoever about getting recognition from an alleged elite.

(2) Given the new situation, I have been delighted with the establishment of regular Biblical Studies Blog Carnivals (e.g. see number 3 in March). Far from representing the break-up of biblioblogdom, we have able and willing volunteers who have shown themselves to be expert in gathering together great posts in our area from all over the web. As I commented in early March (Biblical Studies Carnival -- and its value):
I'd like to add a word of huge appreciation to Tyler Williams for getting this whole show on the road. For me, these carnivals have come at just the right time. The massive, healthy and to-be-encouraged expansion of the blogosphere in our area, as in every other area, makes it impossible to engage with all the blogs one would like to engage with. I remember a time when reading the biblioblogosphere was a matter of looking at Paleojudaica, Hypotyposeis and a handful of others. On the whole, where you wanted to reference or engage with a given post, you had time to do so. Not so now. I struggle to read everything in my blogroll and I can only read a limited number of posts with any attention. Indeed, I suppose that my own blog has changed substantially over the last 12 months from one in which I tried to reference everything on-line in the area that interested me to something much more limited. And to be honest, I am pretty happy with that. Every day I think, "Oh, I must blog that", and subsequently discover that someone else has already done it. Well and good. More time for me to focus on other things here.

That is to say that there is a problem with the current blog scene in Biblical Studies. The growing number of great blogs and interesting posts makes it far more likely that one can miss some gems. The Carnival steps in to help us here, and month by month isolates a few key posts of interest. I, for one, am most grateful to those who are taking on the task of doing this.
I suspect that my own blogging will even out as the coming months ensue and I get more settled. At the moment I'm just pleased that I managed to keep the blog alive in the midst of big life changes.

Let's add too reference to and, which help us to keep track of what's going on; and one might specially mention the monthly interviews on the latter, which give a special profile to a specific biblioblog.

(3) I don't think it's just the Carnivals, either. I think there is still an excellent exchange of ideas around; it's just that the exchange occurs across a larger number of blogs across a greater range of topics. In the long run, this is healthy too -- it means that we avoid becoming cosy, over-familiar and cliquey.

Update (13.05): thanks to Jim West for his follow-up post, and for the important correction that his original post was about dis-integration, not disintegration.


Eric Rowe said...

This post reminds me of an observation I have noticed in watching, hearing, and reading various sources of news. Whenever there is a news story that is particularly impactful for the journalism community, journalists report on it in an over-zealous way, apparently oblivious to the fact that the story is not nearly as important to their readers as it is to them.

Jim said...

On the other hand, Eric, the stories reporters report clearly are of interest to a much wider audience than you imagine or their editor's would not approve them - since- as we all know- the news business is a business and if issues were not widely interesting they would not sell.

Indeed, what you, or any of us, consider interesting can easily be judged by the number of "hits" a site receives when that issue is discussed. Hence, a tremendous "spike" in site hits on the biblioblogs occured during the days surrounding the "Judas" gospel and similarly when the "James ossuary" was in the news and likewise when the "goliath" sherd came to light, etc.

In sum, then, people in the public are interested in a number of things and its easy enough to determine what by looking at search results and site hits.

Eric Rowe said...

I don't think we were talking about the same thing, Jim. I love NTGateway, and other biblioblogs. But I love the posts about biblical topics, not interrelationships of the bloggers themselves. But bibliobloggers have at least one area of interest that most of their readers don't, that is the ins and outs of blogging itself. News reporters love stories about journalism, and so do their editors, which is why a story about a journalist getting kidnapped or injured in Iraq gets more attention from them then the same thing happening to any other civilian, whereas their viewers are equally as interested in both cases, neither one less or more than the other. The same phenomenon happens any time the journalists are part of the story, notwithstanding the expectation of editors to think about the wider audience. Anyway, enough about this. FWIW, NTGateway rules.