Somehow, blogging has come to feel less dynamic and more permanent. The elevation of the blog as a venue for more "serious work" has a direct relation, I think, to the increasing use of FB and Twitter by many academics. Jeffrey writes the following about why it seems easier or preferable to dash out thoughts on FB/twitter versus composing blog posts:
The immediacy of these two modes makes them seem easy: it isn't really work to place something into circulation in the Twitterverse or FB-Land. The instant commentary is also gratifying. Blogs on the other hand have become a forum more often read than interacted with, as well as great magnets for trolls and spam.I agree with Jeffrey about the immediacy of FB/twitter, and he goes on to note that composing a blog post takes real labor, whereas a series of tweets can reach the level of stream-of-consciousness. I know why I don't blog enough, and I am not happy with it, but for the moment I am most interested in the idea that blogs "have become a forum more often read than interacted with, as well as great magnets for trolls and spam." What's going on here? Why has the blog comment section become a no-mans-land?
Part of the problem might be how we circulate posts now. We not only write a blog post, but also promote and advertise that post on other social media, and as a result, comments and dialogue seem to find a home on the links, and not the linked pages themselves. During the Great Swervian Dustup of 2013, many of us remarked (on twitter and FB of course) that it was difficult keeping track of the conversation. Comments were popping up all over various social media, and this proved to be a problem because not everyone is connected in the same ways. The rhizomatic quality of social media can be invigorating, but it can also be bewildering and disorienting.
Looking back, I wonder if we have been so good at building community that we have forgotten to build community. I discovered In the Middle when I was feeling particularly isolated during the dissertation. I took the risk and put myself out there by commenting on the blog, under my own name, and folks responded. These early interactions encouraged me, and some of the other commenters on the blog became actual friends. What seemed like a remote and impenetrable field suddenly felt open and even hospitable. So, naturally, when social media came around, it was natural that we would extend those professional communities to other spaces. Because of how we are all so interconnected, I suspect that for many academics (of course, not all), FB can feel as much a professional space as a personal one. And many use twitter exclusively for professional/public discourse.
While anyone can set up a twitter account and then follow most anyone, there is still a barrier to Facebook. Speaking for myself, I feel comfortable following anyone on twitter--there is a different set of expectations there concerning public discourse. But for FB, I wouldn't feel comfortable friending everyone. Nor do I want to. But since FB allows for more robust commenting, this could be a real problem. Although many of us are "friends"/friends on FB, we are perhaps reinforcing exclusive communities even if that is explicitly opposite our goal.
Not only might graduate students feel less than comfortable with friending more established scholars (and really, there is an argument to be made for preserving more personal spaces), but the movement of conversations to FB or twitter make it so that people from other disciplines, fields, and those outside of the University are unintentionally excluded from conversation. And without a possibility of robust comments on a blog, then a blog is nothing more than a mini–journal article.
So, what to do about this? Given how we share information, I don't really see commenting necessarily coming back exclusively to the blog. But, we can perhaps do a better job of archiving and updating blogs with relevant comments. Even then, though, there could be a sense of gatekeeping. Perhaps we can also put links to public FB posts where others might at least view the conversation unfolding. At the moment, I don't have a better suggestion that doesn't include telling people how to use the Internet. But, I think that these questions of community are something we can all think more about.
My public FB link for this post.