Friday, October 25, 2013

Is There a Comment for this Blog?

Recently, Jeffrey Cohen wrote a thoughtful blog post  (prompted by Christopher Schaberg's post) on why blogging seems like such hard work.

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.


a little bird said...

Thanks for the post, Rick. In my work with Hybrid Pedagogy, and my also too infrequent blogging on my personal/professional website, I've been frustrated by how rarely comments show up on a post, even when a robust conversation might be happening on other social media venues like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. At Hybrid Ped, we've also tried to promote the forum as a place for discussion, to the extent of organizing and running a virtual unconference. While that was a successful experiment in other ways, it didn't lead, as we'd hoped to continued interest and engagement in the forum once it was over.

If post-publication peer review and alternative metrics are going to "work" as methods of evaluating academic production, I think you're right that we need to be more attentive to creating and curating the record of conversations sparked by blog posts. Although it's often easier to comment on Facebook, or Twitter, it's also important, as you note here, to make sure that conversation links back to (and is linked from) the original post.

So, starting today, I'm setting myself the goal of being more diligent in creating and reinforcing those links. Also, in setting up our own blogging platforms, we can probably help things by allowing trackbacks from a variety of social media. And, in responding through a variety of social media, we can be better about creating those trackbacks by including links to the original post.

Christopher Schaberg said...

The other thing I have thought about a lot is how all this online intellectual labor/archiving/conversation is somewhat incommensurate with the rather old school protocols of tenure and promotion processes. It would be so great if, when one is up for promotion, one could simply send along a link to one's online profile, regardless of the platform—and the committees would figure out how to read, evaluate, and appreciate the work both put *into* the archive as well as the linked online/print *contents* that the archive points to. This is very utopian, I realize. BUT…having just gone through the tenure application process, and having been made to jump through the various hoops and three-hole punch the paperwork packets required at my institution, it just seemed so silly to me—I wanted to include just one single page that said "Here's a link to my blog: it's all there." If I end up starting an alternative college at some point, I'll propose that promotion processes be open to diverse modes of delivery and new media forms.

Matthew Gabriele said...

I think there's also the simple issue of technology - blogging is last year's. Students have moved on beyond blogging, facebook, twitter, etc. Even us (relatively) tech-savvy professors are struggling to keep up with the different media on which there are conversations. That surely plays into it too...

JH said...

Matthew makes a great point that maybe blogging -- and even FB and twitter -- are starting to feel like "yesterday's" social media as new platforms and practices emerge. And the larger question of how we archive/corral concurrent discussions is a big one.

It is curious to me that blogging -- which started out as a more experimental, informal mode of writing compared to (say) publishing journal articles -- has now come to feel more formal, perhaps due to its "public" nature, and it has become acceptable to link to URLs in one's footnotes/citations. FB communities (in comparison) can feel more intimate, immediate, and provisional. And posting a comment a blog 1. feels more "public" and 2. takes a bit more time/effort.

One advantage that I still see in the blog format is this comparatively "slow" pacing. Not everyone is on FB or twitter so blogs provide a certain archiving function in their own right -- they can't capture the entirely of the myriad concurrent conversations unfolding across all platforms, but they do capture some, and make that information more accessible.

theswain said...

Interesting thoughts and comments. Yes, blogging is "old news." Like writing of any kind though, blogging takes energy, thought, and time, even the most "social" post: they are not immediately interactive. And though FB and Twitter are now being bypassed in many ways, it is still the immediacy of communication that is the focus there. Still, I find blogging useful and important.

Interestingly though, one practice I have not engaged in, and perhaps should, is announcing new posts via other media. Most of my students have no idea that I edit The Heroic Age or keep a blog and in fact some of my closest professional friends do not follow or subscribe or perhaps even know that I blog. SInce I've been on the internet so long, even before it was called that, I've always kept various online activities separate rather than pulling them altogether. So I have "communities" perhaps that I access in quite different ways. Not sure what to make of that yet, perhaps Rick has some thoughts.

Rick Godden said...

Jonathan, your comment here caught my interest: "And the larger question of how we archive/corral concurrent discussions is a big one." Reading this, it occurs to me that the urge to archive/corral might be curious itself.

My post inadvertently waxes nostalgic for the good old days of blogging and focused online communities. And yet, the urge to archive and corral is, perhaps, a new one. FB and twitter are provisional and at times provisional, but in-person conversations are even more so. We can't archive all the conversations we have with colleagues at conferences, for example.

I think Matt and Larry are exactly right about the issue of technology. The times, they are a-changing... And that's ok, too.

Rick Godden said...

Christopher, I just turned in a three-hole punched binder of teaching stuff for my Postdoc. I, too, wish I could just give a link to some online profile.

Robin, good thoughts! I wonder how these alternative metrics will start to affect academic evaluation.