During lunch today with Ben Shneiderman
and some of my colleagues (yes, I dragged my sorry, sick self out of bed, dosed myself with cough syrup, and selfishly risked infecting them all), we had an interesting discussion about blogs and academics.
I asked Ben if he had any plans to start a blog of his own, and he cited two reasons for not doing so.
First is the sense of commitment associated with having one--that once you've started, you feel some obligation to write regularly. Shades of my recent dry spell
entry. He's right, I think. Regardless of all the rhetoric we hear about "this is my site, I only write for myself," we wouldn't be blogging if we weren't writing for an audience--however large or small that audience might be. And once you realize that the audience exists, it's hard not to feel some sense of obligation to your readers.
The second reason he tendered was the tension between wanting to share and be open about ideas, and the need that academics feel to protect and nurture their ideas privately, making sure that they're ready for an audience to review.
Again, I know there are people who will argue that there's no real tension there--that blogs are an informal medium, and that there's no obligation, express or implied, for ideas to be "fully baked" before they're floated. My experience, however, has been that's not always the case--particularly if you've got a large and diverse audience. Take, for example, danah boyd's and my attempt earlier this year to float our interest in defining and/or categorizing blogs
. We were roundly criticized--and while the criticisms were legitimate in many ways, they certainly made us both more reluctant to float early ideas.
But with all that, it has still been my experience that the rewards of academic blogging far outweigh the risks and demands. Yes, I feel stress about "producing" on a regular basis. Yes, I've been burned when offering ideas that weren't yet ready for prime time. But in return, I've become part of an amazing, supportive "invisible college" of colleagues, from inside and outside of academia. I've had input into ideas that have helped me shape my research agenda before I've gone too far down a blind alley, I've found people to work with on papers and conference presentations, I've found encouragement when I've been stuck on a tough problem.
In June, I'll be chairing a panel on "Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication" at the 5th Annual Media Ecology Conference
, along with Clay Shirky, Seb Paquet, Alex Halavais, and Jill Walker. We'll be exploring these ideas, and others, and I hope that there will be plenty of academic bloggers there to participate in that discussion.