meta: August 2004 Archives

Tablogotchi

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Apropos of very little, I came across the following over at Suw Charman's Strange Attractor: an extended meditation on the weblog as Tamagotchi. I must admit that, when I visited the Tamagotchi page linked above and saw the tag line ("You don't have one yet?"), I laughed out loud. Suw writes:

If you don’t feed them, they die. If you don’t clear up their crap - comment spam, for example - they die. They’re more fun when there are other bloggers to play with, just like the new IR connected Tamagotchi are allegedly more fun because your little virtual pet can now interact with other little virtual pets.

I couldn't help googling and found this post from Stewart Butterfield on NeoPets as well.

I must also admit that there's a certain part of me that wants to take this metaphor and spin it into something with which to respond to the call for papers on academic blogging that I just saw. I know I could just as easily polish up an entry from the whole Secret of Nym conversation, but I have the feeling that most of what they'll receive will be sooo serious.

Who's the birthday blog?

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cake.jpgLeave it to me to pick the 13th of a month as the birthday for my blog, so that its first birthday lands on Friday the 13th...it was exactly one year ago today that I started cgbvb.

As I vaguely recall, I'd spent the previous week or two futzing and tweaking both my intended design (which changed in less than a month) and our server to get the MT installation to work. One year, and almost 300 entries later, and I spent much of Wednesday getting the MT upgrade to work on our server, and am faced with a whole suite of tweaks to my design. Hmmm. On the plus side, the upgrade's working fine, and the feature upgrade at the end of the month will give me a new set of toys to play with. And I'm steadily working towards categorizing all of my past entries, so that I can start running the site with a little more structure.

When I started blogging last year, it was mainly because of Jennies. I fully expect that I'll never be let off the hook for expressing skepticism to Jenny B when she first told me about blogs ("You spend how much time each day reading those things??"), but some part of me apparently did listen. And if it hadn't been for Jenny E, back in her "from the blog" incarnation, I probably wouldn't have started one myself. Despite all of the talk lately about academic blogging, that's really only a small part of how doing this has shifted the ways I spend my attention. It really helped me rekindle my interest in writing, at a time when I was riding a pretty long wave of disinterest and (sometimes) depression. Best of all, it's helped me to connect (and in some cases, reconnect) with a whole host of smart people, and to rethink any number of ideas that I'd taken for granted for far too long.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Happy Birthday.

Almost...

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I almost convinced myself to leave the office today and to let my thoughts on the whole nym debate fade off. But not quite. I was hailed today (last night) by link if not by name, and wanted to add a few points. There are parts of wolfangel's post that are obviously addressed to specific people/arguments, but a couple of the more general ones, I thought, were worth picking up. It may seem like I'm fisking a bit, but that's really only because I want to represent wolfangel's claims responsibly.

Do we want academic credentials to matter in blogs? I dont think so.

Me neither. I tried to be pretty explicit about the fact that I want my blogging to matter as part of my academic credibility (which is different from credentials).

You can value your readings in whatever way you like, of course, but its odd to decide an article (in the non-internet context) is better or worse based on if the person who wrote it is tenured, tenure track, a student, etc. I believe most people would judge a given article based on its merits.

I'd take issue here. In an ideal world, if I delivered a paper to an audience of 5 that was "better" than the keynote presentation by a celebrity, that would be recognized. That's an exceedingly rare occurrence, though, in most fields, I would imagine. The fact is that our respect and credibility may not have much to do with whether an essay is "good," but it has everything to do with how our work circulates through our given fields. And the circulation of our work does have an effect on how that work is received, or even whether it is received. There may be no qualitative difference between an essay in Big-Time Journal A and another in Startup E-journal B, but there are lots of people in my field (and people on T&P committees) who assume otherwise. I don't think that this means making B indistinguishable from A, but rather that those of us who find value in B need to make compelling claims for that value.

I can, however, determine whether an article on blogging knows about blogs; its even easier for me to determine this about a post about blogging. This has nothing to do with credentials; when someone talks about blogs as diaries, I know theyre missing the point, even if theyre tenured. I am likely to give more leeway to someone I read more often.

Academic credentials can be useful things. But complete non-academics can say perfectly intelligent things about blogging, and discounting them because they were written by non-academics is the worst kind of snobbery.

Being accused of snobbery, even indirectly, certainly perked up my ears. I did not (and would not) claim that credentials are necessary to say something intelligent about blogging. However, at the risk of clarifying this to death, my field is practice-oriented, and so one of the articles I'm working on makes the claim that those of us who teach a significant research-based component in our composition courses should use the various tools of blogging (RSS, aggregators, etc.) as we do so. Because my aim is persuasive rather than expository or descriptive, my credibility does have an effect on how my essay will be received. And that credibility is enhanced if I can speak from the position of a person who both uses these tools in this fashion and who has successfully incorporated them into such a course.

I fully understand that this kind of scenario might not be applicable to other disciplines, but it is to the one where I work. (Again, that makes it different, not better.) I don't take this to mean that I should only listen to or read people within my own field or even in academia, because I don't do that. I try to read as widely as I can. I don't assume that my academic credentials give me some sort of privileged access to the truth of any matter, nor do I assume that someone else's lack of credentials precludes them from knowledge and wisdom. My credentials function solely within the restricted economy from whence they come, an economy that I don't find to be necessarily better or worse than any other.

A final point. Blogging is a rhetorical practice, as is writing under a pseudonym. There is a case to be made, with evidence from this extended discussion, that some of Steven's comments were treated with less credibility and as less valid, in part (and I emphasize in part) because he doesn't blog under a pseudonym. I am not dismissing the valid responses to his original post or the discussion that followed, which I think has been really valuable. But I would claim that his comments have been held to a higher standard because he doesn't blog pseudonymously. And, I would add, rightfully so. If someone makes a claim about any rhetorical practice, and that person doesn't actually have experience with that practice, I'd be skeptical. And as hard as I may try, I would find it really challenging to separate out that skepticism (or respect in the opposite case) from my estimation of an essay's quality. That's not to say that this shouldn't be our ideal, but academia wouldn't be what it is for many of us if we were even remotely successful at that.

Grading up

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Obviously, cgbvb is receiving an upgrade. Unfortunately, this means that many of my permalinks have been thrown off--I assume that my trackbacks are as well, although I haven't checked. Also, I think a couple of comments got nipped by the timing of my export and reimport.

Sorry about that. It's also going to take me a while to restore some of the 3rd party functionalities. I'll be trying to do most of it tonight, I suspect. I'll probably be futzing a bit with the comment system as well, so if you leave one, and it doesn't show immediately, that's why.

Will Blog for Cred

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Must...resist...but...can't...

All right. I'm exhausted, but that hasn't stopped me from spending the last hour or two following out all of the threads. One in particular I want to reply to, since it's an indirect response to one of the issues I raised last night/morning. Rana has a really smart post that flips one of the assumptions behind much of this discussion, thinking instead about how those of us who post under our names might defend that practice. I defended what I called "academic blogging" under my own name for a couple of different reasons last night. Rana's reply I'll quote in full here:

Getting Credit for One's Blogging Here's another one, one that Stephen raises. I can see the general idea, but for me, this doesn't work all that well. (Again, your mileage may vary.) Let us say I choose to blog about my research, and hope to gain some scholarly cred by doing so. Well, first off, anything I post here is unlikely to be of the quality of my more formal works. It's a heck of a lot of work doing good historical work, and it takes time and space. So anything here would either be (a) incomplete, in which case I can't see it being any more beneficial to my career than sharing a rough draft with a colleague or two, or (b) good enough to publish, in which case why post it here? If it's good enough to survive a peer review process, I'd rather have it published. (Not to mention it would be 30+ pages long, plus endnotes -- not exactly blog-friendly.) In my (admittedly limited) experience, it seems to me that a journal publication would count for far more in any sort of professional assessment than something self-published on some personal site. This may change in the future, but at present, blogging about one's research and claiming it as publishing is about as effective as xeroxing a bunch of copies and passing them out at conferences and claiming that that constituted publishing.

I've got plenty to say, but first let me that I don't really disagree. I'm more interested in clarifying my remarks, and I don't think my position necessarily clashes with Rana's. Here's why:

(1)Big difference in disciplines. Like Steve, my field is rhetoric and my speciality is technology. Rana notes that the kind of painstaking work history requires doesn't really lend itself to blogging, and I understand that. But in my field, part of the work I must do (part of the work I was explicitly hired to do, in fact) is to stay abreast of communications technologies. For me, to write about blogging or to incorporate it into my courses without actually practicing it myself would be (I think) close to the equivalent of claiming to write an authoritative or definite historical work without consulting the available primary texts. Blogging does garner me credibility, perhaps not as an academic in general, but almost certainly as a member of my particular sub-field. (For a more eloquent take on the issue of the ethics of blog research, check Liz's post from a month or so ago at M2M.)

(2) I want to suggest that peer review works in more than one way. If I'm working out an idea that isn't ready for "prime time," my blog is a node in an informal peer network that may help me get it to that point. The difference here is between "anonymous" and "official" peer review, one that serves to certify a piece of writing at the end of the process, and the more informal review that can take place here. I've done this informal review with writers' groups, over email, and to a more limited extent, in the blogosphere, and each brings a set of advantages. Again, this may not be the case for historians (and others), where what counts as knowledge and evidence differs from what counts in my field.

(3) If I post the transcript of a talk, or an informal paper, here, and it gets picked up and distributed favorably (yes, wishful thinking abounds here), I can provide hard data about its value, both qualitative (comments, reviews) and quantitative (number of hits, trackbacks, etc.). On the cv that I submit for my tenure case, on the other hand, there is no difference between a conference paper delivered in front of an audience of 5 people or one that galvanizes a standing-room-only audience--for those reading the vita itself, the effects of those papers are completely invisible. I've had both kinds of experiences (the latter a result of much more famous co-presenters, to be sure), but neither shows up. If one of the assumptions behind quality scholarly work is that it makes an impact on the field, then I'd argue that this impact is at least as demonstrable in a blog as it is from being delivered at a conference. In other words, if the ideas are good ones, and I can track their effect to an extent, I think a case can be made that legitimate academic work is going on. (Again with the folk who say it better than I, and with more credibility. Mark Sargent, in this case.)

(4)Finally, one of the labor issues in my particular field is that those of us who identify as technology people are often called upon (or elect) to do work that ranges outside of the traditional boundaries policed by T&P committees. Like I said yesterday, I don't plan on substituting my blogging for those more traditional forms. Compared to published work, blogging isn't even close. But the argument I'd suggest (and again, it's one that may be more relevant to my field than to others') is that blogging doesn't aspire towards those standards. It's a different practice from publication, and no, it's not accepted as legitimate academic work. Yet. But the most telling example here is Invisible Adjunct. When we consider all of the praise and credibility she earned, from people who "knew" her solely through the practice of blogging, I don't think we can question that there are plenty of us out here who see scholarly value in an activity that doesn't show up yet in our tenure cases.

Yeah, that's all I got right now. It wouldn't surprise me to find that I end up clarifying even more tomorrow. As Rana notes at the very beginning, mileage may vary, and I hope that what I've offered is some clarification about why that's the case. My comments above are no less context-dependent than hers, and I think some of the disagreements over the past few have resulted from incomplete acknowledgement of what can be huge differences in context. I don't really know what constraints Rana operates under, and so what I'm writing here isn't meant as a direct refutation so much as it is an attempt to identify and clarify how "academic blogging" might operate for me given my constraints.

Finally: thanks, Rana, for a really thought-provoking post, one that challenged me to improve (one hopes) on my ideas from yesterday...

Staying out of the kitchen

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A couple of quick thoughts, before I turn in, on the flurry of posts that have been happening over at Steven's blog (and elsewhere), that connect back to the discussion that was going on a few days back, re anonymous/pseudonymous blogging.

I don't claim to have the last word, certainly, but it seems to me that at least a couple of the comments raise what for me is an important distinction, one that I first started thinking about in response to AlexH's talk at MEA: the distinction between academic blogging and blogging by academics.

I should be clear that I don't find one necessarily better than the other, nor do I see them as mutually exclusive. I think I do a little of both, although I think of myself primarily as someone who does academic blogging. In part, that's because technology is my primary area, and that means I should be doing, not just studying. But I've also got a stake in building a rep and attaching it to my name, the same name that'll be the byline for an article or two (on blogging and/or networks) in the next couple of years. I also believe strongly that, eventually, blogging will come to be seen as a legitimate form of academic activity; but just like electronic publication, part of the momentum for this must come from recognizable scholars offering either explicit or implicit endorsement. Unlike profgrrrrl, I probably will offer selected portions of my blog for my tenure case in a few years, both as an example of technoscholarly innovation and as a way of pushing at the kinds of evidence allowed. I won't use it instead of more traditional evidence, but I currently plan to use it. (maybe not the ass-grabbing story, though.)

However, and this is a big however, not only is academic blogging a tiny, tiny subset of blogs in general (as AlexH has also noted), it's a subset of the number of academics who blog. And I think it's important to recognize that occupying that subset means that our (academic bloggers') goals are pretty narrowly defined. By no means does this mean that we've got all the answers, esp to the big life questions, but it does offer us the freedom of setting those issues aside. And it does so at the cost of the freedom of confronting those issues in one place where we can build a community to help us with them. My point is stupidly simple, I suppose. Different isn't worse, once you accept that the relationship between the terms "blogging" and "academic" can be configured in a range of ways.

Okay. One more. Steven asks: "When did the tables turn on this idea of 'not my real name' equals credibility and authenticity?" I've actually got a half-baked essay on this. Credibility isn't just one thing. We're used to seeing it work top-down: I know this writer is good, therefore I will read her article. But it works the other way, too: This article is good, therefore I will remember her name the next time I see it. It's not so much that pseudonyms themselves grant instant credibility, so much as it is that, when a body invests time and energy and care into developing a pseudonym, it functions with no less credibility and authenticity than does a "real" name. (Which is the point that Rana makes.)

To be fair, though, I should note that pseudonyms are basically anonymous, if an audience isn't party to that investment. The distinction there is not as hard and fast as I think some are assuming. The first time I read a blog, whether the person blogs under their "real" name or not, for me it's anonymous. I think that the problem comes when someone has invested in their anonym to turn it into a pseudonym, only to have it treated like an anonym (decontextualized, generalized, etc.), if that makes any sense. But I don't really think that the process of developing a pseudonym is markedly different from developing a nym. In both cases, credibility is something that ends up emerging over time.

And no, I don't really think I'm saying anything here that isn't raised in one form or another in the comments to the posts listed above. I'm just thinking through them for myself....

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