Blogging Archaeology and Comments

The most recent question over at Colleen Morgan’s curated blog “event” on Middle Savagery asks about the audience and comments on blogs.

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I used to think a good bit about audience when I first started blogging.  I had this idea that I would create a point of contact between my research interests and the local community, stakeholders in my various projects, and like minded colleagues.  Over time, I realized that the local community was not tremendously interested in what was going, the stakeholders did enjoy my blog particularly when we were in the field, and my colleagues divided themselves fairly neatly into those who ignore blogs and those who write and read blogs.  I was most liberated when I realized that there was an almost infinite variety of people on the internet and my blog could survive on a relatively tiny base of regular readers (70 – 100 a day).  In other words, if the “I can haz cheezeburger?” cat can survive and find an audience, then I should not be too concerned about imagining a particular audience for what I write.

As for comments, I used to get annoyed that so few of my readers comments.  I’ve had close to 4000 views of my new blog and only 25 comments for the 57 posts.  But then I realized comments aren’t the only way that people interact with your content.  For example, yesterday morning a super bright buddy of mine dropped me an instant message in gmail chat telling me that he thought my post was interesting.  Sometime early this morning, a colleague and blogger bold faced a passage from a post that I wrote last week:

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Another blogger cites a comment that I made about his blog on his main page:

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I get a few emails a month from people who have something to add or say about a post on my blog. I also get a few Tweets and Facebook mentions. My blog has been cited on various Wiki’s (some of which I am a little sketched out about, but all publicity is good publicity, right?), referenced in press and media releases, linked to on university websites, and talked about at academic conferences.

While comments on a blog are always gratifying, the influence of a blog and the way that it becomes part of the academic discourse represents are far more complex and (to use an over used term) networked phenomena. Hyperlinks show the connections between authors and provide pathways for readers to glide across the influences and conversations in far more complex ways than the simple post:comment relationship imagines.  I assume this understanding of how the internet works is why such iconic blogs as kottke.org or daring fireball do not even allow comments on the content that they post.

Of course the model for understanding blogs that downplays the atomized post:comment relationship is not a product of the digital age and the internet.  In fact, I think that the way most people read and write to the web has close parallels with traditions of modern academic writing and reading.  Most academics do not pause to comment on specific articles or even individual conference paper (although books and reviews are an exception); instead they build references to these articles into their own work through the predecessor of hyperlinks: footnotes.  The networks that have emerged among bloggers find have nice parallels with the intellectual networks manifest in academic citations. The biggest difference between the two practices is the speed with which the discourse can develop (and evaporate) through digital publication.  Just as few academic publications cite articles from, say, the 1920s, it is rare to see a hyperlink in a blog to a post over a few months old.

It may be premature to regard blogs as anything more than a simulacrum of the mainstream academic conversation, but I have seen blogs cited in academic publications, know archaeologists who read my blog regularly, and know at least one archaeologist whose blog helped him get his job at a good liberal arts college.  The familiar form of academic blogs to academic writing in general may be the thing that allows blogging to be recognized as a facet of the mainstream academic discourse.

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