Archaeology, Blogging, and Community

This past week, I’ve slowly worked on an article for a special issue of Internet Archaeology that will focus on blogging and archaeology. My article, co-authored with Andrew Reinhard, the Director of Publications of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, looks at how blogging in the field of archaeology had contributed new directions to traditional, academic publishing.

We’ve split the article into two parts, with me contributing the first two sections. I’ve been working on the first section over the past couple of weeks. It sought to articulate how the blogging community among archaeologists constitutes a community of practice. Over the past decade archaeological bloggers have come to act in certain ways that actively constitute the production and reproduction of a community. The most simple example of this is the practice of using hyperlinks to provide connections between blog posts (or a blog post and other online content). This not only is a shared practice among bloggers, but explicitly creates links that represent the relationship between various locations of content on the web. The oft-mocked term blogosphere reflects the concept of a blogging community by evoking the universalizing metaphor of the sphere for the world (and also, perhaps, recognizing the organic nature of the blogging environment).

In earlier days, blogrolls forged explicit links between members of the blogging community, but the practice of maintaining an active list of blogs on related topics has gone into decline. In fact, some major blogging platforms have stopped supporting this feature. I can recall, however, surfing the blogosphere by jumping from one blogs blogroll to the next. RSS readers – like the late, lamented Google Reader, largely replaced the blogroll by taking the space for aggregating related content (or the space of articulating the blogging community) from the space of the content provider (the blogger) to the consumer (the reader). That being said, aggregators, like Tom Elliot’s Maia, continue to provide a curated point of access to the archaeological blogosphere.

The practice of commenting on blogs has also provided a space for the interaction among members of a broadly construed blogging community. Unfortunately (I suppose), comments fields on academic blogs have tended to be fairly deserted. A recurring complaint among academic bloggers is that they have so few commenters on their work. In my assessment, much of this has to do with the rather circumscribed space of the individual blog. The archaeological community remains relatively small and the loyal readership of any particular archaeological blog smaller still. More than that, compared to contemporary social media sites, the relative infrequency of posts and the fairly small audience on an academic blog creates a situation where the opportunities for comments and conversation remain few and far between. In other words, the structure of the blogging community provides only a modest space for communities to develop through commenting (except in particular, exceptional circumstances).

Social media space is instructional for academic bloggers. The size of a networked audience and the regularity (and diversity) of posts has created a new space for conversation and commenting largely replacing the comments section on a blog. The multiple points of entry, formally structured relationships between commenters, and the sustained activity alone conspires to encourage conversation in the same way that the informal space at the hotel bar during a busy conference often produced more useful insights than the formal period of content at the end of a panel.

Archaeological blogs represent a particular situation for content distribution on the web. In the blogging world, then communities of practice developed not through the staccato burst of daily interaction in comment feeds, but through the development of linked content. With the social media providing a space of interaction and conversation, the blog represents a platform for communicating academic ideas and for the engagement with dynamic linked content. 

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