The scholarly discourse
Scholars begin to address the question of whether blogs are scholarship in journal literature at about the same time they begin to discuss the subject in the blogosphere -- in 2006 -- while general descriptions of blogs appear earlier. In 2005, Herring, Scheidt, Wright and Bonus analyzed blog content and structure, coding 55 features of 203 randomly selected blogs. The authors compared observed characteristics with commonly held beliefs about blogs, and exposed several myths. Seventy percent of their sample consisted of personal blogs; only 12.6% were “filter” blogs, those whose authors link to and comment on other bloggers’ posts. The authors had expected filter blogs to be the most common blog forms (p. 151). Slightly more than half of the blogs surveyed linked to other blogs (p. 154), in sharp contrast to popular belief that linking to other blogs, for example, having a blogroll or other list of recommended blogs, is de rigeur. Most surprising, the average blog entry received .03 comments and the majority of entries received none (p. 156). Further, comparisons of newer entries with older ones suggest that posts do not continue to collect comments; rather, comments occur during a brief period when the post is fresh (p. 156). Fewer than a third of blog posts contain any links to external content at all, this, again, in sharp contrast to the popular perception that blog posts are built around an external link (p. 156).
Herring et al. are notable for reporting an empirical research study even if the sample cannot be said to be representative of the general population. Theirs creates some basis for comparison in later discussion, suggests where research in this area might focus next and lays the groundwork for an understanding of how blogs have come to be considered potentially scholarship at all. I will discuss other of their findings below to illustrate themes that emerge from the literature generally.
Craig Saper also systematically observed blogs (2006), but focused on the qualities of a small, therefore not likely representative, number of blog posts. He quotes liberally to show how “[t]he blogademia resists the hegemonic academic machine” (par. 2). In short, for Saper, blogs are gossip. But just as quickly as he appears to dismiss blogs, he turns the observation around, suggesting that gossip and scholarly knowledge are more porous categories than we might think (par. 7).
[W]hen academics gossip they may also lead to a new form of knowledge. When bloggers discuss infrastructure (who in your department is an idiot or a psychopath; how poorly the administration of your University functions; or simply the trials and travails of the tenure-track publish or perish mill), they also discuss, unwittingly, the social processes of knowledge production, what counts as scholarship, and discipline formation.
Saper’s short report, other aspects of which I will discuss below, provides a qualitative view of academic blogs and begins to raise the question of whether even in their most banal, they may be scholarship.
Herring, S. C., Scheidt, L. A., Wright, E., & Bonus, S. (2005). Weblogs as a bridging genre. Information, Technology and People, 18(2), 142-171.
Saper, C. (2006). Blogademia. Reconstruction: Studies in contemporary culture Retrieved October 12, 2007, from http://www.reconstruction.eserver.org/064/saper.shtml