Thursday, March 04, 2004

Blog, In A Nutshell
A blog-based presentation on blogging

In the forthcoming Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, Jill defines weblog, or blog, as a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first. Alternately, Ev, the guy who started the Blogger service you're soaking in right now, suggests that the blog concept is about three things: Frequency, Brevity and Personality.

Sounds simple, right? Like a short-and-sweet diary, except online, public, and in reverse. But no single sentence does the broad and increasingly widespread phenomenon justice, nor does it really help us see why this blog thing should mean anything to us. I think the encyclopedia would help us out, so here's most of the rest of what Jill has to say in her definition; for the purposes of fast discussion, I've edited out a few sentences which seemed less-than-urgent for us to consider today:
Typically, weblogs are published by individuals and their style is personal and informal. Weblogs first appeared in the mid-1990s, becoming popular as simple and free publishing tools became available towards the turn of the century. Since anybody with a net connection can publish their own weblog, there is great variety in the quality, content, and ambition of weblogs, and a weblog may have anywhere from a handful to tens of thousands of daily readers...

Examples of the genre exist on a continuum from confessional, online diaries to logs tracking specific topics or activities through links and commentary. Though weblogs are primarily textual, experimentation with sound, images, and videos has resulted in related genres such as photoblogs, videoblogs, and audioblogs

Most weblogs use links generously, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics. Readers may start at any point of a weblog, seeing the most recent entry first, or arriving at an older post via a search engine or a link from another site, often another weblog. Once at a weblog, readers can read on in various orders: chronologically, thematically, by following links between entries or by searching for keywords. Weblogs also generally include a blogroll, which is a list of links to other weblogs the author recommends. Many weblogs allow readers to enter their own comments to individual posts.

The world of blogging is still in flux, but the definition points to several areas of relevance for us. These include, but are by no means limited to:

1. Casual community-member use: Many members of the NMH community have blogs. One blog-maintaining service in particular, livejournal, is used by many of our students to share thoughts on a regular basis; a good number of them are currently keeping a group blog about NMH, in fact.

At stake here, however, is the unfortunate truth that students tend to forget that the mass includes the local; twice in the past two years, I have found it necessary to core team students whose blogs mentioned illicit and potentially dangerous behavior. As I said in a previous entry on this point,
Intellectually, it seems intuitively obvious that if a random stranger can access and read your blog or livejournal, so can the next-door neighbor or friend or ex-girlfriend or even parent, assuming that they are online, or have a friend who might accidentally come across your brainspew and pass the word along. Psychologically, though, it is not obvious, but disquieting.

2. Academic use: The use of blogs as a tool in educational environments is on the rise. In addition to providing a digital generation with a comfortable tool for journaling (itself a common tool for the integration of writing across the NMH curriculum), the web-based nature of the blog offers several new and potentially beneficial twists to the traditional journal, including the everywhere-at-once aspect of webbed materials (you'll never have to collect the journals, and they can still write in them while you're looking at them!), the ability to easily add links and images, and the comments function, which engenders a space for teacher or peer feedback that, unlike the traditional journal, doesn't mar or corrupt the original text, but exists outside of it, preserving its sanctity. Some algebra/physics classes here at NMH are already using blogging successfully (for example, this or this).

There are more issues here than we have time for -- for example, I've recently spent some time asking around the bloggiverse about citation and blogging, and can now state with some cultural authority that blogs are low-stakes by nature, as were journals before them, so the link is considered appropriate citation...but this in turn raises a new set of issues, both wild and wooley and somehow familiar, around how we can help teachers be clearer about their expectations for student work.

Though there is as yet little consensus about the "right" way to use blogs academically, these conversations "out there" have already started. Here is a blog from the Educational Bloggers Network , and a fairly comprehensive lists of blogs and resources about blogging in education, many of which refer to ongoing conferences on the subject. I'll be attending one such conference at Harvard in April, if others want to join me; I found out about it from one of my favorite library/media blogs, which I'll mention again later.

3. Blogs as reference materials: Blogs, almost by definition, offer opinion better than fact, though it is standard practice to link to original sources when responding to it. This "layering" phenomenon in the body of information available to our constituents is not new, but I'd propose it's made both more complex and more interlinked with the introduction of blogs into the mix. Of course, the opinion-based nature of blogs raise the stakes for information and media literacy here, too (hint: a site's bias can often be determined merely by skimming the list of other sites which that blogger recommends, a list known in blogparlance as a blogroll.)

That said, blogs can add value to research in powerful ways. Students looking for fairly immediate opinions on and reactions to a very current issue, or a set of opinions on a specific topic over time, will find blogs a strong tool for the toolbox. A student with time and his/her own blog can even solicit such opinion, or add his or her questions to the growing body of opinion in a blog's comments to see if others respond.

And some awfully famous people have blogs; a student struggling with the work of, say, former head of the American Sociological Association Amitai Etzioni might well find his blog a useful way to understand how his mind works, and a survey of how he categorizes his blog entries and which sources he responds to would additionally lend a new layer of understanding to those reading his work for a class project. Alternately, a student studying ex-presidents might find a visit to Jimmy Carter's blog illuminating. And Dave Barry is read across our senior English curriculum.

(Incidentally, Google purchased blogger, one of the more popular blog services, last year. Do you think this might affect how people blog? How people see blogging as legitimate? How blogs present as resources in google searches?)

4. Blogs as library resources: There are a number of library blogs out there; most interlink, so a few links here can get you on your way to finding those you might want. Some librarians and bibliophiles keep blogs about new developments and thinking in the field, or about library issues in general. Some libraries (like this one) keep blogs for their community, too, as a way of reaching out and staying up to the minute. Here's an article on why you might want to keep a blog for your own library.

Additionally, many blogs mention and critique books and other potential collections acquisitions as a matter of course, and some bloggers even keep track of what they're reading at the moment purely for the edification of their readership; finding a small group of blogs you trust may lead to a whole new layer of collections development.

Of course, blogs are also periodic literature, in their own tiny solipsistic way. In the vastness of the bloggiverse there's some good reading, of a structure all its own. As any good librarian or media specialist should be able to do, I'd be happy to recommend a few good reads upon request.

Any questions? Feel like I missed something? Click on the comments link below to share your thoughts!

posted by boyhowdy | 8:03 PM |

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