Transcript from Chronicle "Scholars who blog" session

Sadly, I was traveling and in meetings and missed the session yesterday with Prof. Volokh and others about blogs and academia.  A transcript, I was glad to see, has been posted.  A few ideas that caught my attention:

* The moderator, David Glenn, noted: “Blogs are vastly cheaper and more accessible than academic journals, yet they allow scholars (if they choose) to develop serious arguments at a serious length.”  Do people really read serious arguments at serious length on Weblogs?  I wonder if there’s any way to collect reliable data on this question.

* Prof. Volokh on the “are blogs really anything different?” question: “I think blogs *are* different from Usenet groups — or discussion groups generally, whether implemented via Usenet, e-mail, the Web, or what have you — for the reason mentioned. Discussion groups can be valuable, if they have a well-chosen set of members, good social norms, and a moderator who is willing to occasionally guide the conversation and help enforce the norms. But blogs can be valuable, too, because they’re the voice of one person — if, of course, you like that one person.”  You might also see Dave Winer‘s “What Makes a Weblog a Weblog” and associated commentary on this point.  One of the things I like about blogs is that there’s an element of choice on the part of the reader.  Unlike a more communal form of discussion space on the Web, you don’t necessarily have to listen to the cranks and the hecklers and people who just plain old post too often or boring stuff.  You opt in, more or less, each time you read someone’s (or some group’s) blog.  I suppose that comments fields and related ideas, including syndication to a lesser extent, break down the purity of this opt-in, but also keep things interesting in some cases. 

* Prof. Volokh on blogs and credibility: “The important factors for blog readers who are looking for a scholarly perspective are, I think, (1) the depth of the arguments, (2) the quality of the expertise behind the arguments, and (3) the scholarly (yet readable) tone of the arguments. At the same time, institutional affiliation does provide an important credential. When a law professor comments on the law, people will generally give more credence (at least at the beginning) to the professor’s blog than they would to an independent scholar’s blog. As will [sic] all trademarks, the label ‘Professor’ is an imperfect proxy for quality — but in an environment of information overload, it’s a valuable one, and will affect at least people’s initial impressions.”

These are helpful ideas, and we should keep them in mind as we build out the Weblogs initiative here at the Berkman Center.  Ideally, this space will be one where we’ll be able to share reliable information and provocative ideas about issues we’re working on — and that we’ll provide high enough quality blogging to earn the trust of readers who actually might return to this blogs space. 

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