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The Real Blogosphere

Over at Concurring Opinions, Drexel’s Dan Filler has decided that his day job is busy and challenging enough without the felt obligation to be busy and challenging as a regular blogger.  Dan’s “farewell” post reminds me of what I like most about this medium.  It’s not the opportunity to build a short soapbox and share brief thoughts with a not-quite-random audience.  Instead, it’s the opportunity to meet interesting people.  Done right, with a blog everyone knows you’re not a dog.

This is the not-often-appreciated-enough benefit of these virtual gabfests:  How their recursive one-to-many character leads, when managed right, to any number of one-to-one dialogues.  Sometimes those one-to-one relationships are face-to-face.  Sometimes I connect by phone; sometimes via email.  Sometimes the context is just a comment exchange on the blog itself that takes on a one-to-one character.  “Networking” is far too cynical a term for the process; I’ve made some good friends and built a larger web of colleagues this way, many of them in fields far from my own IP and tech interests. 

To make the benefits outstrip the costs, then, you have to work at the blog.  Craft; don’t bark; if you don’t have time to craft, a la Dan, then the wise move may be to step aside.  It’s difficult to describe tangible benefits from blogging in my academic life, but it’s clear to me that some form of virtual outreach is now absolutely essential to professional success in academia.  It’s also clear to me that the most effective use of blogging in academia involves connecting one’s virtual persona in some thoughtful way to more personal, dare I say traditional, terrestrial engagement or some facsimile thereof.  (My model blog for this purpose is Conglomerate, though it’s hardly alone.)  The point — the virtual and the terrestrial are eventually inseparable, though not everyone realizes it — is personal as well as professional.  I run two blogs in addition to this one, one in my home community and one in Pittsburgh, and in both contexts I’ve been fortunate to connect bloggism to in-person activism. 

Failure to recognize that blogs inhabit a terrestrial ecology leads to blogging gone wrong, with careers and lives ruined or at least unpleasantly interrupted, when bloggers don’t realize that virtual musings are fodder for terrestrial connections.  Some of our law students at Pitt are blogging their summer internships.  Some are doing it well and thoughtfully; some are doing it poorly (read that word aloud while borrowing the somber intonation of the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  Come the Fall semester, I’ll have some good examples for my “be careful what you write and how you write it” scare-them-out-of-Facebook-and-Blogger talk to the incoming students.

I saw Dave Hoffman’s provocative post on the flat future of the blawg and thought that it missed what I think is most interesting and important about blogging:  Not the self-contained, navel-gazing part, but the connect-with-others part.  If traffic and always-novel-content and first-mover advantage are the keys to the blog (blawg), then the blog not only isn’t really a community; it isn’t even a group, and it seems to run ever-greater risks that the blog will tip into pure navel-gazing and/or barking.  Which is great for some; that’s not my thing.  YBMV.