Honest to blog: A symposium on web legitimacy

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Last Friday, 4 March 2011, Pue’s Occurrences held its second symposium on blogging.  This time around our focus was blogging and web legitimacy. At our first symposium an issue that was continually discussed was the problem bloggers have in ensuring their information is trusted and also in ensuring that blogs and blogging is considered a credible output. The core of this issue seems to be that the blogs do not get recognised as equal or comparable outputs to journal articles, essays, collections or books. When they are recognised there is a problem categorising them. Juliana Adelamn of Pue’s Occurrences hit on this during the final session, the afternoon was dedicated to a roundatable discussion where participants were asked to discuss ‘web legitimacy’. She said that recently the discussions have begun about whether or not blogging activities get put into academic reports of your progress.

The symposium disucssions for the day was strongly concerned with this issue but the second issue up for discussion was how the humanities use blogging in the class room and as a teaching tool. This was explored in the morning sessions by Orla Murphy of UCC (Orla Murphy blog) and Jonathan Wirght of TCD. The two provided very interesting perspectives on this. Orla uses blogs as a mandatory part of a masters course that focuses on new media and material culture. She found blogs a stimulating part of the course and their use encoruaged students and gave them experience with working with new media and software.  Jonathan was part of an undergraduate course that used discussion boards to discuss historical perspectives and historical narratives. His experience was that while it was an important space for working out ideas and helping them to develop their writing skills, some students engaged more than others and it was difficult to make some students do more then the minimum required.

In the first morning session Dr Conor Brady of Dundalk IT discussed his blog the Ross Na Ree dig. Conor’s blog is a type of field journal, recording finds and progress on an archeoligical excavation. Conor provided a fascinating account of how he has used the blogging format to chart this process, how students have enagaged with it and how he has now brought his blog into the class room. The discussion of his blog was drawn out by the respondent Stephen Harrison of UCD. Conor was asked if he fixed on blog posts incorrect analaysis. No was his answer- he felt that he was charting the whole process of the dig and so it was just important to have preliminary thoughts on an object recorded, even if he was wrong.

Conor also spoke about the duty of academics to put information from publicly funded research in the publics domain. He felt that a blog was an excellent way to do this, and he was supported from the floor in this. Orla Murphy added to this later on in the day when she participated in the round table: Orla Murphy added that ‘Academia has been ring-fenced by peer review- we produce work that is published in a limited way’. What about reaching a wider audience?

One excellent aspect of blogging is that it is such a flexible tool. This was something Ciaran Swan mentioned and that the afternoon panel and discussions came back to a number of times. While he uses the blogging tool to curate an archive for Irish left material (the Irish Left Online Document Archive is hosted on the Cedar Lounge Blog), what most of the panel, academics in particular, seemed to suggest was that blogging was a place to work out ideas and a way where they could discuss personal and professional concerns rathern then the topics they deal with in their routine publications. Niamh Cullen from the Little Review discussed this issue too. She said ‘I like that as a blog its about my writing not my academic expertese, I don’t expect people to read my blog for my expertese’. There seemed to be a feeling too that a blog was a rough book for many academics, where you work out your ideas and get feedback. Patrick Walsh from the floor mentioned that this is something economists have been doing for years and nothing new.

While dealing with legitimacy, blogging was constantly compared to what the humanities see as legitimate formats and there is a strong feeling from the humanities field that if it is on paper it is more legitimate. Juliana Adelman stated during the roundtable: ‘credibility is given to paper because it is seen as enduring’. Why is this and why are we so far behind scientific research on this issue? Myles Dungan from the History Show on RTE radio 1 chaired the roundtable discussion. suggested that it perhaps this was an issue related to currency. Scienctists need to have their ressearch out there as soon as possible. This may be so, but it does seem that humanities usually follows science. Why have they not done so in this respect? As historians we often pay for the privilege of seeing our work in print. These books or journals then often cost a huge amount of money for people and institutions to buy and they are not read by a huge number. Undoutedley, information put on the web is read more and gets further. Interestingly, it seems that in science several prominent scientists led the charge and refused to publish in hard copy, setting the trend topublish online. Someone from the floor suggested that journals have found that online publishing, rather then taking away their core audience base, has widened it as online searching brings in hits that would not have come before and there are return readers.

One question which the day continually  returned to was what made blogging different to other formats- is it just the same as writing for a newspaper but just a new version of that format? It seemed to me the answer is no. There is an ephemrial nature to blogging which makes it comparable to newspaper articles and reviews but blogging is a tool and as a flexible format is different in everyone’s hands. Its ability to reach out to an audience internationally, even if the subject of a blog is the most obscure thing you can imagine, both shows the strength of online communities and it’s importance as a tool when compared to print media. Part of the problem for bloggers, as Ciaran Swan pointed out is that we just don’t know how long blogging will last as a format, much less how long it will continue to be relative.

Some of the other issues that were discussed included libel on blogging, comments from readers, software for blogging, tweeting and facebook for the humanities (the symposium was tweeted for the first time in my own in-expert hands so apologies for any errors!), communities online, blogging names, why we blog as academics and the audiences we reach.

Pue’s Occurrences would like to thanks everyone who showed up and particpated from both the panels and the floor, as well as everyone who followed us on twitter, commented and asked questions. While we came no where near to answering all of the questions that we raised over the course of the day the discussion was stimulating, I met lots more bloggers and tweeters, and I walked away with a lot more ideas about blogging, twitter and the digital humanities.

2 Responses to “Honest to blog: A symposium on web legitimacy”

  1. Cathy Says:

    Thanks for this report on a great day of presentations and conversations, Lisa, and for creating this space as a means to continue those conversations. One thing which came back a few times during the day, and which you picked up in this post, is the ephemeral nature of blogging. Whereas I see what you mean, and that the daily – or monthly entry seems to have disappeared in archives, and is not present on the screen as the reader opens the blog, it is still there, as much as any article a journal. Persistence is indeed one of the qualities/problems of the digital text. It was alluded to during the symposium, by someone ambivalent about the very persistence of texts written as a young academic. Maybe we should talk about a perceived ephemeral quality?

  2. puesoccurrences Says:

    You are right that a discussion about the ephemeral nature of blogs should also look at how they are also just perceived as ephemeral but one of the things we disucssed in our first symposium is what happens to material on a blog when the blogger stops? Where does the material go? There is a need to maintain a lot more digital material and by the sounds of it that is something that the National Library are going to be working on soon.

    Lisa

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