The online journal First Monday in its August edition features an article about researchers’ motivations for blogging. Since I just decided to make my return as a ‘hard bloggin’ scientist‘, I read the article with interest.The reasons for blogging mentioned by the researchers from Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands interviewed for the study conducted by Sara Kjellberg are not very surprising. They include dissemination of content; interaction with other researchers, expressing opinions, keeping up-to-date with work in your field, and trying out bits of your argument in small pieces of writing.
After my year-long blogging hiatus, the things I really miss about Serendipities are its function as a research support tool, its possibilities for interaction with other researchers, and the subtle pressure a blog always exercises to keep up with recent developments in your field of research. I could really identify with a comment in the Kjellberg article that while a lot of people think blogging steals time from your research, in fact it is a writing/research support tool.
What I have noticed in the past months is how often I returned to Serendipities to look things up, even if I never wrote anything new here. For example, I was writing an article on The Spanish Tragedy which discussed the soliloquy in which Hieronimo enters with a book of Seneca’s tragedies in his hand and cites bits and pieces from it, and I suddenly thought of Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions. Using the search function on the blog, I found my review of the book very quickly and remembered the ideas I had at the time – the blog entry even contained a very useful quotation from the book. This kind of function as a research journal also figures in Kjellberg’s article. One researcher calls it a “personal thinking space” in which she collects and sorts material for her research, which is then accessible from any computer linked to the internet.
For me, one of the great things of Serendipities is the people I’ve connected with just because of the blog, and whom I might otherwise not have met at all. Kjellberg’s article has something interesting to say about this kind of interaction on academic blogs. Usually, reader’s reactions and ‘crowdsourcing’ are mentioned as one of the main advantages of blogging. But only a few of the academic blogs I know (such as Mercurius Policitus or The Long Eighteenth) has a relatively large number of comments on their posts. This is also what one of the interviewed researchers remarks upon:
the interaction in blogs is exaggerated and […] blogging is more of one–way communication than a dialogue. […] [Kjellberg counters that:] the interaction does not necessarily show up in the blog. There is certainly communication taking place, where readers contact the blogger not only by using the commenting function in the blog, but also through direct e–mail messages and, in rare cases, by using the phone or through face–to–face contacts, for example when meeting at a conference. Interaction can thus happen outside the blog.
In this view, the blog is more a means to keep others up to date of your ideas and work, and let them know that you are out there. Of course, that means a normal website would do as well, so I hope to be posting things that trigger responses in the coming years!