AoIR 4.1.1

What follows is the first set of what I hope to be a decently full set of entries on my experiences here at the conference. A program note: because of some of the restrictions in wireless access here, my plan at the moment is to post once or twice each day, though I’m blogging throughout the day; I’ll attempt to time-stamp each sub-entry to indicate the sequence of their writing.



After two long flights (which I’ll only describe by presenting one small detail: Houston to Toronto on an Embraer Regional Jet, which seems to me to defeat the whole purpose of that R in ERJ), I arrived in Toronto late last night. Alas, I’m still pretty clearly on west-coast time, so I was wide-awake until 3 am, and dragging myself out of bed at 7.45 was painful. But: up, shower, breakfast, conference.

I’m very pleased to have caught the tail end of Alex Halavais’s “Broadening the Blog I” panel, in particular because of a suggestion made by Matthew Rothenberg near the end of his paper “Weblogs and the Semantic Web”: what if traditional scholars were to adopt from webloggers the technologies of TrackBack pings, such that scholarly conversations could be traced forward, and not simply backward? Right now, scholarly modes of reference — the footnote, the bibliography — allow for an archaeology of scholarly exchanges, tracking them backward to their influences and origins, but there is no currently available way to follow such exchanges forward. What if databases such as the MLA Bibliography could be adapted to such technologies — such that footnotes of new articles are mined for their references, and those references set to “ping” the previous references that appear in the database?

More soon. (9.45 am)



Taso Lagos, in a paper entitled “Parallel Society: Weblogs, Micromedia, and the Fragmentation of the Public Sphere” (during the “Broadening the Blog II” panel), pointed to the rise and fall of interest in the Greek video-gaming ban as evidence of the different mechanisms by which the “parallel society” of blogging functions: bloggers find modes of political protest that evade traditional channels, but issues too often die without ever fully developing.

This reminded me of Liz’s post from some weeks back on the speed with which posts roll off the front page and into the archives, often too quickly for conversations to develop to anything like fruition.* I imagine that the “recent posts” module might be one method of sustaining focus on particular issues, but how effective is that, really? Another method might be that I’ve seen ogged pursue throughout the consideration of the Plame affair, raising an issue and returning to it enough times for the multiplicity of its issues to develop. The drawback to this mode is its reliance on the link to mainstream media news or other bloggerly interest: such an issue can really only stay in focus in the blog as long as it stays in focus elsewhere.

Another possibility might be a form of serialized posting: raising a topic, opening comments, and responding to comments in future posts, or else releasing a topic into the blog in increments. The latter option feels a bit disingenuous to me, and the former threatens to close discussion down rather than open it up. I’m trying to brainstorm other modes, though, of sustaining such discourse over longer periods of time. Given my own surprise on rediscovering an 11-month-old post on our new Governor, I have to wonder if the nature of the blog is forgetting.

Of course, this begs yet another issue: Is an onanistic mode of selflinking necessary to any attempt to overcome such forgetting?

*Of course, one of the ironies of this link is precisely that I haven’t forgotten; as one of Liz’s commenters suggests, “the interaction over a post might be short-lived, but I think a good post lingers.” (12.04 pm)

2 thoughts on “AoIR 4.1.1

  1. Pings are great. Some newsreaders are even smart enough to recognize when a post has incoming and outgoing trackbacks and show entries in something like a tree. Time to get everything on the web.

    But evanescence is something of a problem. My posts on the Plame affair were, as you note, only accidentally coherent, just because I was following the news. More deliberately, I began using the (fairly common) “Recent Comments” so that even comments on long-lost entries would show on the front page and encourage others to go back to the original post and join the discussion.

    Other people have interesting approaches. Jim Henley has a “best of” section in his left column and the Invisible Adjunct has a rather robust right column where she lists articles and posts that she wants to feature.

    The problem with these approaches is that what doesn’t change becomes part of the scenery. After the first couple of visits to a site, I never look at the static columns. (Of course, that’s viewing the website as something intended for an audience, whereas it may be something intended partly or even primarily for the author. Not for nothing does Brad DeLong call his blog the Semi-Daily Journal and post syllabi and office-hours to it.)

    Finally, your use of “onanistic” suggests that you’re not quite comfortable doing whatever you need with your blog. If you want to self-link, self-link away. There aren’t any rules. You can link, you can even go change the date on an entry to bring it back up to the top. But the first question is what you want from the blog.

    Finally (this time I mean it), there are real limits to the format. Chief among them is the emphasis it places on updates, rather than ruminations. Some sites have great content (like Tim Burke’s Easily Distracted), but don’t get much attention because they don’t update frequently. (Incidentally, I wonder if you could trace Salon’s demise to the time that Slate switched to an intra-day update format.) There are lots of good things about blogs that make them popular, but I think the extent to which blogs are visited just because there’s always something new is underestimated.

  2. There is inordinate pressure toward novelty in the blog genre — I’ve thought at times that moving to an every-other-day updating pattern might allow for more time for conversations to fertilize, but I’ve found in practice that the actual effects of such periodicity are primarily that folks stop visiting, or visit only irregularly, so those conversations never develop at all. The constant sense of rebuilding (thanks, MT!) here seems to indicate the blog’s state of constant revolution: on the one hand, newness means a continual overthrow and weeding-out of the old, while on the other, the absence of newness implies complete abandonment.

    Planned obsolescence, indeed.

    Your point about the “Recent Comments” is well-taken; I’ve debated adding such a module to my sidebar for some time. The recent efflorescence of blog spam had me thinking for a while that such a module was ill-advised, as my theory was that only sites where comments buried in the archives would be visible got hit. Lolita put the lie to that, however. I’m thinking the benefits may outweigh the drawbacks.

    Thanks as well for the other links; I need to ponder these a bit…

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