Ian Bogost throws out a challenge to us (bloggers) all: How should blogs evolve? What kinds of media do we want for our thinking, writing, debating, communicating?
In other words, rather than celebrating what blogs allow us to do, or lament the knee-jerk negativity they still elicit in some (notably, academic) circles, and rather than merely taking them for granted as we’ve received them, how can we make them do what we want them to do? And if we can’t, what can we (eventually) replace them with?
Blogs allow for endless discussion; they’re like a grad student cafe with the walls blown down and borders flung open to the world. They broaden our constituencies and let us get our ideas out much quicker and further than traditional forms of scholarly communication ever did. But, as Ian points out, they do not aggregate well. Things in the blogosphere get lost. (I often feel, before posting something on this blog, as if I’ve already written something a lot like it before, which a five- or ten-minute search might find. How would you know about this post or this one unless I linked to it, or unless my tags were well kept or my server provided an automated “list of related links” as some do?)
We still want and need books, and journal articles too. Journals sift, parse, police, and position scholarly discourse, securing enough of a safe environment for particular sets of ideas and research practices, and the discursive communities that breed them, to establish themselves, evolve, and maybe flourish. Books sit in front of us and beside us, on shelves and on tables. They get carried into the subway, onto airplanes and park benches, into waiting rooms and bathrooms. We look things up in their indexes when we need to find those things quickly, and we nod off to sleep with them resting comfortably next to us. And in the scholarly world, both journals and books, at least in theory, ensure “quality control.”
But laptops and Kindles and iPads can access a lot of that kind of thing, too, and more and more of it all the time. There are a few requirements: a wireless signal, an institutional subscription to journals databases and e-books, and/or open-access journals and books, and/or file-sharing sites (like aaaaarg).
Blogs do what they do: they provide a public chalkboard, a running narrative, a line of evolving arguments and counter-arguments. And they can be consulted through a simple word search or the skillful use of tags, so it’s not as if they don’t aggregate, it’s just that they don’t usually do it very well. They can get compiled, edited, and reworked into books (like Levi Bryant’s Democracy of Objects — when a book is blogged-in-progress, the wait for its publication can seem that much longer…!). Which is why the new (relatively) quickie publishers, like zerO and re.press, are great additions to the intellectual landscape.
But many of the kinds of things we might want to do are already being done somewhere. Wikipedia, for instance, compiles, sifts through, and synthesizes. It’s one big free-for-all; but wikis and wiki-like media are being used in all manner of ways. Can blogs becomes more wiki-like? Are there “keeper” posts that we might want to continue revising — individually or, better, collectively — posting statements-in-progress on the front porch of our digital republic of ideas, with references and contextualizations provided in the kitchen, and arguments and counter-arguments continually percolating in the back yard (as with Wikipedia)?
Should journals have their own palimpsest-like statements of today’s consensus-in-progress, or lists of links to up-to-the-minute literature reviews that map out a field for anyone interested? And what are the ways that we can connect blogs to journals to books and encyclopedias to public and lay audiences and news media and wherever else? Why don’t more journals have their own blogs? We need a thicker networks of links (like those nerve-ending pony-tails in Avatar) trailing and tagging and connecting us between personal or group blogs, journals, wikis and encyclopedias (like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), and other places and formats where ideas and research might segue into.
Those are just a few immediate thoughts in response to Ian’s challenge. I’ll leave it to the techies to figure out how these kinds of things could be done. But it’s great that people and blogs/websites like Media Commons, if:book, Augmentology and others are thinking about these sorts of questions already.