After quoting the near-last paragraph of my post, arguing that the major difference between 18th century periodicals and blogging is the low barrier to entry that blogging exhibits, he says:
While I agree with this in principle, it does seem to me that the low “barrier to entry” means that intellectual and literary communities can no longer form the way they once did. The blogosphere doesn’t allow for what the system of periodicals promoted.
I do acknowledge, as he later points out, that “publishing and circulating journals required money and tools” in the 18th century that blogging really doesn’t today. But I do also think that the blogosphere does actually allow intellectual and literary communities to form. The difference is that instead of the guy with the money and the printing press calling the shots, the guy with the good idea and the ability to lead a community gets to call the shots. The difference is that everybody doesn’t have to be at the same academic level to join in. The difference is that people don’t have to be the in the same location to participate. The communities that are forming are larger, broader, and more inclusive than they were. Some might say that’s not a good thing, but I think it is. Some will say that’s not even true, that internet communities quickly get insular, exclusive, and elitist. That can also be true, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s a danger with any community, or any journal, or any periodical that isn’t managed well…it’s more noticable in the blogosphere, because it’s on a much larger scale.
An example that I bring up not because it’s perfect (I don’t even follow it that closely), but because it’s the closest thing that popped into my head: The Valve. It’s a group blog for literary scholars/theorists. Most of what I read on it is quite good. I admit that I spend more energy following a few of the contributors’ individual blogs than reading The Valve, but that’s because it has been sort of theoretical lately and it goes over my head. And that’s a point I want to make. The Valve has specific contributors, invited to participate by those already contributing. So in a way, it is a modded journal, but a very informal one. The contributors range from professors, assistant professors, and associate professors to graduate students and independent scholars, and from California to Washington to New York to London to Singapore. Anyone can comment. But the level of discourse is so generally high that anyone who isn’t interested in literary criticism probably wouldn’t stick around long enough to be a nuisance. So they have formed an intellectual and literary community that’s rigorous and yet open-access.
So I wouldn’t at all say that the blogosphere prohibits the formation of intellectual and literary communities. As I said in my earlier post, the percentage of viable intellectual and literary communities (as opposed to dross and dreck) is lower than it was in the 18th century, but they’re still there, and not fundamentally different than the 18th century periodicals.
Mark also says:
There is no peer review beyond people telling you what they think of what your wrote.
This is getting into a whole other can of worms, especially in an academic context where being published in peer-reviewed journals means getting tenure or not. In the John Holbo article I linked in my earlier post, he mentions this exact thing (Mark may have seen this, I’m not sure), and accepts it as possibly a good development in scholarly publishing, which is sort of tanking right now. I’m sort of disenamored with scholarly publishing at the moment and am defiantly refusing to even participate in it (alternately, I haven’t been able to write anything worth publishing), and I prefer Holbo’s more open-access, post-publishing peer-review idea. Here’s the link to his (.pdf) article again.
And a final quote from Mark:
The sheer pace expected by the medium is probably conducive to carelessness and second-rate work.
I also agree with that. But who says we have to obey expectations? I used to resist commenting on older entries, because hey. The blogosphere moved on without me, right? But you know, it doesn’t. It’s still there. It may be archived off the main page, but it’s still there–and as long as the blogger doesn’t delete the post, and the server doesn’t crash and lose all the data, it’ll stay there, and I’m going to consider it fair game. Who says we have to respond immediately? See how I waited almost a week to respond to Mark, and he didn’t post for ten days after my original post? And my original post was like, two or three weeks after the post on Bitch, P.D. that inspired it? That was time for reflection. Yep. Not at all laziness. Or forgetfulness. Nope. Considered reflection. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Now, comments are harder to keep up with in the ‘sphere, especially on self-hosted blogs like Mark and I have–the blog owners get notified when there are new comments, but commenters don’t get notified if their comment gets answered or if someone else comments. There are a few solutions to this (here’s where I try to provide tech advice). One, find an RSS feed for comments–some sites provide them, some don’t. Mark’s does, at the bottom of each entry. I’m sure mine has a comments feed, because all WordPress blogs do, but I’m not sure where it is. My bad; I’ll look into that. Then you can subscribe to comments just like you subscribe to the main feed. Or you can use a comment tracking service. One of the big ones is CoComment–if you use Firefox, there’s even a CoComment extension you can use, and it’ll give you the option to track any post you comment on. I haven’t had a lot of luck with CoComment, for some reason, so I’ve been using co.mments. No extension, which is kind of a bummer, but you can put a bookmarklet in your favorites bar for it, and just click that whenever you’re on a post you want to track. Then you can see all the posts you’re tracking on the co.mments site, or subscribe to a single co.mments RSS feed. I really prefer that to subscribing to individual post’s comments, anyway. (If you notice the little icons below each of my posts that say “track and bookmark,” the left one is for co.mments. So, you know, if you wanted to track responses to any of my posts using co.mments, you wouldn’t even need the bookmarklet. Just sayin’. You’d still need to sign up for a free account, though, I think.)
The reason I pointed out all of that is that I think a lot of times people hesitate to comment on older posts because they think the conversation is over and done with, and they’re too late to the party. And I don’t think that has to be the case, and the more we use tools like CoComment or co.mments, the more we can extend conversations over time, and not get caught up in the breathtaking speed the blogosphere sometimes wants to go. The other thing you can do is post on your own blog and use trackbacks instead of commenting, especially if your comment gets long, or you have other tangentially-related things you want to say (i.e., how to track blog comments). A trackback is basically a link back to the blog you’re referring to, or quoting from. Some blogging software will recognize trackbacks from just a regular link to the entry URL. Other software has specific trackback links–look for these if you’re going to comment in your own blog about another post, and if you see a link that says “trackback link” or something like that, use that link instead of the entry URL. That way, the original poster gets notified that you’ve posted, and sometimes the trackback will get posted sort of like a comment to their entry, allowing their readers to find your blog as well. Links are like currency. Use them prodigally.
Well, that was fun. Now back to Langston Hughes (who’s great, by the way…I’ll post about him later, if I don’t get completely sick of him by the time I turn in the paper about him on Wednesday).