Archive for the 'Blogging' Category

Facebook and grades revisited aka peer-reviewed publication at record speed

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Facebook thread illustrationFollowing up on my blog post from a few weeks ago, a couple of colleagues and I have published a formal response to the media frenzy covering the study that claimed a relationship between Facebook use and lower grades.

Back when the story broke, most media outlets ran with the claims made in the original press release or even took it to a next step by suggesting a causal relationship between Facebook use and lower grades. Only a few outlets took care in reporting, among them the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the last few days, the BBC has had a piece considering the various perspectives.

By the way, this is the quickest turn-around I’ve ever experienced with an academic publication. Below the fold is a bit more describing how it came about. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Spheres, Blogospheres

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Public Spheres Blogospheres Flyer I’m on my way to UC Irvine to participate with some very cool folks in a meeting called Public Spheres, Blogospheres hosted by UCI’s HumaniTech. I’m on a panel about Blogging and the Academy.

I suspect the question of whether or how junior faculty should blog will come up. While it’s a topic I’ve pondered here numerous times and it may make some people yawn at this point, I believe it’s still worthy of discussion with some points that haven’t been considered sufficiently yet. More on that when I get around to organizing my thoughts about it (this conference would be a good opportunity for that, hah). Academics from different fields will be represented at this meeting, which may lead to different takes on the topic. I look forward to the conversations.

Revisiting a topic given changes in the landscape

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

In the comments thread over on Crooked Timber about homepages of academics, reader Oisin asks:

I’m a PhD philosophy student, entering my 2nd year; is maintaining a blog a good idea for a PhD student, in addition to having a homepage? Or is it perhaps a bad idea? And if so, why?

How having a blog may influence an academic’s career is a topic that’s been discussed a lot among bloggers in the past. Nonetheless, taking it up once again in light of changes in the blogging landscape makes sense. As I consider the question, I will note some significant differences among blog types and why the term “blog” has limited utility.

To blog or not to blog is not really the question. What parts of one’s self one wants to portray publicly and to a professional community is more the issue at hand.

What do I mean by “changes in the blogging landscape”? The practice of blogging keeps on spreading well beyond the geeky tech-savvy realms of its initial years. I don’t just mean the practice of authoring blogs, but the understanding of what blogs are and the practice of reading them.* Given this change in who is aware of and reading blogs, maintaining one may mean something different today than it did a few years ago so I think it’s worth another discussion.

I started blogging (in May, 2002) just a few months before going on the academic job market. I don’t recall concerns about negative repercussions, but by then I had already been maintaining a mailing list with hundreds of subscribers and mainly saw the value in an activity of the sort (e.g., dissemination of ideas, meeting people) rather than potential concerns. In any case, at that time few people on hiring committees knew what a blog was much less would have been reading them so I think it is easy to argue that blogging at that point may well have influenced an academic’s career less than it might today, for better or for worse.

As I have watched blogging become more mainstream in some circles (e.g., what’s up with the recent upsurge in bloggers among sociologists?), I’ve started to wonder, again, about the potential career consequences of blogging especially given that it is sometimes done in ways I would not necessarily consider conducive to one’s career.

But the general question of whether an academic should blog is complicated. There are several issues at hand and these may all influence its desirability.

First, should one blog under one’s own name or under a pseudonym and how does this decision influence things? Next, what are the types of topics one should cover? Should one stick to or avoid research, current events, professionalization topics, teaching, personal information, pop culture, anything and everything in between? What style should one use (professional, chatty, combative, arrogant**, etc.)? What should be the frequency of posts (several times a day, every couple of days, few times a month)? These are just some of the considerations and potential variations in blogs and how they and their authors may be perceived.

It is precisely this long list of variables that makes it nearly impossible to give general advice about whether an academic (at the grad student level, junior faculty level or any other level for that matter) should or should not blog. I continue to believe that there are potential benefits to blogging, both personal and professional. However, I also think, increasingly, as I come across all sorts of blogs, that some people are likely not being helped by their blogging. For example, if you write under your own name and do so in a style that suggests you think very highly of your smarts yet your posts seem to suggest that you are not very bright then it is hard to see how that would be beneficial (but perhaps it is not detrimental either). On the other hand, if you write really smart commentary, but do so under a secret identity, it is not clear how that is going to be helpful either. (On that note I should add that it seems extremely rare in the case of academic pseudonymous blogging that the identity of the author is not revealed eventually, at least to some, which is something for folks choosing that path to keep in mind.)

So my overall advice? Be smart about your online presence, whether on blog or on email. Realize that what you write – whether under a pseudonym or not – may well be connected to you later so it should be material you are willing to stand up for in situations other than the privacy of your living room (where much of blog writing is likely drafted).

What does it mean to “be smart” in this realm? This is where people will likely disagree, which is why I hesitate to give more fine-grained advice. Personally, I find it off-putting when people’s style suggests that they think highly of themselves, but little of their writing delivers.

But styles can also add something positive to otherwise mundane topics. For example, I don’t know if early in one’s career (or any other time for that matter) is the time to advertise a series of professional rejections broadly (e.g., blog post about having been rejected from a conference followed by a blog post about having been rejected from a journal followed by a blog post about having been rejected in a fellowship application process). On the other hand, even such information could be conveyed in a way that suggests a reflective and careful thinker.

Alternatively, if a graduate student is trying to be part of a professional blogging community – that is, s/he is mainly engaging in conversation with other people from the field – then it may not make sense to focus a string of posts on something like having spent a day at the beach, a day watching football, and a day baking cookies. Nonetheless, if done in a witty, interesting and insightful way, that could be fine as well.

Perhaps where I am going with this is that if it is more likely to be a personal journal of brief notes about one’s everydays then it is not clear why it would need to be linked to a professional community (and thus I would keep the blog separate from a professional homepage and I would not necessarily link to it when commenting on blogs of colleagues). However, if one engages in topics of broader appeal then it can make sense to make that part of one’s public persona as it can be beneficial to come to be known as an interesting and careful thinker.

All of this brings me back to a point I have been making for a while (but to which I cannot find a reference at the moment, perhaps mostly having made this point in talks): the term “blog” is of limited utility as it refers to so many different genres. This applies in the academic realm as well as others. Whether an academic should or should not maintain a blog is partly dependent on how one defines, understands and approaches the writing and communicating with others. Instead of asking oneself whether one should blog, I’d ponder its intended purpose and goals, and contemplate answers to the questions I listed above.

And one important final point. Ultimately, whether one gets hired or gets a promotion will have a lot to do with one’s academic record. In that sense, much of the above may be irrelevant except to consider whether blogging is eating into one’s research time or time otherwise spent on, say, watching reruns of Law & Order (totally random example I pulled out of nowhere;).

[*] That said, I have to share one of my recent Twitter messages here: “reality check: Man taking photos of pastry in store with high-end camera, seller asks if he’s a blogger; response: what’s that?”

[**] For the record, I don’t actually believe that many people make a conscious decision about wanting to write in an arrogant style, but some end up doing so and there is little appealing about it.

Simple mobile version of blogs

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

To satisfy the many many of you:) out there who would like to read this blog on your mobile gadgets, I have added a link on top of the main blog page that makes this possible. Thanks go to Digital Inspiration for suggesting how this can be done easily by tweaking Google Reader URLs.

Blogathon 2007 is on right now

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Hundreds of blogs are being updated every half hour right now as part of Blogathon 2007. I recommend checking out these sites, their authors are working hard not only to bring you interesting content, but also to raise money for various important charities. There is a list of participating blogs here. The topics vary with some blogs focusing on a theme while others blogging in a more freestyle manner. There’s a blog looking at names from children’s literature and collecting donations for First Book, which disseminates books to children from underprivileged backgrounds. (Another participating blog collecting for this charity is Potterthon, perhaps of interest to some here.) This Book is For You is collecting donations for the American Library Association Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund and looking at related topics throughout the 24 hour period. A la cuisine is posting some very intriguing recipes (with pics) and collecting funds for the National Kidney Foundation in honor of the author’s good friend who just received a kidney transplant three days ago. Some people are running contests such as this man in Texas blogging from atop a forklift. His charity is Midland Fair Havens, which offers support to women with pre-teen children who are homeless or who are in danger of becoming homeless. The contests at hello, Yoshi! have readers/listeners guessing movie quotes (with the possibility of winning prizes). The choice of charity there is Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I could go on and on, there are lots of dedicated folks participating in this today.

I took part in Blogathon four years ago and it was a fun unique experience. If I wasn’t in the midst of moving and travelling right now I would have posted a note earlier about all this to encourage more people to participate. When I did it in 2003, I decided to do it in the grad student computer cluster in the Princeton Soc Dept so people could stop by easily and say hi. Over a dozen friends kept me company (and brought me food!) throughout the event. And I got to raise some money for Planned Parenthood from forty generous contributors.

It’s not that easy to stay up for 24 hours straight and blog in a coherent manner. Putting up a post every half hour means constant work. So show some of these folks some appreciation by reading their blogs and if inspired, consider donating to some of these very worthy charities.

No Caption Needed

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

The link in my previous post is thanks to a new blog: No Caption Needed. It is both a book and a blog by my colleague Bob Hariman at Northwestern and his collaborator John Louis Lucaites at Indiana. This undertaking is “dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .” The blog just started recently, but already offers all sorts of interesting images and commentary.

Five years of blogging

Monday, May 21st, 2007

My fifth blogiversary was almost two weeks ago and I nearly missed it. I think when I came on sabbatical my blogging went on one as well even though I’ve tried to stay on the scene to some extent.

Looking back, I can tell I was an early adopter, because in my first post, I felt the need to explain what a blog is.

People often wonder when (if ever) is a good time to start blogging. I’ve decided that graduate school was the perfect time. While the following is nearly impossible to appreciate when you’re still in grad school, I know it now: you honestly will never have as much free time as you do when you’re in graduate school. Granted, I was in a cushy position of not having to teach so that experience won’t generalize completely. Nonetheless, the number of obligations that follow once you’re in a faculty position makes it a more daunting undertaking later. (I guess perhaps blogging during a post-doc may also work well assuming that the post-doc experience happens before one gets a faculty position.)

I sometimes look back with longing on the topics I covered during the first year. They seem more interesting than what I get around to writing up these days. It’s not that I don’t think about an equal number of random and intriguing issues, I just don’t find the time to construct blog posts about them. I also wonder if size of audience influences what I blog about and how often. Perhaps one is more hesitant with some topics when blog posts go out to a large number of people instantly, the latter thanks to RSS, also not something one considered back in the “old days”.

One of the most amusing outcomes of a post during the first year of my blogging had to do with the movie Chicago. I wrote a few brief comments about it including a critique of a very annoying movie mistake. For some reason (different search algorithms at work at the time favoring blog posts perhaps a bit too much), my entry came up very high in the results on Google in response to a search on movie chicago. And when I say very high, I mean that it was the first hit on Google having to do with the movie! I got tons of visitors many of whom disagreed with my dislike of the movie and weren’t too shy to tell me. I ended up disabling the comments on the blog it got so ridiculous.

By September, 2003 I joined Crooked Timber. Thanks to the folks there who invited me and allowed me to reach a larger number of readers. It’s been a blast. Thanks VERY much to you, dear reader for making this a worthwhile activity. I don’t know if I would’ve kept it up for five years without, what has mostly been, valuable feedback. I’ve met some great people through this activity and have learned a ton, so I thank you!

The following is a paid post

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

As you have probably noticed, I’m not big on advertisements on this blog. I have some Amazon links on the right side of the front page included in the books randomly chosen from my Library Thing account, but that’s about it. But what if I could make a few extra bucks without upsetting the overall layout of the site and through an activity that is in line with my interests?

The site ReviewMe launched recently with the goal of paying bloggers for posts on specified products, sites and services. To try out the service, they are offering people the opportunity to make some money by posting an entry about ReviewMe itself. So that is what I am doing here. Above I said “through an activity that is in line with my interests” whereby I meant that I regularly point people to Web sites on this blog and offer commentary so to do so on yet another site or service seems in line with what I do around here anyway. If there is full disclosure about the fact that I am getting paid for a review, does that dilute the post’s value? More generally speaking, does my involvement in such an activity dilute the value of my blog on the whole?

ReviewMe has some guidelines that should help in deciding whether this practice is problematic or not (or the extent to which it might be). The service makes it clear to advertisers that they may not require a positive review. They explain why advertisers should not see that as a problem though:

We do not allow advertisers to require a positive review. The vast majority of reviews are measuredly positive, although many do contain constructive criticism. We view this as a bonus: how else can you quickly and cheaply get feedback on a product or service from influencers?

If you sign up, the system figures out how much you will be paid for each post you accept to write. This sum seems to be determined by influencer status based on Technorati rankings and such metrics.

Then you sit back and wait until advertisers find you and offer you the chance to blog about their product. You are not required to accept these offers so it is still up to the blogger to decide whether a review fits one’s interests and blog content.

ReviewMe requires bloggers to be explicit about the fact that the post is in exchange for payment.

One question is what I noted above: How, if at all, does this influence the value of a blog or a particular post? The other question I have about all this is whether it will succeed. That is, I’m curious to see whether ReviewMe will succeeds in attracting advertisers for purchasing product reviews.

Credit Slips blog

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Credit Slips is a group blog focusing on “all things about credit and bankruptcy”. Not only does this blog have a great list of contributors, but they also bring in some star guests.

This week, Viviana Zelizer from Princeton’s Sociology Department has been guest blogging on topics ranging from the importance of personal ties in economic transactions to economic exchange across generations in families, the gendered aspects of spending and the intersection of economic transactions and intimate relations. (The latter is also the topic of her most recent book on The Purchase of Intimacy). She is great at talking about these issues so I highly recommend checking out her posts.

Full disclosure, Viviana was one of my mentors in graduate school. However, I think that makes me particularly qualified to comment on how helpful her work is in understanding questions about how social relations and cultural context influence economic processes. Be sure not to miss out on this treat.

Social bookmarking links on E-blog

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Following Jim‘s example, I have installed the Sociable WordPress plugin and so now each blog entry has little icons below it making it easy to bookmark a post. I don’t anticipate people wanting to bookmark too many of these posts, but it’s easy enough to implement the feature, and I like how the little icons look.:)

Lowering the least bloggable unit

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I think I’ve been putting too high a threshold on the least bloggable unit* around here recently (although some may disagree). That is, I have all sorts of thoughts on IT and other matters that I could blog about, but I don’t bother, because I don’t have that much to say. There are also time constraints. More serious thoughts and posts require more time and needless to say time is limited around here.

So this is just to say that I may start posting more often, but in smaller chunks.

* Interestingly, it turns out that the phrase “least bloggable unit” has been used once in blog world so far: on Crooked Timber of all places in a comment by Sean Carroll.

Bloggers on survey findings

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Rob Capriccioso of Inside Higher Ed reports on what Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of Daily Kos and Jessica Coen of Gawker think about college students’ lack of interest in political blogs and Beltway gossip.

While I appreciate that they are happy with students spending their time on things other than politics, their responses ignore the fact that students do follow news, they just don’t do so on political blogs. All of the responses present time spent on these blogs as competition for time spent having fun with friends. However, findings from the survey suggest that students do follow current events (59% look up local or national news daily or weekly; 44% look up international news that frequently) so it’s not as though students only care about sex and beer. Granted, the survey doesn’t ask about the specific type of news they follow, but chances are that some of the material overlaps with topics covered on these blogs.

Additional info in the article includes my response to the inevitable question: “What about porn?”.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Two blogs with which I am affiliated – Crooked Timber and Lifehacker – made the top 10 list of referral blogs to EFF’s fundraising campaign. I was so glad to hear that!

Support Bloggers' Rights!
Support Bloggers’ Rights!

A photo is worth a thousand blog posts

Saturday, March 18th, 2006


The images in my Flickr photostream have been viewed over 30,000 times so I decided to create a tribute by placing some of viewers’ favorites in a mosaic and added, what seemed like, an appropriate tag line. Yes, it’s a bit exaggerated perhaps (depending), but it seemed appropriate.:)

Favorite tech writing?

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

The University of Michigan Press is putting together a volume called The Best of Technology Writing 2006. The editorial team is soliciting suggestions for pieces, including blog posts.

[W]e’re asking readers to nominate their favorite tech-oriented articles, essays, and blog posts from the previous year. The competition is open to any and every technology topic–biotech, information technology, gadgetry, tech policy, Silicon Valley, and software engineering are all fair game. But the pieces that have the best chances of inclusion in the anthology will conform to these three simple guidelines:

    1. They’ll be engagingly written for a mass audience; if the article requires a doctorate to appreciate, it’s probably not up our alley. Preference will be given to narrative features and profiles, “Big Think” op-eds that make sense, investigative journalism, sharp art and design criticism, intelligent policy analysis, and heartfelt personal essays.

    2. They’ll be no longer than 5,000 words.

    3. They’ll explore how technological progress is reshaping our world.

The resulting publication will be available both in book form and online.

Hop on over to for more information and to submit your nominations.

Conclusive evidence found: blogging has tangible benefits

Friday, January 6th, 2006

Birthday chocolates

It’s not hard to find discussions among bloggers (and others) about whether blogging has any benefits. Last month, I happily encountered a very clear material benefit to blogging: chocolates!

A kind reader of this blog noticed that my birthday was coming up and proceeded to send me some very yummy chocolates. Thank you, dear reader, ’twas a very nice surprise, and rest assured, the chocolates have been treated with utmost respect.

Radio interview segments now available

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

As I noted earlier, last month I was interviewed on Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720 radio show in the company of Dan Drezner and Sean Carroll, two other Chicagoland academic bloggers.

Segments of the interview are now available as an mp3 file.

The first part of the podcast is from another interview. If you want to skip ahead to the sections from our show then here is where you’ll want to slide the player once the file has loaded:

Extension 720 podcast location indicator


New E-BLOG feature: daily links

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

I am starting a new feature on this blog: automatically posting links to pages I find interesting/relevant/funny/noteworthy enough to bookmark on my account.

Often enough I find interesting material that I would like to blog about, but don’t get around to doing so. This way you can see what sites of note I am browsing even if I don’t get around to commenting on them at length.

Feel free to let me know if this feature is useful or annoying. I can always turn it off.

Centrality Journal

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

In November, I joined the group of Contributing Editors over at Centrality Journal.

Today, I posted there about some aspects of Facebook, the social networking site especially popular with college students. In particular, I explore the constraints the system puts on people’s school affiliations and thereby the identities people are able to portray with one user account.

I hope you get a chance to check out Centrality on occasion (or hey, even on a regular basis). There are some very smart contributors there discussing interesting topics likely of interest to several E-BLOG readers.

Explaining the blog hiatus

Monday, December 26th, 2005

If you ever notice, dear reader, that several days go by without my adding anything to this site, it is probably because I am behind on meeting some deadline and I have banned myself from posting updates. I am not sure if there is much use to this practice (or the banning of a practice to be more precise), but it’s one way I try to motivate myself to get certain things done. Now I am back, however, and all that is left is to figure out what were the various things that I had meant to post about during my time away.