Archive for the 'Blogging' Category


Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Dan Drezner, Eszter Hargittai and Sean Carroll at WGN

As soon as Milt Rosenberg mentioned the word “bloguest” (“blogguest”?) he recanted. But that did not stop us from bringing it up a few more times during his show. As Henry kindly mentioned yesterday, I was on Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720 radio show last night with Dan Drezner (blog) and Sean Carroll (group blog). It was fun. I don’t think they make it available online in archives so I am afraid it is not possible to listen to it at this point.

[UPDATE: It turns out I misunderstood. It wasn’t “bloguests”, it was “blogessors”. Hmm…]

We discussed all sorts of topics starting with an explanation of what blogs are to blogs and politics, the role of blogs in academia and the risks of blogging about certain issues. At times the conversation went a bit off topic (e.g. when Milt asked Sean whether there are multiple universes), but for the most part we talked about blogs and blogging.

Some of the call-in questions had to do with how people can find certain types of content (e.g. blogs on particular topics). Needless to say I see this linking in nicely with my research on user skill differences. There are lots of users out there who don’t know that much about how one finds various types of content or how one navigates certain online services (e.g. RSS feeds). It is too easy to assume evryone is as savvy as you are, but that is often the wrong assumption.

Thanks to Milt for hosting us and providing interesting questions. Thanks also to Maggie Berndt, producer of the show, for all her work on it.

I have posted some pictures taken during the commercial breaks and after the show.

“Nature” on blogs

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

The current issue of Nature has several articles about “Science in the web age” including a focus on scholarly searching online, the digitization of books, and the sharing of research ideas through the use of blogs, which discusses the use of blogs by academics to communicate about their research.

The latter is of particular interest here and something I have written about before. This being the last week of the quarter I am running around like crazy and have little time to comment. The short summary of some current thoughts I have on this are as follows. Traditional academic outlets rarely offer the opportunity to publish short think-pieces. But many thoughts, while valuable, do not require or necessarily merit a 25-40 page paper. Where to publish them then? Blogs seem like an obvious and helpful outlet in such a case. And yes, blogs can have a peer review component if comments are allowed and knowledgable people are reading the material.

Support the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Support Bloggers' Rights!
Support Bloggers’ Rights!

In addition to fighting for bloggers’ rights they work on lots of other very important projects.

Tag-cloud set

Friday, October 21st, 2005
E-BLOG tag cloud

E-BLOG tag cloud,
originally uploaded by eszter.

I’ve started a Flickr set for tag clouds from this blog. It’ll be interesting to see how the tags change over time.

Thanks go to the ScreenGrab Firefox extension for making it so easy to generate this image from a Web page.

Tag cloud comes to E-BLOG

Monday, October 10th, 2005

E-BLOG is happy to catch up with blog tag goodness. Thanks to the helpful Jerome’s Keywords Plugin and associated instrudctions, tags are now added to posts and you can even view a tag cloud for tags used on this blog (what’s a tag cloud, you ask?). Thanks also go out to Barb for sending me relevant pointers.

If you are or want to be at the cutting edge of all things tag-related, you may want to attend TagCamp.

UPDATE: Oops, I just realized that this isn’t fully functional yet. Although the links work if you click on them in any one post, the links from the cloud are not functional right now. I won’t be able to tend to this for a few days, but I’ll try to fix it soon.

UPDATE 2: I was able to fix this problem. I just had to change the link specified under all_keywords in the tag cloud plugin file. Instead of linking to


the code needs to say


to work.

Who are you?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

Yesterday was de/lurker day in the blogosphere. First of all, what’s a lurker? A lurker is someone online who reads material on an interactive site/mailing list, but rarely contributes to the discussion.

The idea of de/lurker day is to give these quiet visitors a chance to say hello.

Of course, by definition, a lurker is someone who tends to opt out of such contributions so I suspect this initiative won’t get too many people to contribute, but perhaps some will decide to come forward.

I happen to know from the site statistics that there are plenty of people who stop by here, but don’t seem to comment. (Thanks to those of you who do.:) Of course, there is nothing wrong with not contributing and given that I don’t post comments on most blogs I read, I know it has little to do with what you think about a blog. That said, it is interesting to know who reads a blog and how they came upon it.

My best guess is that people who stop by here are friends who didn’t feel like migrating over to Crooked Timber when I started blogging there two years ago. But clearly there are some other people as well. Who are you? Feel free to say hello now or some other time and do so anonymously or not. Oh, and if you have any thoughts on what type of material you prefer to read about on here feel free to mention that as well. I can’t make any promises, but I can take suggestions under advisement.:)

Lifehacker goodies

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

I’ve been very busy over at Lifehacker. A friend of mine says it’s like “quirky academic meets Martha Stewart”. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it’s a reasonable description of what I’ve been up to. Here are some posts I put up in the past couple of days. I will have a roundup of all the free downloads later in the week. If you can’t wait, feel free to check out the site directly.

General tips

GMail/Flickr tips

Got any lifehacks?

Monday, August 29th, 2005

I am guest-blogging over at Lifehacker this week while regular editor Gina Trapani takes a breather. Lifehacker is part of Nick Denton‘s Gawker Media empire that has managed to make money out of blogging. (We’re not all in it for the $s, but it’s nice to know that some people who don’t necessarily have other main sources of income are able to pull it off.) CT readers are probably most familiar with Gawker’s Wonkette, but there are about a dozen Gawker sites at this point addressing all sorts of topics.

Lifehacker focuses on ways to make your life more productive. Many of the posts feature downloads (e.g. Firefox, Flickr), shortcuts and pointers to helpful Web sites. There is a whole category of advice pieces as well ranging from how to deal with various situations at work to ideas for getting things done more effectively.

If you have any lifehacking tips, please send them along to me this week by writing to

How comment spam destroys blogs

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

Others have commented on this, but I wanted to add my part. The two most recent posts (before this one) on this blog have already received comment spam. They will have been in existence for one and two days respectively. I have installed a plugin that closes comments on all posts after seven days, but is that too large a margin?

The problem is not only one of annoyance, it’s one of blog viability as well. My provider almost shut down my previous blog – or suggested I switch to one that costs $100/month – solely due to the amount of resources eaten up by comment spammers. Of course, figuring that out took several hours in and of itself, which is a cost to my productivity.

If anyone has suggestions on how else to deal with this, let me know. Again, the problem is not solely that I have to delete and/or moderate. It’s also the resources eaten up by these scoundrels.

Blog talk on Chicago Public Radio

Friday, June 10th, 2005

Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber and Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy discussed the role of blogs in today’s media landscape and the potential fragmenting role of blogs more specifically speaking on Chicago Public Radio yesterday. The site offers the segment archived in .ram format.

They did a good job in general. They nicely pointed out some of the particular aspects of blogs that give them the potential to be different from communication through other media (e.g. the importance of links). One of the issues that was discussed at length had to do with the potential fragmenting role of blogs especially with respect to political discussions. I would have addressed a couple of points somewhat differently (but I wasn’t the one live on the air). I note these points here not as criticism (as I said, they did a really nice job discussing various issues), but simply to move the discussion from the radio show into the blogosphere.

1) A listener asked whether there are blogs that aggregate different perspectives on an issue. Both Henry and Eugene suggested that this does not occur much in the blogosphere. Although it may be true that “blogs” per se do not do this often, there are Web sites out there that present the various sides of issues, they are just not necessarily called blogs. I realize the show was about blogs, but where/how do we draw the line? I’m thinking about sites like . There are also blog aggregators of sort that point to blogs of different stripes equally and at the same hierarchical level, so to speak, although I realize those pointers are not necessarily to posts on the same issue. Moreover, during campaign seasons there are sites that show you where different candidates come down on an issue (example: OnTheIssues). Again, not blogs per se, but online resources and in some cases also interactive.

2) Regarding the potential fragmenting role of blogs in the political realms both Henry and Eugene seemed to suggest that there is definitely potential for that. It is a tricky question. It is hard to say whether in this day and age of talk radio representing very particular sides blogs are really doing that much *more* to fragment people into isolated groups. Henry kindly mentioned the study with which I am involved regarding blogger ideological cross-linking to note that we do know of some interlinking among bloggers representing different perspectives although not that much. One of the challenges of that study and answering this question in general is that there is not that much “before” data on fragmentation so it is hard to say whether blogs are really *changing* things for the worse per se (“worse” depending on your take on the issue).

Overall, the radio show presents a very nice discussion of blogs, it is worth checking out if your machine accomodates .ram files. (NPR – Won’t you please expand the formats you support?!)

Cross-ideological conversations among bloggers

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

This weekend I’ll be at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association meetings in New York. All of the members from my research group will be participating in the conference and we’ll be reporting on several of our projects. Sunday midday we will present a poster summarizing some preliminary findings from our project on cross-ideological conversations among bloggers. I thought I would give a little preview here.

Cass Sunstein in his book talks about the potential for IT to fragment citizens’ political discussions into isolated conversations. Borrowing from Negroponte, he discusses the potential for people to construct a “Daily Me” of news readings that excludes opposing perspectives. Sunstein argues that for democracy to flourish, it is important that people continue to have conversations with those in disagreement with their positions. However, he is concerned that with the help of filtering out unwanted content people will fragment into enclaves and won’t be exposed to opinions that challenge their positions. The book is an interesting read, but it does not offer any systematic empirical evidence of the claims.

I have been working on a project this past year with Jason Gallo and Sean Zehnder on empirically testing Sunstein’s thesis. We are doing so by analyzing cross-linkages among liberal and political blogs. You may recall that about two months ago Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance came out with a report on “The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election”. My first reaction was one of panic. Here we had been working on our project for months and someone else came out with the results first. However, a closer read made me realize that our project has some unique elements. And if nothing else, seeing that project has made us more careful and critical in our work showing that more research in an area can be fruitful, because hopefully it inspires the agenda to move forward in a productive manner.

[I updated this image on June 1 when I realized the right graph wasn’t displaying exactly what I had described it as.]

Our work has focused on addressing two questions. First, we are interested in seeing the extent to which liberal and conservative bloggers interlink. Second, we want to see what kind of changes we may be able to observe over time. Sunstein’s thesis suggests that we would see very little if any cross-linking among liberal and conservative blogs and the cross-linking would diminish over time. We go about answering these questions using multiple methodologies. We counted links and calculated some measures to see how insular the conversations are within groups of blogs. We also did a content analysis of some of the posts in our sample. We continue to work on this project so these are just preliminary findings.
Read the rest of this entry »

Blogging innovations

Friday, May 20th, 2005

I didn’t write this post.

Sources, please, it just requires a tag (and careful reporting)

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I was reading this article in Wired when I came upon the claim that “Google: Accounts for almost four out of five internet searches (which includes sites that license Google’s search technology), and 75 percent of all referrals to websites.” No references are offered for these figures. The rest of the piece is filled with other supposed facts without one link to or mention of a source.

Having followed the search engine market for a while the numbers in the quote above sound suspicious to me. I have never seen figures suggesting that Google (with or without affiliates) accounts for 80 percent of all searches. I contacted the author for his sources. To his credit, he got back to me very promptly. However, he did not point me to a source that can verify the information. (I do not quote from personal communication in public unless I indicated to the author that I would – which I did not – so I will not give you his exact words, but there is no source with the above figure that I can pass on to you or a collection of sources whose aggregated information leads to the above number.)

Newspaper and magazine articles do not require citations so unless the source is mentioned in the text as part of the article (e.g. “a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found…”) then the reader has no way of verifying the information (unless the reader decides to contact the author and the author responds). In academic writing, it is well understood that you have to cite your sources whether you are referencing ideas or specific facts. I realize that this may be tedious to do on the limited pages of newspapers and magazines. However, it seems that in online publications there should be less of a constraint to cite sources. If the reporter did his or her job and looked up relevant references for an article then why not link to them? Sure, if these are proprietary sources then that may be difficult. But I am sure that is not always the case. Yet we rarely see references to original sources in traditional newspaper and magazine pieces.

Now that the above article has appeared in Wired with the mentioned numbers stated as supposed fact, future writers (of blogs, newspaper articles, academic papers or what have you) can simply cite the Wired piece as the source of these figures and be done with it. And then we will have an unverified (and highly unlikely) figure taking on a life of its own.

PS. It is a whole other issue to figure out what it really means that a search engine accounts for x% of all searches. That may still just mean y% of all users (where y is a much smaller number than x). You can read more about this here. It would take a whole other post to get into why this may also be relevant here. I’ll leave that for another time.

Village Voice on academic bloggers

Friday, April 15th, 2005

I exchanged a few emails with Geeta Dayal a couple of weeks ago about academic blogging. She now has a piece out on the subject in the Village Voice. There is an additional document with some links to an assortment of academic blogs. U. of C. blogger Sean Carroll is quoted in the article right before my comments. We report on similar experiences regarding how we approach our blogging. We both mention how we take considerably more care in what we make public on our blogs compared to what we may mention to someone in passing. This may seem obvious, but reading some blogs I sometimes wonder how much thought goes into some people’s writing. (Then again, you may still be wondering about that even on this blog.) U. of C. blogger Dan Drezner not only gets a listing on The Guide to Blogodemia page, but also this nice comment: “Politics blogosphere-wise, he’s one of the heaviest hitters.” Right on.

The article was helpful in reminding me about the number of science bloggers out there. Although their numbers may be smaller than those among social scientists and legal scholars, they definitely make their mark on the blogosphere as well.

Reminder: blog panel this Friday

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

This is just a reminder that if you’re in DC and free at 8:30am on Friday morning then it would be nice to see you at the following panel tomorrow. There should be plenty of time for general discussion.

Can Blogs Influence Public Policy?
Friday, March 18, 8:30am
Location: Monticello-West Lower Ballroom, Wyndham Washington Hotel (directions)

* Tyler Cowen, George Mason University (Update: unfortunately Tyler Cowen won’t be able to make it.)
* Henry Farrell, George Washington University
* Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern University
* Amy Sullivan, The Washington Monthly, Princeton University

* Discussant: Jeff Weintraub, Lehigh University and University of Pennsylvania

Click here for other panels of possible interest.

Student blogs

Monday, January 31st, 2005

This on CT.

A while back I posted about my plans to teach a class in which each student would be required to maintain his or her own blog. We are now halfway through the quarter (really) and so I thought it would be a good time to get some outside readers to take a look at the students’ blogs. If you happen to have a moment and wouldn’t mind surfing over I am sure the students would be delighted to get some comments from people not enrolled in class. has a link to each of the blogs in the right-hand menu.

As you will see, the quality of student posts differs quite a bit. This is not particularly surprising since once can expect some level of variation in the work of students for most classes. To give a bit of background on the content of the blog entries, students are required to post to their blogs each week discussing at least two of the reading assignments covered that week. Students can use their blogs to post other material as well. They are also required to post a comment on a peer’s blog each week. The syllabus also includes some additional blogging assignments (finding and discussing various online content).

Judging from midterm feedback, it sounds like most students are enjoying the blogging experience although some find commenting on others’ blogs a bit tedious. At the same time others find it disappointing that they are not getting more feedback so it’s hard to satisfy everyone. Having students blog about the readings is certainly helpful for an understanding of how they are processing the material. Their blog entries have guided discussion in several class sessions.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience and plan to write up a detailed description of the course logistics later. For now, feel free to take a look at how the student blogging is going by visiting some of their sites.

Privacy in the age of blogging

Monday, December 20th, 2004

This on CT.

Jeffrey Rosen has a piece in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine about the practice of blogging intricate details about one’s dating and sex life on one’s blog. (I was going to say “one’s private life”, but how private is it once it’s been blogged and read by hundreds?) As usual with journalistic pieces such as this one, it is hard to tell how widespread the phenomenon is, but it is out there to some extent and may be worth some thought. I certainly know that people in my social circles – friends, family members, colleagues – do wonder what I will and will not blog about from our interactions and sometimes even preface comments by saying “this is not for blogging”. I always reassure these people that I never blog information about other people without permission and in general rarely mention any names or other identifying information (except to give credit, but I check in such cases as well). However, from reading the article one would think my practices are more the exception than the rule.

Since I do not blog anonymously there is more social control over what I decide to make public. After all, everything I say reflects on me in return. Outing information about others that many may find inappropriate will have negative repercussions on me. So even if I had no concerns, whatsoever, about the privacy of people around me – but I do – a solely self-interested approach would still dictate that I keep information about others’ lives private in order not to upset people and in turn lose credibility and trust in the future. However, such social control operates much less effectively among those who can hide behind the veil of a pseudonym.

As I prepare for my upcoming undergraduate class in which students will be required to maintain blogs, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). According to FERPA, I have to make sure that certain details about student enrollment in my classes are kept private. In the process, I have realized that this is a one-way street. There is nothing preventing my students from blogging whatever information they decide about me. Of course, social sanctions may still exist. Students may decide it is not worth upsetting their instructor through such practices. Nonetheless, there will be plenty of opportunities for blogging things after class is over. Moreover, they may have individual blogs not associated with the class that are written anonymously and can serve as an outlet for commentary about others.

Of course, we all have different selves depending on the social situations in which we find ourselves and there is no reason one should let down certain guards in front of a classroom or when with a group of colleagues. Perhaps the most disturbing part about the phenomenon described in the article is that people are blogging intricate details about their private lives, which in turn includes the private lives of others. Of course, as long as this is a known fact one can accept it and behave accordingly (or not accept it and stop spending time with the person assuming that’s an option). But it sounds like this practice often only becomes clear after the fact, which seems to put unfortunate added pressure on private interactions.

Blogs by students

Thursday, December 16th, 2004

This on CT.

I am teaching an undergraduate class this Winter called “Internet and Society”. [1] I am going to require each student to maintain his/her own blog. This poses some challenges from keeping up with the amount of written material to assuring a certain level of privacy for students (as per related federal laws). I still have a few weeks to think about the specifics and thought would see what experiences and wisdom others may have accumulated in this realm.

The course is a social science course (half the students will be Communication Studies majors, half of them Sociology majors) with a focus on exploring the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of the Internet. I do plan to teach students some technical skills, but that won’t be the focal point of the course. I will provide basic installation of WordPress and then will work with students to tweak the layout and style to their liking. Those who are especially interested in this aspect will have the opportunity to personalize the blog considerably, but that will not be a requirement.

The closest analogy to requiring blogs seems to be classes where students are required to keep journals. I have only seen this done once so I am curious to hear about additional experiences (or, of course, any experiences people may have with blogs by students in particular). The idea is to ask students to comment on their readings and class discussions on their blogs. They would be required to write a certain number of entries (I am not yet sure how many). They would also be required to comment on other students’ blogs (I am not yet sure how often).

One challenge of this method is that it creates a lot of material for the instructor to follow (there will be around 30-40 students enrolled in this class). In fact, it is probably not realistic to expect the instructor to follow all this writing, or even to ask a teaching assistant to read all the blogs constantly. One way I thought to evaluate this amount of material is to ask students at the end of the quarter to submit their best X number of posts for evaluation and perhaps the best Y number of comments they made on other people’s blogs. Nonetheless, I would like to keep up with the material as the quarter progresses so thoughts students express on blogs can be incorporated into class lectures and discussions.

As to why require blogs in the first place, here are some reasons. First, I like the idea of asking student to keep journals. It is hard to get students to do class readings, but requiring constant reaction to the readings and discussions should help. Second, I think asking students to maintain blogs will help convey some points to them about the potential of the Web to help people reach wide audiences. Of course the particular point there is that simply having a Web site in no way guarantees that someone suddenly has a wide-reaching public voice. But I think this will be easier to convey if students experience it first hand. On the other hand, the blogs will be public and it may be that people not associated with the class find them, read them and comment on them, which could be an interesting experience for students. (I have specific plans in mind to encourage such outside involvement.) Finally, knowing that one’s peers are reading one’s writing seems to encourage more serious reflection on the part of students than simply handing in assignments to an instructor so the overall quality of writing should be higher. That’s more of a hunch than a claim I can back up by any systematic evidence.

Due to federal laws about students’ privacy, there is the additional concern of keeping students’ identities private on their blogs. Information about what classes students are taking is not supposed to be made public. My thinking on this right now is to recommend to everyone that they blog under a pseudonym, but if they decide on their own to make public their identities that is up to them. What I have not yet decided is whether I should suggest that everybody stay anonymous to each other. Commenting on course material anonymously may allow certain people to open up more than they would otherwise or express opinions they may not want to if their identities were known. But it may make the incorporation of blog material into in-person class discussions somewhat tedious.

Fn1. The syllabus is not yet available, but you can view a brief class description here.

Becker-Posner blog up and running

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

This on CT.

A few days ago Henry at CT pointed us to the Becker-Posner blog. I see now that they have posted an introductory entry.

Blogging is a major new social, political, and economic phenomenon. It is a fresh and striking exemplification of Friedrich Hayek’s thesis that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge. The powerful mechanism that was the focus of Hayek’s work, as as of economists generally, is the price system (the market). The newest mechanism is the “blogosphere.” There are 4 million blogs. The internet enables the instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement, and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship, generated by bloggers.

It looks like the blog will have comments, and for now they plan on posting once per week, on Mondays. (According to Technorati the 4 million figure may be a low estimate, the number of blogs tracked is closer to 5 million as of today.)

One issue that keeps coming up regarding academic blogs (that is, blogs by academics) is whether there is any peer review involved. I think the above comment again suggests that there can be valuable post-publication peer review on blogs either through comments or response posts on others’ blogs.


Sunday, December 5th, 2004

This on CT.

I’ve been meaning to post about the blogging software WordPress and a recent announcement from my hosting service Dreamhost now gives me even more reason to do so. WordPress is a great free blogging software that I decided to use for my own blog back in the summer when I was upgrading various parts of my site. It is free both in the sense that you don’t have to pay for a copy and in the sense that you have the freedom to modify its code. It is filled with wonderful features such as no rebuilding when making changes to your template and efficient ways of dealing with comment spam. WordPress is committed to offering cool features of other programs such as MT’s Trackback. It also offers importers for Movable Type, Greymatter, Blogger, b2, and Textpattern with others forthcoming (Nucleus and pMachine). Moreover, it is quite easy to install, definitely much more straight forward than some other programs such as Movable Type. When they say it takes five minutes they aren’t kidding (granted, some more general prior technical knowledge can be very helpful).

But wait! If you don’t have five minutes to spare (and perhaps you’re lacking some of those technical basics) then Dreamhost is the way to go. A few days ago they announced automatic installation of WordPress on Dreamhost accounts. I use Dreamhost for the hosting of my sites and highly recommend them. Their prices are extremely reasonable and the services just keep getting better.[1]

Once you are done with the installation, all sorts of styles are available to alter the default one. For those just a tiny bit more ambitious but without the necessary prior knowledge, it’s possible to pick up the requisite PHP and CSS know-how within an afternoon (okay, based on prior HTML skills and a certain amount of geek determination) to make additional changes to the designs. All-in-all, I’ve been very happy with WordPress having used it for about three months now. And the Dreamhost install option is awesome.[2]

fn1. Full disclosure: if you sign up for their services through the above link, I will get a referral fee.

fn2. I will be setting up blogs for about thirty students in a month so I welcome any feature that assists the process.