Sam Kinsley has been compiling (academic) geography bloggers, and in a recent post asked why it is that blogs don’t take advantage of social media more often:
It was a surprise to me how quite a few of those blogs, with some honourable exceptions, are tightly focussed conduits for personal research and are not participating in wider online/offline conversations. One of the big claims made for blogging in the noughties was, of course, that ‘social’ media precisely enable broader conversations. While the majority of those active geography bloggers I found use wordpress.com for their blogs they do not seem to use the ‘social’ functions such as ‘reblog’ and other conversation tools on the platform.
My immediate reaction to this is as follows. First, I do occasionally use the reblog function. This works very well within the WordPress ecosystem, but have you noticed how infrequently this option comes up on blogs or news stories etc…they all have Instagram (never used it) Reddit (ditto) etc but not reblog. Where this is lacking a whole new post (gasp!) has to be created (like this one). So who do I reblog and why? Well, usually things of personal academic research interest to me. So Sam’s point would still apply.
OK then, second, and this is the biggie, I see my activities as being enabled by different platforms or social media. When I started blogging in the mid-2000s (the “noughties”) it was explicitly to develop my writing skills, personal reflections and development of research ideas. I wrote initially pseudononymously, concentrating on Foucault’s idea of “self-writing” or hypomnemata, which developed out of ideas in my 2003 book The Political Mapping of Cyberspace. Thus, yes it is true I’ve always seen the blog as a place to develop my research. Although I received very few comments, I would have loved to have had conversations, but I think the readership was too small or the platform not convenient enough.
For sharing and conversing however, which I agree with Sam is essential as part of our lives as scholars, I would turn to other venues. First of all, the best sharing site I know of is Twitter. I joined Twitter in 2009 and cannot imagine not using it. Follow the right people for the right reasons, and interesting (and research-worthy) material simply arrives! The shortness of the tweet is acceptable as long as you can link to the original piece. I do share (tweet and retweet) and I do gain (tremendously) by seeing what other people are sharing. In my recent timeline I’ve shared several books (and book reviews), a new London Underground map, updates by the Public Lab people on MapKnitter, size of the new drone market, and so on. My own original content is also published there because the blog cross-posts there, and to LinkedIn. A blog can therefore have some sharing; not by being read on the blog itself but on the social media site (Twitter). A recent post of mine for example was seen on Twitter over 3,200 times and interacted with over 130 times. (Admittedly, what those numbers mean is still a bit hazy to me.)
The other medium people often use for conversations and debate are sites such as NewApps or in politics say the Daily Kos. These are group-edited blog sites with sufficient readers to sustain conversation. The nearest one I can think of in geography is perhaps the Society and Space open website started under inveterate blogger Stuart Elden. However, the comments there usually number in the 1-3 range.
Surely blogging can address both of these drives: you can promote your work, but (and for me – more importantly) you can contribute to conversations and celebrate one another’s work. This is, broadly, what it can mean to participate in a community of practice as Lave & Wenger suggest (although–I don’t agree with everything in the linked piece).
I agree that there’s a not a big dichotomy between these drives of personal reflection/research and community engagement. It may be better understood as a diversity, so that one’s attention is split between a (reasonably small) number of different platforms and that there’s no single platform for everything. I personally limit myself to blogs, Twitter and Facebook (the latter for maintaining personal contacts and being aware of “events.”) I know people use Instragram, Tumblr and Pinterest but they don’t work for me.
These are just my personal preferences and I’m neither advocating they’ll work for everybody nor solve Sam’s problem. There is a lot of work on blogging and social media of course (and Sam mentions what has inspired him, there’s also work by people like dana boyd).
Anyway, there’s more to say on this but that’s my first round of thoughts. I’d welcome the continuation of the conversation…if only we could find the right platform!