It’s always good practice to reflect on why you do things in a particular way, if only to recognize the potential errors or time-sinks in what you do. With that in mind, I thought I’d contribute my own two cents (Canadian; 1 cent US) to a recent conversation. To set the scene:
Michael Smith reported on an article in the American Anthropologist that purports to ‘review’ academic blogging. Michael ends the piece wondering why archaeological blogs don’t seem to generate the commentary that their cousins in Anthropology do. I think they do, but instead of it being in the comments on a single blog, the conversation ping-pongs across multiple blogs as various authors mull their own perspectives. For example, Bill Caraher took the baton from Michael and responded on his own blog, in a long piece reflecting on why he blogs, and the utility of blogging in terms of the wider academic community, and where blogging might fit in the tenure process. Both Bill and Michael noted that the review piece in American Anthopologist was not so much a review of the content of academic blogs, but more of a ‘golly gee look at this whole ‘blogging’ thing, what a waste of time’.
Which brings me to my contribution. I blog for many of the same reasons that Bill does. I also blog because I work remotely and have no community of scholars around me – blogging thus connects me to the world of academe (my day job as a faculty trainer is a world away from archaeology). But more importantly, let me address the bigger question: Why does Academic Blogging matter? One word: Google. Everyone needs to read the recent article in Wired that explains just how Google decides which sites are important and contain the information that the searcher is looking for:
First, Google crawls the Web to collect the contents of every accessible site. This data is broken down into an index (organized by word, just like the index of a textbook), a way of finding any page based on its content. Every time a user types a query, the index is combed for relevant pages, returning a list that commonly numbers in the hundreds of thousands, or millions. The trickiest part, though, is the ranking process — determining which of those pages belong at the top of the list. That’s where the contextual signals come in [emphasis added SG]. All search engines incorporate them, but none has added as many or made use of them as skillfully as Google has.
[An] engineer named Krishna Bharat, figuring that , links from recognized authorities should carry more weight [emphasis added SG] devised a powerful signal that confers extra credibility to references from experts’ sites. (It would become Google’s first patent.)
This is why academic blogging matters. Academic blogs are content-rich, and tend to focus on very specific areas. We create an enormous signal in the chaos of the internet. This blog, Electric Archaeology, consistently shows up on Google search results for a wide variety of domains. There is a fairly important Canadian politician with the same name as me (heck, even the same middle initial), and my material frequently outranks materials related to him.
Google controls how we find information; but often, academic blogging tells Google what’s important.