The value of multi-author blogging for communicating research

The word ‘blogging’ often has negative connotations. Yet blogging can be understood both as an output and as a platform. Many negative views about blogging are connected to a certain idea of what it is: a single author, using it as a forum to express their views to a world which, in my cases, isn’t particularly interested. However this is only one kind of output which the platform can be used to publish. Increasingly, popular and successful blogs are taking on a new form: the multi-author blog. As the LSE’s Chris Gilson and Patrick Dunleavy have argued,

(photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photo pin cc)

The truth is that the single-author blog model has already gone out of fashion, and is in rapid decline. A blog is only as good as its readership and without consistently strong posts, and an easy way of finding them, there will be no readership. In the modern world of web 2.0, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter, it simply is not very effective to have a single author, single issue, rarely updated blog; all the effort made in writing and posting will be typically wasted.Even creating a combined blog portal for a whole university is no guarantee of success. For instance, the Warwick University blog portal lists over 7,000 blogs which in combination have over 140,000 entries. But there are no indications of which are the popular or timely blogs, nor even a separation of staff and student work.

These considerations help explain why the vast majority of popular political blogs are now multi-author blogs (MABs); that is, themed and coherent blogs run by a proper editorial team and calling on the services of multiple authors to ensure that the blog remains topical, can cumulate a great deal of content and can ensure a good ‘churn’ of high quality posts. We believe that MABs are a very important development, and they can be an assured way for an academic institution to become more effective in the context of the web.

Such websites function more like online magazines and take full advantage of the power of modern blogging platforms: free, instantaneous, collaborative publishing of a kind which has never previously been possible. While the uptake of such tools within academia is still relatively new, there are already countless examples of ongoing successes, such as the LSE Impact Blog, the LSE Politics & Policy Blog and the Sociological Imagination. As Gilson and Dunleavy argue later in the article above:

We believe that there is a huge untapped market for well-informed, continuously updated and varied academic blogging. Academics are already writing content and universities already function as huge dynamic knowledge inventories that insiders know about, but the wider public cannot access. The difficult creative job is therefore already done. Multi-author blogs are a fantastic, easy, and moreover, cheap way for academics and universities to get their research out to what is essentially an unlimited audience. From this process, we can all benefit.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of such tool is that they require little technical knowledge to utilise. If you are capable of using Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word, you’re capable of using these tools. Furthermore, the extremely sophisticated collaborative functions built into them enable projects to be maintained without the need for regularly scheduled meetings or large amounts of communication. They enable an entirely new form of academic communication: a kind of ‘middle-range publishing’ that falls between books/journals & conferences/seminars.

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