A recent post on the blog Material World brought home to me just how quickly open-access publication has arrived, even in our often remote corner of the academic world. The post as it was conceived, illustrated and with scholarly apparatus (including an author's note), is likely to satisfy a research need just as much as any succinct journal article. It would seem that the appearance of the scholarly blog post heralds a certain 'coming of age' of the weblog.
I've hinted elsewhere that we're seeing a wholesale migration of certain genera of scholarly information, chiefly time-sensitive 'news and information', from printed journals and newsletters to blogs and their ilk. Some of this first migrated some time ago onto static or slow-to-change web sites, only to move more recently to the nimbler blog. Understanding that even the most transient and inconsequential information will have scholarly value to someone at some time, such information is still of an order removed from the meat-and-potatoes of scholarly publication: research papers, essays, and even book reviews.
The heaving into my view of the scholarly blog post, representing this evolution in the blogosphere, comes swiftly on the heels of the announcement by Museum Anthropology of its complementary, and complimentary, blog. Even as I wrote this post Museum Anthropology co-bloggerator Jason Baird Jackson experimentally posted a book review "as a means of making room for additional material available in the journal’s print edition." Making room, yes, but perhaps setting a precedent as well?
Clearly one of the appeals of posting articles to blogs, apart from the apparent immediacy and informality, is the opportunity to receive and respond to feedback in an more accelerated manner. Most electronic journals still mimic their print progenitors in conception, design, and content delivery. Those scholarly journals, founded on the principle of peer-review, are not yet socially networked peer review publications -- where that feedback takes place not only before (in peer review) and after (via critical reaction), but also as an ongoing and integral part of the publication enterprise. I cite here only one attraction of blogs as a means of communication. Many others, commonplace to recreational bloggers, apply equally to the more esoteric communique.
If for now we take as a given that lasting scholarly publication will appear in blogs, the trend raises important questions about citation format, and indexing and search engines.
At OPOW we have been adding cataloging records for 'electronic resources' to the museum's OPAC. The records represent (for the most part) fee-based journals that complement or replace existing print journal titles, or static web sites such as online exhibitions or reference tools. There doesn't seem to be any interest -- and until recently, any warrant -- for adding similar cataloging records for either blogs or (less likely) individual blog posts. There are host of added reasons why this isn't happening yet, chief among them a 'wait and see' attitude toward the lasting value and staying power of blogs. The web life of a blog may prove even shorter and more elusive than that of other electronic resources.
I have it on good authority that blogs are cataloged as continuing electronic resources, in line with their more 'traditional' e-journal brethren. And as there is a correspondence between journal cataloging and journal citation, I would expect blogs to fall roughly in line.
(I am trying to keep firmly in mind the longstanding and somewhat artificial distinction between citing and cataloging -- a distinction that should help to keep both MLA and ALA in clover for years to come.)
While there is a model for citing blogs and the promise that they will appear side by side with e-journals, and long established formats for journal citations, there does not yet seem to be an agreed-upon citation format for blog entries. (See this 'blawg' post for an interesting discussion from the legal citation world.) Curiously, searching permutations of "citation format" blogs weblogs on Google Blog Search comes up nearly empty. The UIUC Library offers a stop-gap example.
But the absence of of a recognized citation format doesn't bode well for scholars and librarians to locate even a known post. Does the url/uri and the hot link obviate the need for citation formats? Its uniqueness does guarantee locating the post, provided the address hasn't changed since it was cited. But unlike a standard bibliographic citation, a url alone doesn't lay the foundation for controlled, enhanced access by customary such access points as author, title, or (dare I say?) subject.
The potential bright spot is the use of tagging for blog posts. This tagging can be individual to the author or collective by the readership. Unfortunately this is to say the utility of tagging may be subject to both the blind spots of the author and the ignorance of the readers. Those promising vast benefits from collective tagging often seem to overlook the difficulties inherent in sifting through scores of undifferentiated posts with similar tagging. The claim that in a fully tagged universe any language term you use will find its proper target seems optimistically overstated. To my mind the net benefit of blog tagging is still very much unproven.
Given the enormous scale of blogging -- at this writing estimated at 100K blogs created daily and 1.3M posts a day -- it seems unlikely that existing indexes, print or electronic, can or will take up the challenge. We can dismiss for the moment high-profile major media blogs, which attract a self-selected, repeat readership and are also more likely to self-index, and the vast numbers of scholarly worthless blogs (both commercial and personal). Even so this still leaves a healthy-sized 'middle' that will go unrecognized without some sort of indexing. We are going to want to have access to these posts other than solely through citations in other blogs.
And what sort of indexing should we expect for this new body of scholarship? Internet search engines, for all their flaws and biases, are our de facto indexes to the blogosphere. Will their searching algorithms match our indexing needs? With tagging only a partial and haphazardly applied solution, one is left only with keywords in the post itself.Our current options -- among them Google Blog Search, Technorati, and Sphere to name only the more prominent -- are relatively scatter-shot or quixotic when it comes to finding specific blog posts. (I don't think I need to rehearse the many criticisms lodged against Google and Google-like search engines.) In addition to these and other commercial search engines we now have the prospect of countless do-it-yourself search engines.
Consciousness raising aside, I'm afraid I've only raised issues and not solved them. But I'm certainly open to hearing about any blind spots, misrepresentations, or faulty forecasting.