SAA 2011: Blogging in Archaeology Week 3
This post is week 3 of the Blogging in Archaeology questions posed by Colleen Morgan of the blog Middle Savagery.
Question 3: Most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward? I would add to this, how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how do you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?
The issue of readership and effect on the broader archaeological world is an issue that I think often plagues the blogger. Are we adding to the general conversation, forwarding archaeological knowledge, and revealing an alternative perspective? Or do our thoughts get thrown into a digital void, passed over for print journals and more traditional scholarly methods of communication? The blog provides a unique way for any level of archaeologist to interact with the discipline and get in on the conversation- but how do we ensure that what we write is actually making a difference?
The solution to this problem is to begin cross talk between bloggers, like what this discussion is doing. Blogs are a way to open debate and create constructive criticism that can forward the discipline, but only if we use them this way. Perhaps what we need is to use blogs as more interactive forums, begin posting more on other people’s blogs, open up the dialogue between ourselves. Blogging has been a solo, self-focused activity, but it doesn’t have to be. If we are putting our ideas out into the digital world, we hope that it makes an effect or opens up dialogue, but the only way we can start this is by beginning to comment on others ideas. Instead of blogs acting as a presentation of data, we need to make them a roundtable discussion. Just as conferences have shifted to the open dialogue of unconferences, perhaps what we need is an unblog- focused on discussion and debate rather than personal opinion.
I see this issue not necessarily as one of readership, but participation. Personally, I enjoy reading blogs, but actually responding to the entries is not intuitive to me. I know many others that find blogs interesting resources, but they are likewise disinclined to put forth the effort to react either through comment or a blog entry of their own to stimulate dialogue. The problem is similar to a classroom, where participation is partially dependent on the teacher’s ability to inspire students to think creatively. It is a learning process, and I think blogging is undergoing a similar change as archaeology moves deeper into the digital world. Interactivity and accessibility are two aspects that give blogging unique potential to change minds and blossom fresh ideas, but the audience must be encouraged to react publicly, which can be especially difficult if readers do not have blogs or other online outlets of their own. For interacting with the blog-savvy audience I agree with Katy, activities such as this discussion where questions and answers are stimulated by the response of a group of bloggers provide appropriate dialogue for new ideas. For interacting with the non-blogging readership, however, interaction is more challenging and requires more linkage with the real world, such as CAP’s augmentation of public events through blogging.
While I agree that communication, audience, and impact can be problems, I think it is similar to the problems we have always had in getting the message out – the format is just different and the potential audience wider. I think it is important to realize that the idea of: “if you build it, they will come” has really never been true. Publicizing and encouraging has to be part of the plan. In order to be successful, you have to figure out your audience (or who you want your audience to be), then determine what will motivate them to take part. In addition, you have to realize that reading and not commenting is not a bad thing – you may well have an impact, but it will be hard to measure. I agree with Grace on this point.
When we blog on the Campus Archaeology site, we always “advertise” it through CAP’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Individuals associated with the program promote the blog post on their personal Twitter and Facebook feeds, including “liking” the link on Facebook. This guarantees exposure to a wider audience and the fact that people will at least know the post is there. For Campus Archaeology, our audience includes a wide variety of folks, and if the post is something that I think is especially relevant or shows some amazing work, I email links to specific people, like the President of the university, the Provost, etc. They always check it out and respond back, and they often tell others.
But, I want to get back to the point that you don’t always know the effect that a post has (just like you don’t always know the effect anything you write has) until later, or maybe even never. I’m not sure that that is a bad thing. There are ways to check how many people looked at the post, but effects are very different. I think you have to forge ahead with the understanding that someone may or may not read and comment, but the information is out there. Then, when you discover that your work has had a positive (or any) effect, you can be pleasantly surprised and pleased.