I wanted to follow up on the very clever study by David McKenzie and Berk Ozler about blogging impact that I mentioned yesterday. The authors also employ several methods to gauge the impact of blogging on the academic reputation of the blogger and of her institution, and on attitudes of readers. The authors conclude:
Using a variety of data sources and empirical techniques, we feel we have provided quantitative evidence that economic blogs are doing more than just providing a new source of procrastination for writers and readers. To our knowledge, these findings are the first quantitative evidence to show that blogs are having some impacts. There are large impacts on dissemination of research; significant benefits in terms of the bloggers becoming better known and more respected within the profession; positive spillover effects for the bloggers’ institutions; and some evidence from our experiment that they may influence attitudes and knowledge among their readers. Blogs potentially have many impacts, and we are only measuring some of them, but the evidence we have suggests economics blogs are playing an important role in the profession.
Let’s assume for now that these results are generalizable, not only beyond the specific blogs studied, but to blogs in other disciplines, such as . . . oh, I don’t know . . . let’s say law, for example. The question is: if blogging is so great for one’s academic reputation, influence, and institution, why doesn’t everyone blog? Why don’t schools provide incentives for blogging?
Believe it or not, I have already done an informal poll of academics from both law and other disciplines on this question. Okay, it’s not particularly representative, since they’re just friends with whom I have dinner and substantial quantities of wine with some regularity. Usually, the discussion runs something like this:
Me (slurred and excited): Blogging is GREAT! Why doesn’t EVERYONE blog??
They (with eye roll and mumble): Some people are serious and don’t have time for Internet nonsense.
What explains this disconnect between bloggers, nearly all of whom are convinced that their “nonsense” provides substantial professional benefits for themselves, their institutions, and the profession as a whole, and regular academics? There are a few possibilities. Maybe Lounge readers can come up with more.
(1) Bloggers are delusional.
Bloggers convince themselves that their blogging is something more than a self-indulgent waste of time, so that they can continue to do it without feeling guilty. My spouse would certainly opt for this one. But the McKenzie and Ozler study gives me hope that this is not fully the case, though I still suspect that many bloggers – such as, oh I don’t know, me – overestimate the benefits of blogging so as to feel justified in the large amounts of time they dedicate to it.
(2) Blogging is a special skill.
Tyler Cowen likes this explanation:
If David’s numbers reflect the reality, and I believe they do, why do not more economists blog? I believe it is because they can’t, at least not without embarrassing themselves rather quickly, even if they are smart and very good economists. It’s simply a different set of skills.
That one makes sense too. We all know good scholars who are terrible bloggers and great bloggers who are mediocre scholars.
But, wouldn’t Al say that few bloggers have the self-awareness to know whether they’re making themselves look like fools? The “not everyone is good at it” explanation assumes a fair amount of honest self-assessment that many of us seem to lack in other contexts (and might bloggers – who, by definition, assume that everyone must be interested in their random thoughts – be especially prone to such mistakes?)
(3) Blogging needs a CBA.
Perhaps blogging does provide academic benefits, in the form of enhanced reputation, influence, and the like, but there are other more cost-effective methods for generating such benefits. Some people, I am told, actually talk to others with similar subject matter interests face-to-face. Or even by telephone if they don’t live in the same vicinity.
And I guess that still leaves a lot of open questions. Does it matter what type of blogging you do? Some folks blog solely on substance. Others are interested in jokes, academic gossip, job advice, and all sorts of stuff. Does it matter whether you’re on one of the big popular blogs, like Volokh, versus a smaller blog read only by legal academics (or even only by legal academics with a particular subject-matter interest)? And do special benefits accrue only to regular bloggers? Some people guest blog only when they have something particular to say (or are infrequent perma-bloggers). Do frequency and/or longevity matter?
Okay, I’ve wasted enough time on professional reputation enhancement for one day. Presumably all of these supposed benefits from blogging only flow to those also doing real work.