Blogging is not (serious) writing, and that’s a good thing

September 19th, 2009 by jose

Is blogging writing? Of course! You say. I would have said the same, before I encountered Jaron Lanier’s essay:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.

What he means is simply that what ‘serious writing’ is about may well have nothing to do with blogging. Blogging is closer to stream-of-conciousness, barely any revisions; ‘serious writing’ for an academic paper implies maybe three paragraphs a day (depending on how much you know the topic!), lots of going back-and-forth with collaborators, and attention to wording that would make a lawyer look sloppy.


And of course, no matter how many readers you may have, blogging will do nothing in an academic CV. Even though some academics publish impressive ideas in their blogs! (examples: Peter Turney’s, Luis von Ahn’s, insert your fav. science blog here).

All academics are painfully aware that writing well takes time, and some know that writing well is not a prerequisite for having a successful blog.

So, basically, it doesn’t pay off to painfully slowly distill ideas for a blog post. In a sense, consuming blog posts –let alone microblogging 140-character blurbs- warrants you a so-so level of refinement. Lanier again:

Except when intelligent thought really matters. In that case the average idea can be quite wrong, and only the best ideas have lasting value. Science is like that.

Reading this literally, it means that if you want quality and polish, read science from the traditional source (i.e., peer reviewed journals) and not from blogs. Playing to the crowd –what bloggers must do, according to Lanier- does not require incredibly solid thinking; it’s a completely different skill.

Still, I’m convinced that some ideas’ natural ecosystem is the blog post, and some papers are unnecessarily elaborated and boring without necessity.

What I think could work is a hybrid between a focused paper (that nobody would read other than a close circle of scientists) and a blog post that ‘plays to the masses’ and tries hard to capture attention at the cost of rigor and polish.

And, is science really that far ‘above and beyond’ the pop culture of the internet? If anything, there are things that science can adopt from pop culture. Most scientists fail at communicating with the general public, and often, with their peers. Every time you go to a talk in a conference and cannot keep your concentration on it no matter how hard you try, it is a communication problem. Pop writers have that part down! It’s just a matter of time until we (or our scientific publishers) realize how much we could gain by being readable, popular, and accessible. If only selection committees would consider how much a candidate engages the public as a criteria! It doesn’t have to be the general public, but maybe at the very least other fellow disciplines.

Do you have examples of people in science that do just this?(Use blogs or popular books to get ideas across that would have died otherwise)? Please post in the comments.

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2 Responses to “Blogging is not (serious) writing, and that’s a good thing”

  1. JennaMcWilliamsNo Gravatar Says:

    Wow–I really could not disagree more with the arguments in this post. As an academic and a blogger, I find the academic blogging community (of which there are hundreds to thousands of members) to be one of the most significant venues for serious, rigorous, and polished thinking.

    Indeed, this post is a case in point–it stimulated me to think about the role of blogging in my academic life and to articulate my views in my own blog, at I would love for you to take a look and comment!

  2. Jose Says:

    Hi Jenna,

    I just posted a comment in your blog. Just add to it that the style for a blog post is more unrefined than that of a journal paper. It’s supposed to be faster to write. It gets you immediate feedback. It gets a conversation going. That’s a completely different ballpark from the paper writing style.

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