August 8, 2013

"Which ultimately does more good — an article or monograph that is read by 20 or 30 people in a very narrow field..."

"... or a blog post on a topic of interest to many (such as grading standards or tenure requirements) that is read by 200,000?"
What if the post spurs hundreds of comments, is debated publicly in faculty lounges and classrooms, and gets picked up by newspapers and Web sites across the country—in other words, it helps to shape the national debate over some hot-button issue? What is it worth then?
These are 2 extremes, with the emphasis on numbers. Blog posts can also get lost in the endless flood of new words onto the internet. What is the value of any of these writings? The thing about a blog post is that you've got pressure to write clearly and to get it out quickly. Some material fits that form well and some does not.

Form and function. Think about it.

9 comments:

Gabriel Hanna said...

Some examples of an article or monograph read by 20 or 30 people in a very narrow field: Newton's laws of motion, Maxwell's unification of electricity and magnetism, Einstein's theories of relativity, and all the work done in quantum mechanics.

This things are just the basis of almost every technology invented since 1800, and certainly can't compare to the power of a blog post to get a whole country talking about topics they know nothing of and will forget about in a couple of years.

Lot of stolen bases in that quote. Obviously I think it's an apples to oranges comparison, and (to continue the fruit metaphors) they cherry-pick situations. Suffice to say, there is a place in human affairs for shallow, widely-dispersed knowledge easily-accessible to all, and a place for deep, narrow knowledge the full implications of which are known to few, and you will never be able to come up with a rule that will tell you which is more valuable in every situation.

Carl said...

Typical brain-dead neo-Keynesianism, always focussing on consumer demand, as if wishing hard enough could create unicorns.

How about the objective quality and utility of what's written, hmm? Just maybe that is the dominant factor in how much good it does.

Naked Surfer said...

Unanswerable. But, fun question. I watched the quirky old James Burke series, “Connections,” and how the worthless (worthless for killing malaria) perfume atomizer invention used to perfume stinking air inside morbid 18th century hospitals contributed much later to the invention of carburetors for cars. I don’t plan on making perfume atomizers or carburators, but the “good” was in the fun of watching that series and seeing all kinds of crazy connections from things-worthless to, well, unexpected things-“good” generations later. You never know. Same with a lot of blog posts. As far as good goes, how much blogging is a gamble?

Paddy O said...

Define "good."

Good for what? What's the goal or purpose or person?

If I publish a journal article, it's good for my CV, which is good for my chances to get a full time position.

If I publish a blog post, it might be good for a larger group of people (theoretically if not in my actual experience), who may not be in this field, but if I publish a journal article it might be especially good far a particular person who has significant influence or is extremely shaped in a specific way.

Who sold the most paintings during Van Gogh's time? Did that person's painting provide more good than Van Gogh's?

wildswan said...


What if blogs-as-a-whole were a crucial contribution as the old media died from info-climate-change? What if that was their function? I think the story in the NYT which fawned over Lally Weymouth and which appeared one day before Weymouth sold the WaPo (the story had not a hint that the sale was in the works) is a paradigm of why and how the old-media is dying. The reporter had no sources. She could not have done worse job. Whereas conservative blogs have been saying for years that WaPo circulation is declining and so they at least wrote something that was the background for the sale.

In a time of change the blog format might be better for former newspaper functions like discussions of politics and art than the newspaper format simply because newspapers had begun to take themselves very seriously. But the world is all in a state of flux.

Will we be we sorry we don't have the Post to kick around any more? Not me. As long as there are blogs, that is.



Craig said...

The way you describe it sounds so .... democratic.

Harold House said...

If you enjoy writing for the pure pleasure, then write. If you simply want to make money, then do that.

Don't say you love to write when your motive is money.

Ann Althouse said...

@Harold House

1. Nice to see you commenting here again.

2. Your comment is a good contrast to the usual quote on the topic, from Samuel Johnson "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

3. It seems to me that there are many things people do because they love it and because it also makes money. Don't most people want both? There are some things -- notably sex -- where it's impossible or nearly impossible to combine love and money, but many people love the work they do for money, and if you don't love your work, but come home at night and work on a hobby, it would make sense to try to transform the hobby work into money-paying work, if you could.

Ann Althouse said...

4. Please use my Amazon portal.