You Are Where?
Last November I gave a seminar about building an online presence as an academic. I didn’t post the talk here right away, because there was a chance of getting it into print at the time; but that didn’t end up happening, and now I’d want to re-work the whole thing before trying again. It still has value in its original form, though, and given the rapidly changing nature of the field it loses that value the longer it sits neglected, so today I’m putting it online.
You Are Where? Building a Research Presence in Cyberspace examines the challenges and strategies facing academics when building an online presence and making it part of their research activity: what it means to have a “presence in cyberspace” and an online identity; interacting with peers online, and the presentation and ownership of ideas in the online environment; and the practical side of establishing an online presence. Its aim is to encourage academics to become more visible and active online, not simply remain a name that occurs on a few departmental pages; and to explore what that means for researchers.
The ironies of the paper being invisible while it was offline aren’t lost on me. Most of my metablogging has been invisible this year, in the form of conference and grant pitches, so it’s about time I brought some of it back into the light. (Yes, the paper talks about weblogs, but only in the second half. There’s other stuff there too.)
23 July 2004
Here’s what people said about this entry.
This is probably a good place to insert some related points I made at Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s site in January; the following is adapted from the comments I left on a couple of her posts:
I’ve been an advocate of academic web-publishing for over five years, ever since it was my job to encourage some established senior academics to provide a few papers for a departmental website. I did what I could to lead by example, putting past papers of my own online one-by-one, some of them mined from my supply of unpublished postgrad writings. I’ve been doing it for long enough now to have identified the real obstacle to doing more of it—the thing that stops me from putting every academic paper I write (and have ever written) online right away. It’s not the copyright concerns, or the risk of plagiarism, or the small chances of being noticed, or even the practical obstacle of turning them into attractive webpages, though all of those play a part. It’s letting go.
The first paper I put online was easy: it was the revamped version of my honours thesis, published six years earlier and long out-of-print. Putting it online extended its useful life. Later ones had also already appeared in other forms: reworked as book chapters, for example. And some were never intended to be published as journal articles—one-off lectures, consultancy reports—but still had potential value, value that could only be realised by putting them on the web. Most of these are now sitting on my site.
The hard ones were—and are—anything unpublished but potentially publishable. Some are old pieces that I always meant to work up into articles, but because of the mundanities of personal circumstance never did. Others are new pieces that with about the same amount of work could go either way: onto the web or into print. Putting them online would mean letting go of their traditional academic potential (for advancing their particular arguments, the state of knowledge in their field, and my own career), and trusting that their online potential will be greater.
That’s a difficult judgement to make; it depends not only on the perceived value of the work in question, but on attitudes towards online publishing in one’s own discipline, one’s own institution, and across academia as a whole, all of which can be hard for individuals to judge. It’s hard even for those of us who concentrate on online matters—who are advocates of online publishing—because we have to keep reminding ourselves that not everyone is there yet. We are, I suppose, in the same situation as the music companies, wondering when to bet the farm on the Next Big Thing. Music execs aren’t idiots; they can see what’s coming. But they have an awful lot invested in how things have traditionally been done; and so do we.
So what to do? Well, I would argue that we do exactly what we’re doing now. Get a site; get a blog. Write on it. Experiment with it. Encourage others, students and colleagues alike, to do the same. Exploring the medium through informal work allows us to get a feel for its formal potential. At some point we’ll look around us, see that the real discussion, debate, and advancement of knowledge in our fields is happening online (just as scientists are seeing with online pre-prints), and realise that moving our formal work into this environment is no longer the career suicide or end of academia we once thought it was. And then everything changes.
I’m not trying to suggest that pure vanity publishing is the way to go. Rather, by writing and reading online in this informal way, groups of peers can get to know each other, judge each other’s ideas, and form collective judgements about what is a valuable contribution to their field and what isn’t; and from that position might more easily create an ‘imprint-effect’ of some kind. If someone posts a formal paper online, and draws our attention to it, and we leave comments about it, our ‘review’ then becomes part of its publication process—just at a different point than it would have occurred in print publication. (Perhaps not that different: reviews after publication are important in getting a book noticed, as are citations for articles.)
There’s nothing to stop us, either, from asking a colleague to critique a paper before we put it on our own site—or from sending it to a complete stranger for their comments—and noting their reviews on the page itself. But we haven’t really seen this happen, perhaps because post-publication commentary (or lack of it) is considered just as, or more, important. Or perhaps everyone’s just waiting for the formal peer review machinery to spring into existence before they dip their toes in the water. What I’m suggesting is that it’s more likely to emerge as a result of people testing the waters. It requires online activity by a reasonable number of academics in every field, not just a few.
Does this movement need formalisation or organisation? I’m not sure; that way lies a culture of insiders and outsiders. Better, I think, just to do it, and to tell others about what we’re doing. After all, most of us only got into this after seeing other people’s sites and blogs; the number who claim to have invented weblogging thankfully seems to have peaked.
Added by Rory on a Monday in July.