Blogging Archaeology Week 4, Part Two: What could a group Archaeology blog look like?

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I’ve been think­ing over vari­ous prob­lems in set­ting up a group blog for archae­ology for a while. The thought pro­cess usu­ally fol­lows four steps.

  1. Hmm… here’s a tech­nical prob­lem that could need to be solved for a group blog.
  2. Aha! Here’s a solu­tion that would be nifty.
  3. Of course, you’d need someone to organ­ise people and enthuse them…
  4. That sounds far too much like hard work. I’ll leave it.

For example I think Terry Brock is right, a group archae­ology blog could be a good idea. But for reas­ons you really don’t need to know about I can’t com­mit to any­thing before mid-April at the earli­est. So my con­tri­bu­tion is lim­ited to say­ing “Great Idea!” without actu­ally doing any­thing that could be mis­taken for work. I have been in a group blog though, so I could flag some prob­lems that need to be solved.

I was a mem­ber of HNN’s Revise & Dissent. I don’t think it was a suc­cess­ful group blog. It had good blog­gers as well as me, but I think col­lect­ively the blog was less than the sum of its parts. One reason is that it wasn’t a coher­ent col­lect­ive. We had interests in dif­fer­ent peri­ods of his­tory and dif­fer­ent regions. I thought that was a good thing because it meant that we covered history’s diversity. Instead I get the impres­sion there was no com­mon thread to the blog other than ‘the past’. Terry Brock points out that archae­olo­gists aren’t that well con­nec­ted at the moment. I think he’s right, but cre­at­ing a group blog will not inher­ently make us con­nec­ted. I read Dirt. I like it, but I don’t com­ment as I don’t have any­thing of value to say there. I think if Terry and I were on the same group blog then I’d simply not com­ment on that blog instead of not com­ment­ing on Dirt.

In con­trast some­thing like Play the Past, isn’t just about his­tory. It’s about a shared approach to his­tory. Possibly you could say that archae­ology is a spe­cific approach to his­tory, but some people think archae­ology is a branch of anthro­po­logy. I’m some­times a his­tor­ian and some­times an archae­olo­gist. I’m inter­ested in human action in the past and I’m not really con­scious of delib­er­ately switch­ing between two approaches. However, I am not an anthro­po­lo­gist. Anthropology is rel­ev­ant to archae­ology, but they are not the same dis­cip­line. I don’t think archae­ology is inher­ently focussed enough for a group blog to gel.

A second prob­lem with Revise & Dissent is that we made it demand­ing. We already all had blogs that were our home. I don’t know if any of us felt at home at Revise & Dissent, which sat on HNN’s sys­tem. It meant that writ­ing posts for R&D was a con­scious effort because we wanted to put up some­thing ser­i­ous there. There was no pres­sure from HNN to do this, I was some­thing we inflic­ted on ourselves.

I think this con­trib­uted to a third prob­lem, which was when to con­trib­ute? I con­sciously held back some posts, and didn’t sub­mit oth­ers because I didn’t want the blog to be Me and Revise & Dissent. This could have been a mis­take. Cliopatria works per­fectly well with Ralph Luker doing much of the blog­ging. I don’t think we tackled this prob­lem of what to post and when. It’s not a com­plaint that oth­ers were not doing enough — I have long peri­ods I can­not blog. We simply didn’t organ­ise the work, in my case because I don’t want to try boss­ing people around when they’re doing some­thing in their free time.

xf8n An archae­o­b­log not com­ing to a screen near you any time soon.

So a suc­cess­ful group archae­ology blog should have entries from vari­ous people relat­ing to each other on a reg­u­lar basis and not feel too much like hard work.

One way to cre­ate rela­tion­ships between blog­gers is to get them talk­ing about the same thing. This is what Colleen has done with her Blogging Archaeology car­ni­val. So a group blog could adopt a theme each month e.g. Origins, Power, Food, Religion… and release a series of posts by dif­fer­ent blog­gers through­out that month. Bloggers would be dis­cuss­ing the regions and peri­ods they were inter­ested in, but by talk­ing about some com­mon human exper­i­ence you get to com­pare and con­trast actions in dif­fer­ent times and places. You get to see what’s spe­cial about what you’re work­ing on by see­ing what other people are doing elsewhere.

That sounds good, but as Mick Morrisson can tell you get­ting people to respond to a theme isn’t so easy. For example I could see that some people could pro­pose Slavery as a topic. That’s some­thing rel­ev­ant to the ancient world, but it’s not some­thing I spend much time look­ing at. So do I ignore it when it comes round, or to I grind out some­thing to con­trib­ute in the hope that when I put for­ward some­thing I’d like to see oth­ers will do the same? As pos­sible solu­tion is that people pro­pose and pre­pare drafts on a theme in a back chan­nel. So I could write a gender piece and announce it on the back chan­nel. Someone else could pre­pare some­thing on Travel and I might see that and draft a post as well. When it comes round to choos­ing the next month’s topic instead of assign­ing the topic, you could see which topic has the most drafts ready to go and that becomes the next theme on the blog. Four or five posts mean that you’d have a top­ical post once a week. To get those four or five posts though you’ll need more than four or five blog­gers because people get busy and run into gluts of work. It’ll take some social wrangling.

A purely ‘theme of the month’ based group blog is rather nar­row in focus. There are some other things where a col­lect­ive blog could add value. One is blogged reviews. Michael E. Smith at Publishing Archaeology has lamen­ted the lack of a good out­let for reviews. I agree with him on this and on the fact that BMCR does an excel­lent job of pub­lish­ing reviews. I some­times get offered things for review, and it’s likely that a group blog would also get offers. Initially you’d need to prove that the concept works by blog­gers review­ing things they’ve read in their own research, but a review stream would be a valu­able addi­tion to archae­ology that doesn’t seem to be act­ive elsewhere.

An assump­tion above is that blog­gers con­trib­ut­ing to both of these strands would get links back to their own blog. They would, but what about people who have some­thing to say, but don’t want to start a whole blog when they’d only have some­thing per­haps once every three or four months? A third cat­egory News & Comment could offer this. I don’t think this would work just as a col­la­tion of head­lines. David Meadows already does that, and bet­ter, with the Explorator. If there was com­ment­ary on a story, for example why beer and wine mat­ter like SciAm does here then you have some­thing more worth­while. You could also throw in com­ment­ary from occa­sional blog­gers. If you get a large audi­ence it would also make sense to add requests for help, like look­ing for people to answer ques­tion­naires on out­reach, here. Hopefully the con­trast with the themed blog posts would make it less of a strain to blog inform­ally in this category.

The final cat­egory I’d sug­gest is just per­sonal axe-grinding. Photography. Partly because Colleen Morgan pro­duces some great pho­tos and there’s plenty of inter­est­ing images appear­ing on Flickr. Also it’s some­thing that formal pub­lic­a­tion doesn’t do so much. In some cases some dire pho­tos are pub­lished. Photo of the Day would be hard work, but a Photo Phriday would be pos­sible with sub­mis­sions or CC-licenced images from Flickr.

I’ve been think­ing about this for a while and there are prob­lems that need to be tackled. The big one is social. You need a core who are will­ing to slog for six months blog­ging on your monthly themes. Also one post a week is not going to build up an audi­ence rap­idly, so you’d need that core to each be com­mit­ted to one post a week on aver­age. It doesn’t sound a lot, but keep­ing that up for a long period is a ser­i­ous commitment.

You also need people who can encour­age people out­side the core to con­trib­ute and also keep an eye on qual­ity con­trol. That’s going to need tact. You won’t want rub­bish on the site. At the same time you don’t want to block people simply because you don’t agree with them. It’s likely to be some very good mater­ial that isn’t a suit­able fit for the site. You need someone who can turn that down without giv­ing the impres­sion that it’s rub­bish. I’d find set­ting up a site and telling people to take part, then say­ing ‘No thanks’ to some stressful.

There are tech­nical issues. Some are trivial. You won’t get a theme that every­one will like, so it’ll just have some­thing that people can live with that does the job. Some are more dif­fi­cult. A big­ger blog is going to be more of a tar­get for hack­ers. I’m using VaultPress with AoBBlog, and some­thing sim­ilar would make sense for a ser­i­ous group blog. There are plu­gins to man­age (Zotpress, Mendeley or both?) and they can clash in unfore­seen ways. New fea­tures in WordPress can break themes in unex­pec­ted ways and the big­ger the site the more vis­ible a fault is. Ideally the tech­nical side should be done so that people who aren’t inter­ested in the nut ‘n’ bolts don’t notice what’s going on.

There’s also the mat­ter of fund­ing. I’d be will­ing to con­trib­ute, but I couldn’t guar­an­tee fund­ing in per­petu­ity and there’s very few people who could. It would make sense to try to make the site self-funding. I’m against Google Ads. I don’t think they’re suit­able for a site dis­cuss­ing arte­facts as it’s impossible to pre­vent ads for illi­cit antiquit­ies appear­ing on site. If you’re not inter­ested in mak­ing a profit then fund­ing by other means might be a sol­uble prob­lem, but it’s hard to raise exactly the right amount of money and no more. So what do you do with a sur­plus? One answer would be to donate it an archae­olo­gical fund, but it’ll make life so much easier if this you can clearly demon­strate it hap­pen­ing. This is even more import­ant when if the sur­plus is tiny or non-existent so you rarely see dona­tions being made. It’s nat­ural to ask where the money is going.

The above is just one model of what an archae­olo­gical group blog could look like. Digital Archaeology might be enough of a niche that a group blog could work. There’s a few archae­ode­bunk sites, they too might work as group blog. A group blog does bring bene­fits, but I can see it being a long slog to keep it run­ning. If one was set up now it wouldn’t be live till May, when exam mark­ing starts in the UK so it’s a tough time to launch. June brings more mark­ing and towards the end it fades into field­work sea­son, which will also make July and August dif­fi­cult months. September and October will be bad because terms start… and so on.

It can be done, but would enough people want to?

Blogging Archaeology 4: What next? Part One

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For our last ques­tion, I would like to ask you to con­sider the act of pub­lic­a­tion for this blog car­ni­val. How could we best cap­ture the inter­play, the mul­ti­me­dia exper­i­ence of blog­ging as a more form­al­ized pub­lic­a­tion? What would be the best out­come for this col­lec­tion of insights from archae­olo­gical bloggers?

This week’s ques­tion is two ques­tions which makes it harder to answer. I’m not sure a form­al­ised pub­lic­a­tion is the best out­come. It’s not a bad idea though, so I’ll tackle that in this post.

My first reac­tion was like Shawn Graham, a Kindle Single — but that’s because a Kindle is my new toy. A Kindle single could work, I liked this art­icle on hydro­frack­ing, which was free to down­load when I got it. It has some per­man­ence and it would col­late the vari­ous entries. The reason it might not be the best solu­tion is that first it helps to know why you’re col­lat­ing the entries.

If you want to give blog­ging a degree of cred­ib­il­ity among people who don’t value elec­tronic media then an elec­tronic out­put is a per­fect way to be ignored. You could try and self-publish via some­thing like Lulu. I’d be against try­ing to cover up the self-published nature of the book by adding a spuri­ous imprint — unless the pub­lic­a­tion were part of a long-term pro­ject involving sev­eral books. Still, I’m not sure to what extent this is a good idea. I can’t see a tech­no­phobe buy a book about archae­olo­gical blog­ging. This is why I think Colleen Morgan’s approach is clever. She’s put­ting the ses­sion into a main­stream con­fer­ence. Both John and Matthew Law raise the pos­sib­il­ity of pub­lic­a­tion via an SAA related pub­lic­a­tion. If that’s pos­sible then this is a sens­ible out­reach com­pon­ent of pub­lic­a­tion. Additionally then, a Kindle Single would be the elec­tron­ic­ally per­man­ent ver­sion — the advant­age of the Kindle Single being that you can embed links in them. Add a CC licence and drop a big hint to Amazon that you’re mak­ing avail­able free on the web and Amazon could make it avail­able free on their site, like Hydrofracked was.

In terms of how the con­tent of the book could look, a good model that comes to mind is Philosophy and Archaeological Practice. Perspectives for the 21st Century by Cornelius Holtorf and Håkan Karlsson. Each paper in the book comes with at least one response by another author. A com­mon obser­va­tion is that the com­ments have added value to the car­ni­val. I think Kandinsky adds some­thing to my post here, and I’m hop­ing this adds value to the pre­vi­ous posts I’ve linked back to. Jonathan Jarrett is leav­ing some excel­lent com­ments in vari­ous places. I think adding these to the pub­lic­a­tion demon­strates that blog­ging can be part of a reflect­ive pro­cess and need not be a static out­put, even if by pin­ning it into a pub­lic­a­tion the posts become static on paper.

I think col­lat­ing the blog posts in some way is bet­ter than not col­lat­ing them, so I don’t want to run down the idea. I do won­der if it’s going to be ter­minal. Freezing the posts marks an end. It could be pos­sible to start a new pro­ject in a few months, but it would be start­ing from scratch again. Colleen has put in a huge amount of work get­ting the SAA ses­sion to work. She’s been e-mailing people for sev­eral months organ­ising this, and the vis­ible part is really just a frac­tion of the effort. It would be a shame if someone else look­ing to start a group pro­ject had to rep­lic­ate all that work again. Terry Brock has raised the pos­sib­il­ity of using this as a spur to some­thing more ongo­ing, like a group blog. Mick Morrisson has also been ask­ing what people think about the future of Four Stone Hearth, an anthro­po­lo­gical car­ni­val with a large archae­olo­gical com­pon­ent — with little suc­cess by the looks of it.

An ongo­ing event is not exclus­ive to also form­al­ising this cur­rent car­ni­val, but it is a dif­fer­ent prob­lem, so I’ll tackle that in another post. For now my response for Colleen is “form­al­ise the car­ni­val how­ever you like”, but in a cheery and enthu­si­astic tone of voice.

Why I support the Libya No-Fly Zone — with reservations

Brega Hospital. Photo (cc) Al Jazeera BY-ND
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Originally I reluct­antly thought the inva­sion of Afghanistan was jus­ti­fied, I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I thought the altern­at­ive was worse. With hind­sight I think it was a mis­take but I can see how it was made.

I thought the war in Iraq was wrong, and still think it was wrong.

The tone of my twit­ter stream has flipped from people decry­ing the viol­ence in Egypt and Libya to people com­plain­ing about the war on Libya. Given recent wars it’s not obvi­ous that mil­it­ary action in Libya is jus­ti­fied. Like Afghanistan I think a No-Fly Zone isn’t some­thing to cheer, and I’m wary of indul­ging the Churchillian fantas­ies of Prime Ministers (of either side), but I think it could be the least worst option.

The reason I sup­port it is simple. I think the killing of civil­ians on Srebrenica in Bosnia was wrong and it was shame­ful for the UN to allow that to hap­pen. Mass slaughter of civil­ians in Benghazi would be equally wrong, and Gaddafi has been clear about what he has planned for Benghazi. The Libyan ambas­sador to the UN has been appeal­ing for action. That didn’t hap­pen with Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia or Sudan. There is a real human­it­arian crisis and I think the response has been too slow.

There’s vari­ous objec­tions. A lot are on the theme that we sup­port Arab dic­tat­or­ships else­where, and that why should be clear up a mess that should be tackled by the Arab League? The strangest ver­sion I saw was on Michael Moore’s twit­ter feed.
Our job is 2 prop up Arab dic­tat­ors (Saudi, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, etc), not over­throw them & every­one in Arab world knows it” I agree that it’s not coher­ent to over­throw a Libyan dic­tator and sup­port a Bahraini one. If you genu­inely think west­ern sup­port for dic­tat­ors is an argu­ment against inter­ven­tion in Libya, then you genu­inely are sup­port­ing dic­tat­or­ship. The altern­at­ive is to say that actu­ally we should be with­draw­ing from Bahrain as well. I don’t ser­i­ously believe Michael Moore is in favour of sup­port­ing dic­tat­ors, so it’s dis­ap­point­ing to see he arguing against democracy.

I utterly agree that the Arab League should be doing this, but we know they won’t. How many civil­ians is it accept­able to allow to die to make a point? Bizarrely the people (at least the ones I know) who I’ve seen arguing for the situ­ation to be left to other people to deal with would never act like that if they were put dir­ectly in that situ­ation. Seriously. I know no-one who would leave someone dying in the street just make the point that social ser­vices or the police or someone else should do something.

So why reservations?

The anti-war cari­ca­ture is that this is a war against Libya. It’s not. A lot of pro-war people genu­inely believe it’s against Gadaffi. It would be nice if it was, but I don’t think it’s going to be that either. It’ll be tri­bal and that will be messy. I’m also not con­vinced that the rebels are good guys. I’m happy that Gaddafi is a bad guy. The Taliban are bad guys, but the people in power in Afghanistan are not good guys by default. There’s still huge prob­lems with women’s rights. You can­not have a demo­cracy where half the pop­u­la­tion don’t have the same rights as the other half.

For this reason I sup­port action to stop the fight­ing ((Yes I’m aware of the irony of fight­ing for peace, but at least we’re killing mer­cen­ar­ies and sol­diers who are tak­ing part in fight and not civil­ians try­ing to avoid it.)) but I don’t know if I sup­port régime change. Imposing demo­cracy isn’t an option so you’re left with the people who come out top when the fight­ing and nego­ti­ations stop. If these are a dif­fer­ent bunch of nut­ters opposed to equal rights then I sup­pose the least gen­o­cidal nut­ter is the best option, but it’s not some­thing I’ll enthu­si­ast­ic­ally sup­port. If the oppos­i­tion are pro-democracy / free-speech equal rights then that’s great. To be fair the news story (and their pri­or­ity) has been avoid­ing slaughter and not for­mu­lat­ing a coher­ent polit­ical pro­gramme, but it’s some­thing that will need to be tackled.

I’m also wary of why now? An earlier res­ol­u­tion would have been bet­ter, but that might be because dip­lomacy takes time. It doesn’t help when you look at some of the pro-war crowd. As fair as faith lead­ers go I can stom­ach arch­bishop Desmond Tutu back­ing war as a last resort, but you have to look hard at the pro­posal when the spir­itual guru Yogi Blair is say­ing its a good thing. For that reason I think its right that people are ser­i­ously crit­ical about whether or not the action is jus­ti­fied, but that cri­tique has to be more than reel­ing off the names Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslim coun­tries are not inter­change­able blocs, and it does some intel­li­gent people no credit to act as if they are.

The one cri­ti­cism I don’t have time for is “We can afford another war, but we can’t afford lib­rar­ies / hos­pit­als / choose the cause of your choice.” That is non­sense. It’s not and has never been a choice between a lib­rary or air strikes in Libya. It’s a choice between a lib­rary and shov­el­ling large amounts of money into rich bankers pock­ets. Acting as if the mil­it­ary costs are respons­ible for cuts ignores the fact that a bunch of crooks have stolen all the money.

Now if you were cyn­ical you might think the reason the UK gov­ern­ment has gone to war, des­pite the prof­it­able busi­ness we do in Libya, is exactly to dis­tract people from the huge amounts of free money we’re giv­ing away. If you are that cyn­ical then the gov­ern­ment is loath­some, using lives to hide greed, but should civil­ians try­ing to get through the day without being shot in Libya who should be held respons­ible for that cas­ual dis­reg­ard for life?

There are good reas­ons why you can dis­agree with me and say this is wrong and we should not be using air-strikes against Libya. It is pos­sible we could be repla­cing one mas­sacre with another. But we know there were going to be mass killings without action. How many protest­ors is it accept­able to kill? Pragmatically 1 or 10 are too small to mobil­ise an air force. Is 1000 accept­able? 10,000? Do people have to be killed in large num­bers, and we help them after they’re dead or do we pre­vent deaths? Preventing deaths sounds bet­ter, but you just know that someone con­trolling large oil reserves sooner or later will be declared a ser­i­ous threat to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of his country.

I think some of these are impossible ques­tions to answer, but while there are people will­ing to kill we have to answer them. But we don’t have to settle for the answers once we have them.

A medieval chapel pierced by an ancient light?

La Hougue Bie by Sam K
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I learned some­thing new read­ing Mark Patton’s post on an equi­noc­tial align­ment at La Hougue Bie on Jersey. I knew the mega­lithic tomb at La Hougue Bie was equi­noc­tially aligned. It was also no sur­prise there was a reli­gious build­ing there, because it’s com­mon for Christian sites to be built over pagan sites. Sometimes there are good archi­tec­tural reas­ons for build­ing over sites. Sometimes it’s a stamp of author­ity say­ing that Christianity was in con­trol. What I hadn’t real­ised is that there’s an equi­noc­tial align­ment in the 12th cen­tury chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarté (Our Lady of the Light) added by Richard Mabon in the 16th cen­tury. He built a win­dow to light the Oratory. Looking at the photo you might won­der how I missed that, but the pho­tos I’d seen on La Hougue Bie were of La Hougue Bie, by pre­his­tor­i­ans with little inter­est­ing the later mater­ial over the top of the tomb.

The ques­tion is, is this shared align­ment inten­tional or a coin­cid­ence? My first reac­tion is that it’s a coin­cid­ence — but if it is then it could be a lot more inter­est­ing than if Mabon had been aware of the tomb beneath the chapel.
Continue read­ing

Blogging Archaeology Week 3: If I were after more comments here’s what I’d do.

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And now Blogging Archaeology Week 3.

A final down­side to the short form is the appear­ance of dia­log. Noting this vir­tual round table and other blogs (like MS) as excep­tions, 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 to you inter­act with this audi­ence? What do you want out of inter­activ­ity by means of blog­ging about archaeology?

I’m not sure if I’m the right per­son to answer this for archae­olo­gists. For a while I set up a sep­ar­ate site and barred Google from it, so I could blog thoughts without large num­bers of people vis­it­ing. I’m not hos­tile to read­ers, but the read­ers I want are the one who come here any­way, not simply a large num­ber count. It’s partly down to why you blog.

At the same time I can say this worked depress­ingly well in terms of view­ers. I also changed the name of the site to “The Britney Spears Site of, like, Really Old Stuff” and changed the theme to a Britney theme (it was 2005). But I don’t know if it changed anything.

I think I can come up with three reas­ons why com­ments might not happen.

  1. Subject Matter.
    If your blog repeats the news, then I won’t com­ment. It’ll be some­thing that I’ve already seen before or else will see repeated sev­eral times over. What about the oppos­ite? Add ori­ginal com­ment­ary and that will encour­age com­ments yes? I’m not sure it will. There’s plenty of people writ­ing good ori­ginal posts. I won’t always com­ment though because these will be inter­est­ing art­icles out­side my imme­di­ate field. What I need to do is read round the sub­ject before I can add any­thing more than “Nice one”. That takes time. It’s some­thing you don’t get on some sci­ence blogs, because a lot of sci­ence is the same round the world, but archae­ology is very localised.

    I think for most archae­o­b­log­gers one way to more com­ments is to dumb down massively, or go over the top and aim for a purely aca­demic audi­ence. In the lat­ter case I think you’d still need the social con­nec­tions to pull com­ments in. To get com­ments you will need people read­ing who feel happy talk­ing about the sub­ject of your posts. Which takes us to…

  2. Audience Size.
    Of your audi­ence only a small frac­tion will par­ti­cip­ate by com­ment­ing. This is gen­er­ally known as the 90–9-1 rule. For blogs Neilsen, writ­ing in 2006, said that the ratios were skewed fur­ther to 95–5-0.1. These num­bers describe how people inter­act with your site. The first num­ber are pass­ive con­sumers. The second are occa­sional con­trib­ut­ors. The final num­ber is the heavy con­trib­ut­ors. Using these fig­ures if you have 1000 people read­ing your posts you can expect around five or six com­ments, with one from a reg­u­lar reader. Most archae­o­b­logs aren’t get­ting that kind of read­er­ship. There are ways to lower the bar to com­ment­ing, but even so it’s not likely many blogs will get the read­er­ship levels to get reg­u­lar com­ments. Because of their size though, they’ll be much more vis­ible and you’ll have a skewed idea of how suc­cess­ful you blog is or isn’t.

  3. People don’t com­ment on blogs.
    This is from AJ Cann, who does have com­ments on his blogs. He also runs MicrobiologyBytes. Compare the num­ber of com­ments on the blog with the num­ber of com­ments on Facebook. On the blog there are acres of No com­ments, while the Facebook page picks up com­ments and likes.* This is part of a shift in where we com­ment on blogs. For the last post within a quarter of an hour I saw this tweet from the light­ning fast Åsa M Larsson. Commenting has moved from blogs to Twitter and Facebook. Often the com­ment is purely asso­ci­at­ive, as a like or retweet. Comments on blogs aren’t dead, but usage has changed. It isn’t 2006 anymore.

So what do you do? One is to pull the com­munity to you. Ning built their busi­ness on this and every so often I’ll get someone telling me I should sign up to their Ning site. I’ll do it for work, but not if I don’t have to. The oppos­ite way is the answer. If you want to use a blog as out­reach and com­munity engage­ment then you go where the com­munity is. There are plenty of good reas­ons to be Facebookphobic, but that’s where the audi­ence is. If I had an out­reach blog then I would have to have a Facebook page for the blog, and AoB Blog does. If you ‘like’ it for a few days you’ll see there’s a con­stant drip drip of botan­ical good­ness into your Facebook stream. The reason AoB Blog does this is that we wanted to put the blog where the audi­ence was, and in a place where they’re already com­ment­ing on stuff.

That’s not enough for most archae­o­b­log­gers. A small audi­ence on your blog is still going to be a small audi­ence on Facebook. I think what Facebook could offer blog­gers is easy net­work­ing to increase the poten­tial audi­ence. A col­lect­ive could set up a Facebook page and choose a few admins. The next thing you add is RSS Graffiti. This takes an RSS feed and adds a post to a Facebook page wall for each RSS entry. It’s what we’re using for the Annals of Botany page. The clever thing is that RSS Graffiti can poll mul­tiple RSS feeds. So mul­tiple blog­gers could auto-post to the same page with RSS Graffiti. For any­one who’s post­ing less once a day, the tick­ing over of posts from other blog­gers helps keep the site act­ive so that when your post appears it’s in front of the col­lect­ive audi­ence of all par­ti­cip­at­ing blogs and not just your own. The Facebook wid­get also acts as a way to advert­ise your posts other blogs in the col­lect­ive (word​press​.com users might need a spe­cific RSS feed). And because it’s Facebook you still keep you blog on your own site with your own design, etc. Blogger users aren’t com­pelled to move to WordPress and vice-versa.

It sounds simple but there is a prob­lem. Some blogs you like some you don’t, so who do you include and who do you exclude? Can you exclude people in an inclus­ive way that doesn’t erect a big “Sod off” sign to read­ers? That’s a head­ache that I wouldn’t want, but it does emphas­ise that the answers to social media prob­lems are social.

*Though the inverse is true for Civil War Memory blog and Facebook page, so it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Blogging Archaeology Week 2 — The unexpected consequences of blogging

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I’m not quite keep­ing up with Colleen Morgan’s ques­tions:

In our last ques­tion, many emphas­ized the pub­lic access that blog­ging brings to archae­ology, the option to “phone a friend,” as Kristin Sewell stated. Blogging gives new schol­ars a chance to speak out, to debunk 2012 fool­ish­ness and to give a little bit back to the pub­lic that usu­ally signs our paychecks in one way or another. Though it is gen­er­ally embraced (says she of the Berkeley bubble!), pub­lic out­reach can be incred­ibly dif­fi­cult, tricky, and prone to hid­den down­sides. Blogging archae­ology is often fraught with ten­sions that are some­times not imme­di­ately appar­ent. Beyond the gen­eral prob­lems that come with per­form­ing as a pub­lic intel­lec­tual, what risks do archae­olo­gists take when they make them­selves avail­able to the pub­lic via blog­ging? What (if any) are the unex­pec­ted con­sequences of blog­ging? How do you choose what to share?

This is a belated reply to the ques­tion for reas­ons too tedi­ous to be worth writ­ing about. It means I’ve changed my mind a few times, but one seems to have stuck.

Permanence.

Blogs tend to be used for ideas in pro­gress, eph­em­eral thoughts and off-the-cuff obser­va­tions. If you miss a few weeks or months of archae­o­b­logs, it makes more sense to jump into now instead of catch­ing up through back posts. If a past thought is import­ant blog­gers have the sense to link back to it. It means blogs are a stream of nowcasting.

At the same time blogs have per­man­ence. There’s a mech­an­ical issue with this. There’s five years of posts here and that means that spam­mers can tar­get five years of com­ment forms to push their advert­ising mes­sages. That’s why I’ve got my blog set to auto-close com­ments after a few months. That doesn’t remove the intel­lec­tual problem.

Unless you’re dead you’ll have changed opin­ions about some things over five years. I don’t have a prob­lem with chan­ging my mind. I change my mind as I get new evid­ence, or learn more about a sub­ject. I also think I change my mind as I for­get things. I can have a poor memory some­times. I sus­pect a memory isn’t some­thing that sits in the brain to be retrieved, it’s some­thing that’s con­struc­ted in the now. Lose parts of the inform­a­tion that build the memory and you end up with some­thing dif­fer­ent. It means while I’d like to pre­tend all my changes of opin­ion are the res­ult of care­ful reasoned ana­lysis, some­time they just change. Throw into the mix the fact that you can get things wrong any­way and if you’re using your blog to build up thoughts and reflec­tions, you’ll have some­thing that con­tra­dicts what you think now in your archive. The magic of Google means that often this archive is just as easy to find as your cur­rent thoughts. It can be even more vis­ible, because how many people go back and audit their memor­ies? If it’s a change through poor memory would you even notice your opin­ion had changed?

If you’re aware of this and strive for con­sist­ency writ­ing becomes a pain.

For example, I now don’t think memes have much to offer when it comes embod­i­ment of ideas in mater­ial cul­ture. In plain English I see lots of Greek-style temples in Sicily, but I don’t see any­thing that memes explain. Yet if you look through my archive, you might get the impres­sion that I’m taken with the culture-as-virus idea. So do I go back and delete or at least strikethrough all ideas I now dis­agee with? Do I write rebut­tals? If memes aren’t inter­est­ing and there are new ideas that are, like the Extended Mind, I’d rather write about that. But I’m not going to do that till after I’ve read The Bounds of Cognition by Adams and Aizawa, which is a thought­ful argu­ment against the Extended Mind hypothesis.

You may vary, but my thought pro­cesses often seem to be a sys­tem­atic attempt to run out of wrong ways to do things. Yet in pub­lic­a­tions the fash­ion is to present con­clu­sions as being the inev­it­able out­come of out premises. Using a blog as a reflect­ive tool means lit­ter­ing my pub­lic note­book with ideas that turned out to be extremely evit­able. If blog­ging becomes more the norm this might become a socially accept­able part of the schol­arly pro­cess. But could the oppos­ite be true? Will it become more desir­able to have a research blog that doesn’t run into dead ends? If so will people edit them­selves for pub­lic consumption?

I’m all for edit­ing final writ­ing — my first drafts veer between the adequate to the awful — but edit­ing notes of thoughts in pro­gress on a blog both­ers me. Of course that could be because I buy into the Extended Mind hypo­thesis and see my blog as an exten­sion of my mind. If it turns out Adams and Aizawa are write this’ll be another pub­lic dead end on the site.

How to hook Mendeley into Leicester University library (or your own?) simply

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I’ve seen a few announce­ment on vari­ous Mendeley related twit­ter streams that Mendeley now works with your local lib­rary via OpenURL. I didn’t know what that meant though so it was no big deal. After five minutes’ play it turns out it could be a much big­ger deal than I thought.

What Mendeley is (some­times) good at is find­ing related papers to ones that are in your col­lec­tions. If someone else is work­ing on sim­ilar top­ics, it’s very good. If you’re the only one in your field on Mendeley then maybe less so. When you find a related paper, you then open a new tab, search through your own library’s cata­logue, etc… What Mendeley’s announce­ment means in English is that you can very eas­ily make a Look for this at Leicester (or your own home lib­rary) but­ton. I have two, and I’ll explain why below.

To add the but­ton you need to find the base URL of your lib­rary. In the UK this is done by going to open​url​.ac​.uk. If your lib­rary isn’t on that list, you’re prob­ably out of luck. Other coun­tries might have other OpenURL serv­ers, I don’t know. Going to Leicester through this drops you at http://​resolv​er1​.sirsi​.co​.uk/? To add the first but­ton clicked on my account, chose account details from the drop­down menu, clicked on sharing/importing from the row of tabs and then to the sec­tion Edit Library Access Links, where I clicked on the but­ton Add lib­rary manu­ally. I got this form:

I trimmed the ? off and then labelled the lib­rary Leicester and the URL as http://​resolv​er1​.sirsi​.co​.uk/

It works. Except I tend to access the site off cam­pus, so any links to journ­als from Leicester won’t work for me. The ATHENS instruc­tions on the library’s web­site are out-of-date, so you need to access via the proxy. The address for the proxy cata­logue is http://​resolv​er1​.sirsi​.co​.uk​.ezproxy​.lib​.le​.ac​.uk/ for Leicester. If you’re not at Leicester the address for your own lib­rary this will be dif­fer­ent and without access I have no idea what it will be.

I labelled this but­ton Leicester Ex for external and this works like access­ing the proxy cata­logue. If you click on it from Mendeley, a page will ask you to sign in to the proxy and then it will for­ward a rel­ev­ant page in the lib­rary cata­logue. If you’re already signed into the proxy you don’t even see that.

Update: 10:45: Thanks to John McGowan, in the com­ments below there’s a much bet­ter solu­tion. Use http://ezproxy.lib.le.ac.uk/login?url=http://openurl.ac.uk/ukfed:le.ac.uk as the URL. It will work any­where — if you’re at Leicester.

It’s not a huge change, but it’s a nice little add-on that makes work­ing with Mendeley easier, and doesn’t require spe­cial access to any­thing or com­plex APIs.