Sunday, December 5, 2004


I think we need a capable student to take a closer look at weblog clusters and the way they change over time.

For example, consider what I call the Scandinavian-flavored Hypertext Weblog Cluster. It used to be one of the best places in the world to read about new developments in new media, and it used to be one of the best illustrations of a hypertextually-interlinked cluster.

Perhaps its just one of those thing -- perhaps it's a complete illusion -- but it's my impression that the weblogs of this cluster have largely stopped responding to each other's ideas. I see fewer links amongst them, I think, and those links I notice tend to be social -- about relationships among people rather than between ideas.

Change is inevitable, of course. Two years ago, a bunch of the professors in this cluster were students. A bunch of them have moved. People have babies. Kids grow up. People fall into and out of love. You expect change.

But when was the last time Jill reviewed a hypertext, and Torill wrote a day later that she'd missed a vital point? How long has it been since Adrian proposed a new theory, Lis probed it, Anders elaborated it, and Elin puzzled over it? When did Anja last tell us how we were wrong, to be rebutted by Noah, refined by Diane, and replayed by Gonzalo?

I don't know if this is a phenomenon or an illusion. The answer is knowable; I think someone should find out. (A rough-and-ready approach will be fine, but I think one could write a nifty little paper for HT05 and maybe CHI describing a rigorous and nuanced methodology for answering questions like this)

If the conjecture proves valid, we should look for an explanation. My prime suspect: do comments reduce writers' desire to link? But perhaps we should confirm that a crime has been committed before we start the lineup.

Update: Jill responds, arguing that I'm indulging in nostalgia for an imaginary past and misled by shifting and growing disciplinary boundaries. She may well be right. I would like to know whether Jill is right. This is the kind of question that should yield easily to rigorous scholarship, and showing us how to answer the question would demonstrate the value of weblog scholarship. (I also think it's weird that professors have less time for research than they did as graduate students, but that's a question for another day.)

Update 2: Torill responds as well, reiterating Jill's point and also suggesting that, as these scholars have achieved greater prominence, they no longer need to publish. "We are in positions where we don't have to talk through the blogs. We can invite each others for lectures and speeches, and then we can do the commenting face to face." As a scientist, I find this strange and dismaying: the first duty of a scientist is to disseminate the data. But the humanities are not like you and I.

Update 3: Anders responds, too, also commenting on Jill and Torill. Jill has already replied to Anders in a comment.

So, the cluster's still here and the machinery still works -- at least, if you give it a good kick.