Bullish on the Blogosphere

bull.jpgIn looking over Paul Caron’s rankings of blogs based on visitor traffic, Brian Leiter notes that many of the top five blogs contain much more punditry than substantive legal analysis.

Over at Balkinization, Jack Balkin argues that these results are to be expected and are not reason to deride the blogosphere:

I think, in fact, that this is pretty much what we should expect. Blogs directed at popular audiences generally get the largest traffic. Specialty blogs, including blogs that specialize in delivering legal expertise, are usually niches, generating relatively low traffic that is nevertheless useful to the communities that read them. . . .

These sites are engaged in something very important: the diffusion of professional expertise. It is a diffusion that would not have been possible on this scale before the age of the Internet and remember, we are still in the earliest stages of this development. These legal blogs simultaneously (1) allow academic communities of interest to form; (2) forge connections with lawyers and judges in practice who pay hardly any attention to law review scholarship anymore; (3) put informed legal analysis into the hands of journalists and political writers who can now find it more easily than they ever could before; and (4) offer lay persons a window in to what legal experts think.

Here is the point: Even the least trafficked of these expert blogs probably gain more readers in six months than most law professors could hope for in a career. . . .

I think that the future of the academic legal blogosphere– by which I mean that subset that devotes itself primarily to serious academic commentary– is very bright. It will never get the same readership as blogs that specialize in punditry, but it is doing something that most law professors have always dreamed of– bringing ideas that they believe are interesting and important to a far larger audience, reaching people outside the legal academy who want to know what law professors actually think about the law. Surely this is a worthy endeavor, whose success we legal academics should all be proud of.

I wholeheartedly agree. The great value I see in the blogosphere is to communicate with professors and others in a way that I cannot as readily do in law review articles or books. If I want to engage in a lengthy and detailed analysis, I’ll do it in a law review or book. But if I want to analyze a case, react to a news story, write a short book review, or respond to a critique of an article or a book I wrote, the blogosphere is the perfect medium for that. I view the blogosphere as an idea-spreading mechanism. I work hard on my ideas (I may not always get results, but I try) and I want to sprinkle them around with the hope that one or two might actually take root somewhere. Life doesn’t always work like the movie Field of Dreams — “If you build it, they will come.” Plenty of great ideas languish in obscurity, not because they’re not interesting, but because hardly anybody knows about them. The blogosphere can rectify that problem, and it can bring ideas to journalists, politicians, academics in other fields, practicing lawyers, and others.

Leiter only focuses on the top five blogs on Caron’s list, but if you look at the top thirty, there are many blogs with a heavy amount of posts about legal issues and containing substantive legal analysis or discussion about legal scholarship or the academy.

Balkin is right to be bullish on the blogosphere.

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2 Responses

  1. Having recently weathered a huge flame war, I think the blogosphere works pretty much just like Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. And “they” is a ragtag bunch of discredited and outcast cheaters and misfits.

    Not to say it isn’t fun, but nobody’s major league standings were affected by games played on the Field, and maybe they shouldn’t be.

  2. re: “Plenty of great ideas languish in obscurity, not because they’re not interesting, but because hardly anybody knows about them. The blogosphere can rectify that problem, and it can bring ideas to journalists, politicians, academics in other fields, practicing lawyers, and others.”

    Operative word is “can” above. Since I’ve been reading, and participating in CoOp over the last two months– I’ve still noticed that there’s potentially great ideas languish in obscurity here as well. I refuse to accept that this is because of lack of intellectual fitness. Rather it’s because the blogosphere, as we know it today, isn’t directly suited for always promoting the best ideas.

    (Consider the effort that you and I spent on the Sitemeter investigation in December. That was a lot more sweat-equity than a lot of other viral explosions. But what did we get out of it? I couldn’t even get Grimmelmann to respond.)

    The reasons for this are complex, and I’ve attempted to cover them on Civilities. But part of the fault is the blogger’s imperative to always write a new post rather than revisit an old post.

    Here’s a thought experiment:

    Picture the blogosphere as the American economy, a free market, supplying the demand of all consumers. Well, most of them. What year of the American economy are we talking about, anyways? Would it be like the economy of 1929, 1959, or 1989, etc? As my occasional colleague Seth Finkelstein has observed many more times than I have, attestations to the well-being of the blogosphere as it exists today always seem to come from those who benefitting from it.