In the wonderful way that social media works an article in the Guardian from December last year became popular in my twitter feed again last week. The article was about the reasons for academic blogging and explained, with some empirical backing that blogging among academics is less about public outreach and more like some form of international faculty lounge.
The article is interesting but takes as its starting point that academic blogging was done for public outreach and failed. But the idea of an academic using social media for public outreach is only a small part of what social media (and blogs) is for. Only famous academics can start a blog or launch a twitter account and instantly receive feedback in the form of comments, questions, compliments and hate mail. Most of us are silently ignored.* Let me be clear. I have been nicely and widely ignored since February 2005. Surely if I was looking for public outreach I would have stopped by now?
People (academics are people too) use social media for a wide variety of reasons (for old posts about why I blog see here, here & here). This means that the rewards for typing texts into various blog software cannot simply be all about public outreach.
Public outreach is important and a perfectly good reason for blogging. But if the whole system is to become measured as valuable or worthless in relation to outreach or impact factors then something important will be lost. For me, and I suspect based on conversations with blogging colleagues, public outreach is a by-product of academic blogging.
* By ignored I mean that most posts do not get comments and very very rarely are discussions sparked from the blog posts.