Cite this as: Caraher, W., Reinhard, A. (2015). From Blogs to Books: Blogging as Community, Practice and Platform, Internet Archaeology 39. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.39.7
Over five years ago, a rather long survey of archaeological blogging was written for Archaeology magazine's web site (Caraher 2008). The article is both an artefact of its era as well as an effort to identify the historical trends that led to academic and, in particular, archaeological blogging. The article notes that blogging began as a way to share links and bring order to the chaos of the Internet, and concludes on the note that blogs mediate between our individual personalities and our research interests in a 'bizarre blend of academic and popular'.
Since that time, blogging has changed. Bloggers have continued to contribute to important academic conversations, ranging from debates surrounding the authenticity of controversial papyrus fragments to ethical quandaries involving purchased, looted, and smuggled artefacts. As blogging and web publishing has come of age in academia, it has begun to exert an influence on how scholars expect more traditional academic publications to function and to carve out a place in the continuum of scholarly communication. The community of practice that coalesced around blogging demonstrated that scholarly communications can leverage the robust public tools of contemporary blogging platforms and the dense networks of social media platforms for both academic interaction and public outreach. Moreover, ease and speed of blogging has allowed it to bring results from both fieldwork and research to the public in something approaching real-time.
A founding father of the contemporary blogosphere, Jason Kottke, recently declared blogging dead (Kottke 2013). His proclamation was hyperbole, designed to make the larger point that the Web had absorbed the most enduring characteristics of the blog and redistributed them through a wide array of new services. Twitter and Facebook have become venues for circulating links; conversations and communities formed in the comment sections of blogs have slipped away to Reddit, and long-form writing has moved from individual blogs to new, more elegant platforms such as Medium where each individual post is a stand-alone page among many others by a range of authors rather than a chronologically ordered contribution to a larger single-authored site. Medium provides a platform to locate and promote web-writing among an active community of practice that includes writers and readers rather than isolating it on a single-author blog.
The dynamism of the Web as a location for communicating and forming communities has disrupted the traditional structure of academic publishing in meaningful ways. As Michael Smith has asserted in his review of this article, the general public engages the field of archaeology through television, books, films, and the popular press, but I would contend that scholars have played only a marginal role in the production of these media. To clarify, I would revise the statement quoted by Smith to emphasize the scholarly aspect of the blog and to distinguish it from more popular approaches. The blog represents the most commonly appropriate medium for scholarly communication outside the traditional purview of academia. Archaeologists' adoption of the blog to communicate scholarship is hardly a new phenomenon, but over the last five years, blogs have slowly gained stature as a key part of a new constellation of scholarly communication. This chapter tracks the development of archaeological blogs over time, reflects on their potential, and concludes with some considerations of how traditional academic publishers have looked to blogs and other forms of web-writing for new directions.
In an effort to provide balance and to temper an overly optimistic perspective on the potential for technology to produce a false utopia, the authors have adapted a format common to bloggers and print publishers alike. The main body of the text is largely the work of Bill Caraher and an extension of his musing on his blog and his 2008 article on Archaeology Online. Andrew Reinhard then responds to Caraher's consideration of the blog as a platform for publishing offering constructive caution and bringing his considerable experience as a cutting-edge print publisher to bear on the limitations inherent in both the realities of blogging and their perception within the Mediterranean archaeology community. We anticipate that this format, while more clumsy and less fluid than a traditional integrated co-authored article, will stimulate further responses both during open peer-review and after publication. As both authors know, the continued influence of blogging on the future directions of publication is only as plausible as readers, writers, publishers, and excavators make it.
The most remarkable aspect of academic blogging is the visibility of community that accompanies it. As the contributions in this issue show, bloggers tend to read each others blogs, link between them, and forge academic and intellectual communities related to common interests. The medium of blogging has long supported a community of practice (Schmidt 2007; Mewburn and Thomson 2013). From the earliest days of blogging, bloggers have used hyperlinks to link their content to sources across the Web. As bloggers continue to produce substantial bodies of content on the Web, it is only natural for bloggers to link to other blogs. The web of content and contexts produced by these links form an organic blogosphere that functions to produce a polyvocal body of content on the Web. At the same time, the limits on commenting and the rise of social media have transformed the potential of blogs or individual blogposts as places of community interaction. This is not to suggest that there is only one community that encompasses all bloggers or even all archaeological bloggers, but that the common approach to writing about archaeology and to reading about archaeology on the Web across a range of similar, recognisable platforms creates a community of practice that embodies shared expectations (Wenger 1998).
From as early as the late 1990s, bloggers explicitly recognised the role of community in the way that their content circulated on the Web. The hyperlink provided the most basic tool for the earliest web denizens to articulate relationships between bodies of content and individual content producers. In fact, for the earliest blogs, such as Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom, which began in 1997, the hyperlink was the basic content, and the blog primarily functioned as a curated guide to the wilds of the early Web (Barger 1999; Boyd 2006). The emergence of blogging services like Wordpress and Blogger in the first years of the 21st century allowed blogs to move from simple, hand-coded presentations of links toward more robust repositories of commentary and content; but, at the same time, many of the earliest bloggers relied on the regular use of hyperlinks to associate related content and share traffic between like-minded authors (Rosenberg 2009; Rettberg 2014). Links were especially instrumental in connecting the work of a community of bloggers who focused on particular topical or positional interests, and it increasingly distinguished their writing and practices from web diarists and other bloggers who pursued more idiosyncratic or personal approaches that often used the same platforms (Rosenberg 2009). Blogrolls were the most obvious form of this practice. Typically situated at the margins of the blog, the blogroll presented a list of blogs on related topics, and it soon became a common feature on archaeological blogs. Through blogrolls, blogs staked claim to a more decentralised model of content distribution in which individual blogs provided immediate access to a network of related content.
On archaeology blogs, these blogrolls provided a networked view of the archaeological blogosphere. Moreover, the appearance of a link on the blogroll of a scholarly archaeological blog provided an informal way for vetting the quality of bloggers. In the same spirit, aggregators pulled together links from archaeological blogs from across the Web. The links provided through the Ancient World Bloggers Group or Tom Elliot's Maia feed aggregator curated their corners of the scholarly blogosphere. Despite the value of blogrolls and similar curation practices, they have declined significantly over the past several years. Recently, Wordpress.com, a major host of academic blogs, discontinued support for blogrolls suggesting that these curated lists have outlived their usefulness. Some of this decline comes with the rise in RSS feeds and readers that moved the work of aggregating blogs from the content provider to the consumer, but while most blogs continue to offer feeds, RSS readers, like the late and mourned Google Reader, have become less popular. While various RSS standards remain an important part of the Web's larger infrastructure, the declining role of feed readers and aggregators reflects the increasingly prominent role of social media sites in both social and scholarly community building. As Michael Smith observes in his review of this article, not all scholarly communities have the same involvement in social media outlets like Twitter. As result, it is possible that some scholars will find very limited value for maintaining an active presence on the site and find limited value to using Twitter to publicize blog posts.
If links and blogrolls provided a key manifestation of online communities among the first generation of bloggers, the advent of commenting and the interactive Web made blogging an iconic medium for Web 2.0. The comments area encouraged the reader to interact with the author and other commenters. Threaded comments are now available on many popular blogging platforms bringing the interactive and conversational character of early discussion boards to the blog post. The comment sections in well-known political blogs like the Daily Kos have produced infamous rhetorical firefights between partisans of myriad views. Many popular websites have battled endlessly for civility and against various 'trolling' practices. Despite the risks associated with uncontrolled commenters and the time necessary to maintain a moderated space for discussion, academics continued to hold dear an idealised vision of academic blogging with stimulating, dynamic debates filling up the comments sections.
Despite the increased functionality of comments on blogging platforms popular to academic bloggers, one of the most ubiquitous observations is that commenting is rare (Kirkup 2010). For example, the 860 posts on Caraher's blog have garnered only 591 comments or one comment every 1.5 posts, and this is hardly out of the ordinary for academic blogs (Kansa and Deblauwe 2011, 195-200). Even as widely read a site as the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR) attracts rather few comments to their blog interface. Kirkup cites Clay Shirky's famous 'internet power laws' that suggest a small number of sites will get the most attention (Kirkup 2010; Shirky 2003). The lack of comments can be discouraging to bloggers, but before we regard this as a failure of blogging to live up to its promises, it might be useful to recognise that the communities for the academic or scholarly blogging favoured by archaeologists are relatively small (Gregg 2006). As a result, the potential for sustained, vibrant debate in the comments of a blog is limited by the number of participants. The small number of attendees present at any given panel at an academic conference makes manifest the reality that many of our ideas circulate in a very small world.
Of course, it is not entirely satisfying to compare experience of a densely scheduled and gruelling conference to the persistent content of a well-maintained blog. The weekly or daily blog post required a greater personal investment to produce and to consume than the easy conversation in the bar at an academic conference or after a thought-provoking paper. As Pilaar Birch pointed out in her critique of this article, perhaps the ephemeral and informal quality of the Twitter stream represents a better parallel to conference conversations. In contrast, the comments section of a blog post remains a stilted space for engagement, in part because the blog itself as a medium, genre, and place on the Web has certain practical limits for the development of community. The regular use of RSS feed readers has sometimes been blamed for the decline in comments on blog posts because these applications harvest the content of the blog and port it to a lightweight, mobile, or cleaner interface. An audience reading a blog on a feed reader, then, has to navigate to the blog in order to comment on the content available in the RSS reader. The friction produced by this additional step is likely enough to discourage commenting among an already fragile community of blog readers. Moreover, academic commenters are sometimes more reluctant to commit their impressions to persistent text than they might be to propose off-hand observations in a setting characterised by verbal communication.
Social media sites might also take some of the blame for the lack of commenting on academic blogs. The popularity of Facebook and Twitter in the first decades of the 21st century provides both opportunities and challenges for traditional conceptions of blogging. However much social media sites facilitate the circulation and curation of content across the Web, such as RSS reader applications, they have also detached the medium in which social interaction occurs from the content of the blog. Facebook and Twitter have emerged as a more open and participatory space for academic social interaction (Kansa and Deblauwe 2011, 194). While some academics continue to deride the idea that a meaningful conversation can occur in 140 characters, the reality is that the social media sites now feed traffic to blog content and provide a medium for conversation and comment. On Caraher's blog, Facebook and Twitter account for a quarter of all traffic over the past three years, and comments on the Facebook feed regularly attract more discussion than the blog itself.
The decline of blogrolls and the reluctance of readers to comment regularly on blog posts present some limits to how academic archaeological blogs explicitly articulate the community of blog writers and readers. Unlike the dynamism of the highly interactive 'social web', archaeological blogs remain driven by content. At present, archaeological blogs recognise the community of practice not through the vibrancy of conversation or such explicit features as blogrolls, but through a shared commitment to linked content. The emerging challenge for academic bloggers is to find ways to integrate conversations that stretch across sites, platforms, and media. The ephemeral nature of social media, in particular, provides a barrier for producing a unified archive of comments and content. At the same time, the same decentred and easily distributed character of social media discussions has created a new place for participatory engagement with blogged content. As Suzanne Pilaar Birch noted in her review of this article, the curation of content promulgated on social media and marked with particular hashtags offers ways to integrate content from blogs and social media around a single discussion, event, or topic.
For archaeologists, the blog as a community of practice remains intact despite the relatively small group of participants in this community. The more democratised and diverse space of social media, however, has allowed for a displaced form of social interaction that treats the content present at a blog as just another node in a dynamic dendritic manifestation of community. The challenge of conceptualising, recognising, and articulating this kind of dispersed community of readers and writers requires familiarity and regular engagement with the fast-moving online environment. As David Price noted recently in a review of prominent anthropology blogs, the blog is a particular type of community who organise according to its own rules and practices, and not all members of a discipline will feel equally at ease with its structure (Price 2011; Smith 2011a). Moreover, as Michael Smith pointed out in his comments, not all bloggers feel as deeply engaged within the community while still adopting common practices including linked content, the maintenance of blogrolls, of various kinds, and a critical awareness of the limits and potential of the medium. Despite authoring several blogs and participating in conversations about the nature of academic blogging, Smith does not feel part of the community of archaeological bloggers, but he clearly blogs according to accepted practices, and his blog is regularly discussed elsewhere on the Web.
Compared to the immediacy of social media, blogs present content rather slowly. Even the most fast-paced commercial blog rarely rewards more than two or three visits a day to the site. Academic blogs, true to longstanding rhythms of disciplinary production, tend to update on a much more gradual schedule. At the same time, compared to more traditional print publications, the practice and medium of blogging allows the posts to appear at a blistering pace. Unencumbered by such time-consuming processes as editorial oversight, peer review, typesetting, layout, and proofreading, blogs can appear as quickly as the author has words to fill them. In fact, the speed at which blog posts can appear and the absence of peer or editorial oversight are key components to academic blogging practice, and this has attracted the attention of critics who remain sceptical about the value of blogging to the larger academic project. Our ability to push unfiltered archaeological knowledge into the Web has challenged institutional practices designed to evaluate and control the flow of academic knowledge. Blogging has also begun to challenge our reading and interpretative habits, which often rely on clear generic indicators to define the character and utility of scholarly production.
Field archaeology is a meticulous process that proceeds at its own pace dictated by the vagaries of manpower, depositional complexity, and recording practices. The publication process frequently falls prey to a similarly gradualist approach, as famous excavations can take years or even decades to reach the academic public. While some of this can be attributed to the multi-year, multi-scholar workflow of particular excavators and their teams, at least some of the issues reside in the traditional process of publishing a field project, which involves significant time dedicated to review, editing, and layout. The published results of the field project are regarded as definitive, although even the most hardened empiricists recognise a difference between a preliminary excavation report and the final publication.
The basic character of blogging requires readers and writers to negotiate limited editorial attention and drastically simplified layouts. At the same time, scholarly blogs have found ways to shift expectations and to utilise the medium of the blog to produce scholarly content that circumvents the substantial friction associated with print publication and allows for almost instantaneous online publication. Some bloggers now report on their work from the field and use the blog to document their progress, offer hypotheses, and even report tentative conclusions. These practices not only lift the veil on the interpretative processes that produce archaeological knowledge (Morgan and Eve 2012; McGuire 2008 for similar attitudes), but also communicate some of the experiences of archaeology from the edge of the trowel. Caraher's blog, for example, both documented the misguided expectation that a basilica-style church stood on the site of a Hellenistic fortification, and explored the tensions among the project's senior staff as the team struggled to balance the educational and research components of our work. A similar, if more radically inclusive process, was used on the Prescot Street excavations in the UK in which all participants were invited to blog and to document their work on the excavation (Morgan and Eve 2012).
While few will challenge the value of blogging for providing a sense of the archaeological experience and to expose archaeological practice to a wider audience, there remain limits to the kind of immediacy and transparency that blogging can provide. For example, some nations control stringently the right to reproduce images of objects, architecture, and sites, but have yet to develop comprehensive policies extending to the digital realm. A blog may or may not represent a digital publication. On an even more practical level, announcing the results of an ongoing excavation during the season might make a site more susceptible to looting or other forms of disruption. As with all archaeological work, the limitations and opportunities of a particular medium or practice is not the final word on a decision to disseminate information.
If fieldwork blogs have the potential to make the field processes more transparent, research blogs invite readers into the creative and generative process associated with scholarship. While blogs fall outside the typical realm of scholarly publications, their accessibility to the public and peers nevertheless locates them within the continuum of scholarly communication that begins with the conference paper (or perhaps with the informal conversation) and culminates in the peer-reviewed book or article. The blog is less clearly vetted than the conference paper or the late, barely lamented, 'note' or 'correspondence' section of academic journals. At the same time, blogs do communicate important information to their academic audiences. In the lead up to the 2014 Society of American Archaeology blogging panel, Doug's Archaeology Blog curated a blog carnival involving many prominent archaeological bloggers. The responses to the question 'Why do you blog?' revealed the range of purposes associated with research, from publishing snippets of programming code useful to archaeologists, to staking claim to academic ideas in process and sharing academic problems as they arise in scholarship. As Kansa and Deblauwe have recently noted in their survey of web tools for research in zooarchaeology, scholarly use of blogs to circulate research remains inconsistent (Kansa and Deblauwe 2011). The practice of exposing ideas to critique is part of the academic process, but we have yet to completely exploit the potential of blogging for communicating ongoing research.
The recent responses to the prompt posted on Doug's Archaeology Blog likewise demonstrate the importance of the public nature of blogging, as it has become an important venue for communicating scholarly work to a broader audience. The popular appeal of archaeology has provided a ready-made audience for efforts to bridge the gap between academic research and the public fascination with the past. At the same time, there is an important aspect of outreach in archaeological blogging. Because archaeologists rely on an informed public both to identify and to protect archaeological sites and objects, it is necessary to communicate the significance and value of a shared cultural heritage. Blogging to a public audience allows archaeologists to communicate disciplinary boundaries and expertise to a wider group of stakeholders.
The process of blogging research as it occurs also increases the pace of archaeological knowledge production by disseminating and acknowledging the significance of provisional conclusions. Archaeologists make tentative observations regularly over the course of their research and analysis. By making these public on a blog, we demonstrate that the production of archaeological knowledge is not always a plodding, incremental, ponderous slog through reams of data, but often jumps and dances across a landscape of ingenious false starts, brilliant failed hypotheses, and provocative dead ends. Making the intellectual leaps and bounds public hints at both the importance of process and the potential utility of failure for both the academic community and the general public. While it might seem like archaeological publication takes years because of inactivity on the part of archaeologist (and surely some of that is true), in most cases, archaeological analysis rarely stalls for long periods, and is regularly punctuated with exciting, if incremental accomplishments. Archaeology done quickly makes these little victories (and failures) visible.
The continuum of academic publication in archaeology frequently begins in the field and continues through conference papers and preliminary reports with the goal of a final, definitive publication. If the blog provides an easy medium for keeping both peers and the public updated on progress in the field and in writing, the practice of disseminating pre-publication drafts of scholarly articles represents a particular stage in the research process. In the social sciences and in physical and applied science, the practice of making pre-publication drafts of articles available has become the norm. Services like ArXiv or PLOS-ONE provide massive preprint archives for papers in the physical and applied sciences and provide a venue for the circulation and review of preprints long before their formal submission to and acceptance by a scholarly journal. In fact, the public circulation of preprints has become an important step in the publication and review process, with actual publication occurring rather late in the process. To date, similar hubs that would include the humanities, such as Philica, remain undeveloped.
Mediterranean archaeologists have not embraced the centralised, public circulation of papers explicitly designated as preprints with the exception of the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics (Ober 2007). This site, however, is limited to faculty and graduate students at those two institutions and does not appear to be particularly active at the time of writing. Among archaeologists of the Mediterranean world, publications like Hesperia, the Journal of Roman Archaeology, and the American Journal of Archaeology have provided some opportunities for preliminary reports that may offer some provisional conclusions, but these tend to be more polished than traditional scholarly preprints, subjected to formal peer review, and enter the academic record as stable and cited items. Working papers share with preliminary reports the provisional character of the arguments but, unlike published preliminary reports, they are not peer-reviewed and do not have to endure the sometimes slow pace of academic publishing.
Sites such as academia.edu or Scribd allow for an individual faculty to circulate preprints or offprints instantly, but it is a decentralised venue for circulating papers. Likewise, posting preprints on individual blogs demonstrates the potential of the blog as a platform for circulating pre-publication scholarship. The problems with this model return us to our discussion of community. While blogs and services such as academic.edu and Scribd allow for individuals to 'follow' other individuals and build decentred networks that follow the lines of professional and personal relationships, these fall short of the kind of institutional imprimatur offered by a service such as ArXiv or PLOS-ONE.
The value of blogging, then, derives from a community of practice that includes both bloggers and readers. These practices and their attendant expectations allow the scholarly archaeological blog to occupy a place within the continuum of academic publication. This does not mean, however, that the professional community has fully embraced blogging as part of their academic responsibilities, as a valued component of a curriculum vitae, or as a definitive or final publication of a site, object, or idea. The social and institutional limits to blogging within the academic community tend to reflect the inverse of the values and influence associated with traditional publication. Blogs are the things that print publications are not: they lack the robust infrastructure of peer-review, intensive editing, careful layout/design, and institutional relationships that ensure the preservation and indexing of contents. At the same time, there remain certain aspects of blogging that offer clear opportunities for traditional academic publishing. Traditional publishing has looked to blogging for its potential for visible community building, integration with social media, speed and low overheads, and potential to engage the greater public.
Like blogging, traditional print publications – particularly traditional journals – also represent communities of practice that integrate editors, authors, reviewers, and readers in a network of shared expectations. In academic publishing, the community is visible in footnotes, published responses, and acknowledgements as well as in the standards of scholarship and presentation maintained by journals. What is less visible is the network of peer reviewers, editors, and readers who share expectations of the print publication. Several journals and academic presses in the humanities have recognised potential problems associated with anonymous peer review and have experimented with more open forms of peer critique at various points in the publication process. So far, this approach has not had much appeal in archaeology (although this issue will undergo an open review process), perhaps because of the sensitivity of archaeological material prior to formal publication, or even restrictions placed on authors and presses by foreign institutions.
It would be possible for published articles to have integrated commenting systems that would allow the article to form the basis for an ongoing conversation. This presents some challenges, however. First, the quarterly or biannual appearance of content in an academic journal means that these publications do not attract the kind of daily or weekly readership that promotes regular conversation. Moreover, as earlier observed for blogs, the potential for regular community interaction in the comments of an article is always mitigated by the number of members willing to participate publicly and in a forum. Finally, making a comments section available on a published article raises interesting questions about the relationship between the journal article and the comments offered by readers. There is no doubt that academic articles continue to carry some of their significance within our discipline because of institutional commitment to preservation, and this is particularly important for a destructive discipline like archaeology. At the same time, commenters on published articles do contribute to the scholarly discussion that could provide context for an article's significance or even offer substantive revisions or corrections. The boundary between the peer-reviewed, published text and less-vetted and formal comments appears clear, but it does, however, subtly transform the responsibility of the publisher from presenter of reviewed content to manager of conversations. In fact, as I revised this article, I struggled to know whether to revise my article in response to the comments offered in open peer review or to simply allow my original content stand and compose a separate response addressing particular issues presented by my reviewers.
Traditional publishers have already recognised the advantages of digital publication as a means to manage the cost of images, printing, and other expenses associated with the circulation of hardcopy journals. Digital journals tend to continue to adopt the formal structure, peer review, and circulation policies of traditional paper journals, but they have increasingly come to recognise the potential for publishing more quickly. A number of journals in the social sciences, including archaeology, now publish as soon as the final copy of an article is ready rather than waiting for a complete volume. Even with these efforts to increase the pace of academic publishing by removing unnecessary delays associated with the traditional forms of print publication, the process of peer-review and copy editing still slow the pace of publishing completed manuscripts. As bloggers used their sites to disseminate preprints and as journals and academic presses have experimented with open peer-review, there are a growing number of models that will allow traditional journals to accelerate the dissemination of archaeological information while managing very real concerns about quality and authority.
As good as blogging can be for archaeology, the blogging platform for speedy publication of archaeological data outside of blogs is not without significant problems. We need to ask what we can do within a blog format for archaeology, how it does things differently or better than an article or monograph, even if these appear as e-only or digital ahead of print. Are these blogs to exist behind login credentials for invited readers, or will they be made available as open access free of charge? What are the problems inherent in treating blogs as publications, or of blogging results of excavations quickly, or even as they happen?
Writing from my experience as a publisher of Greek archaeology for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the ASCSA has an embargo in place regarding the blogging (and micro-blogging, posting, etc.) about day-to-day specifics and finds during the digging seasons at both the Athenian Agora and at Corinth. This embargo is upheld at Greece's request, who grants the ASCSA its licenses to excavate in the country. It would jeopardise the School's projects big and small to break this embargo, and content posted online on behalf of the School must be checked to ensure that no unpublished data leaks online ahead of more formal publication, either in end-of-season preliminary reports or in 'final' reporting of assigned archaeological material.
Bloggers also need to consider matters of permission prior to blogging about excavation as-it-happens (or immediately after an excavation stops for the season). Permission to blog must be granted by an excavation's Director of Record, and typically this might include restrictions on posting previously unpublished photos and details of artefacts online. Blogging generally about the day-to-day on excavation is fine, including posting photos of the team at work in the field. Anything more specific becomes a problem of permissions and law within the country of excavation.
Something both useful and attainable in blogging archaeology for a general or educated audience during the excavation season is that it drums up interest and support. Standard published monographs are arguably unsuitable for any kind of fund-raising on behalf of an excavation, and technical articles produced by the archaeologists on material found at a site are equally unusable. Blogging publicly and regularly is one of the best ways to promote the work done at the site, profiling its history, and highlighting the team responsible for the work. Moreover, from a marketing perspective, blogging provides immediate, real-time analytics that can reveal how readers react and disseminate information from an excavation at a level of granularity that, for now, is absent in print publications. Blogging also adds a human face to the archaeological narrative, which makes excavations immediately relatable to the public. Hopefully, that relationship can turn into sponsorship over time.
One could be forgiven for assuming that blogs are always for public consumption. This assumption is false. Many websites have blogging features enabled within them that can be held behind a password-protected gateway. Blogging archaeologists can use this feature behind the scenes. Because these blogs are protected and are invisible to the rest of the world, they can be used as daily logs of what happened, what was found (and by whom), and can include new photos, drawings, findspots, descriptions, and other data to create a daily excavation narrative previously found in paper excavation notebooks. This narrative context supports regular data entry into the excavation database(s).
With blogging, though, there are a number of issues not found when working with traditional publications in monograph or article form. The first is the problem of blogging archaeology for an offline readership. The Internet is a First World phenomenon, but archaeology is not. With books and especially with journals in print, mechanisms exist to fulfil standing orders and subscriptions that are then shipped to an expectant audience of readers. Many of these readers prefer to read this material in print as opposed to on-screen, opting for the digital only when travelling because of the portable nature of 'e'. Blogging bypasses these readers completely, and they conceivably miss cutting-edge reports of work in the field.
Many of the ASCSA's journal exchange partners are in parts of the world where Internet access remains patchy (if available at all), and access to JSTOR remains a dream. Blogging neglects this audience as well. When we publish, we must always consider how we reach our audience. I worry that blogging to publish archaeology results quickly will create (or exacerbate) a digital divide, leaving some scholarship out of reach of the scholars who need it. At this writing, JSTOR has no repository for blogs, which means that places with limited connectivity not only miss the immediate information available from blogging, but may never access that content even if and when accessibility improves.
Unlike printed publications, blogging archaeology is unsustainable and, by its nature, transient. In print, as well as in more formal digital publications, the content is preserved either in multiple copies stored internationally in libraries, or via archival services such as CLOCKSS and Portico. With blogs, sustainability is a core issue, content being stored solely via a hosting platform (e.g. Wordpress) and occasionally archived and backed up to DVD by the author. The ephemeral nature of blogs runs counter to the primary purpose of publishing archaeology: to preserve permanently the archaeological record that has been destroyed through the act of excavation. Exclusively blogging to describe the work conducted on site is a serious mistake, but one that can be remedied through more formal, archived publication on line, or produced in works on paper.
One final publication issue inherent in fast publication of archaeology online is the fact Caraher mentions above that the quality of editing and proofreading of content usually suffer. Typographical errors and errors in punctuation can abound, not to mention the more important presentation of the content and the logic behind that presentation. The need for speed of publication sacrifices detail and editorial rigor found in traditional forms of publication regardless of the media in which they appear. As bloggers and as archaeologists, we must ask ourselves, 'What information do we want to publish quickly, and can we publish more traditional articles as blog posts with peer-review and editorial rigor at speed as they are submitted?'
It is therefore necessary for us to consider what the blog can do for archaeological publication that a traditional article or monograph cannot. What do we gain in sacrificing editorial and quality control, and is it possible that blogging can actually contribute to a more rigorous assault on arguments being prepared for more traditional publication?
Blogging, however, is useless to anyone, unless it can be discovered. This is as true of print archaeology as it is of the digital, including blogs. If the content is difficult to find, what use is this long-form social vehicle? Perhaps the best thing to enable discoverability is for blogs to be tied to a sponsoring organisation's web page, appearing prominently on the homepage, and include subscription links that will automatically email readers when new content is available to view.
As Caraher states above, one of the best ways to encourage discoverability of blogs is to tie them to related micro-blogs that ping notices of new entries via Twitter and other social media so that readers do not have to remember to go back to the blog itself to see if new content is available. Readers are lazy and are over-committed, so keeping things simple and automatic is to the blog's benefit. As an author, a blogger can maintain a personal Twitter or Tumblr account for this purpose, or, better yet, an organisation (local, regional, or national) can do the same. The key is, however, to continue to produce and promote content posted on the blog. The more activity authors give their blogs, the more likely they are to be read and to encourage return visits and subscriptions. This is as true for archaeology blogs as it is for those on any other topic. Archaeologists cannot afford to ignore the lessons learned by bloggers who like to write about cooking, travel, or anything else.
To the most necessary end of making archaeological blogs both discoverable and accessible, I would recommend that national archaeological organisations host blogs for all archaeological excavations that they manage, or provide links to regional, local, or institutional sites as a clearinghouse for archaeology to facilitate discovery and linking. It is no longer enough to write about your site and hope the world can find it. Blogging archaeologists must be proactive in finding ways for the world to beat a path to their doors.