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First Blog Roundtable

February 26, 2008
UPDATED (see below) Over 40 members of the Penn Community--including staff, students, and administrators--attended the event. After the tradition of introductions and food gathering, I kicked off the inaugural meeting with a brief presentation about the history of blogging. A "weblog," as blogs were originally called, used to serve as a means to record computer activity. But the second incarnation of weblogs--a term that human beings have economically trimmed to the word "blog"--saw blogs recording human activity. In other words, a blog as we currently understand it is an online record of activity--an online journal, if you will. I closed my address pointing out that, needless to say, the personal aspect of blogging has attracted an array of bloggers, including representatives from "geek" culture, average people, and our very own State Department. Ed continued the presentation by showing specific ways blogs are used. Organizations, like Stanford University, have blogs to share all kinds of information with their community and beyond--from intellectual discourse to event announcements. People, like Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, have used blogs to communicate scholarly ideas and solicit feedback from their fervent, and knowledegable, reader. Staff have used blogs to communicate with each other and to put a face on an often anonymous but crucial service. Ed closed with reference to the increasing use of blogs in the area of legal scholarship. At this point, we opened the floor to discussion. We were delighted to find that many students blog, and many more read them. At least two students said that they enjoyed reading blogs at law schools to which they were applying, because it gave them a better idea of how that law school operates. One student commented that he is interested in citing blogs for a research paper, but he was unsure of how to evaluate them. Responding to a question about the difficulty in keeping up with the proliferation of blogs (and other sites) on the Internet, one student said he uses RSS technology to keep up with all the blogs he reads. When asked, all the students said that they would like the freedom to comment on blogs, even if they don't necessarily read or comment on them all the time. A discussion of commenting on blogs ensued. One staff member said that she reads a certain blog primarily for the comments, suggesting that blog readership is not always about the person who writes the post. A student asked for recommendations for blogging software. A member of the IT department helpfully suggested some leads. One of our librarians, Judith Vaughan-Sterling, related her personal experience blogging. She said that her blog has allowed her to meet new people with the same interests. This underscores the social aspect of blogging. One student discussed how he writes on blogs as a means to flesh out ideas before they are codified into a research project. He also suggested that, in certain circumstances, a blog may actually serve as a suitable replacement for a traditional research paper. One staff member asked a simple but important question: how do you find out about blogs you might be interested in? A few resources were discussed. One is the popular blog search engine Technorati. The other is Google's Blog search engine. Also, Jordon suggested that if you find a blog you like, the sidebar of that blog usually provides a list of blogs, or a "blogroll," that the blogger reads regularly. Ed and Jordon closed the discussion with a promise to continue convening these meetings on a regular basis. Due to many of the responses, there might also be a possibility for workshops related to blogging and related technologies. We were delighted with the response to this meeting. Please contact Ed or me if you have any questions or suggestions, or if you just want to talk about blogging in general. UPDATE: The indispensable website Common Craft produced an online video explaining blogs better than Ed or I could ever hope to: I should have known to check before our presentation--I've found their work explaining other technology tools, like social bookmarking and RSS, helpful and entertaining.