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Blogging Habits and Openness

7 March 2012

I’ve been increasingly involved in the world of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in recent years, and that involvement has made me re-think the role of blogs.  Blogs always seemed like an interesting development in the evolution of the Web, but didn’t have much appeal to me personally.  As I came to understand the FOSS world however, I had to re-consider blogging.  If you follow FOSS, it becomes clear fairly quickly that blogs are a key communication vehicle, and also a key mechanism to establish presence and credibility in the FOSS community.  So I decided to blog as part of joining the the FOSS world.

That was almost a year and a half ago.  As you can see, my initial blogging effort consisted of exactly one post.  I’m sure that there are many blogs that are started with a single post and stop right there, so this isn’t a surprising result.  But it is interesting to consider why this might be so.  In particular, it seems that professionally oriented blogs are an uneasy fit (at best) with professional life.

In my case, the profession is being a faculty member at a research university.  Writing is part of the job, but not the sort of writing that appears in a blog.  Academic culture is very much more about publication of polished, finished products.  And publication also includes a filtering process (and stamp of approval) provided by the peer review and editing process typical of academic publications.  Publications that have not been through that filtering and approval process are not valued much, and faculty have little incentive (or have actual disincentive) to spend time on other writing, like blogging.

While academic culture is relevant to my failure to blog, I’m also struck that similar cultural biases exist in the commercial world.  In academia, the writing issue is primarily related to reputation of an individual.  In the commercial world, the concern is much more about reputation, intellectual property, and liability of the organization that employs the blogger.  But the effect is much the same in creating no incentive and some disincentive to blog.

So yes, on one level I was just “too busy” to blog.  But I managed to get to a whole bunch of other things during this time of being “too busy”.  Blogging never got the priority in part because the openness that a professionally oriented blog implies just doesn’t fit the culture that surrounds me.  It seems that this issue applies to all attempts to marry openness principles with existing organizational cultures and personal work habits.  That doesn’t seem insurmountable, but it’s an issue to remember when encouraging openness in the workplace and among students.

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