1. Introduction

" 'I certainly have not found a comparable way to get my ideas out. It allows me to have a voice I would not otherwise get,' Mr [Brad] Setser says. Blogs have enabled economists to turn their microphones into megaphones." -"The invisible hand on the keyboard", The Economist, 3 August 2006

A blog is, in essence, an online diary-style website. Simple software enables writers to create short articles in a form, and publish at the press of a button. It is a quick-and-easy way to publish on the web without having to be a web geek. The articles appear on the site in chronological order, with the most recent at the top of the page. As time goes on, they are automatically archived by date and by topic.

What is the case for blogging among the economics community? One of the best known blogging economists, Brad DeLong of the University of California at Berkeley, says that blogging gives him access to an "invisible college" of people who will react to his opinions, point him to more interesting things, help him to raise the level of debate on economic issues and bring it to a mass audience. He neatly sums up blogging as "turbo charging of the public sphere of information and debate", which he hopes will make him smarter and more productive.

Blogs do this by being interactive. This takes many forms including: providing links to other websites, papers or blogs; allowing readers to comment on articles; producing a network of links, relationships and interactions across the web.

"Academically a blogpost boosts citations for the core article itself. It advertises your journal article in ways that can get it far more widely read than just pushing the article out into the ether to sink or swim on its own. A post reaches other researchers in your discipline. And because it’s accessibly written, it travels well, goes overseas, gets re-tweeted and re-liked," writes Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE.

FT columnist Giles Wilkes reflects on various failings of the economics "blog-o-sphere", but still praises it for an unmatched insight into what the great minds of the day are thinking about.

"[I]ts ungated to-and-fro lets a reader eavesdrop on schools of academic thought in furious argument, rather than just be subject to whatever lecture a professor wishes to deliver. No one learns merely by reading conclusions. It is in the space between rival positions that insight sprouts up, from the synthesis of clashing thoughts."

Blogs have been around since the late 1990s according to blog pioneer Rebecca Blood, but took a while to go mainstream. In the US Presidential election of 2004 they began to be used as a major source of online news. Blogs behave in accordance with a power law whereby a small number of blogs enjoy a large amount of influence, but a "long tail" of lower-ranked blogs collectively have a huge readership.

This guide has some useful pointers for newcomers to the world of blogging. It will start with the assumption that you have something to say; something that can be digested into a short article. It might be an update about your own research, or a reaction to current events. It could be a summary or critique of a paper or a book that you've been reading. It might be in a polished style, or a note-form list of things you've been reading or thinking about.

In the rest of this guide we will look at how to get this message out to an audience of fellow economists and lay people. We will explain different blogging platforms, but grisly technical detail will be unnecessary. Finally we will focus on specific uses of blogs in economics and some case studies of how they are used in teaching.

References