6. Risks

In the early years of the 21st century, blogging was seen as a risky proposition that, at best, would take away from the time you spend on your research and teaching. Since then, universities and scholarly societies have taken on blogs and social media more generally as a way to engage all sorts of audiences.

Regular blogging does not seem to have hurt the careers of Paul Krugman or Yanis Varoufakis. It has not apparently diminished the influence of Mariana Mazzucato or Larry Summers. The enthusiasm for blogging amongst popular authors including Tim Harford and David Smith suggests that sharing small, topical pieces of your writing does not hurt book sales either.

The change in academic attitudes is best exemplified by the Impact Blog at the LSE. Originally intended as a short-term project about the impact of social sciences, it has become a focal point for discussion about the process of scholarly publication in many different disciplines, including lots of advice and opinion about academic blogging itself.

The biggest risk is of non-involvement; of being invisible in this open, fast-moving space where public discussion and scholarly discussion of your subject overlap. Still, there are some potential downsides to consider before you leap fully into blogging.

Effect on your job, or your next job

People have lost jobs as a consequence of what they have written on their blogs, even if they have taken care not to refer directly to their employers and have blogged under pseudonyms. You should bear in mind that your current or any prospective future employer may find your blog online and take it into account when assessing your employability.

Relationship with your institution

If your blog is set up within a Virtual Learning Environment or an institutional blog hosting service, it will be clear that you will be writing as a member of your university or college. This means that you will be subject to the relevant code of conduct or appropriate use of computing resources policy for your institution. While few institutions have a policy specifically to cover blogging, should you feel restricted by any limits these policies place upon your writing, you may wish to blog outside the confines of the IT systems provided for you by your institution.

Intellectual property

A blog may be a useful forum for floating new ideas, theories or areas of research, but it is not usually a formal project output. It is not clear whether ideas expressed or published on a blog, are covered by the same rules and regulations as a book, article or other output produced while you are an employee of an institution or being funded by a research grant.

Republication of your posts on other sites may be something you want to prevent, or something to actively encourage, so long as you are given credit and a link. Put a copyright statement or a Creative Commons licence prominently on your blog so readers know which further uses of the text are allowed.

Blog ethics

Blogs come with their own set of social rules or blog etiquette. For example, any online source cited or quoted in your posts should be acknowledged with a link. Retrospectively editing a blog entry is frowned on, as this may make some of the comments users have posted to your initial article look out of place. Consider using strikeout formatting (like this) to show edits or make additions to the bottom of a post to show how your views may have evolved.

Comments

The default setting for most blogs is to allow comments from readers. While this can lead to fruitful interactions, debate and links to useful further resources, like any open form of conversation, it can lead to inappropriate or offensive comments and Internet marketers will try to "spam" your blog with vacuous comments linking to their sites. Blogging software has tools to defend against most spam, as explained in an earlier section.

You may wish to investigate the security options in your blogging software. You could require readers to register before posting a comment to your blog, or hold comments in a queue for your approval before they are published.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a Legal Guide For Bloggers, which looks at some of the key legal issues that affect blogs. However, it should be remembered that this has been written from an American perspective and therefore some of the advice would not necessarily apply elsewhere. Also, this is an area of law that is developing all the time, so what may be true today could be changed by a new piece of legislation in the near future.

References