Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Using the Blog as an online research tool

I usually don't like meta-blogging (blogging about the concept of blogs), because a lot of other people do it .

But today John Udell raised an interesting example of interaction between (in lack of a better general term) enthusiasts as a result of the openness of the web (all the web2.0 thingies like blogs and podcasts, their links, comments and trackbacks). This reminded me of that I dared to write "I've experimented with the use of a blog as an online research tool" in the Method-chapter in my thesis, and continued:
While it lacks structure and rigorousness of this thesis, the blog is still chronological through time, and in a way, it represents the research in a more honest way. It also performs the role of a dynamic research tool, as updated resources are available through my blogroll and linkroll.
Kristin Helen was the fellow-CMS enthusiast that opened my eyes for getting away with this (by pointing me to this document (1), and now she has in fact published an entire master thesis (2) about it! Congratulations :)

Now, how did the blog affect my research?

Primarily, it's a notebook. Its a place for me where I can note down stuff before I forget about it.

It's also a way to get feedback. A blog quickly attracts other enthusiasts due to the transparency of the open web (web2.0, ugh), depending on the activity of the blogger (see below). Like in Udell's example, I've found trackbacks to my own posts, whose blogs again have posts with interesting comments from other bloggers who I subscribe to and so on and so forth. I didn't get too many comments over the last few months, but I did get invited to a conference, and got some hints and nudges. It is also somewhat motivating to see traffic on yer blog, which means that somebody in the world actually take an interest in what you're researching for your master's (I know some other thesi that don't enjoy this interest).

How to do it?

To get into the blogosphere and get yer researchin' started, do the following:

  • Write. Do it regularly and write interesting/relevant stuff on one topic (use tags if you write on several topics). It's more tempting to subscribe to a stable blog.
  • Read. Use Bloglines or another feed-aggregator every day. As an example of the daily digest: these are my subscriptions
  • Comment. When you comment you leave a link back to your own blog, which is probably about a related topic. The author of the blog where you commented is likely to have a look at yours.
  • Trackback. Write about what other people write about. I doubt John Udell will notice that this post is a trackback of his post (he probably gets a hundred trackbacks every day), but maybe Kristin will? (no offense :D )
  • Search and surf. Check out technorati and del.icio.us for blogs on similar subjects.

So the thing you have to figure out is how big a limit you should put on your blog-activity. I spend half-an-hour reading through my subscriptions (comment when I find something particularly interesting, trackback when I find something immensely interesting), and write ~1 post a week, which takes 10-30 minutes.

(1) Mortensen, T., Walker, J. 2002, "Blogging thoughts:personal publication as an online research tool", Researching ICTs in Context, Intermedia/UniPub, ch. 11, p. 249-279

(2) Andersen, K. H. 2004, "Student’s Use of Weblogs: Weblogs for Collaboration in an Educational Setting" Department of Information Science, University of Bergen, Norway