June 07, 2003

Blogs Present Academics with Brave New World of Jargon, Blandness

Well, it's not even 10 a.m., and we at The Rant are so agitated that our spleen and gall bladder have demanded that our brain do something relaxing, such as watch The McLaughlin Group.

You should know that this state of agitation was brought about when we visited an Official Web site at Harvard University about blogs. It was at this point that we realized the academicians had discovered blogs and blogging. Not only had they discovered them, we realized the academics had started to apply jargon-loaded phrases to blogs which really ought not be applied to them. Phrases like "personal web publishing communities."

Now look. If I once more hear the word "community" applied to anything other than a small municipality, or local civic, business or government activities related to such municipalities, I'm going to throw up.

The blogosphere does not exactly conform to the academic definition of community, which generally boils down to "a like-minded group of people who have views with which we agree." More often, the blogging "environment" resembles intellectual cock-fighting. One or more individuals get annoyed with something and pile on that something in an attempt to tear it into tiny bits. Other individuals then oppose this maneuver. As this conflict takes place, a whole bunch of people gather on the sidelines and cheer on their respective squads. Also, there is drinking.

But the above was just one thing on this site that raised our hackles this morning. Now, you should know we learned of it through the yeoman's efforts of Brian Carnell, who gleefully shredded the site's pretentious academic definition of what a "weblog" is. As Mr Carnell's work is laugh-out-loud funny, I would strongly suggest you read his excellent fisking of the site in question. But let's be clear -- the page about which Mr Carnell wrote annoyed me far less than some little bullets contained within another page on the Harvard site.

Specifically, I refer you to the following parts of Harvard's blog site:

"Who can create a weblog?

Anyone who has a harvard.edu email address can create one. For now, we have to create the site for you. And for the next few weeks as we get the site ready, we'll probably ask you to wait ... "

People! You don't have to wait at all. All you have to do is contact Dean Esmay and he'll set you up with a domain name, hosting service, and blog for like $20 upfront and $5 a year month after that. Just think, your own domain name, instead of some unmemorable, lame-o collegiate site. Or, if you're really just starting out, use one of the free services.

"Are there rules? Yes, there are."

Um, I don't like the sound of this ...

"What are they?

We're working on it. We want to be sure that all activities on Harvard-hosted weblogs are respectful of Harvard, and don't exist for the purpose of promoting a product, or political cause or candidate.

Of course the people who create and run weblogs are encourged to review products they like (or don't), to express and exchange their opinions, political or otherwise. That's what the Web is for. But these weblogs may not be used to in any way to convey an endorsement by Harvard University of any product, political party, or anything particular at all. Much in the same way you couldn't use Harvard telephones to run a telemarketing operation, there are limits to how you can use a Harvard weblog."

Now, I suppose one could be charitable. One could say the fellow writing this merely meant to write that bloggers using Harvard's servers ought to make it clear via disclaimer that their views are their own and do not represent the views of Harvard University, so on and so forth. Fine.

But what's this "respectful of Harvard" stuff all about? For students, at any rate, one of the great joys of college life is being disrepectful to one's university and things like its constant fundraising efforts. Sure, it's a private school, they can do whatever they want -- but this comes across as if the heavy, ever-stern hand of the college's Administration is ready and waiting to slap down anyone who criticizes the bad cafeteria food. That, as we would say here at The Rant, is "dumbsville."

We would also suggest that because Harvard Law is considering censoring speech it happens to find offensive, that some Harvard-based blogs might be ... we don't know ... more milquetoast than they otherwise might be? You know, kind of like Harvard's site about blogs and blogging.

One last snarky comment on our part. Harvard's site is going to be "open." In academic talk, this means the following:

In this context open means we're going to share what we learn, so other educational institutions can learn from our experience. We hope others will do the same, that the spirit of the Web will infuse all our efforts. It works best when we work together. That's a key part of our philosophy.

We suppose we could offer praise for this, but we'll stick with our original thoughts on the matter. Those are: "The machines! The machines are tunneling towards Zion!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 7, 2003 10:06 AM | TrackBack

Finally blogging will gain some legitimacy now Harvard has decided to grace the blogosphere with its presence.

One correction: it's $5 per month after the initial $20 for the first month, setup, and domain registration. Still a phenomenol offer.

Posted by: Kevin White at June 7, 2003 01:35 PM

You would think I would know this! Just a typo, though.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at June 7, 2003 01:51 PM