Kerr’s thesis that blogs have an inherent problem which stems from the fact that blog posts are viewed in “Reverse Chronological Order” or RCO. That is an important feature of blogs! Kerr argues that this means that Blogs do not lend themselves to mulling and deep reflection on a problem. And Kerr argues that “mulling” is the way that really important legal scholarship gets done.
And I think Kerr is completely wrong–that he has made a fundamental error. One of the most wonderful things about blogs is that they provide an important mechanism for “mulling:” for engaging in extended discussions about important ideas. If you want to see an example of the way that blogs can facilitate “mulling,” and extended discussion of an idea, take a look at this post by Jack Balkin or this post by Eugene Volokh and also this one.
Or take a look at any one of the dozens of serious scholarship blogs! Another problem with Kerr’s point is that RCO does not dominate blogging in quite they way that he thinks. Blogs are archived and full-text searchable–that means that many people get to blogs from Google. And blogs can build their own interfacts: for example, I build a Table of Contents style interface for the blog that serves as a separate archive for the Legal Theory Lexicon.
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Larry’s response seems to be making two points: First, blogs provide an important mechanism for mulling, as evidenced by several examples of mulling found on blogs. Second, there is a lot more to blogs than visiting them and just reading the posts at the top.
I don’t think either point is particularly inconsistent with my argument, though, much less evidence that my argument is “completely wrong” and based on a “fundamental error.” Obviously it is possible to mull in a blog post. Mulling is possible in any medium, ranging from IRC to writing on cereal box tops. And law professors are mullers by nature. But my point is about the interaction between technology and social practice: Some technologies tend to encourage different practices, and (for the reasons I point out in the paper) I don’t think blogging is particularly well-suited to the kind of repeated mulling that tends to further lasting legal scholarship. So the fact that Jack Balkin and Eugene Volokh can write a scholarly blog post in a debate with Lary Solum doesn’t say very much. Such debates tend to be rare.
Similarly, I agree with Larry that it is possible to supplement blogs with links that go beyond RCO. It is also true that many legal blogs are accessed by Google. But I’m not sure what this shows. Maybe I’m just missing the boat, but my sense is that most people visit blogs for the timely links. Links to other materials can be featured, but my sense is that they are not used very often at most blogs. And they are never used by those that view blogs using feeds.
The fact that blogs often get a lot of Google traffic also has uncertain significance. On one hand, it opens up a very different question: Blogs as tools for scholarly research by users, instead of blogs as tools for advancing scholarship among the bloggers themselves. But even so, I’m not sure that legal blogs with lots of Google traffic are being used for scholarship very often. For example, Michael Froomkin’s blog Discourse.net has a Zeitgeist page that lists the search terms used to find his blog. Here is a representative set of recent search terms, with search terms used multiple times in larger font:
blog personality quiz · dancing banana · soviet gulag · jessica gabel · flying people · middle district of florida court records dr betty carter · cell phone tapped · chernobyl photographs · what the administration is trying to do is create a new legal regime · command responsibility · best buy dishwasher installation · france child molestation case · windows xp look alike · mary cheney · past wartime torture · phosphorus burning video stream · vew.plus.sex,net
What this suggests, I think, is that the number of people who visit legal blogs via Google who are conducting legal research is actually relatively small. (Or is there a jurisprudence of dancing bananas that I’m missing?) Of course, this doesn’t stop a blogger from writing long involved posts on legal issues. But it suggests that the interested audience for such posts that will arrive there from search engines is probably pretty small. It’s an empirical question, of course, so maybe I’m just guessing at proportions incorrectly. But my sense is that the numbers are low enough that few bloggers are going to mull at length on an issue with the hope that Googling researchers will come across those posts and find them helpful down the road.