Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blogs and Citations

So I get an e-mail the other day from someone asking very politely if he could have permission to translate one of my posts into French and put it on his blog. I responded as I usually do to such requests, saying no problem and feel free to reprint anything at any time from the Playground if you find it interesting.

It got me thinking about reprinting and blogs. To be honest, I would have had no problem if he had just done it without asking permission at all. Every once in a while things pop up elsewhere that someone thought relevant to some conversation they've been having at their place and I always find it amusing and intriguing to see what posts from the hundreds I've put up people pull out. Last week, it was the philosophers and fashion one that a few big ol' blogs connected to a recent article demanding law profs to dress better. It was a fun, silly piece and I didn't think anyone really read it, but next thing I know it's on Andrew Sullivan of all places.

Now, if it had been a professional paper of mine that he wanted to reprint, then not asking would have made me uncomfortable (even aside from the copyright issues with the journals). In my own mind, there is a difference between my research and my blog posts, even those that deal with similar topics. The question I've been wrestling with is what really is the difference.

It doesn't seem to be a plagiarism issue. I have no problem whatsoever if someone uses the idea of "cage and frame" without attribution. It would be one thing to claim to have come up with the idea himself and try to get credit for it, that steps over the line, but once the idea is out there, it's out there for anyone to do with what they will. A link would be nice, but I'm not sure if that is for intellectual honesty or the vanity of more traffic. Although, if someone puts up the full text of a post, that does seem to warrant a link.

I have two possible explanations: (1) The articles take much, much, much more effort and require a degree of carefulness that would destroy a good blog post where some slippery ambiguity leaves interesting openings for discussion. This is not necessarily universal. The citizen journalism pieces over at e Pluribus Media, for example, take a lot of investigative, writing, and editing time. As much as an article. So, perhaps they fall in a different category or undermine this point altogether. (2) A professional paper and a blog post seem to be different sorts of acts with different goals. A published article is an attempt to make progress on a philosophical issue of interest to an academic community. A blog post is an attempt to start a good conversation with whomever shows up. In a published piece of philosophy they are MY views and MY insights that I am making the case for and showing the ramifications of. In a blog post I'm often thinking through a position I'm half convinced of or toying with an idea I think nifty but not necessarily important or right and want to see what other playful minds would think of it.

So, should the same sort of citation ethic apply to both blog posts and published articles, are they different and if so, why?