"...blogging is still relatively new and its place within academia is still questionable. Many academics blog anonymously rather than risk being shunned by their peers or in the worst case being denied tenure. Whatever the reaction on the surface I've found that roughly half of my readers are from the academic world. I can't be sure that they are historians (professors or students), but they are logging on from their school's servers. Like any new technology change takes time. Perhaps the pace is just right as it lends itself to being able to think through some of the tougher questions surrounding methodology/pedagogy. Whatever the case it seems to me that we are beyond the questions of to blog or not to blog or what do you think about blogs. The question now is what can we accomplish through blogging."
I believe Kevin has the critical question right. Blogging has unique capabilities and limitations in an academic setting, and as it evolves there will be new constraints and resources. As a non-academic historian who blogs for reasons not immediately associated with my profession, I am not surprised to hear that blogging raises concerns and challenges in academic circles. Blogs and their collaborative cousins Wikis are unruly, upstart media. Blogs as a whole are decentralized and accountable to different rules than those that apply in the University with its verifiable data, testable hypothesis, sound methodologies, mastery of the relevant literature and peer review. The sheer mass and asymmetrical nonconformity of the blogosphere frustrates academic researchers without the institutional flails to winnow the grains from the chaff.
For those of us without access to academic search engines, however, blogs are a powerful synthesizing tool. Google is the coarse filter of choice for most Internet-based searches. It is remarkable, often quite amusing, to trace the oddly worded search terms that lead readers to my site. But for every incongruous "back off man scientist" or "flying fruit circus of Australia in Eritrea" search - both of these examples are from this morning's hits - there is a consistent pattern of people looking for specific information that was the subject of one of my posts.
To offer one example: Back in November I wrote a post about the WWII fraternity of the short snorter. I scanned the image of the one belonging to my grandfather - my personal connection to the topic - ; spend a couple of hours scanning the first two pages that Google found on the subject; linked to half a dozen excellent sites with far more knowledge about this quaint custom that combined a drinking game and good luck charm all in one; and posted to this site. I later submitted it to the Dec 15th edition of the History Carnival, where it was read by an historian whose blog I admire and who commented that this was entirely new information and something that could be used in the classroom.
Serendipity plays a significant part in the blogosphere. Topics that might never attract the attention of an academic journal are someone's passionate interest and chances are they blog about them. I find it of great use to discover a blog that offers specific knowledge of an esoteric subject, aggregates data about a topic of interest, and at its very best, provides a forum for lively and informed discussion. I like to think that my blog fulfills such a function for others and am conscious of this when I write. I also have a unique archive of primary source material accumulated over 200 years by my family that I regularly post and interpret here. Posts such as Little Mac Attack: History vs. the Soldier's View, which arose after reading a letter to one of my ancestors from a staff officer in McClellan's army, bring small pieces of history out of private collections and into public view.
The other great lesson of the blogosphere for historians is that people out there are hungry for good writing about history. When it is publish or perish, blogs provide a venue for working through ideas and their presentation, sharpen writing, and aid with promotion to the reading public. It offers quick feedback and opportunities for new and unconventional collaborations within and across disciplines. All good stuff, from my point of view.
I worry about its impermanence, as indeed I worry about all digital data. Caveat emptor is as true of blogs as of other media choices. But precisely because blogs allow anyone to self publish, there are new and often vibrant voices out here. The folks who are taking full advantage of this welter of data are those who do the aggregating. The print media's shift to a strong on-line presence is an effort to stay relevant and many have their own staff bloggers. In time, academia might well do the same.