<Image http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjibm/3306287621/ by Sanjibm>
At last week's digital scholarship debate Rory McGreal raised a point that has often nagged at me. He said he didn't want blogs and other forms of outputs to be recognised, not because they weren't part of scholarly activity, but because he didn't want them to go the same way as journal articles. There is something in this – we have refined and controlled the writing process to such a degree that it is not a very pleasurable activity. Sometimes writing a good paper does feel as though you are doing something creative and worthwhile, but often there is an element of duty about it ("I need to get my publications up for the REF"), and the objective, scientific style itself is very tightly defined.
The other forms of output we now have allow all sorts of variety – in terms of tone, content, format, size, audience, etc. It's a fun thing to do, and as these forms of output aren't recognised, it is generally something people do for the fulfillment of being creative, expressing an idea and engaging with an audience.
Now, if, as I keep banging on, we were to start recognising these non-traditional outputs, then it's not inconceivable that they'd go the way of publications. For example, only blog posts in recognised blogging sites would count, or they'd need to demonstrate the appropriate objectivity of researchers. One can imagine in five years time some new career researcher banging out posts that don't differ much from each other in order to get their technorati ranking over the required threshold.
There are some inbuilt protection mechanisms against this however. For example, the removal of the filter means that imposing the quality threshold is unlikely, because people can always go elsewhere and reputation arises from the community.
It does strike me though that there is a bit of a dilemma in all this promotion of digital scholarship. It's rather akin to the person who finds a beautiful unspoilt holiday destination and wants to rave about it, only to find that it then becomes popular, commercialised and loses its original charm.