Quoting Blogs

Over at En Banc, a nice law-student-run blog, the authors are getting worked up about the idea that someone, perish the thought, might cite to a blog, which is ephemeral, off-the-cuff, and perhaps not quite as carefully thought out as the better student note. I can sort of see where some of this comes from, as I recall that part of law school pathology is the feeling that takes hold that citations are sacred, special, eternal. (The limits to that particular fetish become clearer in academe when you start trying to find stuff other people have cited, and it's not there; when you find that law review editors have mangled your footnotes; and particularly when you find an entire paragraph of your writing, sans attribution, in someone else's published article. But I digress.)

But whatever you may think this reflects about law student views of footnotes, this seems to reflect a very odd view of blogs, at least as compared to other web content. So, to the suggestion that there was something odd, revolutionary or disturbing about citing to a blog in a dead tree law review, I responded,

Those of us who write about high-tech stuff have been citing web pages in dead tree law journals — including both Harvard's and Yale's — for years now.

To me, a blog is just another web page.

That produced this reply:

Prof. Froomkin, I do, however, find it very interesting that you find there to be no difference between a blog and a Web page. Web pages are generally static or — such as in the case of newspapers — reproductions of off-line material. Blogs, on the other hand, are the wholesale creation of new material.

And that made me feel old. Web pages are generally static! Web pages are the reproduction of off-line material! Blogs are not web pages?!?

I'm sorry, but under the hood, it's all HTML to me. A blog is just a style of web page, produced by particular types of front-end tools. [Yes, there is a link rot problem, but that's common to blogs and other web pages.] Back in the day, I used to mutate my homepage all the time. By hand-coding the HTML. On a 386 chip. Over a slow phone line. To an unresponsive server. Barefoot. In the snow. But tell the young people of today that ….. they won't believe you.

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6 Responses to Quoting Blogs

  1. When you cite a Webpage you might try to ensure, that it will be archived in the Internet archive. Doing so is easy: just surf over to http://web.archive.org/collections/web.html, enter the URL of the page you are citing and click “Take me Back!” If the page isn’t already archived the Internet Archive will try to add the page to it’s next crawl of the Internet.

    This gives your readers in a few years a much better chance to locate the documents you are citing.

  2. Thinking about it – a blog is usually even more stable as an web-page. It usually has an archive with stable links meant not to be changed after being posted. While web-pages are being edited all the time without any record of what was on the page before.

  3. What he said.

    Look at it this way – blog pages have *official citations* for themselves (permalinks).

  4. The only problem I see with citing URLs is that many of them come around very long lately. Therefore I often use a service like snurl.com to make them shorter and easier to check out.

  5. All —

    First, I was NOT in any way saying that citing blogs is in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, I think I made clear in my post that a blogger should consider all material potentially cite-able. I do not “perish the thought,” rather my whole concern is that it already DOES happen and that blogger and online-journal contributers should be thinking about it when they post.

    Second, when I said Web pages (outside newspapers) are static, I meant they tend to replicate information available elsewhere. Even the newspapers, outside of updates and to-the-minute AP reports, do so.

    Blogs may be more easily cite-able due to permalinks and archives, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. To the contrary, my point was that it might be more likely because it is a new creation. Sure, if a professor placed an article on his personal Web site in the past, it might draw some attention. But all, I think, would agree this wasn’t a usual and ordinary method of information dissemination. As such, the likelihood of seeing it cited would have been odd (outside of a few tech publications; I am picturing a cite to the EFF page or the like). With blogging, however, you see a business professor (Bainbridge) being cited and a First Amendment/con law prof (Volokh) having his post linked to by an advocacy group.

    These distinctions, I think, do make this a topic worthy of discussion and do make it somewhat different from Web pages (i.e. – It’s not just a matter of what’s “under the hood” if the new parts (blogging) are leading to an increased reliance on this car (the Web) for travels (scholarly progression of ideas). We have to make sure the parts are strong enough to make the trip.). With that analogy appropriately stretched to unimaginable dimensions, back to my student Note (which, at this point, I would never suggest is more “carefully thought out” or “better” than any post Professor Lessig … or any of the others … put up in the five minutes before they head to class).

  6. Tony says:

    Its an interesting point, and many websites come and go so citing them (or quoting from them). Is diificult to maintain. However there are companies that cache for long perioids of time what was there before the site went missing (so to speak), just in case you ever need to use it as evidence. Not to sure what the copy right laws may be, but some sites may not want you to so called quote them either..???

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