Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Megaphone of Blogging

If you read Larry Solum's thoughtful post on the importance of blogging, you understand why young legal academics are embracing the medium. Among other things, Solum suggests that blogs provide a new method for legal research. "Ask anyone under 25 how they do research. Frankly, I'd be surprised if there were more than a tiny fraction of frank answers that failed to include Google." But this comment is incomplete, for the "Google effect" is far more significant than this.

The best analogy is not that Google provides students a shiny new spade to dig for legal information. The better analogy is that Google provides information providers a giant megaphone to express their ideas. Successful bloggers can have a disproportionate impact through Google that is far greater than is appreciated in the legal academy. As Robert Scoble put it in a recent book interview, "The more you blog, the greater chance you have of being recognized--and listened to. So Google is paying back the blogosphere for adding content to it. It's a virtuous circle."

Let me give you an example. Take a common name, like Michelle, Ann, Lawrence, Joshua, Glenn, Roger, or Andrew. Now ask yourself, who is the most important person in history who has had that first or last name? If you take a minute in your own mind (or are lazy and go to Wikipedia) you quickly come up with a list of truly famous and deserving people like Saint Anne, Queen Anne,
Michelle Pfeiffer, D.H. Lawrence, Joshua (as in the Book of Joshua), John Glenn, Roger Moore, Roger Sherman, Roger Clemens, Saint Andrew, or Prince Andrew.

But if you go to Google and type in Michelle, Ann, Lawrence, Joshua, Glenn, Roger, or Andrew, here is what you find at or near the very top of the search: Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Ann Althouse, Lawrence Lessig, Joshua Michael Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, Roger L. Simon, and Andrew Sullivan. Google searches are based on links, and successful bloggers have far more inbound links than truly historic figures that Google should be noticing. Amazing as it may sound, Google actually thinks Ann Coulter and Ann Althouse are more important than Queen Anne or Saint Anne. Amazing as it may sound, Google actually thinks Lawrence Lessig is more important than D.H. Lawrence. And not, of course, because he is Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School, but because he is Lawrence Lessig of the popular Lessig Blog. (Needless to say, legal luminaries named Larry (Larry Tribe, Larry Sager, Larry Friedman, Larry Zelenak, Larry Helfer) don't begin to have the Google impact of Larry Lessig).

Google gives successful law bloggers a giant megaphone for all the digital world to hear. By contrast, to the broader public the medium of the typical law review provides professors the platform of a dandelion from which they can shout "We are here! We are here! We are here! We are here!"

If a law professor has something useful to say, like Lawrence Lessig, blogging provides a remarkable new medium for expressing those ideas.
Or to take an example a little closer to home, opinio juris is a doctrine that dates back centuries. To Google it is a law blog established just over a year ago by a few law professors.

So the "Google effect" of blogging is to provide a new tool for information consumers and a giant megaphone for information providers. Thus, if a particular subject strikes your fancy, say Roper v. Simmons and international law, a search on Westlaw will identify over one hundred articles to read, starting with the most recent. If you go that route, I would suspect you will start with four recent articles in the Harvard Law Review. But if you do the same search on Google, this post from Opinio Juris referencing my article in the UCLA Law Review ranks at or near the very top.
As this example suggests, through blogging authors can highlight their scholarship. It is not coincidental that four of the top eleven law authors on SSRN have law blogs. Sure these authors are very good, but should they rank right up there with Cass Sunstein?

The old saw that no one really reads what law professors write was perhaps once true. Not anymore, provided they have the proper platform. It's not just the message that matters anymore. It is also the medium.


Blogger geoff said...

I would quibble that Google doesn't purport to be identifying anyhthing "more important" than anything else; it identifies only the most linked on the web. That's actually a much more limited claim, and that little bit of knowledge alone makes the enterprise of research or knowledge gathering much more rational. Rational searchers know the results from typing "Anne" in a Google search are limited in important ways, and they can adjust accordingly.

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