Yesterday's blog post

You are only as good as your last game - so goes the sporting maxim. And it's true - in sport you can't rest on your laurels, or live on past glories, because before you know it, some young pretender is ready to bury you, and you are suddenly second best. Fortunately, for most of us at least, the academic world usually isn't as cut-throat as that. But it is probably still true that you are only as good as your last journal article, book, or conference presentation. It's important to keep moving forward, because if you stand still, you stagnate and quickly lose touch with the leading edge of your profession. But are you as good as your last blog? Does yesterday's blog post still hold currency or must you continually press forward to write better, to expand on your ideas and elaborate your understanding of your subject?

Well, it's yes to both. Old ideas go out of date. But some old ideas are fine, and the great thing about academic blogging is that the more you write, the greater will be the repository of content you have written. As you post your ideas up on your blog, your archive of posts grows, and people still come to read them, weeks, months, sometimes even years after they have been published. My Teaching with Twitter post from January 2009 is still going strong with 12,000 views. It has been updated several times with new links to relevant related content. This is a little different to publishing a paper based journal article or book. Sure, people still read your article years down the road, but you are a hostage to your own fortune with published printed material. What you have written is there, preserved forever, including old ideas that are later outdated. Perhaps you subsequently rethink, revise or otherwise change your ideas as you learn more. Yet you can't change the printed word. Several times, I have revisited articles I published 5, 10 or even 15 years ago, and I think - ouch - I wish I could change that now.

Blogging is different. I can go back and change something I have written if I subsequently discover that I made a mistake (maybe just a typo, but perhaps even a fundamental error of theory, or a miscalculation) and change it. The new version is still time and date stamped for when I published it. But the content is now more accurate, relevant or appropriate to the message I originally intended. I can also delete something completely if I need to (I have never done this). You can't delete a journal article, and you can't change it once it's in print. All you can do is publish a retraction, but it's like hammering a nail into wood. You can remove the nail, but the hole remains (sometimes in your reputation).

We can debate the ethics of changing a blog post once it has been posted, and yes, there are those who take content under Creative Commons licensing and repurpose it, translate it, embed it. There's little that can be done about that. But with your own blog, you can be master of your own destiny. Should blog posts be changed once they have been published? I think it is up to each individual blogger to decide. What do you think?

Image source by Kristina Barnett

Creative Commons License
Yesterday's blog post by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Alan said…
Heck yeah. Why not make changes, as unlike print publish, you CAN. I see no misuse of ethics as it is your space.

My approach us usually to use a crossout (which at least in wordpress includes a date stamp in the metadata) OR to append at the end with an UPDATE label. If it is more than a few sentenced, then it might deserve a new post, linking back to the original.

But as you note, the beauty here is we get to make such decisions, the system has not made it for us. For me, my blog is alive and thus can change over time.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Alan - rings true with me. I'm often tweaking posts days after they were published. I guess the bottom line is - we can do it because the tools are there. Blogger doesn't have the cross out tool unfortunately, but I suppose it doesn't matter that much, because as you say, the blog is alive and can change, just like I can. In fact, it's a kind of mirror of my ideas.
Felix said…
It's not quite as black and white as it seems ... there is at least partial storage of past material at places like the Wayback Machine ... I can, for instance, look back at material you published up to early July 2007, before any updates you've made since then (and on the migraine inducing polkadot blue background you've since abandoned!) at the classic Wayback machine site ... it's not complete, but it does mean that we are all aware of the possibility of original versions being checkable.
Mark Smithers said…
I generally try not to change a blog post (other than spelling and typos) once it is published unless there is a major error in it that needs correcting. In which case I'll write a timestamped addendum.

The reason is that I find my thinking does change quite a lot through experience in a rapidly evolving environment and through exposure to the thoughts of others. As a result I find myself disagreeing quite fundamentally with things that I may have written some time ago.

I think it's quite important to recognise that I am almost never right.
Andy Coverdale said…
Nice post. I agree it's up to the individual blogger. Personally, I use the comment feature to append my posts. That way, updates are contextualised and 'date-stamped' whilst preserving the original texts. I'd be concerned that changing blog texts may compromise the context of existing comments.
Felix said…
I've been thinking this through since first reading it, and in the light of comments. Not to form an opinion, but to discover what my own, previously unconsidered, default opinion already is.

Like Alan I see no misuse of ethics, either. It seems to me that whether "revisionism" in past posts is appropriate depends on what the author wants the blog to be ... we do what serves our intent. If we wan an archive, we don't revise; if we want an updating body of currently applicable content, we do.

For myself, though, purely for my own use of blogs, barring proofreading corrections, I tend to have two separate approaches.

For anything which stays up over time, I find myself closest to Mark Smithers and Andy Coverdale. Past content records a series of snapshots of how I thought at a particular time, rather than as an expanding wavefront of "now". If I revised in place, it would become less useful to me as (to use Steve's metaphor) a "mirror of my ideas". Revision tends to be in the form of new posts which complement (or contradict!) previous ones, thus recording for me the change in my thinking and the timespan over which it took place.

My use of blogs in educational practice, on the other hand, tends to be temporary. When the course, or activity, or whatever, is over (whether that be after a day or several years) then I pack up and archive the blog, make it available to participants and anyone else to whom it is useful, then take it down − so revision doesn't arise.

So, either way, I guess I fall into the no revision archivist camp ... but only for my own purposes. I don't have any delusional monoomanic ideas that my own path should be followed by others :-)
Tim Brook said…
I had to remove a video from YouTube and a related blogpost with the video embedded when the parent of the student concerned changed their mind - despite having given written permission. Annoying as I'd been writing a series that led up to a grand premiere that never was.
Generally, though I think the key is honesty. It's fine to re-edit for meaning if passing time reveals a lack of clarity you were unaware of at he time of writing. But not fine if you're wishing to tweak your prescience rating...
Felix said…
Tim − it was the "prescience rating" thing I had in mind when I mentioned the Wayback Machine and its ilk, a few comments back.

Not everything is archived from the web; but we never know what it will be, or has been, and that serves as a reality check. Anyone trying to up their prescience rating has to bear in mind that the original truth may be out there :-)
Brian Kelly said…
Whilist I agree that it is the blog owener's responsibility to decide what to do in such circumstances, I also feel that one should be open and transparent to one's readers.

I have a policy on my blog which states that:

o Minor changes to blog postings and comments may be made to fix errors.

o Comments which are felt to be spam or are inappropriate will be deleted.

o Comments will be unmoderated and permitted for all posts unless this is too time-consuming to manage. In exceptional circumstances, postings and comments may be deleted.

I should probably update this policy to state what I do if I make more significant changes.

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