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He being brand new

You would think, given how little I tend to appreciate the Chronicle's effort to scare up attention when it comes to technology, that I might be thrilled to see an article (Michael Bugeja's "Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain") that appears to take a more generous approach to matters technological. And you would be right, to an extent. You would have to set aside, temporarily, the allusion that the title of the article summons up for me, an allusion to a particular Seinfeld episode.

A larger issue for me, I suppose, is that there's something about this essay that feels a little off. At first, I thought it was the degree to which the piece itself, about the virtues of self-promotion, is itself engaged in a great deal of self-promotion, touting the author's own work, his colleagues, his websites, etc. I'm a little turned off by the paternalism implicit in statements like "I'm responsible for the academic fates of some eight assistant professors hoping to earn tenure," I suppose, or the offer to turn a related domain over to Tim Berners-Lee.

My broader issue is that there's something subtly crass (if that's not an oxymoron) in the way this process is described here. I don't necessarily disagree with many of the points that Bugeja makes, but the whole process feels backwards to me. Instead of thinking about how the net might challenge the processes by which academia operates, what's offered is a description of how the net can extend the system and/or exploit it for as long as our colleagues remain unaware of how it works. Some of my regular reads (Chris Anderson, David Weinberger, Hugh MacLeod, et al.) are doing exactly what Bugeja advocates, but they're not doing it to promote sales of already-completed books--they invite us to participate in the shaping of those books.

I think this is my point, and my sticking point, with the language of branding to describe the transmedia strategy offered by this essay. The people who are using the net in genuinely innovative ways are using it to change the ways books are written (not to mention challenging the value of "books" in the first place--see Lessig & Gilmor, for example), while this feels to me more like an attempt to preserve a print economy. Here are a couple of the reasons that Hugh writes that branding is dead:

"Branding" is backwards looking. It's all about capturing past associations. It's never about what the business could become, but protecting what came before.

"Branding" is all about articulating top-down, hierarchal control of the conversation. "This is what it means." It's EGOlogy, not ECOlogy.

Come to think of it, these two points pretty much capture the sum total of my unease with this article. I think I'll just stop here.

[via Becky, Steve, & John]


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» Professional Promotion and the Web from Ghost in the Wire
Recently, a number of my favorite bloggers (Collin Brooke, John Walter and Jeff Rice, among others) reacted to a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a piece called "Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain," by Michael Bugeja. The... [Read More]


Even if the focus is "branding" I think this piece still misses the mark. Beyond many of the odd and not correct comments for everyone in academia (the point about books only being reviewed if they haven't been published yet is not true for English and much of the Liberal Arts), what is really missing in this piece is a sense of awareness of the Web in terms of the writer's own profession. Journalism - for good or bad - has already become a focal point for web writing via blogs. The brief nod to Blogger at the end reveals the author's lack of knowledge about this fact. And that the author poses using a website for a book as novel is also revealing: it's been going on for quite some time now.
Once again, the Chronicle wants to join the party, but is way too late.

While I didn't mention it in my post, like you and Jeff, I don't think Bugeja's got a good grasp on digital culture -- not just the Web. I took serious issue with his Inside Higher Ed article on Duke's iPod experiment in my Ong Archive blog and got taken to task by someone for criticizing an award winning scholar. Bugeja's take seems to be that marketing is the controlling force in digital culture (i.e., iPods can't be successful educational tools because the "message" of $.99 downloads governs the way we all think about iPods (I rant much too long about the problems with this logic in my response to the person taking me to task).

The reason why I pointed to Foley's Pathways Project in my "Academic Branding" post was to identify a site that's going well beyond the branding/self-promotion. Foley, who's authored or edited at least 15 books, is using the Web to open up the process and to extend beyond the limits of print publication. While I could have linked to any number of sites on my blogroll as examples, Foley seems to be doing it most like the way Bugeja suggests while also doing it out of a real interest in the way digital culture is changing the way we do academic work rather than as the marketing gimmick Bugeja seems to be interested in.