Brian’s paper continues to resonate, a week after MLA. (And a week in digital terms is like what in dog years?)

These comments are useful because they raise the issue of how we’re going to count digital scholarship. (Not just account for it or for its usefulness, but literally count it so that the people devising budgets can understand it.)

So if you imagined asking all of the MLA attendees, not just the social media enabled ones, what papers/talks/panels were influential my guess is that Brian’s might not make the list, or if it did it wouldn’t top the list. That is because most of the “chatter” about the paper was taking place online, not in the space of the MLA.

Let’s be honest, at any given session you are lucky if you get over 50 people, assuming the panel at which the paper was read was well attended maybe 100 people actually heard the paper given. But, the real influence of Brian’s paper can’t be measured this way. The real influence should be measured by how many people read his paper, who didn’t attend the MLA. According to Brain, views to his blog jumped 200-300% in the two days following his post; even being conservative one could guess that over 2000 people performed more than a cursory glance at his paper (the numbers here are fuzzy and hard to track but I certainly think this is in the neighborhood). And Brian tells me that in total since the convention he is probably close to 5,000 views. 5000 people, that is half the size of the convention.

And, so if you asked all academics across the US who were following the MLA (reading The Chronicle, following academic websites and blogs) what the most influential story out of MLA was I think Brian’s would have topped the list, easily. Most academics would perform serious acts of defilement to get a readership in the thousands and Brian got it overnight.

Or, not really. . .Brian built that readership over the last three years.

As Amanda French (@amandafrench) argues, what social media affords us is the opportunity to amplify scholarly communication (actually if your read only one thing today on social media and academia today, read this). As she points out in her analysis (interestingly enough Amanda was not at MLA but still tweeting (conversing) about the MLA during the conference) only 3% of the people at MLA were tweeting about it. Compare that to other conferences, even other academic ones, and this looks rather pathetic. Clearly MLAers have a long way to go in coming to terms with social media as a place for scholarly conversation.

But, what made Brian’s paper so influential/successful is that Brian had already spent a great deal of time building network capital. He was one of the first people I followed on Twitter, was one of the panelists at last years MLA-Twitter panel. He teaches with technology. I know several professors borrow/steal his assignments. (I personally looked at his class wiki when designing my own.) Besides having a substantial traditional CV, Brian has a lot of “street cred” in the digital humanities/social networking/academia world. More than a lot of folks, deservedly so. It isn’t that he just “plays” with all this social media, he actually contributes to the community of scholars who are using it, in ways which are recognized as meaningful and important.

In this regard I couldn’t disagree with BitchPhD more (someone with whom I often agree) in her entry into the MLA, social media, Brian’s paper nexus of forces. Bitch claims that, “Professor Croxall is, if I may, a virtual nobody.” Totally not true. Unlike Bitch he is not anonymous, or even pseudo-anonymous, his online identity and “real world identity” are the same. He is far from a virtual nobody. Indeed I would say he is one of the more prominent voices on matters digital and academia. He is clearly a “virtual somebody,” and he has made himself a “virtual somebody” by being an active, productive, important, member of the “virtual academic community.” If he is anything he is a “real nobody,” but a “virtual somebody.” In the digital world network capital is the real “coin of the realm,” and Brian has a good bit of it, which when mustered and amplified through the network capital of others (@kfitz, @dancohen, @amandafrench, @mkgold, @chutry, @academicdave —all of us tweeted about Brian’s piece) brings him more audience members than he could ever really hoped to get in one room at the MLA.

And so Brian isn’t a virtual nobody, he isn’t a “potential somebody” he is a scholar of the the digital humanities, one that ought to be recognized. But here is the disconnect, Brain has a lot of “coin” in the realm of network capital, but this hasn’t yielded any “coin” in the realm of bricks and mortar institutions. If we were really seeing the rise of the digital humanities someone like Brian wouldn’t be without a job, and the fact that he published his paper online wouldn’t be such an oddity, it would be standard practice. Instead Brian’s move seems all “meta- and performative and shit” when in fact it is what scholars should be doing.

There are a lot of interesting issues raised here. I’m not sure I’d be quite so pessimistic about the “non-rise of the digital humanities,” for example, since this is a traditional trope used to gain traction in the face of resistance. Also, saying that scholars should be doing digital humanities is a very strong statement–one which I think is fairly correct, but also perhaps a bit exclusionary, in that the humanities is a big damned tent that can, and will undoubtedly continue to, accommodate a lot of print scholarship.

But enough dithering, because the most immediate issue is this: Brian just catapulted into the major leagues, and one can only hope that someone out there in the world of hiring is taking notice.