Very much like my Mystery of the Black Blogger problem, Robin Hanson wonders aloud if the 'sphere will go towards a model of referential integrity like that of academic publishing or of popular unattributable flavorful communitarian model like that of popular journalism. I say the latter is inevitable, because people don't necessarily care about the truth and authenticity as they do about being relatively informed. If you can get the gist without footnotes, you will.
But, if social norms allow academics to ignore blog posts, by not citing clearly relevant and influential blog posts just because they are blog posts, then blog writers will have little incentive to offer insightful comments that can be fit easily into an academic network of cited insights. Blog writers will instead have the incentives of newspaper columnists, to provide an engaging style with little expectation of originality or cumulative expert influence. Such blog writers might well cite each other, but more as a way to create an engaging multi-character show for their readers.
So can we create an academic blog world, where blog posts get academic credit? If someone gets a Nobel prize for developing an idea that was first explained in someone else's carefully written but short blog post, will that blog author be celebrated, or will he be ignored as the sort of distraction that academics can't be expected to pay attention to? A lot will depend on whether blogs can organize themselves into networks of specialists, so that it is feasible for someone working on a particular topic to find the careful serious blog posts related to their topic. This is obviously harder to do for many small blog posts than for fewer larger papers or books. But it is not obviously impossible, and this is the blog world I hope to live in.
Aside from the fundamental conflict between the credentialed and the well-informed, there is the problem of incentives. Academic teaching is something of a subscription model of information dissemination. The great value in teaching is found in the efficiencies of f2f interaction and variant explanations that are readily available to a good teacher. Replicating this online would take way too much effort, and online is not a good place to try although video transcripts of seminars can be pretty damned illuminating. But there is also the economy of valuation of teaching materials based upon the publication business. Sure there's MIT's Open Courseware, but it is the exception that proves the rule. Nobody publishes academic quality materials for free.
I would absolutely love for Google to put Lexis-Nexis out of business, but that's going to take a generation of IP holders to die and some serious changes in copyright law and convention. I am a huge champion of their efforts to digitize the libraries of the world. This has been a dream of computer scientists from day one, and it is one that will not die. We have to reorient valuation of learning paradigms towards human interaction and let the world of media be cheap. I think that this will ultimately happen, someday.
There is great value in peer-reviewed materials. This is the kind of credentialing that the academic community can and should teach the blogging world. There are tools that can be easily built, but nobody is really interested right now except weirdos like me who have no money or time, which could establish this kind of rating and ranking. The brief explanation is that right now we in the 'sphere are oriented around a long tail of popularity rather than one of credibility or usability. We don't have market enablers of cred, and that's what we need. Now there may be something new in Ice Rocket, Technorati or Google Blog search that I have missed, but right now for the overwhelming majority of Internet content all we know are Hits and Stars. Two dimensions ain't enough.
And so we instantiate our own peer networks which are the aggregations of the biases of our in-groups. These become ossified over time. When's the last time you changed your blogroll? At one time I had close to three times the link traffic to Cobb as I do now. The market does not move swiftly enough to be accurate, and again, there are only a small set of ratings criteria.