Blogging is allowing academics to develop and share their ideas with an audience beyond the universitiesthe fairly obvious:
Academic researchers are drawn to blogs because they're useful knowledge management tools. MacCallum-Stewart says that her site quickly became a kind of "mind gym", a place to test out and develop ideas and to hone her prose style. The social networking side of blogging became very important here, she says. Her blog helped her build links and share ideas with researchers in the area at other universities.and the more creative:
University tutors are also experimenting with blogs as teaching tools, using them to disseminate links and information to classes, sometimes as places where students can collaborate on group projects.Crooked Timber has a stunning list of academic bloggers, and it is not even close to being comprehensive (especially in the area of scientific blogs) [They don't have a section on computer science, that I hope to rectify :), and now have: look in Computers/Media/Communications..]. And this year's BloggerCon has a session on blogging in the academic world.
I don't know if blogging can create discussions where none exist, but I have seen many interesting discussions over at Lance's blog (and some here) on topics that are either technical or fairly closely related to technical matters (mechanics of our academic process etc). I am (now) naturally suspicious of any claim that a new technology can revolutionize existing systems, but it is definitely plausible that academic blogging can change in some small way the manner in which research is conducted, as well as influence (more obviously) the dissemination of research into the mainstream.