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blog research

Liz has a really nice post over at M2M that is partly a call for more academic research into blogs and partly a state-of-the-art kind of review of the kinds of things that are being done currently or should be done soon.

I've got any number of responses, since this will be one of the core foci of the graduate course I'll be teaching next spring, but I'll try and contain myself a little bit. Heh. One of the crucial points that Liz makes is that there is a limit to the usefulness of conducting research on blogs without spending some time actually keeping one. (yes, those graduate students will...) This was one of the points of her MEA presentation/overview--the problems with studying blogger-as-other. She offers a tentative wishlist of five different research approaches or avenues of inquiry:

  1. study of the form itself
  2. "study of interactions between blogs and blog authors, and the clusters (or communities) that are forming in this context."
  3. ethnographic study of those kinds of clusters
  4. study of style/content
  5. "study of the use of weblogs as tools in specific organizational contexts"

This a solid list, but I'd add a couple of things. Liz says that we need definitional and descriptive work, but I guess I'd add inventional to those terms. As important as it is to find some common ground definitionally, I'd argue that it's equally important to leave that ground open for redefinition and redescription. Smarter folk than I have done the post-mortem on hypertext, but it's always struck me that one of the things that plagued it, over and over, was an obsession with defining it in a particular way. Those definitions built in impossible expectations that were simply never met. Liz talks about finding some "meaningful labels" that we might apply, such as voice, audience, and interactivity, and I think it's useful to describe these kinds of labels as practices rather than as forms.

I think, for example, of Lilia's recent discussion of the Herring et al. piece on genre, where she critiques them for reaching conclusions about blogs (they're not as interactive as touted) when those conclusions are based on an incomplete understanding of the various practices that make blogging interactive. And it's not a matter of simply widening the def'n of interactivity to include trackbacks, or feed subscriptions; as Lilia notes, it's a matter of changing definitions of interactivity. And I'd add, not jumping in to define interactivity too soon--giving it space to develop in various ways.

This clicks with something else that Liz mentioned at MEA, the tendency of blogs to change over time, and we might add bloggers here as well. As new tools emerge, we change our practices, develop new habits, and that will have some effect on what we're doing. As Liz rightly points out, our perceptions of audience change the way we approach writing to them. As do our personal circumstances, the way we budget our time, the level of privacy or transparency we choose, and any number of other factors.

I'm not disagreeing here, believe me. If there's an item that I'd add to the list, it's one that weaves throughout several of her points. I think that the kind of writing that many bloggers do differs quite a bit from the writing traditionally expected of academics. Not a huge claim, that. But it carries with it all sorts of implications: voice, audience, form, style, subject, risk, etc. Shouldn't be too surprising that a rhetoric professor would be interested in this element, no?

A final quick point, and that's that I really think it's important that these kinds of conversations take place amongst or across disciplines. For me, that was one of the real bonus elements of the MEA panel, and it's why I find myself coming back over and over to M2M. Okay. Now I'm just kissing ass. Time to go.


I was happy to see Liz Lawley's list of "needed research," Collin. I dang near blogged it last night, but figured I'd wait until morning, see what you had to say.

Numbers three (which sorta blends with two) and five had the best hook for me. Since the techrhet tussle last week, I've been fumbling around with the idea of community in weblogs (to the malaise of sacrificial lists). It's somehow more than the blogroll or the trackbacks or the comments or the server requests. Yes? Maybe a kind of rhetorical wayfinding (to borrow from geospatial lingo)? In short, I think of the blogroll as a kind of community gesture; yet it's not quite the same sort of community as my neighborhood, workplace, classroom, so on.

As for (No. 5) blogs in organizational contexts, where? I can't think of many examples of them being put to use for organizational or institutional aims, although the possibilities are wonderful.

A community gesture? I like that. I haven't really gathered together all of my thoughts re blogs & community just yet, but I think about the various communities that I'm "in" just by virtue of location, whether geospatial or disciplinary, and those communities feel less real to me than some of the connections I'm making here.

Not that similar gestures don't also go on in those other places, but there's often an assumption of community that leads to a decrease in gesture, yes? Or perhaps a decrease in explicit gesture? I don't know.

So, communities built almost entirely (or perhaps initially) out of those gestures, and the gestures themselves simply emerging from blogging practices?

Like I need more to think about...

like derek, i've been thinking about the community issue, too, cgb. and i don't have a clear answer, but two ideas did come to mind. one is that blogs are distributed conversations not just in virtual distance, but also time. they sometimes move at a much slower pace than with email or even a discussion forum. at other times, the memes spread like lightning across great virtual distances in a matter of much shorter time span. blogs and time differentials...hmmm...sounds like sci-fi :)

then there's that feeling of non-participation. with email lists, i often feel like i'm in a crowded room. i can choose not to listen, but the voices are always there in the background. with blogs, it's more like choosing to drop by a friend's home or apartment, or maybe a local pub where only a few people are hanging out, where the door is always open to visitors, to see what's being talked about there. or i can choose not.

anyway, i guess i felt like saying something here because you were one of the people who made the most sense to me in that techrhet discussion. i'm reallly looking forward to seeing what you come up with over time :)

Hey, Charlie. What you describe in your second P there is, for me, a lot of the difference between push and pull media, although I like better the way that you describe it. I feel like I'm choosing to give time to the blogs I read, and sometimes (not always!) like the lists I subscribe to take my time. Part of that, too, I think, is an issue of experience--I've been subbed to most of my lists for a long time, and so conversations there that seem new to many don't feel that way to me...

While I'm thinking about this, you interested in coming out here this fall for that conference that Alex Reid is throwing at Cortland? Derek and I are putting together a panel that's most likely going to be blog/network sort of stuff...