Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary?

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Citation: Bonnie A. Nardi, Diane J. Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht (2004) Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary?. Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (RSS)

doi: 10.1145/1031607.1031643


Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) CSCW (RSS), Social Computing (RSS)


Summary:

Published in 2004 Nardi et al. article is one of the first academic articles to explore the phenomena of blogging in general and the question of why people blog in particular. The article is framed around the observation that blogging looks like a personal journal, at least superficially, and describes, as a puzzle, the question of why users would want to publish such personal information so widely.

The paper itself answers this question with ethnographic methods (based on looking at a number of blogs online and the material that was posted) and a series of interviews of 23 bloggers gathered through a geographic blog-search that found people local to Palo Alto in particular (toward which the sample is biased) and more broadly. The sample was also snowballed from a starting subset of users.

The authors show that blogs are much more deeply social than they immediately understood and, through feedback and communication with others, also much more interactive than they initially appeared. However, the authors argue that they are not treated as private diaries and that the authors of blogs are keenly aware of their audience. They are like diaries in some ways, but (the authors claim) more like radio or other broadcast media in others. They are used in this sense for "maintaining and strengthening social bonds" and as an alternative to sending out mass emails. They also found that authors used blogs to "think by writing" and to release emotional tension.

One interesting finding was a large lack of interactivity in blogs. Indeed, they found that "authors wanted to express themselves without the 'threat' of immediate feedback."

The paper ends with a long description of design improvements that are recommended for blogs. Nearly all of them have, since the paper was written, been incorporated into popular blogging platforms.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Only six years old, the article has not aged particularly well. Much of the article explains details of what blogging is that any current literature would be able to assume that any Internet-savvy audience would be willing to explain. The questions approached are now obvious. That said, as blogging becomes less popular over time and as users move on to new forms, it will likely once again give researchers a window onto the practice.

That said the articles a great example of grounding a phenomena based study using more ethnographic methods and debunks several misconceptions about blogging that continue to persist.