UNI SP4 Study Period 4 2014

WEB101 Blogging

Web Communications 101/501

Topic 2.1 - Blogging

Introduction

“The word blog is irrelevant, what’s important is that it is now common, and will soon be expected, that every intelligent person (and quite a few unintelligent ones) will have a media platform where they share what they care about with the world.” Seth Godin cited in (2008)

Irrelevant as Seth Godin claims the word is, who hasn’t heard of blogging? It has become part of our cultural lexicon over the past decade. This week, we will be taking a look at blogs; what they are, the functions they perform in the age of participatory culture and the way that individual blogs have evolved into an ongoing converstion that has been termed ‘the blogosphere’.

Instructions

This week you will read (and watch) through the content on this page whilst completing the two readings that appear. Following this, you will be engaging in discussions on the suggested topics in tutorials and/or through the blackboard discussion group.

Introducing Blogging

Definition(s) What is a blog? On the surface this question appears a little simple. Linguistically, the term blog is a shortened form of weblog:

  • Blog (noun): Shortened form of weblog.
  • Blog (verb): The act of authoring a blog.
  • Blogger (noun): One who blogs.

On a literal level, a weblog can be described as:

…a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. (Wikipedia)

Following this description, a weblog differs from a simple static HTML homepage in that the content is (ideally) updated regularly, and is presented in a chronological order with the most recent entries at the top of the page. Importantly, given this emphasis on chronology, blogs can be seen as a narrative form. However, due to the way in which blogs are constructed, they are an open-ended narrative with which the reader can often interact through comments.

Given this rudimentary definition, why has blogging caused such a fuss? Is it really a new phenomenon?

Early Blogs

Blogs basically evolved from simple online diaries. If you recall the website of Justin Allyn Hall from week 2, you might not be surprised to hear that he is regarded as one of the first bloggers, recording his day-to-day activities and thoughts on a personal website for the world to read, and eventually watch. However, for Hall (and others) to do this, they had to be constantly updating their sites using the (relatively) technical tools that were available at the time. The big shift towards what we now know as blogs occurred when software became available for non-technical users to produce regular content.

Ease of Publication

Typically blogs are authored in one of two ways. The first (and simplest) of these is through web-based services such as blogger, Livejournal and Typepad. These services enable users to get a blog up and running within a few minutes, dramatically lowering the barriers of entry for producing up to date web content. The rendering and ordering of the HTML pages that make up the site are all taken care of by the web-based software and the blog is hosted on the company’s servers. The second way of publishing a blog is by utilising dedicated blog publishing software such as MoveableType and Wordpress. In this case, the blog can be hosted anywhere on the web as long as the appropraite software is installed on the web server (typically PHP and MySQL).

A Few Other Things…

There are a few other elements to blogging that should also be noted:

  • RSS Feeds - Most blogs offer an RSS feed so that content can be aggregated and read without requiring the reader to visit every blog in which they are interested.
  • Comments - Often (though not always) there is a facility on a blog for visitors to add comments. This tends to contribute to the ‘conversational’ nature of many blogs.
  • Blogrolls - A blogroll is a list on a blog that links to other blogs that are frequented by the author. It serves to position the blog within a network, rather than as a lone voice.
  • Permalinks - (Permanent links) are a way of linking to a specific blog post after it has passed from the front page of a blog. Usually, each individual entry on a blog has a permalink.
Types of Blogs

As blogs have gained popularity, a number of different terms have arisen to describe particular types:

•Personal Blogs - The original form of blog which often acts as an online diary. Often personal blogs focus on a specific subject that is of interest to the author.

  • Microblogs - Blogs that contain a very short posts (Twitter can be considered a form of micro-blogging)
  • Corporate Blogs - Many corporations and private companies now utilise blogs as a way of keeping consumers up to date with developments in the company. (E.g.Google Blog, Direct2Dell)
  • Photoblogs - Blogs that are principally dedicated to publishing photographs.
  • Podcasts - Podcasts can be considered a form of blog even if the distribution method can differ. Podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded and listened to either on your personal computer or MP3 player of choice.
Reading I - Blogging History

Before moving on to the next section, read through Rebecca Blood’s Weblogs: a history and perspective. Note that you will be reflecting on this peice later in your discussion activities.

The Significance of Blogging

As we have already seen, the idea that almost anyone can publish to the World Wide Web has initiated a new from of media - many-to-many. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rise of the blog. With any individual able to publish and globally disseminate information, the role of the traditional journalist and news organisations have been thrown into question.

Participatory/Citizen Journalism The idea of citizen journalism on the web has a lengthy history, dating back to the WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999 and the formation of the indymedia movement, a network of participatory journalists with no affiliation to a corporate news outlet. The emergence of blogs has led to a new wave of citizen journalism, with anyone who authors a blog able to contribute information and opinion on news-worthy topics. Increasingly, news blogs are being seen as an alternative to mainstream media, while many journalists working within the media have turned to blogging as a way to disseminate their writing.

An extension of this notion is that of hyperlocal journalism, in which reporting is limited to a small local area, offering more depth than would be possible in traditional models of new-gathering and reporting.

In this video (Duration 20 Mins.) James Surowiecki describes the Asian Tsunami of 2005 as “the turning point for social media” in terms of the way in which individuals, rather than corporations, were responsible for news-gathering and the dissemination of information.

(Warning: This video contains potentially disturbing footage of the Tsunami)

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-Xm4ufnoxY]

As you will have gathered from this video, Surowiecki is a strong advocate of what he terms “the wisdom of the crowds”, the idea that diverse groups of individuals can, in some cases, make better decisions and/or predictions than can individual experts. This idea, which is often called upon in discussions of Web 2.0, will be explored in more depth later in the unit.

Example - The Baghdad Blogger

The importance of the many-to-many communication that lies behind blogging and Web 2.0 is highlighted by the story of Salam Pax, also known as the Baghdad Blogger. Pax began writing a personal blog in 2002, detailing his life in Baghdad under Sadam Hussein’s government. However, with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, his blog began to recieve significant attention as coalition armies closed in on the city. Pax became an “accidental journalist”, reporting on the war as it happened. In 2004, posts from his blog were collated into a book and he was subsequently employed by UK newspaper The Guardian. You can read the archives of Pax’s blog here.

The Blogosphere

The blogosphere, as it has become known, is the collective noun for all blogs. As discussed earlier, although blogs exist in isolation, they are connected through comments, permalinks and blogrolls such that blogs on a particular topic will develop a conversational tone as readers and writers enagage with each other through the medium. Lying behind the notion of the blogosphere is the idea that through this interconnection, identifiable patterns emerge.

Over time, these broad patterns of interconnectedness give rise to a community of bloggers who react to, and interpret specific events and/or ideas. For example, the diagram below shows blog postings that were tagged with the word ‘Obama’ from December 2008 - June 2009. The two spikes that we can see are evidence of the US President’s inauguration (January 20th) and the widely publicised online Town Hall event at the Whithouse (March 26th).

Obama

Of course, the image above is a static one that demonstrates the reaction of the blogosphere to these two events in retrospect.

Even more interesting than reaching back into the past or monitoring issues in which we know there is a pre-existing interest, sites such as Technorati track the content of the blogosphere, taking note of discussions and topics that are rising in popularity. Since the HTML links on blogs often give an indication of what is being discussed in individual posts, rising interest in particular topics can be monitored, negating the need for specific tags on every post.

For example, while this link takes you to a page listing the 100 most popular tags in the blogosphere, this one focuses in on blog posts that Technorati sees as gathering interest.

A growing number of sites allow the searching of the blogosphere in the same way as Google searches regular web pages. Examples include the aforementioned Technorati and Blogscope.

Overall, the blogosphere is increasingly being seen as a way to gauge public interest in, and reaction to, particular topics and events.

Optional

If you are particularly interested in the topic of blogs, Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere is a fascinating read.

Reading II

Blogs, Communities and Networks

To further understand the connectedness of individual blog that gives rise to a sense of community and the blogosphere, read the following article which is held in e-reserve:

Rettberg, J., (2008), Blogs, Communities and Networks in Blogging. Polity Press; Cambridge. [Available via Curtin Library’s eReserve.]


Activities

Activity One - Discussion

Having read the Rebecca Blood and Jill Walker readings for this week, you are encouraged to discuss the following issues in tutorials or on the discussion boards: 1.The early days of blogging were extremely optimistic about the potential of blogs to give everyone who wanted one a voice and a venue to publish. Now that blogging is over a decade old, to what extent have these early predictions come true? 2.Rettberg talks about blogs facilitating ‘distributed conversations’ and even ‘distributed communities’; what do you understand these terms to mean?

Activity Two - Introduction to Blogs and RSS Feeds

Over the last two weeks you have been introduced to the idea of RSS feeds. This week you will be using that information in a practical way by beginning to aggregate blog posts that are of interest to you.

  • First, you need to decide if you are going to have your feeds delivered to an application on your computer or to a news aggregator online.
  • If you decide to use a dedicated application, some suggestions can be found here. Download an application appropriate for your operating system.
  • If you decide to have your news aggregated via a web-based interface, we suggest Feedly.
  • Once you have set up your news aggregation method of choice (see the relevant tutorials for the product/application you have chosen), you are now ready to begin searching the web for news you wish to follow.
  • Pick a topic of interest to you (It doesn’t have to be study-related) and find six blogs that deal with this topic. As you locate them, subscribe to that blog through your reader of choice. This link gives a bit more information on how to locate the RSS feeds for the pages you want to subscribe to.
  • Finally, subscribe to the RSS feed from the Delicious account you set up last week.

References

(2008). State of the Blogosphere 2008. Retrieved May 14th, 2009, from http://technorati.com/state-of-the-blogosphere/.

NEXT: Topic 2.2 - The Wiki