The Community of the Blogosphere

Claire Ceriani's picture

The weblog is difficult to categorize.  It is unregulated, it can be written by anyone with an internet connection, and it is published almost instantly.  Blogs may be written about anything.  The range of topics is vast and diverse.  Should blogs even be put into one category?  Or is the unique format of the blog enough to justify placing all blogs together?  When considered as a newly emerging genre of writing, it becomes clear that an essential element of blogging not only sets blogs apart from all other genres, but also ties them all together.  The blog has emerged as a new genre characterized by a sense of community born of the desire of people to connect with others.

 

The media of print magazines, newspapers, and books, though different in style and content, are linked by the simple goal of making money.  Professional writers write to make money.  Publishers only publish material that they believe will sell.  Venders only sell books and periodicals that they believe their customers will want to buy.  With profit regulating what gets written and what gets published, and therefore what gets read, certain topics and opinions become overrepresented in bookshops and newsstands.  Successful publishers choose large groups of people as their target audiences; minorities are left out.  Whiles there are racks of sports magazines available, it is much more difficult (if not impossible) to find a print magazine about origami.  There are origami enthusiasts just as there are sports enthusiasts, but there are considerably more of the latter.  As long as money is the driving goal of publishing, larger groups will always find their interests and opinions better represented in print media.

 

This goal is removed, however, through self-publishing on the internet, where bloggers have the freedom to write about anything they please, and readers can likely find a blog about any interest.  People need to know that they are not alone, that there are other people like them.  If we did not feel this need, we would not go to the trouble of forming clubs and societies based around one shared interest or experience.  This search for people of similar interests becomes much easier with internet search engines such as Google, allowing people to find blogs on almost any topic imaginable.  Most blog writers are self-published and do not make any money from their blogging.  They can write about whatever they want, because they have nothing to lose.  Through writing about something important to them and getting readers, blog writers find validation for their beliefs and interests; they have proof that they are not the only people who hold those beliefs or have a those interests.  Readers in turn find validation when they find a blog that fits their own beliefs and interests.  A single Google search for “origami blog” returns 517,000 hits, such as http://www.origamitessellations.com .  There are blogs about hats (http://blog.villagehatshop.com) and blogs about orchid breeding (http://orchidelirium.blogspot.com).  And there are many blogs that represent minority groups such as homosexuals (http://gay_blog.blogspot.com) and atheists (http://friendlyatheist.com), giving people who may hold beliefs that are considered unpopular in our society a chance to connect with and feel accepted by other people who believe the same thing.  The purpose of the blog is therefore to connect with other people, and communities have grown up around blogs as a result.

 

A side-effect of blogging is the emergence of communities among the readers and writers of blogs that shows the blog to be a significant social tool.  In the blog article “Blogging as Social Action,” Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd pose the question, “Is what is truly novel in the blog the ability to address simultaneously these dual yet mutually reinforcing purposes, to engage in self-expression in order to build community and to build community in order to cultivate the self?” (Miller)  The role of the reader has been taken to a new place through blogs with the ability to comment on entries.  The role of the writer has in turn arrived at a new place as well with the blog becoming a way of socially advertising oneself to the virtual world.  The anonymity of the internet gives many bloggers a sense of freedom to be exactly who they want to be.  Blogging becomes a representation of a person’s virtual self, inviting similar people into the blogger’s virtual life.  Sites that offer blog hosting have recognized this need for community, and have further molded the genre of the blog into a genre that is actually defined by its community of readers.  Thoughts.com describes itself as “a community where real discussions take place and honest opinions are expressed” (http://www.thoughts.com/free-blog).  Blogger states on its site that “blogging is about more than just putting your thoughts on the web.  It’s about connecting with and hearing from anyone who reads your work and cares to respond” (http://www.blogger.com/tour_con.g).  Even blogs that appear to be merely the writer’s diary detailing events of the day may become extremely popular, because many people enjoy the connection felt with a blogger with whom they identify.  Blogging has become a social tool, and this community aspect has become an inseparable part of the blog as a genre.  It is community that drives bloggers to write, because it is satisfying to know that someone else wants to read what you have to say.

It is the interaction between writer and reader that allows the blog to develop in a way that completely separates it from all other written work.  Printed work ends at the back cover.  For the most part, author and reader never have the opportunity to interact.  But in a blog, readers may comment, bloggers may respond to the comments, and new blog entries may be inspired by the comments of readers.  There is no other genre that generates text in this way.  In her article “Teaching an Old Genre New Tricks,” Laurie McNeill writes, “For the online diarist, having readers means that the diarist has both joined and created communities, acts that inform the texts he or she will produce” (McNeill).  She refers specifically to blogs written as personal diaries, but the idea is true of the entire genre of blogs.  As readers respond to blog posts, the writers are influenced by them.  They may not even respond to the comments directly or knowingly incorporate ideas from the comments into their writing, but just by reading those comments, writers become aware of their audiences.  That awareness must impact the blog itself, because blogs develop with the writer.  A print writer may spend a long time preparing a work for publication, and a long time may pass before the published work is released, but bloggers may post a new entry as soon as they have written it.  Every new entry written is a reflection of the writer’s current emotional and intellectual state, and community response has a large influence on that state.

 

Blogs are written about an incredibly broad spectrum of topics, something which might suggest that they ought to be divided into several different categories, but doing so would be failing to recognize the key element of blogs as a whole.  The community that surrounds a blog is what makes it distinct from all other written work.  It is what makes a blog a blog.

 

Works Cited

 

Blogger. “Engage Your Friends.” Blogger. 1999-2008. 27 April 2008

<http://www.blogger.com/tour_con.g>

 

McNeill, Laurie. “Teaching an Old Genre New Tricks: The Diary on the Internet.”

Biography. 26.1 (2003) 24-47. 27 April 2008 <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/biography/v026/26.1mcneill.html>

 

Miller, Carolyn R. and Shepherd, Dawn. “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis

of the Weblog.” Into the Blogosphere. 30 November 2004. 27 April 2008 <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogging_as_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html>

 

Thoughts.com. “Create a Free Blog at Thoughts.com.” Thoughts.com. 2007. 27 April

2008 <http://www.thoughts.com/free-blog>


 

Blogs Linked

 

“Friendly Atheist” <http://friendlyatheist.com>

“Gay News Blog” <http://gay_blog.blogspot.com>

“Hat Blog” <http://blog.villagehatshop.com>

“Origami Tessellations” <http://www.origamitessellations.com>

“West Coast Orchid Enthusiasts ORCHIDELIRIUM”

<http://orchidelirium.blogspot.com>

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

Risking Definition

So, Claire-

You distinguished yourself in class this week, and again in this essay, by taking the risk of actually defining this new genre we call the blog: its purpose, you argue, is to connect the writer with other people; in doing so, it creates community.

My questions are all about data and implications.

The first is about the standard against which you measure your definition of blog; to say that print media "are linked by the simple goal of making money" is to neglect the dimension of The New York Times, for instance ("all the news that's fit to print") that operates as an information-distribution system. To say, contrary-wise, that bloggers don't make any money from their blogging is to neglect all of Calderon's posts (here's just one) about the economics of the activity.

My second question is about the observations that make up your own data set. How does your definition work for the range of bloggers who visited our class over the past two weeks? Is it an accurate representation of the work of Tim Burke, Kate Thomas, Laura Blankenship, Paul Grobstein and Anne Dalke? Your claim certainly takes on directly Paul's claim, last week, that the goal of Serendip is "NOT to build community; it is NOT intended that writers will recognize one another; the intention is to promote conversation; we are mutually constructing an on-line reservoir of ways of looking @ things."

Does this men that Serendip is the exception that proves your rule? What Paul is trying to do with the website (which is hosting this conversation, by the way!) certainly seems diametrically opposed to what you celebrate above. When say that "people need to know that they are not alone," I hear the counterpoint of his saying that "what others don't find interesting...can be enjoyed as a celebration of individual differences."

It's the implications of the search for like-minded people, for those with similar interests, which most intrigues--and, I admit, troubles--me in your definition of blogging. I'm not denying that the search for similarity goes on in many blogs; what I'm more curious about is where the search for difference happens, the expansion of one's horizons. Where--in "finding validation," "feeling accepted," "enjoying the connection felt with a blogger with whom one identifies," the satisfaction of "knowing that someone else wants to read what you have to say" (because it confirms their belief systems?)--is the truth value or usefulness of one's beliefs being tested? Where's the doubt, the skepticism?

I would also like to push you a little to complexify your sense of what it means to have a self, and to perform it on the internet. You say that the anonymity of this space can "give many bloggers a sense of freedom to be exactly who they want to be." I wonder if it doesn't give them/us rather the freedom to imagine ourselves as other than what we are in the body, in what I've just learned to call "meatspace"? You say that "entries reflect the writer's current emotional and intellectual state," but our conversation in the forum last week also suggested that this state is altered by the very act of writing (not to mention being read and responded to...)

So: there's much more to say, much more to explore. Want to go there for your final project? You certainly have my interest; I'd be curious to know how you see blogging--your sort of blogging, the community-building sort--intersecting with education: how does it facilitate, how inhibit the process? What is the process, anyway?

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