Co-constructing: a story of weblog-mediated relationship
The idea of describing and analyzing our own weblog-mediated relationship came into life during one of our first Skype talks: despite of different backgrounds both of us were exploring weblog practices, interested on online ethnography, and fascinated by reflective and autoethnographic writing. We desided to try writing it as a co-constructed narrative.
Co-constructed narrative (Ellis & Bochner, 1992) is "a way to study relationships that would more closely reflect how we live them in everyday life" (Ellis, 2004: 71).
According to Arthur Bocher (Bocher, 2003: 91):
This type of research focuses on the international sequences by which interpretations of relationship life are constructed, coordinated, and solidified into stories. The local narratives that are jointly produced thus display couples in the process of 'doing' their relationships, trying to turn fragmented, vague, or disjointed events into intelligible, coherent accounts.
From our perspective this way of working is useful in providing a view on blogging from an insiderís perspective, since it allows to include in the analysis personal interpretations and the artefacts that difficult to get hold otherwise, and to explore any asymmetry in the relationship.
First, each of us independently constructed a (hi)story of our relationship. Those two stories contained both: "objective" timeline of interactions with references to digital traces each of us was able to recover and "subjective" personal interpretations of what has happened. We emailed the stories to each other and then tried to work on "co-constructing" the whole from those pieces.
It didn't work: although we were able to organize bits and pieces in a chronological order, neither of us was feeling that we get closer to understanding the whole. It is difficult to say, what was the reason for it. Could be the fact of getting into a co-authoring endeavor after knowing each other online for only a few months, lack of rich context glues from missing face-to-face meetings or simply many personal changes both of us were going through at that time.
In any case, we were able to move further only when we had an opportunity to meet each other for the first time. After spending quite a few hours sharing details of our personal lives (those that didn't find much place in both of our not-so-personal weblogs), we started to work on the story.
To recreate the process of interactions we printed weblog entries and comments that involved both of us. In addition we printed out bookmarks of each other blog entries, emails that we exchanged, and Skype chat histories. All of these "traces" contained date and time stamps. We made decisions to include in our analysis only those of first three months of our interactions, the time before we decided to work on the paper together.
To create an overview of our interactions we arranged printed "conversational" fragments and corresponding "interpretive" story pieces in a chronological order, keeping separate columns for each communication space and interpretations (see the notes).
Organizing those fragments and trying to retrace our actions helped us to discover those we missed at the first sight: weblog posts one of us wouldn't consider relevant, but linked from another, comments that were there originally, but disappeared... We also realized what we miss by not having notes or recordings of our voice conversations on Skype (we had only transcripts of chat that accompanied it - it was used mainly for exchanging links and references to support "main" voice conversation). We were not immediately sure during which of our Skype talks we decided to work on this story, so we needed to rely on the secondary evidence (e.g. "action point" emails) to figure it out.
The process of organizing the story from fragments came to be the rich source of insights and reflections of what has happened: finally each of us were able to see the logic and feelings of another person, to connect actions, reactions and interpretations, to discover and question discrepancies. As we worked on constructing the story, we added a meta-layer of those observations to it (those are yellow post-its in the photo on the right). For the first time we were actually able to "see and feel" what has happened and to analyze the emergent themes in a systematic way.