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Weblog research: artefacts and practices

My last post made me thinking on (actually drawing 🙂 the distinctions between artefacts and practices in a context of weblog research (not theorethical at all):

  • Blogging artefacts are “things” that could be seen: weblog posts, links, comments, blogrolls, RSS subscriptions, etc. Some of them are hidden (e.g. draft posts), but most could be easily observed online. That make studying weblogs fun (if you don’t bump into teasing data).
  • Blogging practices is about what bloggers do with their blogs, as well as why and how of it. Blogging practices are often invisible and (sub)culture-specific. Artefacts represent practices and play all other roles (e.g. they could be products or tools).

So, what would be a way to study blogging practices? I have a few pictures. The first two represent what I call archeology and ethnography (the person with “flower” is actually a researcher with “looking glass” :).

‘Archeology’ is about studying artefacts in order to say something about artefacts or practices. In the first case, I don’t have any problem: study artefacts -> say something about them.

The second case could be more complicated. Artefacts only represent practices, so if you want to study artefacts and then say something about practices you need to understand how those two connected. One way to do so is by having a good theory (existing knowledge of connections between artefacts and practices): if you have it then claims about practices based on artefacts could be pretty much true.

The point is that in most cases we do not have good existing knowledge about blogging practices, so I tend to be quite critical on blog research that concludes something about blogging practices by studying only artefacts. For example.

Ethnography would be an alternative: studying practices by living the “life of the tribe”. In this case you are more likely to provide a better picture of specific practices, but those would be limited to subcultures you studied. However, it’s also pretty time-consuming.

I also learnt from Andrea that ethnographers do not necessarily have interest in artefacts or skills to study them the way “archeologists” would do. Which would be a pity in a case of weblogs, since blogging artefacts can say a lot, especially if “triangulated” based on knowledge about practices.

It also doesn’t mean that you really have to be “inside” to learn about practices. Another way would be to ask people to tell stories about practices (e.g. in interviews or, in a very shortened form, in surveys). However, blogs provide an additional way: one can study meta-blogging (blog posts reflecting on all kinds of issues around blogging).

Meta-blogging posts would provide at least some idea on blogging practices without directly asking bloggers. Of course, they are likely to bias the results in the direction of bloggers who tend to reflect more or do not censor these posts based on whatever reason.

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Hmm… not that scientific, but at least something. In case you wonder where are my own preferences: they are about triangulating 🙂

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/04/12.html#a1763; comments are here.

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