Author-centred vs. topic-centred blogging
[This is a piece that I wrote a few months back, lost in a file with strange name in one my my computers and recovered today. It's not as far as I want to take it, but I feel like posting it - to see if it makes any sense outside my own thinking].
While trying to organise my own thinking about blogging and work I came up with a distinction (a continuum?) between author-centred blogging and topic-centred blogging.
Author-centred blog is focused on its author or, to be more specific, on the things that its author finds interesting to write about. The identity of the blog is strongly connected to its author: if it's written by someone else it's another blog. It can not be written by an organisation or even a group of people. The authority comes from "unique personal voice" – being authentic and personal.
Topic-centred blog is another beast: topic-related writing is welcome, while the rest is off-topic. In an extreme case, person(s) behind it do not matter that much: its authority comes from being a place with state-of-the-art domain expertise. It could be easily written by a group of people (it is likely to be even better in this case – a group would have more time to cover the domain and could provide complementary perspectives around it).
I suspect that from a business perspective topic-centred weblogs have more immediately visible value. For readers they provide one-point access for getting domain knowledge and meeting likeminded others. They are likely to have a bigger readership than author-centric weblogs (this is a guess!) and they definitely have a niche readership. Both things make them good as a space for e.g. advertising or community-focused business actions.
Since topic-centred blogs are less dependent on personalities they are also easier from a company perspective in a case when blogging is part of its communication strategy. People could come and go, but the weblog would stay. Writing such weblog by a group distributes the load of "being an expert on X" between several people. If necessary, it's easier to align topic-based blogging with whatever business goals or turn it into a line in a job description ("collect and blog news and opinions on X").
Taken to the extreme topic-centred blogs are likely to turn into blog-based publishing, so they stop to be perceived as weblogs (one of my colleagues was very surprised when I suggested that Engadget was a blog ;). They may also lose something what is so appealing in blogs – personal touch. They may turn into "yet another communication channel" for a company... So, for a topic-centred weblog there are reasons to drift a bit away from the extreme and get at least some of the unedited voice and personality of the author-centred weblogs.
I also suspect that many author-centred blogs tend to drift to a set of topics as well. People are likely to have their own hobby-horses, so over time those may become prevailing in a weblog (think of a bloggers around you and it's likely you can name those 'key' topics easily). Bloggers also live in multiple contexts (family, friends, work, hobbies, etc.), that they do not necessary want to meet in one space, and are likely to have a need to address different audiences. So even then a blogger doesn't set specific topical focus her blogging is likely to focus on some contexts and some audiences and not "everything that happens in my life".
I guess it's in the middle between author-centred and topic-centred blogs, where all the fun and the trouble starts. [Now please keep in mind that my research focus is on connections between work and blogging]. An author-centred blog may drift towards the topics that its author has to deal with at work. If the author is good, the blog is likely to get topic-specific audience that could bring fruits valuable for his work (e.g. new insights, new contacts, new contracts). It's tempting for the author to bring those at his workplace to achieve better work results. Once his company recognised those it could be tempting for it to get a bit more control over the weblog to get even more benefits. This "control" doesn't have to be strict; it could take a form of asking a blogger to announce certain company events on his blog (not much different from asking to send conference announcements through your professional network). It could take a form of recognising blogging as a valuable activity that is "allowed" to take a bit of the work hours or to have a legitimate place in end of the year appraisal. Those things do not take the blog away from its author, but they do shape to a degree what and how is blogged.
From another side, even if recognised, blogging in this way will probably still be heavily author-centred – change the author and the added value of a weblog is lost. Author-centred weblog requires a lot of personal investment and passion and becomes strongly tied to its author. I guess the feeling of ownership is much stronger in this case ("my blog is my own space to do things"), as well as ties between a weblog and own identity online ("my blog is my online identity"). The communities formed around an author-centred blog are likely to depend more on the connections of blog-readers with the blogger personality than the topics she covers (think of blog-centric blog communities in Nancy's typology). In this case, the life of an author-centred weblog is heavily tied to its author, and those connections are personal, fuzzy, emotional – hard to grasp, to explain and to measure.
So, what happens when an author-centred, author-driven and author-dependend weblog on work-related topics becomes recognised, valued and supported by the company that pays the author to work on those topics? The weblog turns into a middlespace for negotiations and interplay of powers - those of a person and of an organisation...