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Blogging PhD ideas chapter: missing piece of the discussion section

In case you are reviewing the chapter on blogging PhD ideas – below is the part missing in the discussion section of the draft (as a bonus you can see how the post from yesterday turned into something more academic 🙂

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While study of a single blogger is not representative for all knowledge workers who blog, the findings presented in this chapter correspond to personal accounts of other bloggers discussing uses of their weblogs for organising own thinking (Doctorow, 2002; Halavais, 2006; Mortensen & Walker, 2002; Pollard, 2003), publications discussing how weblogs could be used that way (Edmonds, Blustein, & Turnbull, 2004; Paquet, 2002; Peña-López, 2007; Todoroki, Konishi, & Inoue, 2006) or how contextual factors shape blogging in an organisational environment (Walker, 2006). Studies of work-related blogging suggest that weblogs serve as a ‘trigger to elicit passion for knowledge’ (Kaiser, Müller-Seitz, Lopes, & Pina e Cunha, 2007) and are used as a reference archive to support working on a document (Carter, 2005) by knowledge workers in other settings, however they do not provide an in-depth view of the activities behind those uses.

The literature on personal information management allows comparing the findings to existing research at a more granular level. The synergies between using weblog to collect and organising ideas and uses of those in supporting specific tasks are similar to those described by Erickson (Erickson, 1996) in the case of personal electronic notebook. The possibility of a feedback in a case of a weblog provides an additional motivation to contribute, however, writing in public also results in limitations on what could be written that do not exist in a case of a personal tool.

Although at the first sight using weblog as an online knowledge base calls for comparison with digital collections created by other tools, I find more parallels with the studies that look at information represented by the paper artefacts on desks and in personal archives (Bondarenko & Janssen, 2005; Kaye et al., 2006; Kidd, 1994; Whittaker & Hirschberg, 2001).

For example, the type of information included into my weblog and the role it plays in developing ideas echoes the discussion of the role of the paper on the desks to support knowledge work in the study by Kidd (1994). According to this study, spatial layout of papers in the office serves as a holding pattern for the ideas that knowledge workers “cannot yet categorise or even decide how they might use”, as a primitive language that reflects models of the world still being constructed, as contextual cues to recover the state of their thought after an interruption and as demonstrable output of the progress (Kidd, 1994, pp. 187-188).

Not being tied to specific tasks and bounded by expectations and format of a bigger document, my weblog allows including dormant information and capturing ideas under construction. Flexible categorisation provides a way to replicate the spatial arrangement of documents on a desk: chronological archives, tags and links allow “piling” entries together and indicating relations between parts of emergent mental structures. While contextual cues around a weblog post do not support returning to an interrupted task in a way as the layout of papers on a desk does, they play similar role helping to recover a state of mind at the moment of writing the post, which is useful when returning to an idea that has been “parked” for a while.

Finally, the public nature of weblog gives others an idea of the work in progress similar to the papers on one’s office desk. In that respect, a weblog bears more similarity to one’s office room than to one’s digital spaces: as a personal space that others could visit as guests, weblog serves social functions of sharing resources, building a legacy and impression management similar to the paper archives (Kaye et al., 2006).

While existing publications and feedback on this study from other bloggers suggest that more bloggers use their weblogs to organise and develop their thinking, more research is needed to explore frequencies of those uses and the conditions stimulating them. In that respect, the view of blogging as an experience of flow states (Kaiser et al., 2007) provides an intriguing starting point.

A particularly interesting research direction would be exploring connections between a task at hand and specific blogging episodes: how much and in what cases blogging is used to “park ideas” and when it directly contributes to one’s work on the task. Since those connections are too infrequent for an observation and difficult to reconstruct from memory or content of a weblog post, the best results are likely to be acquired in a diary study (for example, by inviting a blogger to fill in post-specific questionnaire immediately after publishing a post, as in Carter, 2005).

The connection between the functionalities of weblog technologies and their uses for personal information management needs further examination. The similarity between the roles of weblog to support my work and those of paper collections in other studies indicate a need to explore the affordances of weblog technologies from PIM perspective and possibilities of learning from blogging when designing other tools. Finally, the potential for learning from information accumulated in one’s weblog calls for a development of tools allowing to explore patterns in those traces that aimed at bloggers themselves (supporting what Pousman, Stasko, & Mateas, 2007, call casual information visualisation).

References

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