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Blog networking study: getting things done

This post is part of the series describing the results of the study of blogger networking practices. Please take into account a couple of things:

  • This is a draft. Healthy scepticism and comments are very welcome.
  • Statements are linked to the names of people who talked about particular issue, those might be true or not true for others.

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When I ask about the role of blogging in making possible to do something together, Martin describes how relations grow from shallow to more deep, starting from a shared interest and then eventually building an image of someone as trustworthy. Others describe similar process of gradual engagement that builds a foundation for working together: the knowledge of common interests and shared context (Gabriela), “a feeling that just talking is not enough and there is a shared need to do something together” (Ton) and “trust which is crucial for collaboration” (Luis).

In addition, weblogs help to make a decision about “doing business” with a blogger. For example, while Nancy doesn’t keep track of how her weblog contributed to her business, she assumes it to be “a kind of screening device” where potential clients can check her background. Ton tells a story about a client worried that he would take a technology-driven approach to work on a case, who then became reassured it wouldn’t be that way after reading Ton’s weblog. Such “screening” might also work in the opposite way, as for Dave who “certainly used weblogs of some people to decide not to collaborate with them”.

Sometimes bloggers find difficult to isolate the role of their weblogs in working together. Shawn gives an example of getting to know Nancy through her blog and other online activities, inviting her to stay in his house when she travelled to Australia, and their collaboration that followed. He also tells about potential clients contacting him as a result of blogging to ask for a meeting: “it might turn into business or may not, it’s a beginning point”. For Ton joint work often had “started somewhere in a weblog” and then “spilled over to other channels”. For him meeting people in person before being able to work with them is essential; he has to “look in their eye”, to see “the whole person” next to knowing about their shared interests from blogging.

While meeting another blogger in person is often cited as part of the process that led to working together or a prerequisite for it, it is not always the case. Martin tells about several of “only online” relations that turned into joint work: “the way we worked together fits the image I’ve got from blog interaction, there were no big surprises”.

When it comes to doing the work, often a weblog is not a primarily tool to do so. For Gabriela “email or twitter is the easiest way” for contacting bloggers and not a weblog, which is “slower”:

When I don’t need a quick answer and its something related my blogpost, I leave a comment or write a post myself. If I have a concrete idea and want to put it in practice now, I use other tools.

Luis comments that embedding blogging into the workflow of day to day interactions is not easy: while email is part of work, blogging still feels as an extra.

For Martin blogging is good for learning and exploration, but “a different mode is needed” to get things done. He notices that for him it is easy to confuse work with online interactions, indicating that at times blogging might have a negative impact on work: “I have to pull myself out of conversations and learning to do my work […] to get things done offline… to write that article…” He adds that for some jobs blogging might be a better fit, giving research as an example.

Euan suggests weblogs are good for supportive activities: “in a sense of establishing, sharing […] they are great tools, probably better than face to face”, however, “in a context of making something happen there is a limit to how far you can go.” He explains that weblogs have a different rhythm: “if you want to set up a meeting you wouldn’t pontificate about life, universe and the such…”

While weblogs of the study participants are work-related, they do not necessarily document their work. Ton says his weblog includes reflective writing “on the edge” of what he is doing. He explains that does not chronicle what he does in his weblog since it would involve his colleagues and clients. He adds that he started to feel more free do to so after starting to work for himself (“they are completely my projects, so it says more about me now”) and, although content-wise his work didn’t change much, now he also needs “to be a bit more visible as an individual consultant”.

Working in organisational settings adds other concerns to blogging about work. For example, while Gabriela did field studies with IBM, she couldn’t blog about work as “smallest detail could provoke some damage”; she wrote about concerts instead. Euan talks about the challenges of blogging in a case when individuals are exposed to an audience “only in controlled circumstances”. He talks about writing while in BBC as “generalising the topic” that “it stays interesting without compromising anything.”

In sum, blogging provides a foundation for working together by allowing to choose with whom to work with and by building shared understanding and trust. When it comes to doing the work itself or reporting about it, a weblog is not necessarily the tool to choose since such work requires a different mode of writing and interaction and might not benefit from being visible in a weblog.

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