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.
A closer look at the role of blogging in supporting networking between bloggers indicates two different uses of weblogs in that respect: weblogs are used for publishing and for interaction.
When attracting or finding others, getting to know them from a distance or staying in touch, the roles between blog writers and blog readers are distinct: bloggers write, readers learn from that. The relation is similar to one of a book authors and their audience: no need for reciprocity and direct interaction appear as an advantage, allowing bloggers to write “to the world”, since their readers can pick and choose what to read and what to do with it. The coverage of one’s life and thinking in a weblog is similar to the one of celebrities done by mass media; it helps to learn about the blogger, but does not really help to build a relationship.
When it comes to bonding through interaction blogging is different. During his interview Martin talks about weblogs as “alive, living, published now”, for him “it’s a conversation going on instead of publishing exchange” that gives the feeling that “people are there”. To have such conversation both reading and writing are essential; bloggers and their readers become participants. While some bloggers are more likely to “reach out” than others, once conversation started it is about give and take that comes from all parties involved, reciprocity and direct interaction become essential.
The study results indicate that blogging supports both, publishing and interaction. Blogging as personal publishing is about broadcasting to broad and often unknown audiences allowing efficient communication, while blogging as interaction is about engagement with specific others that builds shared understanding and enables bonding. While those two functions result in positioning blogging as a hybrid genre that has elements of personal webpages and asynchronous communication tools (Herring et al., 2004) I would argue that weblogs might be used as both at the same time.
Michelle Gumbrecht (2004, p. 2) brings the common ground theory to explain how addressing both, close friends and strangers, is possible in a single weblog post. She discusses one of her respondents, Lara, who blogged about “an ongoing personal situation that she needed to resolve, but she never detailed in specific”:
The sweeping generalizations (“I know that everything will work out in the end, because it always does”) and the undefined context of the situation illustrated that Lara believed that her intended audience (probably close friends) knew what she was referring to, she didn’t want to bare all of the facts to the entire Internet audience, or both. The manner in which she framed her post is key to manipulating what is termed “common ground”-the way in which people achieve mutual understanding . Common ground is used generally within the confines of immediate social interaction, but the terminology is applicable here as well. Through accumulation-the manner in which common ground is constructed-Lara and her close friends accrued a great deal of shared knowledge through their previous encounters . By virtue of this knowledge, Lara’s friends would be able to understand her posts without her going into excruciating detail. On the other hand, acquaintances and strangers are privy only to the surface information presented in the post. Without the benefit of shared knowledge and experiences with Lara, they do not have the inside track on her situation. In a paradoxical manner, Lara managed to maintain privacy within a public medium.
In similar way Ton discusses two roles that his weblog play in respect to networking. For people, he is already connected to, it’s a place to think aloud and to reflect, to get to deeper exchanges: “when I write my network is imagined audience”. At the same time weblog is a “gravity pull”, “a starting point for new relations”, that may or may not grow as a result of people stumbling upon his posts.
From this perspective, writing a weblog post allows communicating to both close friends and unknown others. Next to it, viewing blogging as publishing allows writing on “whatever I find interesting” for “whom it may concern”, impossible in direct interpersonal communication, knowing that friends will read between the lines and pick it up when relevant. If others react to a weblog post, it also becomes part of an interaction that contributes to bonding. The power of blogging in respect to networking seems to come from an opportunity to combine two modes with one tool.