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Blog networking study: non-personal relations and lurking

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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Blogging provides opportunities for both, building strong personal connections and establishing other, non-personal relations, those that Nancy calls “information relations” and Shawn addresses as “not ties”. While providing an opportunity to “keep an eye on things” (Dave) those relations do not require as much effort and commitment as goes into personal relations. Anoush, reacting to the summary of the interview with Nancy, discusses this aspect in her weblog:

In this interview, Nancy talks about information relationships vs human relationships emerging as a result of blogging. The notion of information relationships is that blogs allow to connect in a meaningful way to a wide range of people and their ideas without necessarily engaging with them on a personal level – as Nancy says “trust in what they are producing, which may have nothing to do with trust in them as a human being”.

I like this concept, and this quote formulates very well what I have been thinking about as the liberating aspect of the sorts of instrumental, utilitarian (in the good sense) social networks that can develop in the blogosphere.

When I think about various types of aggregations of indviduals and knowledge – groups, communities, network, and the collective – I always have a bit of a problem, a sense of discomfort, with the notion of “community”.   For me, “community” – in the social as well as learning-related sense – has always had something oppressive about it, like being stuck in a village where everyone gossips about everyone else and where there is a pressure to fit in, to fully participate.

In contrast, information/knowledge networks you can form in blogosphere do not require such full engagement on such a personal level.  I am not an avid blogger myself (this blog is very new and I am still trying to get into the habit of writing regularly). However, over years, I have accumulated a list of around 50 blogs that I read/scan daily.  In most of the cases, I don’t know the authors personally, and with many of them I have never had a conversational exchange, yet I feel I know them professionally, their ideas have shaped mine, they helped and are helping me every day tremendously to learn and feel intelectually connected and stimulated, not to mention helping me find, filter and evaluate resources for my research (books, papers, etc).

Although Anoush contrasts blogging networks and communities, the function of “information relations” between bloggers is not that different from lurking in communities (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003): they provide an opportunity to learn without the exposure and the effort that interaction requires.

However, there are differences as well. In a community learning through lurking is likely to be about the community itself or the domain that it is focused on. In a case of a weblog readers are exposed to as many domains as the author decides to cover, creating more opportunities for learning across boundaries than possible in a community setting. This learning is also person-centric: observing writing of a single person over time helps to develop trust in “what the blogger is producing” and a feeling of “knowing her professionally”.

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