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.
The variety of channels bloggers use to engage with each other creates the need to choose which of them to use.
In the process of developing relations with each other, bloggers engage in finding and being found, getting to know other bloggers from a distance, bonding through interaction, getting things done together and staying in touch. Those practices are supported by uses of different channels to connect with each other. Weblogs serve primarily as a channel for discovering bloggers and getting to know them from a distance. While bonding through interaction starts via weblog conversations, eventually it is likely to include meeting in person and the use of other channels, such as email, Skype, phone or microblogging. Finding and “screening” each other via weblogs, as well as shared understanding, trust and a history of interactions enable bloggers to get things done together, however, such collaboration mostly happens outside of blogging. Although weblogs are used to stay in touch, other tools increasingly support this, especially those allowing broadcasting one’s current status to the network, for example with presence indicators in Skype or microblogging updates.
The table below summarises bloggers’ choices between using weblogs (in two modes, publishing and interaction) and other channels to support networking.
Ways to engage
Blogging as publishing: author + audience
Blogging as interaction: participants
|Finding others and being found||Weblogs serve as attractors and filters||Rarely||Rarely|
|Getting to know others from a distance||Observation of bloggers’ writing, interactions and community via their weblogs|
|Bonding through interaction||Conversations in weblog comments as a starting point for a relationship
Conversations between weblogs, growing ideas and trust through fragmented frequent conversations
|Conversations started via weblogs “spill over” to other channels (email, phone, instant messaging, etc)
Meeting in person is often an important to develop strong connections.
Over time bloggers connect in other online spaces (social networking and photo sharing sites, microblogging tools, etc).
|Getting things done||Provides a foundation by building shared understanding and trust||Email, phone, online audio, instant massaging, meeting in person.|
|Staying in touch||Monitoring activities via weblog to contact when necessary||To stay in touch, microblogging tools are often used: compared to weblogs they are more personal and more efficient (i.e. include short updates)|
When it comes to bonding through interaction, doing work or staying in touch, bloggers pick and choose tools that suit their needs and specific circumstances. My interactions with the participants during the course of this study provide an illustration.
As I did not have much contact with some of the participants prior to the study, I looked through their weblogs for an appropriate mean of contact. I used existing connections on a variety of channels, but also added more connections during the study (email addresses, Twitter, Skype, social network contacts). I used Twitter, email or Skype chat to contact bloggers: Twitter and to a lesser extend their weblogs to see what was happening in their lives to decide when and how to contact; Skype chat to coordinate before the interview start and to exchange links and names during it; Twitter and Skype chat to discuss their preferences for receiving interview summaries; Google documents and email attachments to edit the summaries, email to communicate around them.
Given that bloggers have many tools at their disposal, what are the reasons to choose for or against blogging? While the interviews do not provide enough input to identify such reasons in a systematic way, it is possible to discern a number of weblog characteristics that influence the choice for or against them:
- space to express one’s ideas without pushing them to others;
- slow and open-ended, so not good for direct interaction with a particular goal in mind;
- contextual (at the post level and as a whole as they include a history of the blogger’s writing over time);
- persistent, so are better used for posts that make sense in a long term, not for trivial updates;
- individual-centred, providing history over time, ability not to restrict oneself to writing on particular topics and strong association between blogger and content;
- personal, representing own space and own ideas;
- public, providing a big potential audience, so not well suited for private, confidential or vulnerable writing;
- take time and effort.
In addition to choosing which channels to use when engaging with others, bloggers also make an effort to discover which tools others use, and to connect there. Gabriela says that meeting a new interesting person usually results in searching for them and connecting in different places:
I’ve never seen someone giving me the details […] you go and see what you can find there. After I attend an event I usually have ten requests [to connect].
Given the number of channels bloggers use to engage with others, maintaining all of them might be a challenge. Luis talks about the risks of “spreading yourself too thin”, since it takes effort to maintain one’s presence on multiple channels.
Another issue to deal with is the fragmentation and aggregation between different channels, especially when they are used, as in a case of Ton, to connect to different audiences. Gabriela is concerned that information about a person that used to be in a weblog is now fragmented across multiple channels, as well as the need to “follow” her contacts to the channels they choose for their activities. However, she is also “a bit annoyed but the fact that social tools are getting more aggregated” and provides an example of her students who started to follow her on Jaiku (used as part of the course), but then turned to other channels (including her weblog) and picked up all kinds of personal details about her.
While at the beginning bloggers connect with each other primarily via weblogs, over time meeting in person and other tools are added to the mix. Bloggers pick and choose tools to engage with others. They also enable those choices by creating connections with others and maintaining their presence on different channels, and by dealing with fragmentation and aggregation of their bits between different channels.