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Blog networking study: establishing and maintaining relations via blogging

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. It also comes from the discussion of the study results and surely needs more work.  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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Next to non-personal relationships, blogging also enables the building true human connections;

..not pretend or unreal or virtual relationship, the real relationship, where you build up trust and affect and those powerful things that make people work together. Online. (Euan)

What exactly helps to establish and maintain personal relations via blogging? The insights from the research on strong and weak ties (Granovetter, 1973; see also Haythornthwaite, 2005, for a summary of the follow-up research) indicate that the type and frequency of interaction, as well as the number of channels used for it, are important, since stronger ties include frequent and more intimate interaction via a number of channels. While the study results do not provide data on changes in the frequency of interactions between bloggers when their relationships strengthen, they do indicate that those with stronger connections interact on multiple occasions, use different channels and communicate about personal issues as well as professional ones.

An additional view on the factors in the process of growing and maintaining a relationship is provided by Bonnie Nardi (2005), who draws on the research on instant messaging and face-to-face communication (Nardi, Whittaker, & Bradner, 2000; Nardi et al., 2002) to propose that communication includes relational aspects as well as information exchange. The relation between a pair of people creates “a state of communicative readiness in which fruitful communication is likely” (Nardi, 2005, p.91) and includes three dimensions of connection: affinity, commitment and attention. Those dimensions are recognisable in the study presented in this chapter.

According to Nardi affinity is achieved through activities of social bonding – touching, eating and drinking together, sharing experiences in a common space and informal communication – that make people feel connected with each other.

Three of the social bonding activities appear in the data. Although not easily supported by blogging itself, eating and drinking together is clearly important: restaurants are mentioned frequently as a place to meet other bloggers, “Having a coffee” is an important part of microblogging updates and it is food reviews that bloggers mention when talking about Bill Ives, not other items from his weekend blogging list that include, according to the header of his weblog, “art, music, travel, and food”.

Informal communication is supported by the personal nature of blogging: the freedom to choose what to write provides enough opportunities to share jokes, talk about hobbies or “pontificate about life, the universe and such” (Euan). KM bloggers refer to “personal details” on weblogs that help to get to know others, but those serve as conversation starters as well (it is similar in other studies, e.g. bloggers in the study by Lori Kendall (2007) report that posts with something amusing or trivial received more comments than others).

KM bloggers talk about their experiences of connecting to others in terms of sharing spaces: Dave refers to getting to know others in a way similar to how it works in a “common room in a university”, Brett talks about blogging as casual conversations at a water-cooler, Ton talks about “shared spaces” online, neighbourhoods and global villages, Martin appreciates others “coming” to his “place” to leave comments… My own blogging experiences resulted in similar feelings and multiple attempts to explain what might create them (for example, this one).

Commitment is another dimension that Nardi introduces as important. In the case of KM bloggers, expressing commitment to others is manifested through the effort of reading their weblogs (“they took the effort to read what I write”, Luis), repeated interaction and maintaining their own presence via weblogs and other channels.

Finally, capturing and monitoring attention includes, for example, eye contact or negotiating availability of others. In the case of bloggers, linking is often perceived as a sign of attention, and considerable effort goes into monitoring incoming links that help to find new bloggers or keep track of fragments of conversations between weblogs. While weblogs are rarely used explicitly for negotiating availability for an interaction (this is where other channels come into play), they do provide an opportunity to indicate one’s interest in communicating, via comments or linking to a weblog, and leave it open as to if, when and how much one wants to engage in a further exchange.

In creating relationships, publishing and interaction modes of blogging play a role. For non-personal relations to emerge and be sustained, the publishing mode of blogging is enough; in this case, uses of a weblog are informational. For establishing and maintaining personal relations, both publishing and interaction are important. Interaction through weblog conversations helps to develop and renew relations, but it does not happen all the time. Publishing mode (both, reading and writing) provides a backdrop for a relationship: sharing ones’ updates to the network without needing to worry about “spamming” others, developing knowledge of each other, feeling that others are “present” or monitoring when the right moment occurs for an interaction. The power of blogging in respect to networking seems to come from an opportunity to combine two modes with one tool.

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Granovetter, M. (1973). The Strength of Weak Ties. Americal Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2005). Social networks and internet connectivity effects. Information, Communication and Society, 8(2), 125-147. doi:10.1080/13691180500146185 (public .pdf)

Kendall, L. (2007). “Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back” Identity and interactional tensions on LiveJournal. First Monday, 12(9).

Nardi, B., Whittaker, S., & Schwarz, H. (2002). NetWORKers and their activity in intensional networks. Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 11(1-2), 205-242. doi:10.1023/A:1015241914483 (public .pdf)

Nardi, B. A. (2005). Beyond bandwidth: dimensions of connection in interpersonal communication. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 14(2), 91-130. doi:10.1007/s10606-004-8127-9 (public .pdf)

Nardi, B. A., Whittaker, S., & Bradner, E. (2000). Interaction and outeraction: instant messaging in action. In Proceedings of the 2000 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 79-88). doi:10.1145/358916.358975

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Jeffrey Keefer October 27, 2009, 15:53

    Fascinating work here, Lilia. Is this something that you are still working on and interested in?

  • Lilia Efimova October 28, 2009, 22:32

    Jeffrey, I am interested in it, but now sure at this moment which (research) shape it would take. At least I should try to write a paper on the study results. But, in general, I am interested to look more into what do we take for granted in f2f settings and how those things reappear online.

  • Jeffrey Keefer October 29, 2009, 03:01

    Seems like some great things to consider; let me know if you ever want to explore some form of a research project in this area . . .

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