Weblog-mediated relationship: a co-constructed narrative

Lilia Efimova & Andrea Ben Lassoued

Draft chapter (slighly adapted for the web :)
Remote relationships in a small world edited by Samantha Holland

Forthcoming in 2007 by Peter Lang Publishing

NOTE: I have the publisher permission to post it online, but will have to take it off once the book is published.

Somewhere in the morning he asks: “Have you actually met Andrea?”

“No.” And, feeling that I need an excuse, I add – “but I have stayed myself in the houses of bloggers I never met”. He smiles understandingly and I hope that he really understands, even if it looks a bit crazy…

Later during the day, in between work and cleaning the house, I think that indeed it’s a bit crazy – that sort of crazy that became a lifestyle for me. Somehow, relations with other bloggers need to cross the boundary between online and offline. Somehow, being in a weblog-mediated contact often turns into a need (often an urge ;) to meet – to move on slow mediated conversations into real life exchanges, to see how much real person is close to that imaginary friend you construct while reading a weblog, emailing and skyping in between, to confirm that you are indeed as close in the real life as it feels from online. And, blogging seems to create not only this need, but also the trust needed to cross the boundary with a bit intrusive “I’m in the city – shall we meet?” or “so, why don’t you come here?”, to go the extra mile of arranging the logistics and to sound convincing while explaining to others why you actually do those crazy things…

In the evening, when we meet for the first time, I feel strange. I know that feeling from before, meeting someone you feel you know quite good, while realizing that you probably don’t really know the person. The appearance, the physical presence is unfamiliar, so my brain resists accepting that I could actually know her, but then small details start kicking in – the voice that I know from Skype, personal things that I knew or that fit well with those I knew, references to old blogging themes… And while the conversation develops, my brain is getting more and more convinced – this is not a total stranger, we do click in so many ways, starting a conversation from the point where it was left last time, we probably do know quite a bit of each other and those – unblogged – details that come up now seem to fit that fuzzy picture constructed over time of reading what was in the blog and what was in between the lines…

Lilia’s weblog, 23 March 2006

Introduction

Although weblogs are perceived as low-threshold tools to publish on-line, empowering individual expression in public, there is growing evidence of social structures evolving around weblogs and their influence on norms and practices of blogging. This evidence ranges from voices of bloggers themselves speaking about the social effects of blogging, to studies on specific weblog communities with distinct cultures (e.g. knitting community described by Wei, 2004, or Goth community described by Hodkinson, 2004), to mathematical analysis of links between weblogs indicating that community formation in the blogosphere is not a random process, but an indication of shared interests binding bloggers together (Kumar, Novak, Raghaven & Tomkins, 2003).

Personal relations need constant work (netWORK, ‘an ongoing process of keeping a personal network in good repair’ according to Nardi, Whittaker, & Schwarz, 2002: 9). Regular reading of particular weblogs often functions as a seed for developing more personal relations between weblog authors. In addition to supporting the establishment of new connections, weblogs help to maintain existing connections: regular reading of a weblog supports continued awareness of that authors thinking and progress, allowing them to ‘stay on the radar’. A weblog can also reduce the burden of finding someone’s contact information, as most weblog authors provide various means (e.g. e-mail address) to contact them.

Existing research documents social effects of blogging, but doesn’t explain how bloggers get to know each other, how relations between them develop over time and what role weblogs (and other technologies) play in this process. The purpose of this chapter is to explore through an autoethnographic lens how a weblog-based relationship develops. Autoethnography is ‘an autobiographical genre of writing and research that connects the personal to the cultural’ (Ellis & Bochner, 2000: 739). It requires that ‘the researchers posses the qualities of permanent self-identification with a group [they are studying] and full internal membership, as recognised by themselves and the people of whom they are part’ (Hayano, 1979: 100). Working autoethnographically gives us an opportunity to reconstruct and explore the development of our own weblog-mediated relationship over time, providing a view on blogging from an insider’s perspective. It also allows us to include the kinds of artifacts in our analysis that are difficult to get hold of when studying others. Finally, including the perspectives of two parties in the analysis will enable us to explore any asymmetry in the relationship.

Co-construction

The idea of describing and analyzing our own weblog-mediated relationship came into life during one of our first Skype talks: although from different perspectives both of us were exploring weblog-mediated practices, interested in online ethnography, and fascinated by reflective and autoethnographic writing. Once the decision was made and specifics of deadlines and dissemination were sorted out, we started to work.

To reconstruct and explore stages in the development of our own mainly weblog-mediated relationship over time we worked on creating a co-constructed narrative (Ellis & Bochner, 1992).

This type of research focuses on the interactional sequences by which interpretations of relationship life are constructed, coordinated, and solidified into stories. The narratives that are jointly produced thus display couples in the process of ‘doing’ their relationships, trying to turn fragmented, vague, or disjointed events into intelligible, coherent accounts. (Bochner, 2002: 91)

First, each of us independently constructed a (hi)story of our relationship. Those two stories contained both: an ‘objective’ timeline of interactions with references to digital traces (weblog posts and comments, bookmarks, emails and chats) each of us was able to recover, and subjective personal interpretations of what has happened. We emailed the stories to each other and then tried to work on ‘co-constructing’ the whole from those pieces.

It didn’t work: although we were able to organize bits and pieces in a chronological order, neither of us was feeling that we get closer to understanding ‘the whole’. It is difficult to say what was the reason for it. Possibly it was the fact of getting into a co-authoring endeavor after knowing each other online for a few months, a lack of rich context clues of missing face-to-face meetings or simply many personal changes both of us were going through that took away energy from writing. In any case, we were able to move further only when we had an opportunity to meet each other for the first time. After spending quite a few hours sharing details of our personal lives (those that didn’t find much place in both of our not-so-personal weblogs), we started to work on the story.

Comparing to other online communication tools (e.g. forums or chat spaces), the distributed nature of weblogs doesn’t provide an easy way to get an overview of a conversation (Efimova & de Moor, 2005): bloggers may post comments to a blogpost, but could also write in their own weblog and link back not necessarily leaving any traces at the entry they comment upon. Even those tools that exist (e.g. BlogPulse conversation tracker) will not help recovering interactions in weblogs comments or series of exchanges not connected by direct links.

To recreate the process of interactions we printed weblog entries and comments that involved both of us. In addition we printed out bookmarks of each others blog entries, emails that we exchanged, and Skype chat histories. All of these ‘traces’ contained date and time stamps. We made decisions to include in our analysis only those of the first three months of our interactions, the time before we decided to work on the paper together.

Co-constructed narrative (1)To create an overview of our interactions we arranged the printed ‘conversational’ fragments and corresponding ‘interpretive’ story pieces in a chronological order, keeping separate columns for each communication space and interpretations. Organizing those fragments and trying to retrace our actions helped us to discover those we missed at the first sight: weblog posts one of us wouldn’t consider relevant, but linked from another, comments that were there, but disappeared. We also realized what we miss by not having notes or recordings of our voice conversations on Skype (we had only transcripts of chat that accompanied it; used mainly for exchanging links and references to support the main conversation in voice) – we were not immediately sure during which of our Skype talks we decided to work on this story and were able to decide on it only based on secondary evidence (e.g. ‘action point’ emails).

Co-constructed narrative (2)The process of organizing the story from fragments came to be a rich source of insights and reflections of what has happened: finally each of us was able to see the logic and feelings of another person, to connect actions, reactions and interpretations, to discover and question discrepancies. As we worked on constructing the story, we added a meta-layer of those observations to it. For the first time we were actually able to ‘see and feel’ what has happened and to analyze the emergent themes in a systematic way.

As part of the analysis we found it useful to make a clear-cut distinction between the interconnected communication artifacts and our interpretations in relation to it. In a sense the network of artifacts provides a skeleton for feelings and interpretations developing around it that over time turn into the relationship.

The following sections present the results of our reconstruction: first, the ‘objective’, artifact view of our relationship and then the ‘subjective’ story of it.

Communication artifacts

Artefacts of a weblog-mediated relationshipIn this section we discuss the ‘objective’, artifact view of our relationship over time: specific communication artifacts and their connections (Figure 3.). Most of it includes the uninterrupted timeframe between 13 February and 22 April 2005. The three sections in the beginning separated by the dotted lines refer to periods 2,5 years, 1 year and 2 weeks earlier respectively. As one could see, the communication with each other is embedded in other blogging activities: weblog posts, directly relevant for the developing relationship between Andrea and Lilia represent only a fraction of posts both of them write during the analyzed period. Although those “other” posts are not directly relevant for the communication, they provide the context for it, allowing both authors to learn about each other beyond their direct communication. This ‘learning’ process may involve substantial delay and long time-spans between initial posting of one of the authors and comment to it by another.

In the beginning the communication is asymmetrical: it takes time before Lilia explicitly acknowledges that she is aware of Andrea’s existence by commenting on her blog posts and linking to her blog. Later there are other signs of asymmetry: Andrea links to Lilia more than vice versa; Lilia’s comments are less frequent and timely than Andrea’s.

What started as a weblog-mediated relationship involves multiple artifacts: Lilia’s published paper, del.icio.us bookmarks that each author uses, email conversations and Skype exchanges later on. Different tools are used simultaneously; email and Skype exchanges correspond to intensified blogging. Although this multi-channel communication seems to play a role in the process of getting to know each other, it is invisible for an outsider reading both weblogs.

The drawing allows witnessing the development of our relationship from a perspective of interactional exchanges, documented by communication artifacts (those publicly available online and hidden in our personal archives). However, it doesn’t say much about meaning of those exchanges for each of us and their role in our relationship, discussed in the following section. There our story is presented as a layered account (Ronai 1995), representing three voices: each of us separately telling a personal story of the relation and a commentary and analysis by both of us looking at those stories from a researchers’ perspective. In the quotes of weblog posts and emails the original spelling and punctuation is preserved.

The story

Andrea:

I discovered Lilia’s blog amongst a handful of others when I got interested in blogging as a research topic for my diploma thesis. Her reflections were interesting and accessible and I soon began to read her entries regularly. Once I skimmed through her blog, looking for an answer to ‘why people blog’ I discovered, that – amongst other things – she is blogging to keep a feeling of “coffee table dialog” – and that’s exactly how I felt reading her blog! There was a touch of immediacy of ‘closeness’ and it made quite a difference to me to read about academic research in this tone and not the dry academic language it is usually presented in.

Lilia:

I don’t remember how exactly I discovered Andrea’s blog. It should be either via checking incoming links or following a link from her comment in my weblog. She linked to my old post on motivation for blogging and commented on one of the recent ones where I discuss the role of the researcher in weblog research.

When I started blogging I didn’t know how much change it would bring into my life. Neither did I expect how many interesting people I would discover through blogging. Now I subscribe to more weblogs than I can read and I am not that surprised anymore if someone comes up to me at a conference and says that she reads my blog and I have no idea who this person is. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my uneasy feelings around this phenomenon, but on a practical side it has simple implications – I became very selective about adding more people to my regular lurking/reading/communication pool. So, I checked Andrea’s blog and went away.

The beginning of our relationship was asymmetrical. Andrea had just started blogging and was looking for friends, wanting to become part of a group. She was learning about the norms and practices of (academic) blogging, longing to be read and commented on. By that time Lilia had been blogging for almost three years and had an extensive blogging network – many weblogs to read and many bloggers to talk to. New connections were not that important and even risky – as with many others (e.g. Robinson 2005), Lilia tried to keep the number of weblogs she read manageable.

Differences in our blogging experiences and expectations result in the asymmetry of attention we pay to each other: Andrea has read through Lilia’s archives and has a pretty good idea of her interests and personality, while Lilia barely notices Andrea’s interest. We called this micro-celebrity effect, since it resembles the degree of awareness/knowledge of each other between a fan and a celebrity.

Even weblogs that are little more than collections of links and short commentaries say something about their authors. The selected content a weblog author finds interesting enough to link to and to comment on functions as a public record of personal interest and engagement. In that respect, a weblog does for its author what media does for a celebrity – revealing the details of life to the invisible and often unknown audience.

Lilia:

Over a few days Andrea comments and links to me a couple of times, so I’m starting to recognize her as a reader of my weblog. This is a strange category… There are people who comment once and, if I don’t find their weblog immediately interesting, I probably wouldn’t remember who they are. There are others, those on the periphery of my attention. When I see them linking or commenting I probably would connect it with earlier comments (‘ah, so-and-so commenting again’) and with some bits I know about them and their blogs. If I’ve seen their weblog I probably will get a visual picture. It’s probably right to call them ‘familiar strangers’ – people you recognise, but have not invested any energy in getting related to.

Familiar strangers (Milgram, 1977) are individuals that we observe repeatedly without any interaction (e.g. those regularly waiting for a bus with us). The relation with familiar strangers is the one between total strangers and people we communicate with; those very weak “hear and see” contacts can be a starting point for developing more intense interactions (Gehl, 2001). In our case it was exactly that: the regular appearance of Andrea on Lilia’s horizon (in comments and in referrer logs) created conditions for further more intensive and reciprocal engagement.

Lilia:

…it didn’t take me long to link to Andrea. At that time I was struggling with learning about ethnography. I didn’t have any training in the area, but came to discover that what I do in my research comes pretty close to it. I was going through the pain of discovering one more field by myself.

I came into ethnography without a guiding hand and was struggling to get a grip of the field by reading books:

…learning from paper is so painfully slow, so I’m looking for opportunities to learn from people. Next to looking for possible meeting/doing/learning options which are relatively close I’m thinking along lines of distributed apprenticeship – what if something like that may work?

Only later I would realise that it actually worked. But then I didn’t know that…

Andrea:

Well, yes, it worked indeed! Anthropology is my field of studies, so ethnography is something I can talk about at length and although I didn’t have any answers to many questions myself, I felt competent enough to comment on Lilia’s thoughts. I mentioned references to books that I’d been reading at that time: one on how to do ethnography and the other one on virtual ethnography:

Don’t know if you’re interested in ‘virtual ethnography’ for which I’d recommend Christine Hine (which you probably know anyway…).

I am commenting carefully. After all Lilia is a proper researcher, working at the ‘Telematica Institute’, not an undergraduate student like me. So surely she knows about Christine Hine’s book – it must be one of the basic books for her field of research.

Lilia:

Of course I didn’t know who Christine Hine was and I haven’t seen the book! And there was a funny feeling to the comment – like Andrea thought that I knew more than I actually did. Do I look that smart in my weblog?

At the beginning of the relationship Andrea’s comments were carefully shaped, indicating respect of Lilia’s position (‘a proper researcher’, not a ‘mere student’), experience in blogging and assumed expertise. For Lilia this degree of ‘being treated as an expert’ felt strange.

Reflecting on this difference we found it useful to distinguish between writing as knowing and writing as learning. Our experiences with written (especially academic) texts taught us to perceive them as a representation of authority and expertise of their authors: writing on a topic as an indicator of confident knowledge about it. For Andrea reading Lilia’s blog posts about online research shaped an image of her as an expert on the topic; Lilia had the same (but not explicitly expressed – as becomes evident in the example that follows) respect for Andrea’s knowledge of ethnography. However, our own self-images did not correspond to these perceptions: we were still exploring the respective fields using weblogs to document those learning experiences. Blogging as learning, very formative, uncertain and in-progress was perceived as blogging as knowing – summative and confident. Paraphrasing ‘online nobody knows that you are a dog’ we can suggest that ‘when you blog nobody knows you are novice’.

However, it’s probably the unsettledness and ‘thinking in progress’ mode of writing that created an opportunity for us to learn from each other, turning into the unexpected ‘distributed apprenticeship’ Lilia had referred to. The idea of weblog networks as an apprenticeship space were not new to her. In her earlier work she was reflecting on the opportunity weblogs provide to observe the often invisible (Drucker, 1999; McGee, 2002) process of knowledge work and to learn from others through articulating, stealing and refining practices (Efimova, Fiedler, Verwijs, & Boyd, 2004).

Realising that learning from a beginner, not an expert, could be a very fruitful experience was a bit unexpected. In retrospect it could be explained: experts often find it difficult to articulate the essence of their own expertise (Clark & Estes, 2002) and often do not have a need to do it since the implicitness of it makes their work efficient, while for a novice observing, articulating and reflecting is a natural mode. In this respect, the misattribution of expertise that came from perceiving writing on thinking-in-progress as a sign of expertise, is not that wrong. The beginner’s need to articulate ideas and to work them out turned into an accessible trail that could be followed, exposing practices of the fields we were exploring. It allowed us to learn from each other regardless of our disciplinary boundaries and (perceived) hierarchical inequality.

Lilia:

In a few days I was ordering more books from the library, searching for Christine Hine online and finding other interesting readings on virtual methods. I blogged it and referred to Andrea as the one who led me there. It wasn’t a link of friendship – just an attribution.

Andrea:

For me this link meant a lot. I was really happy to be mentioned in a blog that was read by so many people, as this would mean that much more people would become aware of and read as well as comment my own writings.

The link of attribution, that Lilia is referring to, can be read as an indicator of her ‘blogging culture’, that is the norms and practices developed around blogging. The way that one writes (in matters of format and so on.) is influenced by the (blogging) environment in which one writes. For example, it is important to Lilia to refer to the sources that she gets her ideas from.

What was ‘just a link of attribution’ did, nevertheless, have quite an effect. Andrea, in addition to some other readers, did not interpret the link just as an attribution but as a recommendation to have a look at her blog. Some blog readers followed this link and found out more about Andrea, so she got more read, commented and linked to, in a tiny corner of the blogosphere.

And to become more known was one of Andrea’s (implicit) goals. While she was writing her weblog for herself as well, blogging became even more rewarding when people started taking interest in what she wrote and thought. Blogging changed from a conversation with self to a conversation with self and others (Efimova & de Moor 2005).

Lilia:

Our next round of interaction comes almost a month later. For me that month is full of reading and writing about ethnography. Andrea’s comments scattered here and there help to navigate between books and papers, authors and concepts, but they are still just some of the clues and I’m focused on my quest.

Then I have a break-through: I discover autoethnography, and, thrilled by the opportunities it suggests, I write an essay – Two papers, me in between.

Andrea:

Oh yes, I remember this essay very well! It really impressed me. When Lilia published it, I was very excited. It was an eloquently written reflection of reading a paper about autoethnography. And there was something intriguing, something new to it for me. Up until then I saw autoethnography as something that was difficult, only for well trained social scientists who worked on it for years. And then Lilia showed, that it seemed to be possible to do something like this as a ‘mere mortal’ as well! So, as a result of all this, I plundered my library for books on auto-ethnography and soon wondered if I could write this way too.

Lilia:

I didn’t have any idea what impact that essay was making. It has a couple of comments from other people, but it takes a good two weeks before Andrea links to it as an ‘eye-opener’ and posts an outline of her thesis. It’s in German, but it’s intriguing enough to ask Andrea for a translation. Amazingly, she posts a translated version next day.

This is one of the cases where the ‘delayed reply’ to a weblog post becomes visible. It is not so much the lack of time for writing and reading that caused it, rather a need to digest the ideas coming from someone else and to find a way to embed them into one’s own thinking. Although it is tempting to think about weblogs as spaces where ideas spread fast (Adar, Zhang, Adamic & Lukose, 2004), they seem to provide a ‘slow thinking’ space next to it. Since in most cases a weblog post is not directed to a particular person, there is less expectation for reciprocity and timely ‘blogging back’ than, for example, in email. As a result there is an opportunity to learn, to process information and to come back with another turn in one’s own tempo.

Both of us agree that this essay was a turning moment in our relationship, however this doesn’t become immediately evident from the contents of our weblogs. It was probably the vulnerability and uncertainty coming from the text that made Lilia more ‘human’ and more approachable for Andrea. In a few days she comes back by email confessing her own uncertainties.

Andrea, email 9 April 2005

Hi there,
just commented the following in your blog [comment to Action research vs. ethnography?]:

My feeling is, that anthropologists get somewhat protective about their kind of “only” method, that is ethnography. About the difference being in “cycles” I’m not so sure: there’s Grounded Theory, and that involves going back and forth between data collection and theory building as well (or are you pointing at something different, with “cycles in action research”?) I must say, I don’t know much about action research though, so I could be quite wrong. Anyway: action research doesn’t seem to be anyones method, if you use it, I think you’ll face less criticism than if you claim to do ethnography. And then there’s something like “Action anthropology” which seems to be a combination of the two. :-)

As I’m never quite sure if my comments are welcome (and helpful!) I’d like to know what you think about it (or my comments in general, if you want), also I’ve had the experience of having comments in my blog that were – well – lets say: unreflected, so maybe I’m just doing the same!

So there are the questions:
Are they helpful? – or just ‘comment-spam’?
Do they point you to new ideas?
Are they written in a way that you can relate to them?
Do you feel sometimes like deletting them?
:-)

Thanks for your help,
cheers,
Andrea

Lilia, email 9 April

Andrea,
your comments are very welcome! Recently your comments are the ones that I enjoy most – you come from the area I’m just starting to look at and definitely pointed me to several interesting things. You are also one of the people who fueled my interest in ethnography (with some quotes and references). And I never thought of deleting your comments :)

Your email makes me thinking that there may be others who feel similar as you – I guess because I do not always reply to comments. I read everything, but reply mainly if I have to add something, so I guess there are not enough ‘thank you’ for those who contribute. Probably part of the explanation is my own commenting experience – if I comment somewhere and do not expect discussion to continue in comments I rarely go back…

This is an interesting thing anyway – something to think about and may be to blog (would you mind?)

Btw, would be nice to meet one day – you seem to do interesting things and I guess we’ll find enough topics to discuss.

And – I’d like to react on action research stuff, but there are some offline plans for the most of the weekend, so probably somewhere later :)

Lilia

Because Lilia had never answered – and therefore officially acknowledged the value of – her comments, Andrea felt insecure and was wondering if they were actually welcome at all. Expressing her feelings in an email to Lilia led to a longer conversation, in which Lilia successfully dissolved Andrea’s feeling of not being a welcome guest in her weblog by highlighting the differences in their commenting practices. For both it was an important point for realizing how easily a misunderstanding or conflict could be created by differences in blogging subcultures or personal blogging practices.

Clarifying the background of different practices, on the other hand also led to a deeper knowledge of each other and further communication/exchange about mutual topics of interest we had discovered in each other blogs. It allowed the development of the deeper degree of trust needed to engage in the more intense interactions that followed. However, this deeper level of connection also has moved the interactions between Andrea and Lilia away from their weblogs into the more private spaces of email and Skype. Although there is no particular reason, other than Lilia’s own preference for Skype as a tool for communication, it is the immediacy of synchronous communication and the richness of talking in voice that it provided allowed us getting further. As we talked about each other’s interests and aspirations, the idea of experimenting with autoethnography by reflecting on our own blogging experiences came up. Working on it together turned into finding an opportunity to meet each other and into this chapter.

Weblogs as edge spaces

Having a personal space in public weblogs provides a unique opportunity for combining the characteristics of both – being in control and feeling protected in one’s own space (Gumbrecht, 2004) and being exposed to others and open for a communication. In this respect, weblogs can play a role similar to what edge zones in cities play for emergent interactions (Gehl, 2001).

At the edge of the forest or near the façade, one is less exposed than if one is out in the middle of a space. One is not in the way of anyone or anything. One can see, but not be seen too much, and the personal territory is reduced to a semicircle in front of the individual. When one’s back is protected, others can approach only frontally, making it easy to keep watch and to react, for example, by means of a forbidding facial expressions in the event of undesired invasion of personal territory.

The edge zone offers a number of obvious practical and psychological advantages as a place to linger. Additionally, the area along the façade is the obvious outdoor staying area for the residents and functions of the surrounding buildings. It is relatively easy to move a function out of the house to the zone along the façade. The most natural place to linger is the doorstep, from which it is possible to go farther out into the space or remain standing. Both physically and psychologically it is easier to remain standing than to move out into the space. One can always move farther later on, if desired.

It can be concluded that events grow from inward, from the edge toward the middle of public spaces. (Gehl, 2001:151-152)

From one side weblogs allow you to be yourself. Although there is the pressure of social norms and perceived expectations of one’s audience, there is still more freedom in what to write and how to do it than in many other online spaces, which are often guided by topical focus or reinforced group practices. Blogging can also be more open-ended and less focused on an interaction with specific others, for example, writing email with ‘an interesting idea that you might be able to comment on’ to all your acquaintances would be rude, while a weblog provides a natural space for it. However, it’s still a form of communication aimed at others – like being in public reveals one’s personality through exposing appearance and actions, writing a weblog exposes the author’s values and way of thinking through the style of writing and choices about content.

Both aspects provide a fertile ground for finding interested others and getting into closer contact. As visible from our case, the beginning of this process can be asymmetrical and doesn’t necessary imply a commitment to communicate from both sides. Reading a weblog can create a sense of knowing the person behind it without any reciprocity; commenting or linking to someone’s weblog can create awareness of one’s existence, turning a total stranger into a familiar stranger, but those are just prerequisites for what might or might not turn into a closer relationship.

So, what turns familiar stranger-bloggers into blogger-friends? Based on our own case we cannot provide definite answers for everyone, but there are a few factors that did it for us:

  • Reciprocity. Although it took some time to discover that our interests were crossing and expertise were complementary, the fact that we both saw ways of benefiting from communication was important in developing it further.
  • Vulnerable writing. In our case exposing our own uncertainties in writing turned into deeper trust and better understanding of each other.
  • Choice of media. Although our relationship started through weblogs, later on we employed a variety of tools to communicate. The ability to switch from the open-endedness of blogging in public, to the privacy of email, or the immediacy of Skype has helped to interact in ways that would suit our needs best.

Our story provides an example of how a weblog-mediated relationship could develop. Although it is not likely to represent a generic case, it indicates a number of questions for further exploration. Would other cases take the same trajectory? What are the alternatives? What are the characteristics of weblogs as an edge zone, from where new relationships emerge? What are the conditions for it? What are the roles of social norms and personal blogging practices in forming those relationships? How do other communication tools complement weblogs? These and other questions are left for further exploration.

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