Dan's Metablog
Writing about blogging, identity, and narrative

Fragmenting the imagined community   Monday, May 1   12:06 PM

One of my original thesis ideas. The answer is of course yes-and-no. I think blog platforms like LiveJournal certainly have their own communities with their own communal norms, but I don't get that impression from platforms like MoveableType, whose users seem to think on the blogosphere-as-a-whole level.

Many theorists have devoted their time to studying the interaction between blogger and audience: the construction of identity, the expectations of privacy, and the various ways information is presented on the blog. Only one theorist, however, has devoted any significant amount of time to the primary way in which the bloggers' communication with the reader is mediated.

In two essays, "Weblogs: A History and Perspective" and "Hammer, Nail: How Blogging Software Reshaped the Online Community," Rebecca Blood explains how the popular blogging software Blogger, along with a handful of other web-based programs, prompted a shift from filter- to personal-journal weblogs. According to Blood, it was the Blogger interface — one which did not make mandatory the inclusion of links in a post — which prompted users to write more diary-like entries and eventually resulted in the current blogosphere, one dominated by the diary weblog genre.

While many people have accepted this dramatic examples as a singular event, the options available among the most popular blogging software still differ, and the work of two theorists suggests that blog interfaces are still shaping the community. Though she claims that their formats vary only slightly, Emily Nussbaum observes in her essay "My so-called blog" that among high school students, different social groups use different blogging software. Furthermore, in "Imagining the Blogosphere," Graham Lampa claims that for most bloggers, the blogosphere "resides in the mind of the individual blogger as an online imagined community resulting from the shared experience of instant publishing." Combining the insights of these two theorists suggests that the imagined community to which groups of bloggers feel they belong — the community that creates the norms they follow when creating posts — may be localized to the specific blogging software a blogger is using.

If there is indeed a fragmented blogosphere, one in which bloggers think of themselves as members of Xanga or Blogger, in which they try to write "LiveJournals" instead of merely "blogs," then blogosphere studies needs to pay more attention to the differences between platforms. Theorists who exclude certain platforms, for example Susan Herring et. al, who exclude a number of popular diary websites from the oft-cited "Bridging the Gap," may be presenting a widely-distorted picture of the blogosphere as a whole. Generalizations about the blogosphere as a whole would have far less validity if it was actually a number of separate imagined communities.

On the other hand, the work of theorists like Kate Raynes-Goldie, who has written exclusively on LiveJournal, would have greater utility if the fragmented blogosphere theory held true. Theorists would have to resort to a platform-specific analysis of blogging practices as the most valid method to determine norms and genre formation, and the field would be open to studies of the dozens of blogging platforms which haven't gotten the attention of theorists like Raynes-Goldie. At the present time, however, this is all conjecture — the first question, pressing considering the implications, is whether these fragmented imagined communities actually exist.

Comments (4)

hey dan,
I'm flattered you're using my paper and congrats on finishing your thesis!:)

I have a few comments about your statements about my paper:

in your post you said "If there is indeed a fragmented blogosphere, one in which bloggers think of themselves as members of Xanga or Blogger, in which they try to write "LiveJournals" instead of merely "blogs," then blogosphere studies needs to pay more attention to the differences between platforms."

i think there is indeed a fragmented blogosphere, at least for livejournal users because we very much think of ourselves as separate from bloggers. As I argued in my paper, livejournal is a community embedded blogging practice and has a very different culture and demographic than other blogging services. Livejournal has a blogging element and a social networking element (I can list my friends) and I can control who sees what with friends filters. when i write on livejournal, it feels very different from writing on my movable type blog. I am writing to friends and starting a conversation. Danah boyd has written about this too: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2005/01/04/the_cultural_divide_between_livejournal_and_six_apart.html

I'd also like to mention that I think your citation of my paper is a bit out of context and does not accurately represent the true spirit of what I was saying. You said "Within blogosphere studies, there is considerable disagreement as to whether the blogger’s contruction of identity is a form of role-playing or an authentic attempt at mimesis. Some theorists have adopted apparently extreme positions: Raynes-Goldie, embracing postmodernism, suggests that “in this informational chaos, the question of truth is not really a useful one,”

I was not writing about identity construction on blogs, rather the use of blogs for the creation of knowledge. My point was that information is not useful because it is true, but because its relevant. I wasn't at all writing about identity and your quotation does not accurately reflect my opinion on identity construction on blogs.

Thanks for the commentary; I'm not completely sold yet, but I was actually using your work to make the case for a fragmented blogosphere in yet another essay and it's good to hear you agree.

I'm very sorry if I used your quote out of context; certainly I shouldn't have said you were "embracing postmodernism" when you're synthesizing aspects of both modernism and postmodernism in your description of LiveJournal as a knowledge-creation system.

However, it seemed to me that with diary weblogs (and I may only have this reading because it's been so long since I read your essay: I've been working with that pull-quote since October) the knowledge being created is primarily reader knowledge about the blogger. I could see someone making the case that the value of a blog like Belle de Jour doesn't stem from its (possible) truth but from its usefulness as a source of entertainment, or whatever you're getting from it (perhaps I'm taking "relevance" much too broadly here), and I guess I thought you were making that case.

You're not, as it turns out, and as I said I'm sorry for going against the spirit of the essay. I'll have to re-read it in a few days when things calm down around here (certainly I'm more interested now in what seems to be one of the only studies of a blog-publishing platform world within the blogosphere) but I'd be curious to hear how you've conceptualized blogger identity.

Is a reality-reflective blogger identity important because only true details about that identity are relevant, or is the blogger's identity removed from informational chaos you describe?

Having re-read the essay, I see that I did, in fact, go against its spirit.

Yet I still don't see why information and knowledge have to be as topical and depersonalized — in the sense that, although data is filtered through people here, it never seems to be about people — as you assume them to be for "Pulling sense." I think you could (and thought you did) draw the same conclusions even with a much broader definition of info/knowledge.

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