Tag Archives: blogging

The curious case of GOMI: The dark side of having an audience.

The web is seriously creeping me out today.

Or, more accurately, I should say that the people on the web are creeping me out. For the first time in the more-than-a-decade that I have been blogging, I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable with the idea that people, for no good reason other than to express themselves, share the minutiae of their lives online for the entertainment of strangers.

Perhaps it’s because I spent far too long today trawling the forums of the Internet’s bitchiest hate site, Get Off My Internets!, taking screen shots of conversations that I will reference in my thesis… and then doing some very internet-stalkerish back-trawling of the blog posts that were the subject of those conversations, relying upon the fact that many of the blogs they referred to were blogs I knew so well that all I had to do was look in the archives at a particular month, and (generally) locate the post in question without too much trouble. All in all, I feel a little bit dirty.

GOMI isn’t a particularly nice site, but it’s a free Internet, right? We’re all entitled to our opinions. Perhaps why I feel so strange about it is because the users express many of the opinions I’ve had, but kept to myself. An unfortunate side effect of researching blogging for the past four years is that there are blogs and bloggers that I am sick to death of, but keep reading because I have to for my research.

I still feel like bloggers are real people, and should therefore be exempt from the dissection and character assassination that celebrities are subject to. At the same time, the moment that you choose to put your life online, you essentially have to accept the fact that you will be criticised, for everything from your poor grammar, to the fact that one of your eyes crinkles a bit when you smile, to the fact that your baby is a bit too chubby to be cute – and he has a weird name, anyway. And that’s not to mention picking apart the financial situation of those bloggers who are able to work from home, or (good heavens!) not work at all. (These are all examples of real posts that I read today, and are far from the most vitriolic.)

I’ve been blogging in some form since before I even knew it was called blogging. I blogged at LiveJournal (remember that??) from 1999-2002 before starting my previous blog, and this is what i think: (atiwit:), in 2004. I stopped posting to atiwit: at the start of this year during another crisis of confidence in which I suddenly began to feel a bit too exposed.

Neither of my blogs ever drew particularly big audiences. At best, atiwit: had up to around 500 visitors per day, and the only thing I ever saw written about it on a site (other than blogs written by friends) was when someone referred to my smoke detector battery removal method on a forum. Perhaps there were other things, but I never saw them, so as far as I am concerned, they don’t exist. (Yes, I vanity Google, but the forum post was actually discovered via link trackback.)

I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of online celebrity. Being Big on the Internet always seemed a bit too… invasive, I guess, and after reading GOMI today I’m pretty sure that I’ll never be striving to do anything exceptional with my blogging (not that I need to work on that – now that I’ve converted to research blogger, I’m getting 1/10th the visitors that I used to).

Get Off My Internets is such a peculiar site, and more than a little disturbing – but then again I’ve always subscribed to the policy of ‘Don’t like it? Turn it off!’. I will turn off the radio in my car if I don’t like a song. I will skip an episode of a TV show that I don’t like if I’m re-watching the series for the fiftieth time. I won’t read blogs that shit me to tears unless I absolutely have to – and I certainly won’t post about how much I hate it on the Internet.

I’m writing a chapter at the moment about identities and audiences, and I’ve included a case study of one particular blogger (who I won’t name here, as I don’t particularly enjoy her blog anymore, but I don’t think she needs extra negative attention) who received an immense amount of backlash from her readers when she changed the genre of her blog. She’s a perfect case study in how identity and authorship are really discordant concepts online. The audience of a blog has much more of a say in identity and authorship than they ever would “in real life”, and yet they’re only privy to part of the story – the identity that the blogger chooses to display. Bloggers essentially separate that part of themselves that is the blog-subject when they publish online, particularly when they become ‘successful’ bloggers. Audiences (or, in the case of face-to-face interactions, those that we engage with) always have a say in the person that we feel ourselves to be, but it’s never more visible than it is online.

I can’t help but feel that the reason so many people on GOMI are determining that bloggers are complete ‘flakes’ and nutjobs is because we, the audience, are causing them to be so.

Proceed with caution.

Look, Mum! I’m in the paper!

Last Friday, I was interviewed by Emily Moulten from The Sunday Times for an article she wrote about mummy bloggers.

‘Mummy bloggers’ raise kids, make cash.

The full piece didn’t make it into the paper, but you can see my (not terribly wise) words at the end. I was a bit rushed & flustered so I’m not sure my point has come across as I intended it, but, there you go. My first newspaper interview, hurrah!

A fraction of Perth bloggers, in colour.

I’ve collected in excess of 300 subjects in my list of Perth bloggers, and am up to the letter ‘F’ in plotting them. I’m using Gephi for the visualisation, and despite a rocky start (i.e. me having no idea what I was doing) I’ve now got the hang of it and it’s starting to look pretty damn cool!

Probably the craziest thing is that this list just keeps on growing – I’m probably discovering 20 new blogs a day, at least, but I’m only plotting those that are active bloggers (i.e. have posted within the last year and posted regularly before that, and user another platform – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc – as well as blogging). What that means is that there are potentially hundreds more.

Every dot on this graph represents a blogger, and every line is a link in or out of that blog (you might be able to see the tiny arrows pointing the direction). The dots change size as they attract more inward or outward links. The colours are significant too – the pink ones are fashion bloggers, the purple are food bloggers, pale blue are lifestyle bloggers, etc. This is going to change so there’s not too much point going in to it here; it’s just an easy way for me to keep track of what’s going on.

There are labels, too, so I know which dot represents which blogger, but I’ve kept them hidden to protect the identities of the geeky ;)

Including this data in my thesis in visual form is a bit of a gimmick – I could just provide a bunch of stats and numbers – but I feel that it’s really helpful to be able to see what networks look like. Not all blogs are equal, and not all share equal involvement in the blogging community. Of course, this data simply represents the network at this stage; it says nothing about the quality of content (not that I really get to be the judge of this!), how popular the blogs are (a blog may have few inward links but be read by a significant number of people, and certain genres are more generally popular than others), but it’s a good start. I’ll be doing the same thing with some other networks too, particularly Twitter, as Twitter has stolen a lot of blogging’s thunder in recent years.

Tim Highfield from Curtin has been a massive help with pointing me in the right direction on this one. Check out some of the stuff he’s done with visualisations – his look way cooler than mine.

If you’ve ended up here via Twitter…

Hi everyone!

If you’ve ended up here via Twitter, there’s a fair chance you responded to my tweet for Perth bloggers, so I thought I’d write up a little bit about what I’m doing.

I’m in the final stages of my PhD, and writing up the thesis is… an adventure, to say the least.

Basically, I’ve been observing a whole heap of Perth blogs for the past four years with varying degrees of commitment (often not much), but as I’m nearing the final stages of writing up I really need some hard data to back up my ramblings.

That’s where you come in.

In the initial stages I’m going to compile a list of bloggers (which I will make available here if anyone is interested). Then, I’ll be looking at which other platforms they’re using: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on.

I’m going to use a pretty snazzy open-source software called Gephi to plot the connections that exist between the people whose blogs I’ve been following. So I’ll track links between blogs, links between Twitter feeds, links between Facebook pages, etc. until eventually I should have some pretty awesome visualisations of what Perth’s online community looks like.

I will update here over the coming weeks with what is going on, but if you would like to know anything more please feel free to email me or leave a comment here.

A note about how I am using this information

I won’t be doing anything unethical with your information. Nothing will be made public that is not already public online. If you do not use your real name online, your name won’t appear online or in my thesis. I certainly will not be publishing anything like personal contact details.

If you would prefer not to be involved, just contact me and I will take you off the public list (and remove you from my research data altogether).

Are you just a creep? (Where’s your blog, Erin?)

I’ve realised it may seen a little tiny bit creepy that I am researching blogs and other social networks for my PhD when I don’t appear to have much of a blog myself.

Well! I did. For a very long time. Eight years. It’s currently on hiatus.

It was called …and this is what i think and was hosted at this address until earlier this year. Currently it’s on vacation at an undisclosed location (i.e. a domain that I’m not making public for the time being) until I decide to revive it.

So rest assured, I am not just doing this research as an opportunity to lurk around the web spying on others. I was one of you.

Researching networked, place-based identities

(or: four years of work in a couple hundred words)

My PhD research is a complex thing. And by “complex”, I mean “super geeky”.

It started out as an exploration of place identity – that is, our sense of self that ties us to the places that we inhabit, and the places that we are from – in the context of blogging.

Over the past four years it’s changed a thousand times, but I’m now nearing the end and need the hard data to back up what I’ve been observing for the past few years.

I’m looking at the idea of re-placing the self online.

Once upon a time, in the 1990s, there was no room for place or bodies online: you sat behind your computer (no mobile Internet back then!), left your physical self behind*, and adopted a new identity. Slow connection speeds and clunky interfaces made it difficult to represent the real online, and as such the virtual world looked very, very different.

Now though, thanks to a number of factors (including mobile technology, social media platforms, and the general ubiquity of the Internet) place has begun to matter once again. When we’re online, we tend to replicate our offline selves, rather than adopting a persona. Indeed, this line between online and offline doesn’t really exist anymore. Our profiles tell other users what our name is, where we’re from, and show them what we look like.

My research looks at the way that physical place influences our online sense of self. Online, we re-place our “real world” place networks, through blogs and social media.

Through gathering information about Perth bloggers, the platforms they use, and the networks they share, I am trying to paint a picture of what Perth looks like online. I’m also interested to know how far these networks extend offline, and will be getting in touch with bloggers over the next month to see if anyone would like to participate in providing me with this information that isn’t so easily seen online.

If you have any questions, please just leave a comment or email me.

*to some degree. We never have quite reached that cyberpunk fantasy of being able to detach ourselves from our physical being and live online forever!

Will blog for bookdeal?

There’s something in the air at the moment…

Perhaps it’s the success of the recent film Julie & Julia, or perhaps just an acknowledgement that – whoops – blogging’s not dead after all! Perhaps blogs are just really, really good at the moment. Perhaps publishers are simply panicking in the wake of the realisation that people don’t buy books anymore, because they’re all too busy reading books (which, for the record, is the exact opposite of the truth for me: my time spent reading blogs has actually lead to me purchasing more books than ever over the past five or so years – and even more importantly, branching out to buy genres that I previously wouldn’t have). Either way, it seems like more and more bloggers are quitting their day jobs to become fulltime writers. This is nothing new – Shauna of The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl first had her story published in print in early 2008. Even earlier than that, Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini landed a deal and has been writing ever since (and is, thankfully, still blogging).

In the past six months alone, numerous blogs that I read regularly have been offered book deals. The latest is Jenna of Eat Live Run, whose blog I do truly enjoy (especially recently, as I’m entirely envious of her recent employment at a winery in the Sonoma Valley outside of San Francisco). Jenna has been signed to write a memoir and recipe book, drawing upon her experiences as an exchange student in France and her time at culinary school. This is totally awesome, and perhaps I’m just jealous, but… aren’t memoirs usually reserved for people a little older than the ripe old age of 24? If any ELR fans are reading this, please don’t interpret what I’m saying as criticism – I love Jenna’s blog. I’m just a little curious as to how a 24 year old lands a book deal to write a memoir. Granted, the girl has had some crazy experiences over the past couple of years, and probably has some awesome stories to tell, but will I buy her book?

I’m not sure. I like blogs because I feel (and I hope) that the authors have complete artistic control over their writing. I worry that the transition from screen to page will come with some sort of sacrifice of honesty – both for the book, and the screen. How do you exert complete artistic control when a publishing company is breathing six-figure sums down your neck? Can you retain control in this situation, or does a little bit of the honesty and the personality that drew people to your blog in the first place have to be sacrified in the name of making money? Luckily for Jenna, she’s sweet-as-pie and not prone to whinging anyway… but what if I were offered a deal (*snort*)? No one would want to read a book full of whinging and whining…

I’m probably not going to buy the book by Caitlin of Operation Beautiful (or more accurately, in my case, See Bride Run Healthy Tipping Point – I read the food blog, but the book deal came from her other blog). I might, maybe, buy Matt of Matt, Liz & Madeline‘s book – if for no other reason, than because his posting lately has been sporadic at best, and I miss his voice (and I think he’s one person who definitely would retain control of his art). Yet these, along with Jenna, are people whose blogs I read every day (well – when they actually update), and will continue to do so until a point that their writing no longer interests me.

Is this just the latest angle in my crusade against blogging-for-money-and-free-shit? Possibly. Maybe I ought to get off my “oh I’ve been blogging for so long for no reward, blah blah blah” high-horse.  The truth is though, I just worry that the future of blogging is under threat when it grows increasingly common for bloggers to be rewarded for their writing. What ever happened to leaving some comments and building up a nice following? It seems these days that everyone’s striving towards using their blog as a portal to Something Bigger And Better. A search on Google for “blogger book deals” brings up more articles than I care to list (but here are a few) detailing the ins and outs and how-tos of using your blog to score a job, or a book deal, or freebies.

And the rest of us?

I’m stoked beyond belief when my visitor count stays over 50 for five days in a row (and then I immediately check what kind of weird and wacky things people have Googled to mistakenly end up here). Perhaps Australia isn’t quite at the same place at the States yet when it comes to the blogger-to-bookwriter trend, but will we ever be? And if/when that happens, who will get the deals?

Is the trend towards publishing bloggers in print, signalling the truth death of blogging? When integrity loses out to marketability, what hope do we have?

Catch up

I’m way behind on posts… I’ve been uber-busy lately with uni and exercising and spending what little time I have with Rhys, with Rhys (silly work of his :S). When I get round to it (and when I get my photos uploaded!), I will be discussing the following:

- Our engagement party

- Bloc Party gig

- Changes w/ regards to uni

- Uni stuff I’ve been getting involved with and my study plans for 2009

- Bunbury Half Marathon plans

- Goals for 2009

- My upcoming trips to Rottnest (for the day), Busselton, and Melbourne (!)

Hopefully I’ll get round to it by the end of this week… in the mean time, hang tight. Apologies to anyone who happens to be subscribed to my RSS feed and is getting shitty at me for not updating, just like I get shitty at the bloggers I love when they don’t update ;) Though I seriously doubt there’s anyone subscribing, and I can’t be bothered to check. Hehe.