How do « ordinary bloggers » blog ? And Why ?
Ethnographic investigations of « ordinary blogs and bloggers» by B. Nardi, D.J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht and L. Swartz provide insight into the practices, experiences and motivations of individuals and groups who publish a blog for a small audience.
The investigation combines interviews with 23 bloggers (age ranging between 19 and 60, 16 male and 7 female, higher education, a majority of students) and content analysis of a 9-day sample of their blog activities. It was carried out between April and June 2003, in California and New York.
In the 9 days, was published an average of 80 posts. Some bloggers published several times per day - in one case about 27 posts per day – others published every few days. The publishing process is a source of pressure: both creative pressure: bloggers feel that at times they have plenty of things to say, at times nothing much; and audience pressure: bloggers feel they have an audience expecting regular, good postings, and an obligation towards them. Participants speak about feeling burnout, and having stopped blogging for a while.
Posts had an average length of about 10 lines of text (209 words), with some posts comprising 494 words and others 80. There is real work around language to find the right “tactful” tone for direct and rich communication within a format that is quite limited. Compared to other digital communication formats, such as discussion lists, some participants appreciate the particular form that interaction takes with blogs. It is described as “interaction-at-one removed”; as “gentler, more reflective” and “constructive”: bloggers encourage comments on their posts and reciprocate by commenting others’ posts.
On the main page, blogs linked to surprisingly few blogs. The mean was 1, and range between 0 and 6 links. Individual posts instead on average included a link, with a range between 0 and 5 links. Links seem to be a differentiator between “ordinary blogs” and “topic-oriented” blogs as analysed by J. Bar-Ilan, who found that these blogs have many links both on the main page and within each post.
The bloggers interviewed say their preference for blogging over a web page because it is more dynamic “the rhythm of frequent, usually brief posts, the immediacy of reverse chronological order”, more focused “ the little distraction it provides”. As one of the participants put it: "You don't hear their voice in the same way".
Nardi and co-researchers identify four main non-exclusive motivations for publishing a blog.
For some participants, their blogs are personal diaries that describe to their family and friends the events, the projects and the experiences that happen in their life. Almost “real-time”, archiving and access from any web point are mentioned as very important features. A blog is perceived as a “superior alternative to sending mass emails” because it is freer and less intrusive: bloggers can publish when they feel it, readers can read when they feel like it, with no obligation to respond.
Other participants publish their blogs to raise and take position with respect to what they consider important public issues. They analyse and argue on issues that they feel "obsessive" or "passionate" and offer "a point of view, not just chatter". Politics, ethics and medical research are among the topics discussed. The blog works as an "outlet" for thoughts and feelings, and provides a framework for “working through issues, to let off steam”.
The act of writing, as art and craft or as a support for thinking, is also one of the motors of blogging. Blogging is a means for exploring and developing writing skills. As one participant says the discipline of blogging "forced him to keep writing”. Blogging is also a means to probe, articulate and convey one’s thinking on the public arena. It is partly a reality check, partly an interaction with the audience. And some participants describe the relationship they have with their "regulars" readers. Archiving of posts is again a central feature as some of the posts may be part of larger publishing endeavours.
A last reason for blogging is being part of a community. The publishing process becomes intrinsically collective, as people interact through blogs. "Blogs are natural community tools for people whose practice is to write and comment on the writing of others: researchers, poets, journalists, and to a lesser extent software programmers...and who typically obtain recognition from their written words".
Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 Million people read your diary?
B. A. Nardi, D. J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht 2004 (CSCW, 2004)
"I'm blogging this". A closer look at why people blog
B. A. Nardi, D. J. Schiano, M. Gumbrecht, L. Swartz (to appear Communications, December 2004)
An ousider's view on "topic-oriented" blogging
J. Bar-Ilan, WWW 2004, 2004
When: April - June 2003