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January 18, 2004

Defining and Categorizing Weblogs

For a while, i've been trying to put my head around categorizing blogs and journals. My coarse attempt to encourage debate on the identity of bloggers resulted in a heated discussion over the validity of my assumption that blogs and journals are different. Of course, while folks here didn't buy the difference between bloggers and journalers, i read as a journaler objected to being labeled a blogger.

Plotting with Liz, we realized that a larger conversation must emerge about the categorization of blogs - why categorize? How?

Plot 1: Bring the interested Etech folks together to have an interesting conversation. Although i realize that this will be dominated by a particular kind of blogger, hopefully we can get folks thinking outside of the box for a bit.

Plot 2: Hold a workshop at a conference where we can attract a more diverse segment of bloggers/journalers.

Plot 3: Do a bit of ethnography as necessary

Plot 4: Publish our findings.

Since folks here are obviously interested in this discussion, we'd like to encourage you to engage with us on this venture. Join us at Etech if this is feasible for you!

Posted by zephoria at 08:54 PM in Research | Permalink


Danah, I respect what you and Liz are doing, but what you've done is shut down the voice of most of the blogging and even journaling community by saying, 'we'll have a conference..'

If this is a blogger thing, have it here, in the blogs.

You're excluding everyone here, you all tried to bring in, by delimiting this conversation to those people at a tech conference most of us can't afford, is US based, and is famous for having a 'ten percent women' mark.

Ladies, I do not want to come out negative on this. I think you're doing good things here, and I want to help.

I am really trying to focus on positive things, I really am. But you've just excluded me.

It's discouraging to always be in the shadows, that majority that can't afford to belong.

Posted by: Shelley at Jan 18, 2004 9:55:56 PM

I can't be at Etech, but I know some fine fine people who will be. Start it there, but then please (as Shelley asks) bring it on back to a place where more of us can swim with you.

Posted by: Paul Hoffman at Jan 19, 2004 12:05:25 AM

Shelley - i really appreciate your feedback. But one thing that i've definitely learned is that face-to-face brainstorms have a totally different flavor than digital ones. That said, you make me realize how important transparency is in this conversation. After the first round of conversations at Etech we will post the discussion for feedback, iteration. That's the perfect way to move into the next iteration of RL conversations. As much as some folks can operate conversations well online, i'm definitely not one of them. I prefer to move to physical spaces and iterate digitally and physically. That's why we proposed RL discussions.

Do you think that would be a reasonable way to bridge the two?

Posted by: zephoria at Jan 19, 2004 2:45:30 AM

Now, here is an interesting pattern emerging.

First, Danah defines bloggers in such a way that the blog type many women seem to prefer (i.e. the journal form) is excluded. Then she asks "Why are there so few women"??

It is pointed out (by Torill and Jasper in a comment) that in Scandinavia female bloggers have a much higher profile than described here. That is my experience as well. Here in Iceland a widely read feminist magazine had blogs as their cover story some months back, highlighting the same situation as described by both Torill and Jasper.

The proposed solution: Lets have a conference, - in the US, on the west coast - discuss this and then publish a paper.

Is that a way to get a good overview on how and and when blogs are used and by whom? Maybe take in the cultural influence of the society that we live in? Or are we only really interested in how it is in the US? Do we really have no interest whatsovever in how things are in those cultures where womens fight for equal rights have been most successful?

If that is the case, be sure to prefix the paper with the necessarey disclaimers "complaining about lack of women in groups where women have been excluded".

Posted by: helga at Jan 19, 2004 4:30:55 AM

Helga - the reason to meet at Etech is because many people interested in this topic will be there and it's 3 weeks away. I know that it is not the place to get a universal discussion going, but it's a great place to begin the conversation. I will be in Vienna in April and would love to gather folks for a BoF at CHI, or even external to CHI if folks will be in town and able to talk.

My goal is not to exclude, but i'm *fully* cognizant of the privilege of being able to attend these conferences. That said, i'm also an academic and it's the way that i'm able to travel and thus have these conversations outside of my home town.

I'm also fully aware that, no matter who meets, we won't be able to cover all bases. First off, i doubt we'll have any representative under 18 at any of these discussions. Yet, that's a HUGE part of the community speaking on blogs. Understanding holes and reaching out to them is part of why "ethnography" is included there.

Posted by: zephoria at Jan 19, 2004 4:49:35 AM

I have to say I'm a bit baffled by the outburst of hostility here. If we limited research into socio/technical phenomenon to only those people are willing and able to travel the world interviewing each individual potential subject, there'd be precious little research of any kind.

The fact that danah and I are going to meet to talk about this at ETech is not because we think it's necessarily the best venue--it's because we'll both be there, and it's a good opportunity to do some face-to-face brainstorming, and to do it in a place where we can hear views from the people there. Those are far from the only ideas we'll incorporate into what we're doing.

The fundamental error that Shelley and Helga are making is equating the meetings to talk about the research with the research itself. Of *course* we need to be looking at weblogs and webloggers internationally. Of *course* we need to talk to, read, and think about people who aren't in the technical elite, those who aren't in the US, those who aren't reading this blog, and more.

It never would have occurred to me to criticize Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen's excellent paper on weblogs simply because it was written in Norway by researchers who met and worked on it together in Norway, and therefore couldn't possibly reflect my experiences here in the US. Why is the assumption here, then, that a paper that begins with a face-to-face meeting between two US citizens in the US something that can't possibly result in an internationally-aware paper?

Helga, some of what you suggest is quite helpful--it would have been nice if you hadn't framed it in quite such a hostile way.

We posted about what we're doing here specifically *because* we want to engage a larger community in what we're doing. If we didn't, it wouldn't have made much sense to blog it and invite participation in the dialog, would it?

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 19, 2004 8:33:42 AM

Danah, you're talking about categorizing blogging, but you're saying that you can't use blogs to have this converation because you need face to face interaction. I have to think that blogs are the perfect place to have this type of conversation: that's what we've been touting is the strength of blogs, all this time. They enable participation of people regardless of geographical or even economic constraints (though internet access is a constraint that can't be denied).

I am very uncomfortable with a growing trend I'm seeing to distinguish between 'weblogs' and 'journals'. Weblogs were supposedly a classless communication medium (though, unfortunately, we do have the 'warblogger' 'techblogger' split we can't seem to eliminate). You've quoted a Livejournal user who thinks that journal folks are different than bloggers, but this is really based on LiveJournal users tending to see themselves as different from others because of the community aspects of Livejournal.

But you know, she's developed this bias probably because there is a growing move to exclude from the concept of 'weblogging' the people who mainly want to chat about themselves and connect with others of like mind and interests.

You, I have no doubt, have the best motives in the world for this effort -- academic curiousity (which is a good thing), your own personal curiousity (ditto), and a desire to generate understanding and perhaps find a way of breaking the power law elitism that so dominates too many of our conversations. All good. I have no doubt that Liz and everyone else at Misbehaving shares this.

But others who are bringing up these conversations -- distinguising between 'types' of weblogs, and then categorizing some as 'not blog' because they don't fit some form of acceptable standard of behavior -- don't necessarily have the best of the community at heart.

It's interesting when you mention about 'holes' and reaching out to them, but most of the people in the holes would probably rather you didn't. They don't see themselves as part of a hole -- they're just webloggers.

Of course you all will meet and continue your effort regardless of what I say. You weren't asking opinion on this approach, you were basically giving folks a heads up that's what you're doing, and inviting other etech participants to join in.

(You may not know that you've actually picked _the_ conference that started much of the discussion about the lack of women participants in tech conferences. I noticed that etech is actually highlighting women speakers more this year, though the ratio of women to men speakers remains the same. But change doesn't happen overnight, and it's a good start.)

I will most likely start writing on this, and I hope to do so in a positive manner, but it probably won't agree with what you're doing. I cannot see a good come of categorizing bloggers -- I've been bit by that one in the past. I hope though, that the conversation continues at the level we're seeing here, because I appreciate the fact that this was initiated in a very open manner.

Posted by: Shelley at Jan 19, 2004 8:52:07 AM

Liz posted while I was writing my post.

Liz, I don't believe that my comment was hostile. In fact, I've tried to go out of my way to frame my concerns in the most unhostile way that I could. Helga's was a stronger comment then mine, but I don't necessarily see it as hostile. In fact, I thought Danah's responses to both of us continued a conversation that was based on disagreement, but not animosity.

I am concerned now that if I do write on this, or this effort, not matter how I frame it, if I don't agree, it will be seen as hostile, and lines of communication that are just barely starting again, will be closed down.

Posted by: Shelley at Jan 19, 2004 8:57:34 AM

Shelley, my frustration comes from accusations that seem to me unfounded. It's hard for me not to perceive an accusation of elitism and exclusivity as hostile. That said, I do believe that you offered your comments in a genuine attempt to participate ina positive way, and I appreciate that.

We *are* having these conversations "in the blogs," and we're not limiting it only face-to-face conversations at expensive tech conferences. But as she, and I, both know, people collaborating on a research project tend to do much better if they have an opportunity for face-to-face communication.

We're not really asking "should we do this"--we've already decided that this is an area in which we both have interest in doing research. We are interested in the kind of things you mention above--why do some people want to be considered webloggers, and why do others not? What is a weblog, really? Can you simply say "This is not a weblog," and have it be true? (Ceci n'est pas une pipe...)

I've written a little more about the "why do this" part on my personal site, which is tracked-back above. There are also some interesting comments showing up on danah's post on her blog.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 19, 2004 9:34:02 AM

Well, it is good to get a response, even if people feel I have stated my point of view strongly. That was intentional but not ment to be hostile.

I feel, of course that anybody should be free to discuss anything with anybody anywhere. However, I did feel that the presentation of the "plots" as framed in this post, following Liz' posting on Torills blog entry, again following the "white male" blog entry by Danah was presented in such a way that an exclusive focus was likely and I wanted to raise that point.

Of course a discussion about research is not the same as research. However, if you read the plot, you will find that it is easy to draw the conclusion that there will be a workshop, "a bit of" ethnography, and then a publishing. That does not sound as a research outline, that sounds as pulling together the result of a workgroup. A bit of clarification on that point in the comments was good.

So, I hope you guys have a good time at Etech, that you are able to pull together a good framework for your research, even if it means that you have to de-hostilize those comments you receive ;) and drink a glass of red wine for me :)

Posted by: helga at Jan 19, 2004 10:40:25 AM

helga, I will happily drink a glass of red wine for you. And I hope at some point to drink one *with* you, as well. :)

And my apologies to both you and Shelley for my being so defensive in my responses here. The pushback is healthy, and valuable, and welcome.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 19, 2004 1:39:11 PM

Shelley - there is no doubt that blogging allows conversation to have regardless of geographical constraints (although i hesitate over economic). But there are other constraints that emerge around social issues. People's mechanism for sharing drastically differs depending on their personality and how safe they feel in sharing their opinion. And personally, i do not like blogging as a means of having a research conversation. It has never worked for me. I started blogging in 1996 for my Zen professor and ever since then have always used it as a place to write my thoughts, not my place to dialogue. And i haven't gotten over that hurdle particularly well. Brainstorms tend to happen much more in RL for me than online.

The reason to discuss categorization is not simply to create separate weblog/journal labels. The one thing i learned from this conversation is that simplicity just will not do. This is why i want to have the conversation... not to exclude LJ-esque blogs, but to think of blogs as a meta-category and understand what exists within. Categorization is a technique to break down subtle differences. Think librarians and linguists. What i'm looking to do is understand the diverse reasons, approaches, conceptions, etc. Not every blogger is the same. Who are they? Why are they doing this? Who isn't doing this and why? Are they doing something similar that should be considered blogging? Are they meeting the same needs through a totally different approach?

I'm sorry.. i don't believe that blogs are the great equalizer; i think much is lost. I think a lot of people don't blog because of their personality.

Like i said, Etech is not the ideal conference. I know that. That's why i'm not expecting it to be the finale. But i do know one thing. Everything that comes out of that damn thing is highly blogged and transparent. And i also know that it's somewhere that i will be with other like-minded folks in precisely 3 weeks. And if that's the first time that i can sit and brainstorm, fantastic. It's not going to be the last.

Posted by: zephoria at Jan 19, 2004 2:32:42 PM

Shelley says, "I am very uncomfortable with a growing trend I'm seeing to distinguish between 'weblogs' and 'journals'."

This isn't a growing trend, it existed from the beginning of weblogging -- because online journals were a phenomenon that grew earlier (Ryan at Diarist.net, Journal vs Weblog, Aug 2001). The two exist in a continuum but there are differences (according to folks who write online journals).

Posted by: Anita Rowland at Jan 19, 2004 5:52:59 PM

Anita, the trend I'm seeing is that those who consider themselves webloggers, and who write about everyday events in their lives, are being declassed as webloggers, whether they want this declassification or not. The reason seems to be one of shoving them out so that they don't muck up the 'legitimacy' of weblogging.

I am aware of the 'rules' of weblogging. Webloggers shall not talk about their lives; webloggers shall link; webloggers shall write short commentary to accompany links. Webloggers are, above all, serious. I respect these 'rules' as much as the rules outlined in that article that says journals can't include links, with short commentary.

However, correction noted, and thank you for it. I should have said, "I'm concerned about this growing 'recent' trend to declass those who consider themselves as webloggers just because they write about themselves".

All of this classification seems arbitrary, based on rules seemingly defined by people uncomfortable with folks just wanting to write about what they want to write about.

Posted by: Shelley at Jan 19, 2004 7:29:42 PM

My blog is that of a woman in tech. But I'm not in a cutting edge field (I work for a newspaper) nor am I an academic. I'm a web designer that has recently moved into a management position. My biggest challenge is building acceptance of a digital product from our readers (who are accustomed to paper) and my higher-ups (who are also accustomed to paper) while still managing to earn revenue. And maintain a life outside of work. While convincing the people who call me on the telephone that I'm not the administrative assistant. ;)

People like me will never go to etech or SXSW or Macworld. While some are writing research papers, and others are writing the next killer app, we are trying to figure out how to tweak our budgets so that we can purchase software upgrades for our staff. We are marrying tech with the real world. And so our blogs consist of more than a recycled list of technews items with witty commentary on each.

And because of that, our blogs -- and therefore, our voices -- are being dismissed as something less valid. That's tragic.

I'm not an academician, and frankly, I feel intimidated by some of the posts on this site because I'm not trained to write in that manner. (I suspect others feel the same, though I have no source to cite). I do know, however, that dissenting views aren't always hostile views. And calling dissenters 'hostile' only serves to hamper open conversation.

Posted by: kimberly at Jan 19, 2004 11:36:34 PM

I am sure I am not really in the loop, but what is the big difference? Why must things be classified? I think the cool thing about a blog is that today it can be a journal, tommorow it can be top news, and yeterday it can just be random.

Typically the best {descriptive word here} eventually gets recognized as one of the bests. I think perhaps maybe I just have too much fun and am too random to care about my category :)

Posted by: aaron wall at Jan 20, 2004 6:54:11 AM


I'm not sure I understand why you feel that "[y]our blogs -- and therefore, [y]our voices -- are being dismissed as something less valid."

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 20, 2004 3:06:18 PM

I always find it highly amusing when people object to their blogs being called blogs or try to define some difference between blogs and journals or some other label that they prefer. A weblog is simply a medium, like pen and paper is a medium. A pen and paper doesn't become something else other than pen and paper just because you think what you write on it is somehow different from what other people are writing on their paper. You can do anything you want with a blog, just like you can write anything want with a pen and paper, but it's still a blog. I don't like the word either so call it whatever you want but we're still talking about the same thing.

By the way, I found you via This Public Address.

Posted by: Lynn S at Jan 20, 2004 5:11:38 PM

Lovely, cogent feedback regarding an exercise that I don't trust to be comprehensive and inclusive, but rather exclusive and by its very nature self-serving. But then, everyone is free to research and confer all they like.

If you write a post saying that you're having a meeting with a few folks at a conference to begin defining and categorizing weblogs (reference to the title of your post), you better believe you'll get commenters asking, who died and made you boss? That's what bloggers are made of. It's so cool.

Posted by: jeneane at Jan 20, 2004 7:19:28 PM

Jeneane - how do you feel about the library? When you are looking for materials related to other materials, do you damn librarians for failing to include you in the categorization of materials simply because you might have a book in the library? Sure, i question how my material was categorized, but i truly value the categorization schemes that these diligent folks have spent a lifetime trying to perfect. It's not simply an exercise in categorization for categorization, or even for an end user to find books. Librarians, like linguists, also categorize to understand deeper questions about the relationship between material, both in the production and conumption cycle. This may not be your cup of tea, but i doubt you despise librarians for engaging in what they find to be a fascinating exercise.

Posted by: zephoria at Jan 20, 2004 7:27:01 PM

I just read Bonnie Nardi et al.'s unpublished article on why people blog called
"I'm Blogging This" - A Closer Look at Why People Blog.
In this article they sketch out several reasons for blogging such as:

Blogs as Journals to "Document my Life"
Blogs as Commentary: "A Point of View, not Just Chatter"
Blogs as Catharsis: "Me Working Out my Own Issues"
Blog as Muse: "Thinking by Writing"
Blogs to Build Community: "Getting in Conversation with Each Other Electronically"

which they found on the basis of several interviews with bloggers during the summer 2003. The article is filled with illustrative examples and is quite easy read. I just thought some of you might find it interesting.

btw it's part of the curriculum on Paul Dourish class at UC Irvine on computing and cyberspace. (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jpd/classes/ics234cw04)

Posted by: anna at Jan 20, 2004 7:29:31 PM

"Lovely, cogent feedback regarding an exercise that I don't trust to be comprehensive and inclusive, but rather exclusive and by its very nature self-serving."

Thanks for your helpful comments, Jeneane. It's nice to see how this community has really pitched in to make this a collaborative project.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 20, 2004 7:45:18 PM

I'm a little bemused by what I'm reading and am a little reluctant to join in because I worry that I'll come under fire but it sounds like people are taking this discussion way too personally. Danah and Liz have put together a preliminary plan of trying to get people together to discuss blogs face to face to help brainstorm approaches and ideas. Shelley brought up a great point on making sure that this discussion about blogs continues in a blog so that more people can be included in the discussion, and Danah and Liz have responded that they will report their results in an online format to help include people who can only participate online. Just because Danah and Liz are meeting at a conference doesn't mean that they're going to stop thinking or talking about the subject afterwards - although I guess I could be corrected on this point. And also, there's nothing to stop anyone from starting their own blog discussion if they don't feel that Danah and Liz are approaching the topic in the way that they think it should be approached.

Finally, please don't attribute the attitude or opinions of one commenter to the entire Misbehaving readership. For any online discussion, some of it I might agree with and some of it I might not, so other readers might feel/react the same way. It's just something to keep in mind - since online discussions are pretty faceless, it's really easy to misinterpret tone and intent or what people are thinking.

Posted by: b. at Jan 20, 2004 8:43:27 PM

Thanks, b.

You're right to remind me/us that one commenter doesn't represent the totality of the readership. I do know that. And it's why I want to keep this site alive, despite my current frustration.

And if it were just one commenter, or one comment, or comments on one entry, it might be different. But for me, this thread was really just the proverbial straw.

Posted by: Liz Lawley at Jan 20, 2004 9:25:25 PM

See anna'scomment above. more good feedback.

Liz, What I'm saying there is that I agree with all of the concerns raised about the exclusive nature of the exercise. Maybe it's me--it could be all me--but what I often read over here is: "We are doing X" and then readers say "well, have you thought about a, b, or c?" and the a post like yours above judges the questioning as hostility and commetors get, "well *of course* we know that. We're doing it the way we're doing it because this is one way to do it, and if you don't like it you could do your own X." Is the goal for you to dialog and perhaps even learn from others here, or to be right? It's disheartning, at least to me.

Posted by: jeneane at Jan 20, 2004 9:49:01 PM