on distributed presence (and blogrolls)

One of the things I find most interesting about the current proliferation and extensive uptake of various ‘social media’ technologies, from RSS readers, to del.icio.us, facebook and twitter as well as weblogs themselves, is the decentralising effect that these technologies are having the ‘online presence’ of individuals, at the same time as these technologies are being adopted at scale. Put simply, there are more of us online, in more places. But is more really more?

When I first started this blog around four years ago, it was used as a bucket for just about everything I did online – most of which was somehow work-related. These days my day-to-day bookmarks are in one place, my photos in another, lyrical one-liners about the weather and anxious rants about procrastination somewhere else, and personal announcements, birthday greetings and most other online phatic communication somewhere else entirely. If I have the time, headspace and confidence, I blog about my academic work/life here or at the other research blog I share with my colleagues (which is looking slightly neglected at the moment, I’m afraid). And it should hardly need saying, but of course all of that adds up to only a very partial and (sometimes) controlled version of my professional and/or personal identity.

One thing that has struck me lately, is that this hyper-distributed version of online presence, connecting us in different ways to a variety of colleagues, professional, personal, and online acquaintances, and close friends, couldn’t be further from the 1990s personal home page – a one-stop shop that often seemed to incorporate everything from a CV to cat photos, holiday snaps, essays and online diary. It’s important to note that, given the comparative unevenness of internet access, use and participation at the time, the personal home page was a form of cultural production never adopted at anything like the current scale of blogs and SNS profiles.*

At the same time, some discussion of blogrolls has come up at Mel’s blog. I have been thinking about that this morning in terms of the increasingly distributed quality of ‘online presence’, and the uses of social media relative to technological shifts, that I mentioned above.

I have a feeling that blogrolls probably have an important antecedent in a standard element of the personal home page genre – the ‘links’ page, which you could see as a user-led innovation that preceded web directories and sophisticated search engines. These links lists (and, later, webrings) were used to create a neighbourhood of similar, favourite, or somehow relevant webpages – back in the days when it might have seemed feasible to collect links to most of, or even the most relevant, webpages on your chosen topic!

Similarly, I never thought of my own blogroll as any kind of performance of who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ of my social circle – it was a list of blogs that I had found to be of relevance to one or more of the topics I was writing about (new media studies, amateur cultural production, music, cultural studies), or blogs that I particularly enjoyed reading, or, sometimes, that were produced by people I knew. It was one among several methods of creating and contributing to a textual neighbourhood. Implicitly, the act of adding someone’s blog to your own list was a low-key signal to that blog’s author that you were reading them. I think using the blogroll in that way is simply collegial behaviour. But now that there are far too many blogs on any given topic to be accommodated in any one list, the question is what to do about the problem of sheer scale?

Also, these days I access most of the blogs I read via RSS, and catch the traces of their authors’ web browsing via their del.icio.us links or links within individual blog entries, while visiting the actual URLs of individual blogs only rarely, and then mainly to view or contribute comments. I know that 80% or so of my readers do the same; so is anyone actually using anyone else’s blogrolls anymore anyway? Should we ditch the blogroll entirely? I don’t know about that. I’m happy to let mine just sit there in the sidebar, deleting the links that are clearly defunct or too far removed from my current interests, and adding new ones now and then.

Much of what has been most valued about blogs proceeds from the idea that blog authors make the effort to link widely and specifically to other blogs that deal with similar topics or issues. I’m not sure that this interlinking within blog entries is occurring nearly so much as it used to. If I’m right about that (and I’m happy to be corrected) perhaps the lack of a strong explicit interest among bloggers in pursuing the idea of blogging as a networked practice is due to the obsessive characterisation of blogs as a kind of ‘personal publishing’ (or at most ‘journalism’), and the continued reification of ‘authorship’, rather than as a conversational or networked form of cultural production. And in fact, perhaps the technological architectures and relatively stable cultural norms around blogging simply shape it towards individualistic and self-referential forms of textual production. I believe many in the LiveJournal community would agree. In which case, perhaps the increased ‘distribution’ of online presence is a good thing.

In any case, it’s clear that there are continuing struggles and negotiations within every blog, and within discourses about blogging, about the extent to which blogging is a platform that supports the individualistic privileges (and responsibilities) of authorship, and the extent to which it supports the propagation of collective cultural practice and conversation.

*By the way, the Google algorithm makes it almost impossible to find an example of a 1990s personal home page through normal keyword searches, and it’s getting harder, even if you type in a genre-specific phrase like “welcome to my home page”. If you find yourself becoming strangely obsessed by the aesthetics of this forgotten genre, including starry backgrounds and animated ‘under construction’ gifs, then I refer you to the world’s expert on the ‘vernacular web’: Olia Lialina.

Update: I almost forgot – we will be discussing ‘online presence’ for postgrads and early career researchers in media and cultural studies at the next MACS meeting, this Friday the 12th Oct, 2.30-4.00pm, at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

Australian Blogging Conference this Friday

On Friday I’m going to be at the Australian Blogging Conference, which is being held here at the Creative Industries Precinct, QUT Kelvin Grove. A bit of the blurb:

BlogOzThe growth of the Australian blogging community has mirrored the expansion of the blogosphere elsewhere in the developed world. However, there have been only a few opportunities afforded to Australian bloggers to get together and discuss their common interest. This unconference, modelled on the successful BloggerCons in the United States, aims to redress this by providing a forum that will allow Australian bloggers to gather together and talk about blogging and the Australian blogosphere. It aims to be a user-focused conference for the Australian blogging community.

This will not be a conference in the traditional sense. It will be relatively informal. Instead of lengthy presentations, people will be invited lead discussions on various topics throughout the day – some practical, such as how to build a better blog, and some theoretical on the role, influence and future of blogs.

Melissa Gregg, Axel Bruns and I are leading the 10.30 am session ‘Researching Blogging and Blogging Research’. These are some of the questions we hope will provoke some really interesting and dynamic discussion:

* What’s there to research about blogging?
* What research methodologies can be used to research blogging?
* How do blogs support the research process?
* How do blogs contribute to disseminating research?

Looking forward to seeing some of you there, and for those who can’t attend I’m sure there will be video and/or blog entries galore on most of the sessions.

And the day before that, I’m graduating. Looking forward to finally wearing that floppy hat.

uses of blogs hits the stands

Uses of Blogs, an anthology of scholarly essays (include one by me on higher ed classroom blogging) edited by Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs, is now officially available.


Uses of blogsAs the first edited collection of scholarly articles on blogging by experts and practitioners in a wide range of fields, Uses of Blogs offers a broad spectrum of perspectives on current and emerging uses of blogs. While blogging is rapidly developing into a mainstream activity for Internet users, the actual application of blogs in specific contexts has so far been under-explored. Because there are a variety of styles of blogging – from de facto news sites to marketing blogs, blogs as learning tools, writers’ drafting blogs, corporate dark blogs and fictional blogs, to name a few – it can be difficult to imagine how blogs might be used in particular environments. This book demonstrates the take-up of blogs and blogging for a number uses in industrial and social contexts.

Go on, you know you want one!

Henry Jenkins now has a blog

Henry Jenkins, leading scholar in fandom, participatory culture, media convergence and vernacular media theory and Director of the Comparative Media Center at MIT has just started a blog, mainly, he says, to promote his new book Convergence Culture. I secretly hope it spirals out of control way beyond that, and with the number of people noting his emergence into the blogosophere, it seems likely that this will happen.

no cinematic equivalent to autobiography?

In this videoblog remix, I think Trine begs to differ. Lovely stuff.

I’ve been thinking as well that perhaps ‘the everyday’ is the currency of videoblogging in a way that is more muted for (personal) text-based blogging. Not that everydayness is more or less present, but that it is more important in creating whatever affective power the genre has. I’m speculating very tentatively here, but maybe it has something to do with the illusion of more immediate self-mediated representation – not ‘truth’, exactly; maybe it’s about how mundane details (washing up in the background, dogs barking in the distance, whatever) creep in without being written in. It’s certainly something to do with multimodality. I wonder if Trine, or anyone else, has any thoughts on that?

I haven’t started work for the day yet, so no word count 😉

T-Shirt Stoushing

Have I invented a meme? Will fame and fortune finally be mine? We all know that’s less than likely, but my slightly childish (and little-understood) substitution of a t-shirt design in the place of rational debate about identities and television prompted Mark to appropriate the idea as a new weapon in “blog stoushing”, and it has caught on….once, and then been recuperated for the market as a mere exercise in t-shirt design and shameless self-promotion. 😉

More seriously, I am actually thinking about experimenting with completely non-discursive, if not non-verbal blogging (video posts of me lying in the park listening to birds, audio posts of my brain ticking over, and zany t-shirt designs), because sometimes I wish the whole internet, especially me, would just shut up for 5 minutes. We could try listening.

Even more seriously, am quite hot on DIY t-shirt design websites like spreadshirt, cafe press, et al as platforms for wearable vernacular creativity.

And, beyond seriousness and heading towards sheer terror, I have a very, very, very scary publication and general things-to-do timeline leading up to Christmas.

personal media: the view from the Beeb

J.D. Lasica has posted the video of his interview with BBC technology reporter Jo Twist about the personal media revolution.

Here are my notes on the interview, trying to pull out the way Twist characterises the relations between technology, creativity, and cultural participation (I am such a broken record, thanks to this damn PhD, oh well). The ways in which these relations are understood by Twist are getting very, very, familiar to me by now – which is good in that I have obviously got the “dominant” construction of this stuff right, but kind of wearying in some ways as well (the new media fatigue has, if anything, gotten worse lately). But in an effort to be a positive, proactive theory-builder rather than a whining, reactive theory-spouter in my own conceptual work, I have banned myself from using the word “hype” for the time being.

So, the notes:

Technology: “tools” [for production] marked by ease-of-use (eg blogger); platforms for networking and distribution (eg flickr)

Creativity: people need compelling motivations to engage in personal media creation (in Twist’s case, flickr led to blogging, and not the other way around)

Community: powerful distribution and connectivity, articulated to personal media creation, may deliver on the promise of online community, where community is understood by Twist as some configuration of: connectivity, relationships, and (I prick up my ears ever so slightly) difference.

Then there’s a whole lot of stuff about the contribution of citizen’s media to Big Media, podcasting, grassroots newsgathering, etc etc, all of which the BBC is leading the television industry in, but isn’t exactly what I’m into.

It disturbs me slightly just how weightless and effortless, how transparent and non-specific, these characterisations of the practice of “consumer” content creation are; I guess I am trying to do a little something about that, in my humble and painfully slow fashion. Tally ho, then.