Reflections on an Emerging Academic Weblog Community

Reflections on an Emerging Academic Weblog Community (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

The Seton Hill blogging community has a small number of dedicated bloggers who generate the vast majority of the activity (at one point I estimated that 5% of our bloggers generate 50% of the activity, though that number changes based on how close we are to a blog portfolio due in one of my classes). This year, it seems that more of the most committed bloggers already had blogs elsewhere, and still keep up their old blogs. One of the new crop of bloginators actually transferred to SHU after she started spending time on the SHU blogs. She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t have a tendency to blog elsewhere, so naturally she brings a different kind of approach to her blogging.

As the number of points in a network increases arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4) the number of possible connections increases geometrically (1, 4, 9, 16). Already this year I get the sense that the blogging community is not as tight as it was last year, but that is probably simply because we have 160 weblog authors now (though most of those who aren’t currently taking a course requiring them to blog aren’t touching their blogs).

We have more experienced bloggers in Writing for the Internet than I’ve ever taught in one place before, and many of them brought with them a network of blogging relationships, which means that the limited energy they have for blogging is shared.

If I were to measure the blogging activity at, and draw conclusions about what blogs are and what bloggers do, we would end up with an incomplete image of blogging. When the Perseus data first came out, lone wolf bloggers (those who don’t use ready-made packages) were quick to point out the flaws.

Still, the Perseus report put forth this observation:

Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life. It will be written very informally (often in “unicase”: long stretches of lowercase with ALL CAPS used for emphasis) with slang spellings, yet will not be as informal as instant messaging conversations (which are riddled with typos and abbreviations). Underneath the iceberg, blogging is a social phenomenon: persistent messaging for young adults.

If you place it in the proper perspective — most blogs hosted at large centralized blogging hosting services fit this description — it all makes sense. Some media figures reacted with such disdain that I wonder if they themselves feel that a teenage girl’s social blogging isn’t really “blogging”. We’ve discussed several times in “Writing for the Internet” that social blogs, academic blogs, political blogs, and fictional blogs all serve different purposes.

Lampa is right to question that concept of the blogosphere by noting that most blogs, and most bloggers, don’t fit that category. But, in the case of SHU, where about 5% of the bloggers generate about 50% of the activity, it’s probably still fair to say that most of the *blogging* does fit that category.

It’s simply the nature of the medium. A certain kind of blogging perpetuates itself on the Internet. Other kinds don’t.

The teenage girl who doesn’t link to outside sources and who doesn’t read other blogs isn’t doing anything wrong — of course she should feel free to blog however she wants. But she’s only engaging in a subset of the activities usually understood as part of blogging. (See Jill Walker’s definition of blogging, which was itself generated on her blog, via comments collected from bloggers.)

Bloggers who like reading other blogs, who leave comments on other blogs, and who engage in what I call “xenoblogging” tend to get more comments. If you happen to be someone for whom getting comments is a satisfactory reward for blogging, then you will be encouraged to blog more. If you happen to blog the kind of entries that attract comments, then the more comments you get, the more you will blog. At system that rewards behavior that sustains the system is healthy.

If, on the other hand, you don’t particularly care whether anyone comments on your blog, or you don’t even blog with a system that permits comments, or you don’t track inbound links or other signs of interest from the outside world, then you won’t have any incentive to adjust your writing style in order to encourage interaction. We don’t tend to come across systems that don’t perpetuate themselves or can’t adapt, simply because those systems die out. (See “Emergence.”)

The writing on such weblogs isn’t necessarily worse than the writing on weblogs, it’s just less… well… it’s less bloggy. If you don’t really gain any bloggy benefits from posting an online diary, you won’t be motivated to go to the extra trouble to publish your writing online.