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Nail in the coffin for LJ [04 Dec 2007|08:48am]
Okay so this thing has been out of style for about 2 years now, and given pretty much everyone has migrated to Facebook and/or has actually invested in their own blogs, LJ is pretty much useless. But now SixApart (the only company that actually knows what its doing in blogging) has sold off the expensive and clunky LJ product to Russian firm SUP. Of course Lj is trying to celebrate it by saying it has a new home. What you should know about SUP is that its major source of revenue is online advertising and its association with Livejournal (under licence since October 2006) has predominantly been to drive Russian interest in the act of blogging and then to use the platform to sell goods and services.

Of course, most of the users have been the main reason for LJ's demise, but this was always going to happen. SixApart deal primarily with mainstream bloggers, not the traditionally unruly (and remarkably change-resistant) mob of LJ users, so SixApart were struggling uphill to bring LJ in to the modern era of social networking. The current change in ownership is clearly an opportunity for SixApart to wash their hands of the obstreperous mass.

I'll still be here technically, but given it's been 72 weeks since my last post, I suggest you head over to my usual blog at joannejacobs.net if you want to stay in touch with the happenings in blogland.
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[10 Jul 2006|11:00am]
I'm fascinated by the research project currently being conducted by the US Military on blogs, attempting to model the significance of available information in blogs. This appears to be a ranking system designed to distinguish important or relevant information (regardless of its accuracy) and then map this information importance to known information about a range of subjects.

I wonder whether we are moving to a point where accuracy of information is now regarded as less important than accepted information? Or perhaps whether we are just admitting it now :)

(Thanks also to Westy for the link!)
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Blogging bytes [04 Jun 2006|09:27am]
As Uses of Blogs is now available for order through Amazon, and as it is shipped to stores around the world in time for the next semester of classes, a few blog-related issues have raised their heads in a timely enough manner for me to post them here.

Firstly Seth Godin has set up a 'How to' for driving traffic to blogs. Most of the instructions are fairly common sense, but when it comes down to it, driving traffic to a blog is actually pretty simple if you say something particularly controversial and/or interesting, and enough people link to your site. This is why del.icio.us is useful. Get your site saved by ehough people and suddenly you can find your blog appear on other famous blogs and traffic takes off of its own accord. The more difficult task is concentrating traffic and locking in traffic - concepts that are familiar to marketers and which Godin is probably more accurately trying to articulate in his list. It's worth a read of course, and it's interesting that Seth recommends a certain level of personalisation as a means of humanising commentary, but other than that it's fairly simple stuff.

Somewhat more interesting are the mapping tools which are now available for blogs. These visual representations of network connections permit a much simpler way of demonstrating the value of a blogging network, and therfore can be quite useful when arguing for blogging and other social software facilities to be embedded in publishing strategies both on and offline. Boards and venture capitlaists 'get' network maps. They don't care about the visionary comments advocating social software; they want demonstrable outputs, and these maps provide a simple visual representation fo such outputs. Well worth considering if you ever want to argue for the value of blogs in business ventures.

In the US, there has been a ruling noting that bloggers are not liable for comments made in response to blog posts, under the Communications Act. This is very good news, even if it should seem entirely common sense. The very idea of anonymous blog comments being attributed to a blogger is absolutely outrageous and while it could have lined th pockets of many lawyers, it would have been an enormous waste of court time. Occasionally realism prevails. I'm hoping that this is one of those times and that the ruling will be regarded as precedence throughout the world.

Finally, my recent lead article in the Australian Flexible Learning Framework's journal, The Knowledge Tree, is available in text and podcast form, and the online conference I conducted last week is also available from the current edition home page. I'm keen for the conversation to continue from that article, so please feel free to enter your own responses to the ideas raised therein.
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So what's all the fuss about, Rupert? [16 Mar 2006|04:51am]
Everyone is talking about Rupert Murdoch's speech in London on Monday night as an astonishing, bold statement on the impending death of mainstream media.

Am I missing something?

Murdoch may have noted that the age of the blogger is upon us, and the media industry is subject to the kind of change that may affect businesses who assume their markets will stay static - but this is hardly revolutionary stuff. You could say the same for media when commercial radio emerged, when newsreels were in cinemas, when television was introduced, when the internet emerged in the mid 1990s. Just because blogs emerged as a force about five years after the World Wide Web went commercial doesn't mean that this is the first time that newsprint has been challenged. Even with all the blogs emerging every day, it's still true that the majority of them are either disused or only rarely updated, and when they are, bloggers are slightly more likely to hyperlink to mainstream media press articles (as indeed this post does) than to another blog.

But importantly, while Murdoch does say that the power of old elite of mainstream media is beging challenged by the bloggers, he doesn't actually suggest that journalism is dying. Indeed he makes it quite clear that change in the way mainstream media offer content to readers will undoubtedly extend the importance of media institutions to the masses.

Yet bloggers everywhere are lauding this speech as the death of the Media Baron. Either we heard different speeches or some readers have been taken in by what appears to be a rather rich diet of corporate rhetoric.
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Mining LJ for a commercial product? [26 Feb 2006|06:36am]
The title of this post is posed as a question but probably shouldn't be. In this interview in BusinessWeek, Mena Trott reveals her priorities for the "next generation of blogging", utilising many of the functional aspects of LiveJournal, including locked posts , or posts for specific user groups, and asset-oriented posting of content (read: user pictures such as my 'Blog Research' picture, or my standard 'joannejacobs.net' advert, and music choice, mood icons, etc). But I suspect the need for commercial viability and the partnership with Yahoo! for this purpose will result in a system of payments for an enduring record of blog posts. On several occasions lately, there have been problems with past posts in LJ communities going missing or lost forever. There are no guarantees that anyone's blogs will be stored forever (without trawling through the internet archive), but data archiving and enduring preservation of one's blog posts could perhaps become a fee-paying service. Just as home improvement progams have produced massive growth in business for storage facilities around the world, blogs and other social software designed to showcase fashionable ideas may eventually spawn growth in digital archiving.

It's another interesting prospect for investors in data storage anyway.
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Organisational blogs and changing business culture [24 Feb 2006|09:34am]
The people over at Caslon Analytics came up with an analysis of organisational blogs and knowledge blogs last September, and they argued that the return on investment for blogging - both in terms of revenue drawn from the medium and in terms of increased productivity, increased knowledge sharing and increased participation of a workforce is unproven. Certainly, the effort required to sustain a blogging business is substantial. Jason Kottke announced this week that he does not intend to continue his experiment of working as a full time blogger, depending on donated income from his readership. He said that he felt unwilling to treat the venture like a business startup - and such would be required to sustain the business as he originally conceived it. But the idea of generating income from blogging alone is probably not the way most organisations conceive of the use of blogs in organisations. The intention of corporate and knowledge blogs (sometimes called 'klogs') is usually to improve intra-organisational communication and to increase discussion and knowledge on difficult issues.

Last week Sheen Levine from Singapore University spoke in Brisbane about the use of Collective Open Source Innovation initiatives (COSIs) as a place where open source developers can swap and share information. He questioned whether the public good considerations and the reputational aspects of participating in open source communities were sufficient reason for these communities to exist. He included blogs and wiki in his general description of COSI sites. But the most important aspect of his research presentation is that he has shown that participation in such COSI communities can and does improve productivity and knowledge among participants, particularly where moderate understanding of a subject is held in the memory of participants and where memory retention itself is moderate.

So the analysis from the Caslon group perhaps is a little skeptical, given the emerging evidence about the value of organisational blogging.

But Caslon also raise the difficulty of changing business cultures and attitudes when it comes to knowledge management initiatives. They feel that the behaviour of some experts in refusing to participate in knowledge bases - because they feel it is beneath them - is unlikely to be affected by blogs and blogging, because the time investment required to correct the erroneous notions of less able participants is not worth the return on investment.... And so we return to Kottke's ideas that participation in a blogging environment requires substantial effort to generate value from implementation.

However, I'm convinced that this impasse is more symptomatic of traditional business cultures asserting their dominance rather than a general failure of blogs. And I'm convinced that organisations need to consider new workload models to accommodate participation in such knowledge networking activities, and probably need to legislate participation to ensure true return on investment. Sheen Levine's findings demonstrated that participants on COSIs that have a high memory and high understanding of an area of expertise probably don't get much value from participation. But it seems highly unlikely that experts in any field are so capable in all aspects of their professional work that they cannot derive value from a knowledge exchange, where that exchange is not limited by subject area or question type. The more open and the more wide-ranging that a blog or wiki can be, the more likely it is that increased traffic and valuable participation will result.

Of course, the million dollar question for organisations that do use or plan to use corporate blogs is where that sweet point is between openness and chaos.
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Ready? Aim! FIRE! [20 Feb 2006|06:22pm]
[ mood | amused ]

According to Rumsfeld, blogs are now officially a weapon of war.

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Blog tool comparison [04 Jan 2006|04:08pm]
One of the first questions I'm asked as a blogger is "what tool do you use?". While Livejournal is a useful resource, of course, my primary tool is Movable Type (at joannejacobs.net). The difficulty with describing the tools I and my colleagues use for various purposes is in their features and the requirements of users to administer the facility. So the blog software comparison chart associated wih the article from the Online Journalism Review is a particularly useful resource in articulating the issues associated with various tools.
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Corporate blogging [12 Dec 2005|01:45pm]
It may have been a while since I've blogged, but the good news is that our book, Uses of Blogs, has now been submitted to our publishers, Peter Lang USA, and initial feedback has been very positive. We hope the book will be on the shelves in early 2006.

In other news, the growth of Corporate Blogging is beginning to take off. Some bloggers will see this as the beginning of the end of grassroots blogging, but I see it as decidedly logical. Corporate blogging is an obvious intra-organisational mechanism for communication, and engages employees and stakeholders of a, organisation in a much more compelling manner than email because it invites contribution and 'ownership' of content.

It's simple human behaviour. We like to argue. Giving employees a chance to contribute and debate issues within an organisation increases communication, distributes power along the value and supply chains as well as across the hierarchy of an organisation, and it empowers managers with sources for supporting their business plans. The days of top-down information provision are (thankfully) over. Corporate blogging is an inevitable and simple system for facilitating communication and negotiation. It doesn't take a genius to realise this is a good thing.
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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (Again) [14 Mar 2005|08:28am]
The recent Gallup Poll purporting to demonstrate the continuing irrelevance of blogs in presentation of news is flawed in two major areas:

1. Blogs don't present news and never have done.
Bloggers comment on news items. They don't claim to report news as such. Where they have reported news it's usually been taken up by mainstream media after being discussed in the blogosphere.
2. Surveys about readership of blogs are irrelevant to their influence in society.
Critical mass readership is no measure of influence. Influence is about how a phenomenon affects the direction of society, politics and culture. Blogs have been extremely valuable in circulating memes online and as vehicles of viral marketing campaigns. Interestingly, there are many cases of a meme beginning in a blog and then circulated through email links and water-cooler discussions in business environments. Many of those who may appear in a survey on blogging as people who do not read blogs, have probably been directed to content that has been discussed in blogs whether they realise it or not. Also, the influence of blogs on policy creation and the careers of players in the political arena are profound: the entire Jeff Gannon/J D Guckert debacle should be evidence enough of that.

Andrew Sullivan's prediction that:
This, at least, is the idea: a publishing revolution more profound than anything since the printing press. Blogger could be to words what Napster was to music -- except this time, it'll really work. Check back in a couple of years to see whether this is yet another concept that online reality has had the temerity to destroy.

... hasn't actually been debunked. Gallup's claims that:
while blogging is certainly wielding some influence in media and political circles, traditional news outlets are still the dominant sources of information for the American public.

... are in fact, irrelevant. Blogging is a publishing revolution, and information sharing in the blogosphere is pretty much exactly what Napster used to be for music. So Andrew Sullivan was right.

Regular access to information is not influence. Wake up, Gallup.
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Blogging Codes [07 Mar 2005|09:36am]
I'm too sick to discuss this is detail here, but CyberJournalist's attempt at a blogger's Code of Ethics is at least a good start for bloggers. I think beyond the basic Code of Ethics, however, there ought to be a Code of Practice which doesn't merely outline ethical behaviours but also socially responsible behaviours. Codes of Ethics tend to outline what you shouldn't do. Codes of Practice tend to articulate what you should be able to do. It's a subtle but important difference.
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[10 Jan 2005|08:58am]
There are several aspects of the article by Danah Boyd in Salon.com this week that annoy me considerably. Framed as an investigation of turmoil in the blogosphere, the article would be better described as pernicious and malinformed propaganda. In the first place, the article does not explore the relationship between Six Apart and LiveJournal at all, rather describing the nature of online communities in LJ as opposed to other blogging communities.

In the second place, the article implies through its (rather tedious and obvious) lauding of LJ's facilitation of alternative lifestyles, thought processes and communities that a corporate takeover will threaten such communities - where no such threat has ever been recognised either by LiveJournal representatives or Six Apart executives.

Finally, and this probably annoys me the most, the article questions whether LJ is a blog. I'm personally sick to death of LJ users proclaiming that LJ is not a blog and doesn't fit in the blogging culture. Let's start with some fairly basic education here, and get this issue resolved for good. Now. Listen very carefully.

The word 'blog' is an abbreviation of 'weblog' and came from a 1999 essay, ‘The Anatomy of a Weblog’, by Cameron Barrett, maintainer of the site, Camworld (Blood 2002, p 3). It refers to the reverse chronological posting of entries (so the most recent post is always at the top of the page), with the capacity for hypertext links to be included in posts, and where occasionally readers have the capacity to respond in commentary systems.


There are dozens of styles of blogs - journals, stream-of-consciousness writing, learning environments, news posts, editorial opinion pieces, knowledge management facilities and business blogs to name a few. Journals - like LiveJournal - are just one of these blogging styles. The fact that LJ also includes a friendster-style network doesn't prevent it from being classed as a blog. It just describes one aspect of the LJ interface, and the nature of LJ communities.


Right, now that's established, to return to the article by Boyd, the problem with propaganda-style articles such as these is that they do not inform or even debate the nature of the issue at hand. The turmoil that is about to envelope the broader blogging community is not the marginalisation of alternative community groups as implied in this article. The biggest threat to blogging is not corporate takeovers or rationalisation of open source coding. Rather, the biggest issue facing the blogging community today is the rampant growth of blog communities online. As is the case with all cybercommunities, once critical mass is reached in a community, the value to members who participate in such communities grows with the number of participants only so long as the participants have the opportunity to have an active and relevant voice. Once there are so many participants in a community that the readers of any blog feel that their messages are not getting to the blogger, or to other readers, then the value of that community begins to wane. This is the true turmoil about to beset the blogging community. Now that doesn't mean that new blogs can't emerge to accommodate this growth, but the development of competitive community "silos" could cause problems down the track. It's a change management issue, but one which the blogging community ought to consider, and debate openly.

Unfortunately, while Salon.com allow such opinion pieces as Boyd's article to be classed as investigative analyses of the technology sector, we will have no capacity to prepare for any such turmoil, and instead the same propagandists will be waxing lyrically about the "good old days" when only the "freaks, geeks, queers and other alienated populations" (Boyd's words, not mine) were online. So much for journalistic integrity.
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Corporatisation of the blogging sector [06 Jan 2005|08:20am]
I have nearly finished my book chapter on the effect of blogging on the publishing sector, and, almost on cue, a couple of major stories on blogging have emerged. First, there's the new Pew Internet and American Life study on the growth of blogging in the online community. Perhaps predictably, the report finds that blogging has grown phenomenally in 2004, with 27% of internet users now regularly consulting or contributing to blogs online. Anecdotally, I'd say that was happening in 2003 but the structure of the previous survey and the questions asked were just too vague. This year's questions are better, but still not perfect. I'd be surprised if less than 50% of all internet users were (wittingly or otherwise) participating in the content creation boom which is blogging.

Secondly - and we should have a drum roll for this - Six Apart, makers of my preferred blogging tool, Movable Type, and the hosted blogging facility, Typepad, are buying out Livejournal. This can only mean a massive improvement to the LJ interface, and it's good to see that Six Apart is committed to all facets of blogging (regardless of quality!).

Nevertheless, this evidence of critical mass adoption of the blogging format is also the heralding of the corporatisation of the blogging sector. Watch now as businesses around the world implement wiki and blogs as part of general knowledge management practices, and the quality and complexity of commercial blogging tools expands exponentially. It is a curious, but ultimately inevitable fact, that whenever a technology tool becomes so successful as to convince the masses of its merit, it eventually moves out of the grasp of the pioneers, and into the iron grip of the financial sector.
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Blogs, wiki and information management [15 Nov 2004|10:27am]
Here's the abstract for my next refereed paper related to blogging at the next ANZCA Conference:

The growth in profile and importance of digital repository systems in business environments for competitive advantage has generated strong interest in effective applications of electronic communication tools across a variety of industrial sectors. The use of social software tools such as blogs and wiki have been explored in an introductory fashion, but it is now useful to consider their integration with digital repository systems for knowledge management, to understand how they may be effectively implemented in the workplace. McLean and Lynch (2004) have considered the employment of new systems to communicate between formerly disaggregated systems. Borchert and Richardson (2004) have developed this idea, focussing on the need for standards and functionality in communication tools. Research in blogs and wiki have considered the potential for social software in acting as a raw standard for communication systems and the production of metadata for knowledge management systems, but there has been little research which has connected the use of communication tools and processes with knowledge management systems.

This paper explores a series of case studies in use of social software tools in a variety of business environments, and considers the implications these tools have for knowledge management and communication systems within organisations. The paper draws on the research of Ferdig and Trammel (2004) on uses of blogs, the work of Cedergen (2003) and Barton (2004) on wiki, and a range of theories pertaining to knowledge management. The paper concludes with a strategy for effective integration of social software and organisational information management.

All comments much appreciated.
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Long time no blog [16 Sep 2004|08:08am]
Given my research and teaching load, I have not had time to focus on blogging over and above articles I'm writing and a forthcoming book I'm co-editing, but the war against comment spam continues, unabated. In this article at the Online Journalism Review, the major players on comment spam discuss the issues and possible solutions to the problem of comment spam, and the article concludes with speculation about the future of major blogs.

I'm disappointed to note that mid-top tier bloggers are likely to turn off comments for ever to combat the growing blogspam problem. To me, the very democracy and delight of blogging is the opportunitiy to read others' responses to your work. It provides the blogger with an opportunity to reflect on their position and their ideas. Turning off comments simply turns blogging into amateur writing, and that effectually removes the key benefit of the technology.

It's sad to think that in an age where the search for legitimate information sources is so crucial, we are removing yet another tool with which to gauge such legitimacy. I hope comments in key blogs remain. But I won't be surprised if they become roadkill in another swipe at democractic processes on the information super-no-way.
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Lies, damned lies and blog statistics [20 Jul 2004|08:58am]
Initially of course, the statistics released by e-Marketer about the willingness of blog readers to purchase online seem promising. But think about it. BlogAds, a company with an incentive to make blogs attractive for the advertising market, surveys existing blog readers by contacting them through political and high-brow blog sites and finds that they are wealthy, keen on purchasing and a viable advertising demographic cohort.

The report reads:

Far from being young kids with little money in their pockets and lots of time on their hands, the survey found that blog readers are older and richer than many people suppose. Exactly 61% of the blog readers that responded to the survey are over the age of 30, and 75% make more than $45,000 a year. In fact, nearly 30% of the respondents are between the ages of 31 and 40, and over 37% spanned the ages of 41 to 60. And nearly 40% have a household income of $90,000 or higher.

But when you only contact blog readers through high-brow blog sites, discussing politics and world events, then it's hardly surprising that blog readers are more mature and wealthy. I rather suspect if the same survey was conducted over Livejournal (where the average age of bloggers is about 19.5) you'd get some fairly different responses.

Further, when only 47% of existing blog readers - so we're not talking about people who irregularly access the internet, but probably quite advanced and regular internet users, described by the Pew Internet and American Life study as less than 4% of all internet users - when only 47% of these users spend in excess of $500 a year in plane tickets, we're really not talking about a particularly significant sample. To be specific, we're talking 47% of mature, politically motivated blog readers, who are in turn 4% of all American internet users, who respresent about 49% of the American population. So if the US population is 293 million, and 49% of those (143 million) are active internet users, and 4% of those (5.7 million) are blog readers, and only a small proportion of them are mature and wealthy (let's be generous and say about 4 million), you're looking at 1.37% of the US population as primed for blog advertising. Oh and only about two thirds of those will buy books online.

I set the starting price of blog ads at free.
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Blogger burnout [10 Jul 2004|04:16pm]
One of the conversations I've had as a result of the ANZCA Conference this week was on the subject of blogger burnout, and the implications of too much interactivity arising from blog posts. While advocates of the blogging system speak of the participatory possibilities of web logging, there is also the risk of placing a burden on the blog owner of communication and posting which goes beyond a hobby and becomes a substantial investment in the recreational life of the blogger. Blogger burnout seems to be the result. WIRED now have an article describing this phenomenon and have considered the implications for participation in sustained debate of the blogger burnout endemic. The article reinforces Shirky's earlier comments that the potential for interactivity far outweighs the reality of communications overload.
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Participatory publishing [30 Jun 2004|10:48am]
I really love the fact that my hobbyist research on blogging is now feeding my journal articles. I'm further along with both papers I'm writing and finding more and more from previous posts to this archive that are finding their way back in to current articles. This isn't self-plagiarism, folks. I call it drafting :-)

In any case, I've come up with some more interesting stuff on collaborative publishing practices for my paper for the 2004 ANZCA Conference, on Amateurisation/Participatory publishing techniques. I will, of course, publish the full paper here when it is complete, but the following references are useful...

The recent text published by MIT Press, Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace (edited by Schuler and Day) includes a chapter by Rheingold, an excerpt of which appears on Rheingold's Smart Mobs site. In the preface to this book, the editors argue that real-world use of technologies has been shunned as a topic for exploration by the academic sector as it is perceived somehow to be a misuse or amateurisation of the technology. They contend that a more pragmatic approach to the social practices of technology use is necessary to understand the democratising aspects of emergent technologies and to understand how social software environments can bring about social change.

Similarly, James Surowiecki's new book, The Wisdom of Crowds, returns to the view that group discussion and group participation creates better understanding than individualised interpretation of any data set. Jon Lebkowski of SmartMobs and Polycot has noted that wiki, blogs and RSS play a major role in enabling group formation and information sharing techniques.

Then, earlier this year, the US Institute for the Future Conference on 'A New Literacy for Cooperation in Business' explored the issue of cooperation and cooperative strategy as a means of creating competitive advantage. It's only a first report that's presently available, but at least it's the first stage in understanding the application of social participation techniques in business environments - one of the first serious explorations of business conversations since the Cluetrain Manifesto. At this conference the notion of social dilemmas was raised by UCLA sociologist, Peter Kollock, whose work on the topic has demonstrated that cooperation and competition in information sharing environments (academic, business or social) actually provide the basis for improvement, and implicitly, the foundation for competitive advantage.

The ideas presented in these three texts go to the very heart of blogging. Participatory publishing may inherently deliver a degree of amateurised writing, but in so doing the collective wisdom of reader response can offer the basis for improvement and more competitive, professional success. When large groups - or even small groups - can collectively fashion a concept, they can create something far more satisfying than the original work. In democratic terms, this means on issues of policy, a more informed opinion can be developed within the confines of community exploration. On social issues, niche groups can arise with informed opinion on passionately held views. And in business, cooperative strategies can provide benefits all along the supply chain, thus maximising the potential for competitive advantage.

This is why blogging matters. Not because it is a good way to keep in touch with an exhibitionistic technological elite, or a bunch of kids who share fan fiction and their life miseries in open diaries, but because blogging provides a foundation for improvement, in whatever context. Amateur writing may form part of the mix of content delivered in blog entries, but it is the collective improvements to be gained from information sharing - the participatory publishing experience - that provides more professional content, more competitive ideas, and a richer understanding of issues.
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Blog points: business and political application of blogs [28 Jun 2004|03:26pm]
I am in the midst of two new journal articles on blogging, but thought I'd share a couple of the points I've noticed in my background research.

David Whelan, in his article, 'In a Fog About Blogs' for American Demographics (July/August 2003, p 22-23), has completely misunderstood the phenomenon of blogs when he questions their business viability. His "evidence" is limited to a citation from the president of Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs, who says that daily interest among the mass public will have to improve before advertisers will be interested.

Advertising. He's measuring the business viability of blogging by advertising interest! I'm tempted to swear here, but let me say instead that I think the guy needs an education. This is what really frustrates me with the use of statistics on penetrations rates as a means of measuring the significance of a medium for communication. I could go on, but I won't. It's so not worth it.

In perhaps a more useful analysis, the fictional case study in the Harvard Business Review, 'A Blogger in their Midst', by Halley Suitt, adequately demonstrates the range of problems that can arise from employee bloggers, but it's far more intersting as a forum for the range of opinions about the problems and benefits of blogging as described in the commentaries arising from the case study. David Weinberger (prominent blogger), Ray Ozzie (CEO of Groove), Pamela Samuelson (University of California at Berkley) and Erin Motameni (VP of HR at EMC, an information management corporation) all provide very different analyses of the case study and regard the blogger in the case study as everything from a marketing genius to a threat to the future of the organisation. Unsurprisingly, the blog-savvy commentators are more approving of a blogger who attracts an audience. Also unsurprisingly, the legal and HR reps among the commentators take a much more serious line on the sharing of corporate information practised by the blogger. But this enduring misinformation and lack of understanding about the value of blogs is beginning to frustrate me. We are developing a bad case of polarised arguments about blogs. I'm still looking for a decent analysis of blogging that will accommodate both the advantages and disadvantages of blogs in business environments.

And, they may be brief, but Lessig's statements in his Free Culture (2004) that blogs "are arguably the most important form of unchoreographed public discourse that we have" (p. 41) and that they "improve democracy" (p. 45) are fairly pithy. Simply, Lessig's standpoint is that blogs represent more of the kind of public agora for debate than any predecessing technology on the internet (including discussion forums and news threads), primarily because the architecture of blogs provides the blogger with a unique capacity to invest personal and intellectual ownership of concepts, and the comments system inherent to blogs allows for reflection on those ideas, subject to the feedback from readers (see also O'Shea 1999, and Oravec 2003). Lessig feels that while it is easy to be wrong in your head, it's harder to be shown to be wrong on a blog. It's harder still for a blogger to maintain credibility when blog entries have been debunked by the readership.

I will keep posting points as they arise. In the meantime, my article with Jeremy Williams on 'Exploring the Use of Blogs as Learning Spaces in the Higher Education Sector' has been published in Volume 20, Number 2 of the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (available online in July).
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Re-emerging from the mists of blog research [29 Apr 2004|08:03am]
After several months without a post (primarily associated with an enormous teaching load) I am once again freed up to pursue the wild territory of blog issues in this archive.

Since my last post, a series of interesting issues have arisen. First and foremost, there is the research released by the Pew Internet and American Life survey on the number of US citizens who blog, or who contribute comments to blogs. The actual number of bloggers is still rather low; only 2% of respondents claimed to maintain a diary or blog online. However, 17% had "contributed written content" to a website and 10% had posted comments to an online newsgroup.

The problem with this survey is the same problem which is rife in internet surveys - honesty and application. In this Pew study, it is unclear whether contributiuon of written works could include posts or comments to blogs, and whether some respondents have included commentary to blogs among newsgroup responses. This muddies the accuracy of the supposed "statistical insignificance" of blogs as a communication tool online. Further, phone surveys of internet practices (such as the Pew study) seem consistently to produce different results from online surveys, and there's no agreement yet whether phone surveys are more or less accurate than a web-based form. The reason for this difference could well be associated with a tendency to lie about internet practices when faced with the oral culture of a phone survey, or perhaps the lack of accountability also encourages falsehoods when completing a "written" survey or online form. Either way, it is difficult to rely on the accuracy of findings of internet practices surveys.

But I think the most important issue pertaining to the significance of blogs and blogging is that the number of users actually practicing blogging activities bears no relation at all to the significance of blogging as a content creation and information dissemination medium online. Returning to the old Zipf distribution concept, the power law of blog popularity has shown that the more predominant blogs have the largest number of links directed to blog content. So while there may be just a handful of, or perhaps several hundred blogs that are broadly read, these may significantly influence opinions and activities of netizens both on and offline, regardless of whether readers maintain a blog, or whether they contribute comments to posts. While anecdotal, my own experience of blogging has been that the vast majority of comments are submitted by people I know personally, and to a lesser extent, people who have discovered my work either professionally or through trawling the internet for social software or social practices research. Most people who post comments are repeat posters. And yet I am also aware of a growing number of readers who have contacted me either by email or MSN messenger, who have clearly been reading my posts without offering a response of their own. Ranging from students, to researchers, to idle web-surfers, these blog-readers may not keep a blog of their own, nor would they necessarily have posted content to newsgroups, but who regard my blog (among many others) as regular reading. While this may not be an experience which is consistent with all blogs (and LJ becomes a problem here, because the vast majority of respondents also maintain a blog account simply to maintain iconic identity in the LJ community), I feel the whole concept of determining the significance of blogging in terms of a percentile of content creation online is flawed.

I therefore submit that the significance of blogging cannot be measured by the number of bloggers online, nor the number of respondents to blog posts.

There are other items of significance that have also occurred over the last 2 months. I will return to these in forthcoming posts.
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