Week 7: The Purpose of Blogging

Geert Lovink (2007: 28) argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”. 

Blogs are capable of being many different things. For Terry Flew, it is the fact that blogs are able to be “A collaborative space, a political soapbox, [and] a breaking news outlet”, which allows them to “have a positive impact on reinvigorating the democratic public sphere” (2008, 157). However, others, such as Geert Lovink, argue against this, and claim that blogs do not necessarily rival the mass media  (2007: 8). Instead, Lovink claims that, rather than being concerned with adhering to the ideals of Habermas’ public sphere (Flew, 2008: 164), they are primarily used to “structure one’s life, to clear up the mess, [and] to master the immense flows of information” (2007: 28).

For example, we can look at popular music blog Idolator, which is considered the 35th best entertainment blog by Technorati, a site that helps users browse blogs. Idolator provides a different example to personal blogs for examining Lovink’s theory that blogging is for “master[ing] the immense flows of information” (2007: 28). For example, on the 5th of May, 2011, blog posts on a new song from Beyonce, American singer Lady Gaga’s latest music video, and Justin Bieber’s run-in with an egg hurler at one of his concerts in Australia were published.

The article on Justin Bieber, written by Becky Bain, adds limited light-hearted commentary to an article published by Yahoo! News, while the post on the release of Beyonce’s cover version of “God Bless the USA” reiterates details of the song, posted originally by entertainment blog Just Jared.

Both of these posts support Lovink’s theory that blogs are primarily about managing information, and that they have not significantly changed the state of democracy in the public sphere as they do not “create autonomy and overcome the dominance of media corporations and state control” (2007: 36); Rather than challenging the media or contributing something original, the majority of the content posted on Idolator is information that has been organised together, on the basis of their relevance to pop culture music, from various news sources.

However, Bain’s blogpost on Lady Gaga’s latest music video offering presents us with something different. Bain collects and compares seven reviews of the American singer’s visual accompaniment to her song “Judas” and contributes her own (or Idolator’s) opinion of the piece. Obviously, there is a reliance on the media released by Lady Gaga, as well as the seven other news and blog sources, however the information received from these sources has been compared and critiqued; there has been an encouragement of media scrutiny, which has led to discussion and argument amongst the comments of the blogpost. The contribution of users in this way disagrees with Lovink’s belief that blogs do not prioritise critical views and an active, participatory community (2007: 28). Rather, it is an example of the “sheer proliferation of voices and opinions” that Flew discusses (2008: 166), which, for Brian McNair, generate “a significant augmentation of the degree of diversity of viewpoints available to users of the globalised public sphere” (McNair cited in Flew, 2008: 166). Though the content’s social importance is to be questioned when discussing it in relation to the public sphere, it does prove that blogs do not only manage information, but they are able to promote critical debate and discussion.

References:

Flew, T. 2008, ‘Citizen Journalism’, in New Media: An Introduction, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Lovink, G. 2007, ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, Routledge, London.

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WordPress and User Agency

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WordPress.

WordPress “masks the database and creates a continuous  blogging experience within the browser” (Helmond in Reader, p. 180), yet the database is rigidly defined and categorised. Discuss how this shapes the way we interact with the World Wide Web through blogging and how it affects user agency.

When we talk about blogging in modern discourse, we often talk of personal and/or professional expressions, views, opinions, descriptions, and communications, which altogether create one large community: the blogosphere. The most lauded characteristic of this community is that it is so incredibly easy to be a part of; all you need is a username, password, and something to write about (and, perhaps, some social skills).

What makes creating your very own blog so easy on WordPress is that it “masks the database and creates a continuous blogging experience within the browser” (Helmond, 2007: 53). The ways in which the data is compartmentally organized and stored are hidden to the users; instead, we see a simple interface connecting elements of information in ways that we visually understand.

If we look at an explanation of the WordPress database (here or here), it is obvious that, while it isn’t the most complex database, the process of blogging would be much more intricate, time consuming, and, arguably, more disconnected from the online community. For example, if we look at the process of adding a comment, there are around 15 different columns responsible for holding all information used in posting a comment. When we interact with the mask provided by WordPress, we simply have to login, view a post, type in a comment, and post it. It’s simple; it’s visually represented in a way we understand, in a way that is uniform around the internet, and it’s easy.

That’s how the masking of the database shapes the way we interact with the World Wide Web. It allows us to engage with information easily and simply. It means that, however truthful this promise of ‘interactivity’ and ‘connectivity’ is, we believe we are connecting and constantly connected, as we do not have to deal with the behind-the-scenes intricacies, and we are not writing blogs offline and entering them directly to the database. It means that what we post is organised in ways that we understand (for example, our blogs are presented from most recent to least). While some argue that the “rigidly defined” database constricts user agency, I believe this is a slightly simplistic view; due to the popularity and the nature of blogging, such structured databases are necessary, as are the interfaces, provided by sites such as WordPress, that allow users the ability to simply write anything with little fuss.

Reference: 

Helmond, A. (2007), ‘Software-Engine relations’, in Blogging for Engines: Blogs Under the Influence of Software-Engine relations, MA Thesis, Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.

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Mark Zuckerberg’s Comment on Sharing (start at 0:26 – stop at 0:39)

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WordPress as a Web 2.0 application

WordPress can be defined as a Web 2.0 application as:

  • It is an open interactive tool for users. This is because it allows users to creatively input into the site by creating blogs. It also allows users to engage in a network of these blogs and provide feedback.
  • It provides users with online tutorials that enable them to gain a further understanding of the site and create a more equal relationship between the user and WordPress, therefore encouraging user-producer cooperation rather than producer control.
  • It allows users to advertise and promote, as well as link to and interact with other sites, therefore allowing users to connect with the entire web.
  • It acknowledges the value of user input by allowing individuals or companies to generate content that will in turn be viewed and used by others and therefore be profitable (in the form of traffic) for WordPress.
  • It is an ongoing service; that is, it is often changing and updating itself, with users testing and providing feedback for improvements.

WordPress is able to be sustainable while also empowering its ‘produsers’ by forming a reciprocal reliance. WordPress creates a centralized location necessary for the users to form a creative blogging community, though the users create the content necessary for WordPress to be attractive and profitable. ‘Produsers’ are empowered as they are generating the content, and WordPress is sustainable as the users need their services in order to feel empowered.

hayleygiarrusso.wordpress.com, oliviasherman.wordpress.com

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