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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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