danah boyd and I are taking a conversation that we've been having about definitional issues surrounding blogs, and trying to spin it into some more substantial research.
There are a couple of issues to be thought about here.
First, figuring out--for the purposes of any other sort of research--what a blog really is. At the AoIR conference last fall, I noticed that most of the people talking about blogs (myself included) either didn't define blogs, or used a potentially problematic definition.
Second, determining whether what we want/need to focus on for meaningful results are the blogs, or the bloggers. I maintain four different blogs, for example--not including the blogs for each of my classes. Choosing to focus on the object produced yields different results from focusing on the producer.
Third, deciding how (or whether) to categorize blogs. Reading through the bloggies award page for 2004 (while you're there, vote for misbehaving for best group blog!), I was struck by many of the categories, and by the assumptions inherent in those categories.
The categorization becomes particularly important in the debates over women's participation in blogging. Most of the debates are fueled by primarily anecdotal evidence. But how can we know what percentage of tech bloggers are women, if we don't know (a) what a "tech blog" is, (b) how many blogs fit those criteria, and © which are authored by women?
So danah and I are proposing as transparent a research process as we can. We're announcing our plan...here on my blog, over on her blog, and on misbehaving.net. Since we're both already going to be at ETech, we're going to meet there to brainstorm. We've proposed a participant session there to invite people to share their ideas. We'll follow that up with preliminary research--drawing on what people like Susan Herring and her group have done with the Blog Research on Genre project. We're hoping to present a preliminary paper--focusing on identifying and describing the problem and the research plan, not on the answers--sometime this spring or summer. (I really, really wish it could be at BlogTalk, but I don't think there's any way I can afford another overseas trip this year...)
We'll be writing about the research as we go, soliciting ideas and feedback from the blogging community. But it's problematic to limit discussion and description of a group to the members of that group--that's one of the reasons to extend the conversation to conferences, and not just to conferences of bloggers.
On a side note, it's been interesting to see the difference in response to danah's two initial posts about this idea. On misbehaving, the immediate responses were very hostile. On danah's personal site, the responses offered a number of useful lenses with which to view the issue. Makes it a lot easier to understand why the women over at misbehaving haven't been posting as much lately.