defining blogs

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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 on my blog, over on her blog, and on 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.

11 TrackBacks

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Open Foot, Insert Mouth from Planned Obsolescence on January 20, 2004 1:14 AM

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mamamusings: defining blogs::An interesting proposal for some research to define a blog (although I suspect that defining the product may... Read More


As far as "categorization" goes, something along the lines of co-citation analysis (of blogrolls) might be helpful. It should show clusters of blogs that have *something* in common.

what if there is no 'definition' per se, what if the essence of a blog is in flux or in fact not a limited set of qualities? I would say that this is likely the case. likewise with categories and categorization, that which defines them may not be fixed and may not be limited, they may in fact be entirely contested. perhaps i'm pushing anti-essentialism too far here, but it seems to me that this project is jumping right into all the problematic areas of external, essential definitions, as opposed to say allowing for a more social and fluid set of identities and relationships.

It was funny to see your post on blog categorization on, as I have been thinking about this issue myself in the last few weeks. I shared some of my initial thoughts on this when I commented on "framework" over at Danah's site today.

I will be following this conversation with great interest over the coming weeks/months, and I have subscribed to yours and Danah's blogs (I already was a misbehaving subscriber).

On a site note, I find it interesting that you distinguished between the comments here and on Danah's site vs. on misbehaving. I have a sense that misbehaving is a more politically? socially? charged site given its stated goals and content to date. That in itself is a potential research project: how different blog communities' stated/demonstrated framework affects the discussion tone of virtually identical topics.

I wish I was going to be at etech, but no luck this time.

Definition of a blog ? I got the impression that Dave Winer sorted that out a while ago on

How is a blog different than, say, a piece of paper and a writing implement?

Who makes the rules?

Right now I am using

one blog as a way to communicate with my fellow committee members about a public-education project;

one blog as a way to communicate with my fellow committee members about nominees to a non-profit board;

one blog to compile stuff I want to teach in a seminar next year;

and my primary blog, which seems to be evolving into a sort of commonplace book.

Only the last two are public. The compiler blog gets almost no traffic; that is fine with me.

Over here in mother-of-teenager-land, I get the feeling that a lot of girls have blogs in addition to all the other techno communication (highwater record here: 7 IM screens, e-mail, cell phone and land line. That was over the winter break. I shoulda took a picture.) They may keep them obssesively for a few weeks or months, and then off to something else. Are these blogs? If Dave Winer is writing the rules, pretty much yes.

I don't know how important it is (for example) to categorize, say, teenage blogging.

i use a listserve for most of those tasks, i have friends that use wiki's, and some use wierder things for sure. one of the defining parts of the 'blog is the web, i think, but most of what you can do on the web you can do in other media, no?

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