A review of: Blogging

On: September 17, 2009
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About Suzanne Schram
I am Suzanne Schram. I have a Bachelor degree in Literature and I have done the Master Book and Digital Media Studies, both in Leiden.


Blogging is written by Jill Walker Rettberg. She is a blogger her self. On her blog she presents her self as “an associate professor at the University of Bergen, and I do research on how people tell stories online.” This book is part of the digital media and society series. This website supports and supplements the books from this series. The website also includes a blog. Blogging contextualizes blogs and uses critical theory and the history of digital media to do this.

Her book starts with a chapter in which blogging is explained. This chapter provides a paragraph about how you should blog. The description she provides starts from scratch; no knowledge of blogs is needed. Even terms like HTML and CSS are described. To thoroughly define blogs she describes three different blogs: a personal blog, a filter blog and a topic-driven blog. As an example of a personal weblog she mentions the popular weblog of Heather B. Armstrong. To explain the filterblog she uses the blog of Jason Kottke. The blog Daily Kos is used to explain the topic-driven blog. This chapter ends with a short history of blogs. In this paragraph she describes the first blogs and how they differ from today’s blogs.

Chapter two contextualizes blogging and explores how major cultural shifts such as the introduction of print, the spread of literacy and the introduction of the Web connect to blogging. She compares these developments with blogging. She shows some interesting facts by comparing the developments with blogging, however she merely mentions them and doesn’t elaborate on them. She focuses more on describing the developments which are already known to me. An interesting fact which she shows is that some aspects of blogging are similar to oral cultures: blogs are conversational and social, they are constantly changing and their tone tends to be less formal and closer to everyday speech than is the general tone of print writing. Another interesting statement she describes is that the solitude of reading and writing is changing with blogs, which is a more explicitly social form of writing. Another interesting statement is that both blogging and the spread of polemical printed publications lead to more publication. A last example of an interesting observation of which I would have liked more information is that bloggers change the way they write because they are aware that their audience may be greater than they imagine. She concludes this chapter by arguing that there is a mutual dependency between technology and culture, this is called co-construction.

The third chapter focuses on the social aspects of blogs and on social networking sites. Rettberg discusses new ways in which blogs are evolving and she presents important ideas from current research as well as theories of social software. She claims that social networking sites are a kind of communication which is very closely connected to blogs and that it might even be seen as a kind of blogging. Rettberg explains what social networking sites and blogs have in common and how they differ. Social networking sites have for example a social goal and the goal of blogs is the sharing of information. One of the reasons why social networking sites appeals to us is because of our instinct for collecting. However she not only mentions positive effects of these web sites; she says that students complain that so much of their social life happens on Facebook that not to participate is to be socially ostracized. Of course she also mentions the issue of privacy. She discusses Cory Doctorow’s Scroogled a short story about a possible future scenario where the massive amounts of data stored about individuals by Google and other websites provide a means for the government to control the people. Rettberg also mentions examples of privacy issues such as immigration officers who google people and she quotes a clause from the Terms of Use of Facebook: facebook has the right to use contributions which are posted on their website. And in an earlier chapter she mentions that Heather B. Armstrong was fired because of information posted on her blog. However I expected her to mention more about this important subject. A survey conducted in 2004 shows that 36% of the respondents have gotten in trouble because of things they have written on their blogs and 12% know other bloggers who have gotten in legal or professional problems because of things they wrote on their blogs. I think it would have been logic to insert some information about privacy in the section ‘How to Blog’ and also a section about the negative consequences of blogging.

In Chapter four general ways are explored in which blogs intersect with journalism. She argues that blogging isn’t a threat to journalism because bloggers don’t aspire to be journalists but blogging does approach journalism. A difference is that bloggers are subjective and journalists objective. Blogs are recognized as an important part of media. Her conclusion is that blogging and other user-created media are causing us to redefine the nature of journalism in the US because of the Free Flow of Information Act.

Chapter five is about blogging as narrative and self-representation. This chapter looks at connections between blogging, diaries and hypertext fiction. I liked Rettberg’s examples of hoax bloggers and that she inserted the story about the joke of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. Orson Welles made 28% of the listeners believe that his play about a Martian invasion was a real news report. Narratives in blogs differ in several ways from traditional print or cinematic narratives. Blogs are episodic and published in the same time frame as that of their readers and they are not driven towards an ending.

Chapter six explores the use of blogs in marketing, such as advertisements on blogs, the improving of customer relations and establishing a popular presence on the web with the use of blogs by businesses. It examines specific examples of how individuals make their blogs into businesses and how businesses use blogs to connect with customers. It is interesting that she also included examples of corporate blogs which failed. She concludes this chapter with the observation that corporations use a strategy which Plato proclaimed: communication through a dialogue based model.

The last chapter, chapter seven, examines the future of blogging. It is of course too early to decide what will happen with blogging since blogging is only a decade old. Therefore Rettberg mentions some trends which seem likely to continue. She believes that people like participating in the media. Since technology is getting cheaper and easier to use it will be used in the future in more parts of the world and between more groups of people. She thinks that blogging won’t remain a separate activity or genre. Rettberg wonders whether conventional news organization will still exist ten years from now or if participatory media will take over. The video EPIC 2014 shows that participatory media will take over. Her conclusion is that in terms of privacy, democracy and communication, blogging and social networking sites are changing our culture. Blogs and participatory media have both a liberating potential and a dangerous potential for increased surveillance and control.

Blogging provides many references to blogs. Rettberg mentions authors of different fields that are important to contextualize blogging. She mentions names like Walter Ong, Ted Nelson, Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, Geert Lovink, Yochai Benkler, Mark Granovetter and Peter Brooks. She discusses some quotes from them which are relevant to contextualize blogging. She also mentions the popular websites such as Facebook, Flickr, LiveJournal, YouTube, MySpace and Google. In this way she offers the reader a very broad overview of the frame of blogging such as Internet, sociology and communication. Although she provides the reader a broad overview of the field of blogging the book misses real depth. She makes very interesting arguments but doesn’t elaborate enough on them. With this book she tries to reach a broad audience: people who know nothing about blogs and people who like to know more. For the former she inserts a lot of critical theory. She writes on her blog about this book: “I’m mostly pretty happy with the book – it’s going to be awesome!” I am not as positive about her book as she is but I enjoyed reading it, especially all the examples she mentioned of blogs.


Further reading about privacy on blogs:

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