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The Mirror and the Veil: An Overview of American Online Diaries and Blogs

Author: Viviane Serfaty
Publisher: Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004
Review Published: November 2006

 REVIEW 1: Laurie N. Taylor
 REVIEW 2: Sarah Michele Ford
 REVIEW 3: Natalie Bennett
 REVIEW 4: Tama Leaver
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Viviane Serfaty

I'll begin by warmly thanking the reviewers of The Mirror and the Veil for their discerning reading of this study. My response will be a brief one -- everything I had to say can be found in the book itself. I will only attempt to clarify two points: the uses of history in the study of contemporary phenomena on the one hand, and the uses of a structural analysis on the other hand.

In order to gain an insight into the reasons for the widespread use of personal blogs that can be observed in the United States, historical analyses are essential. They help us identify the ways in which contemporary technological advances, far from shaking off the past, in fact expand and enlarge on long-existing trends. A methodology based on historical analyses can also point to the complex processes underpinning the diffusion of new technologies and their insertion in society.

This is not to deny the existence of change. Change does occur, but it hardly ever occurs in more than tiny increments. This is why blogs in the United States are best understood if studied as the outgrowth of earlier, enduring American social practices. France offers a useful element of comparison, with a different set of past practices leading to original contemporary developments, such as this personal graphic blog resting on a long and rich French graphic novel tradition.

As to the elements which my research showed to be structural features of online diaries and personal blogs, they are meant to work towards the formation of an analytical tool that can apply to a wide variety of blogs, including political, video, or audio blogs which developed after the research was carried out, as Laurie Taylor rightly surmises. The analysis of structural features can also account for some new technological developments, as Sarah Michelle Ford pointed out with regard to RSS feed aggregators. Although such an analytical tool cannot have any long-term predictive power -- thus illustrating the difference between so-called hard and soft sciences -- it can work towards the development of a methodology and hence contribute to the definition and acceptance of the new, cross-disciplinary field of Internet Studies.

Viviane Serfaty


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