Uses of Blogs
Editor: Axel Bruns, Joanne Jacobs
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2006
Review Published: February 2008
Within a few years, blogs have taken a prominent position in society as sources of news, friendship, scholarship, and a variety of other functions. One foray into attempting to explain how blogs fit into society is Uses of Blogs, edited by Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs. Throughout the book, the authors seek to understand "the emerging uses of blogs, and patterns of interaction, intercreation, and produsage that they enable" (7). The chapters presented, ranging from educational to corporate blogs, help to provide a broad overview of the way they operate.
Uses of Blogs is organized around three sections. The first section, "Blogs in Industries," consists of nine chapters covering how select industries use blogs to communicate. The second section, "Blogs in Society," spans eight chapters that delve into how different groups of people use the technology of blogs to build social networks. The final section, "Outlook," provides four chapters that point to the future of blogging from legal, technical, communication, and research perspectives.
In the introduction, Bruns and Jacobs establish the groundwork for a discussion and excursion into the fascinating world of the blogosphere. This world is, according to the co-editors, one "where users are active produsers of a shared understanding of society which is open for others to participate in, to develop and challenge, and thus to continually co-create" (7). No longer are audience members just passive users of media, they are active participants in the creation of product and understanding. Perhaps because the users of this world "continually co-create" understanding, the authors point out that even the concept of what makes a blog is constantly under revision. As Bruns and Jacobs indicate, what constitutes a blog is difficult to define: "Beyond the basic definition of 'blogging' as the reverse-chronological posting of individually authored entries that include the capacity to provide hypertext links and often allow comment-based responses from readers, then, the term 'blog' now has little meaning unless a descriptive qualifier can be attached" (2-3). Thus, this book sets out to reveal the different types of qualifiers that one can attach to a blog and show how each category functions.
The nine chapters of section one, "Blogs in Industries," discuss how various industries employ blogs. The first two chapters direct one to think about the impact of blogging in journalism. By providing greater access to a variety of voices, blogs enable writers to compete with traditional media in producing news, creating understanding, and bringing newsworthy topics to the forefront. According to Bruns, these new voices are the ones that journalists are competing with, challenged by, and cooperating with when creating news product. No longer are journalists the final say on many news items.
The next chapter on journalism expands on Bruns' comments by comparing the way journalists and bloggers approach the news and truth. Jane Singer states there are two fundamental ways that these two groups differ: their mission and their definition of what constitutes truth. She believes that while journalists may approach their writing "to serve the public by providing citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing," that is not typically the case with bloggers (23). Most bloggers, on the other hand, write for their own enjoyment as well as to fill news holes. They may not be focused on serving the public as journalists do. In addition, bloggers approach truth differently than journalists do. Truth, for journalists, is something that has been seen first-hand or that is verifiable by reliable sources. Truth, for bloggers, is somewhat trickier, according to Singer. For bloggers, truth is individual to their person, but forms a "cohesive whole" (25). In fact, "bloggers place a premium on the power of the collective" as opposed to the power of the single journalist (25).
Publishing, much like journalism, is also changing rapidly by incorporating blogs into the process. Many authors who may not have been published through traditional means have found blogs to be an outlet for their work. This method of publication allows them to get their work out to the public and allows the public to interact with the author. Because of this freedom to publish via the internet, this type of publishing is seen as lesser, a form of "mass amateurization" of publication (34). Even traditional publishing outlets are incorporating blogs to serve as tools for enhancing the publishing process. Authors can use them to facilitate communication between multiple authors, learn about publishing practices and enhance the marketing for a book.
This section also includes chapters that discuss the impact of blogs on public relations, economics, and law. For each of these professions, blogging serves to make new inroads for the writers and the public by adding to information found in the traditional media and allowing direct connections between the writers and their audiences. In the case of public relations, practitioners can communicate directly to a wide audience and can also promote and encourage two-way communication essential for building and maintaining relationships with their publics. Many in economics and law have eagerly accepted blogging because they can expand on topics by hyperlinking, provide a higher depth of understanding and interest in the topic (72-73), and offer a solid argument in a traditional style (81).
There are four chapters on the impact of blogging on education. The first two chapters detail the impact of blogs on teaching classes, while the last two chapters look at blogs in education from a social network standpoint. From a classroom perspective, as James Farmer points out, blogging allows class participants in a distance learning class to form an "online persona" (96) and build a sense of community for the class. Although the use of blogs in a distance learning class may cause the teacher to have less control over some areas of the class, Farmer notes that numerous studies show "that there is a possibility that Weblogs encourage significantly more in-depth and extended writing than does communication through email or through discussion board environments" (97). This could allow for greater interest in the class and better online class discussions.
Jean Burgess follows with her experiences of incorporating blogging in university courses. Although she felt it was beneficial to have students blog on course content, research ideas, and relevant material, she did find that "the journey toward finding a balance between a critical engagement with the literature, meaningful use of the network, and engagement with readers and other writers on the network is not an easy one" (110). However, the "journey" is one that, once again, allowed a community to develop in the classroom.
Much like the students that they are teaching, academics are blogging about their experiences. Although the individual chapters by Alexander Halavais and Jill Walker each see blogs as another outlet for making research and academic processes open, there are many concerns facing scholars who blog ranging from threatening the academic structure (122) to having people assume they "know you" because of your blog (133). Still, many scholars are wary of blogs and blogging as a form of publication. There is a fear that the process might not repay the blogging scholar when it comes to tenure and promotion. Perhaps an even stronger factor in keeping academics from blogging is the assumption that everyone in their department will read it.
In the next two chapters, readers are presented with the politics of blogs in society. For many people, political blogs are the first thing they think of when they hear the word blog. This could be because the traditional media tends to incorporate this type of writing as a source in newscasts. Mark Bahnisch's chapter examines the "the place and influence of political blogs in an increasingly fragmented and dispersed political and informational culture" (139). In these blogs, the blogger can either expand on a mainstream topic or bring issues to light that the traditional media may not have reported. Melissa Gregg's chapter on gender politics discusses that despite the fact that many believe the internet is gender free; there are still gender issues (152). For example, people most often assume that men write political blogs while women write domestic blogs (152-153). However, there are relatively equal numbers of male and female bloggers in the blogosphere (151). Although Gregg did find that some writers do have gender specific content, there is a general assumption that "women write journals," not blogs (154). The general assumption of content inequality reveals that women still do not have "power in the public arena" (156).
Gerard Goggin and Tim Noonan's chapter on blogging disability discusses how blogging has empowered those with disabilities to help revise and reconstruct the media image of this group (162). Although there are still some obstacles to creating blogs, such as setting up accounts, this outlet allows the public to experience "ideas about disability" (168). The authors also find that the most overt addition that this group has brought is their "innovative uses of textual, visual, and audio mode of representation and communication" (169). Thus, they are not just changing the way we think, but the way we communicate.
Another blog site that works with a group culture is, as Jaz Hee-jeong Choi points out, Cyworld. This site incorporates key elements of South Korean culture to form a community network whose reliance on a family ties system "demonstrate[s] intrinsic considerations toward socio-cultural and technological parameters of South Korean society" (179). Although incorporating socio-cultural elements helped to make people join the online society, these sites provide additional complications when the demands of culture meet the speed of technology. Many users benefit by finding a deeper understanding of themselves, but acknowledge that the site creates superficial networks and places burdens on their time. Much like the chapter on Cyworld, the remaining chapters in this section show how different subcultures find community and themselves in the blogosphere.
The book concludes with a discussion of current issues that need to be resolved as we look forward to potential modifications that may influence blogging in the future. Adrian Miles foresees an increase in podcasting and vodcasting blogs. Douglas Rushkoff and Joanne Jacobs use their chapter to "demonstrate the power of blogs as a means of constructing and negotiating ideas" (240). Brian Fitzgerald and Damien O'Brien remind readers that "while a rhetoric of free expression rules the Internet, the reality is that corporate and personal interest in the form of intellectual property and reputation will continue to be a regulating factor" (234). The final chapter by Axel Bruns reminds the reader that the notion of a single, unified concept to describe blogs does not exist and calls for further study in the area.
Given the scope of what the authors are trying to accomplish, this book could easily have been much longer than its 267 pages. Perhaps because of limited space, some of the chapters seem rushed. At times, I wanted more from it -- more in terms of detail, in terms of methodology, and in terms of support for their claims. One of the biggest flaws of the book as a whole is that the methodology for many of the chapters is missing or cursory at best. Lacking these elements, the book reads more as anecdotal evidence captured by the authors' forays into the blogosphere than scholarly study. It does provide a nice introductory survey of several different ways blogs are used in society, but for many readers who have more than a passing acquaintance with blogs, this book provides little new information. However, for those who are new to the blogosphere, it does function nicely as an introduction to this relatively new world.
Also, at times, the collective authors fall into the traps they warn of in online authors such as creating an "A-list" of cited authors. For example, certain bloggers are referred to across several chapters, creating an "A-list" blogger feel that may not be intended. Also, several authors cite Wikipedia as a source. As many people now know, just about anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry without certifying the truth of the revisions or additions. Thus, the accuracy of information can be questionable at times. Despite the book's flaws, the authors' love and interest for blogging and the blogosphere comes through loud and clear.
Tricia M. Farwell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of advertising and public relations at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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