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Uses of Blogs

Editor: Axel Bruns, Joanne Jacobs
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2006
Review Published: February 2008

 REVIEW 1: Tricia Farwell
 REVIEW 2: Tama Leaver
 REVIEW 3: Damien Pfister
 REVIEW 4: Daniel C. Smith
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Axel Bruns & Joanne Jacobs

Uses of Blogs starts from the very simple premise that while blogging may at one point have been an activity that could have fallen under a singular definition, that point has now passed; today the uses of blogs are many. The fracturing of blogging into a plethora of genres and types opens the door to a wide range of possible research areas, and its this new ground that is explored by the diverse contributors assembled by co-editors Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs. The book is broken down into three main sections: blogs in industries, which looks at the impact of blogging in traditional areas from journalism to economics; blogs in society, which examines blogging along social lines, from gender to disability, and in differing contexts from subcultures to fictional blogging; and a final section on the future of blogging that is shorter than the others, but possibly the most provocative section of the book.

The blogs in industry section opens with two chapters exploring the role of blogging in relation to journalism, and addresses the question often asked in the early days of blogging: are bloggers journalists? Co-editor Bruns' chapter argues that news blogging can broaden the perspectives available and serves to offer checks and balances to existing journalistic practice. Jane B. Singer concurs, arguing that bloggers are not journalists, nor should they strive to be, yet the bourndary between the two camps is increasingly blurred in recent times. In her chapter, co-editor Jacobs argues that far from fearing blogging, traditional publishers should embrace the practice of blogging drafts of a book as it's prepared since it allows more robust peer evaluation, serves to publicise the work in progress, and is likely to enhance, not detract from, the number of sales. In a similar vein, Trevor Cook contends that the depth of communication and human voice offered by blogs may be exactly what the public relations industry needs. Suw Charman and John Quiggin both add similarly insightful chapters on business and economic blogs respectively, while Ian Oi looks at blogging in terms of legal commons, with a particular emphasis on the Creative Commons organization and their some rights reserved licenses. The final two chapters in this section both look at blogs and learning: James Farmer points out that blogs can be an ideal tool for learning and developing a portfolio, while Jean Burgess argues that active blogging expands learners' competencies beyond the traditional areas into the realm of network and creative illiteracies.

The second section on blogs in society starts with an interesting piece by Alexander Halavais which argues that blogging in academia can help forge informal networks and make certain aspects of the university more visible However, he also reminds readers that academic blogs still fail to be taken as seriously as other forms of scholarly publication. This is followed by Jill Walker's (now Walker Rettberg) very personal reflections on the highs of blogging while writing a doctorate, and the challenges that come while trying to blog and simultaneously become a more established academic with all the responsibilities that entails. Interestingly enough, Walker Rettberg argues several times that having less readers, not more, would make blogging a more appealing prospect. Mark Bahnisch follows with a sober look at political blogging, extolling their political utility but carefully avoiding overblown claims hailed by many during the early blogosphere. Next Melissa Gregg examines gender while Gerard Goggin and Tim Noonan look at disability in relation to blogs, with both chapters highlighting areas of achievement but also lamenting that blogs can often reflect the inequities of society, too. The sections ends with three case studies: one exploring the South Korean Cyworld; another looking at Goths in the UK, with emphasis on Livejournals; and a final chapter examining fictional blogging more broadly from fan fiction to officially endorsed efforts tied to corporations.

The final section focuses on the future of blogging, starting with a chapter from Adrian Miles who argues that most current podcasting and videoblogging tend to obscure the networked and communicative affordances of blogging, and rather serve to reproduce media forms which resemble time-shifted snippets of traditional television and radio. Miles challenges rich media blogging to be more blog-like and less reliant on past media paradigms. Brian Fitzgerald and Damien O'Brien chart some of the legal complexities which arise from blogging, ranging from the imprecision of copyright law to the challenges of global online cultural in a world of national legal structures. Joanne Jacobs and Douglas Rushkoff then explore whether blogging has ushered in a communications renaissance, and end on a fairly open-ended note, leaving Axel Bruns to conclude the collection with similarly broad terms, laying the foundations for his own future work on the idea of produsage.

From this overview, it should be clear that while the book could be read from beginning to end, it's far more likely to be sampled in chapters by readers from a broad range of backgrounds. For all of the areas explored in Uses of Blogs, readers will be delighted with the critically-informed and robust perspectives offered in these short chapters. Without fail, every contribution makes important arguments and observations about their respective topic. However, given the smorgasbord of blogging flavours on offer, it's a real shame that this collection lacks an index, as many readers will be dipping in with a particular type or approach to blogging in mind, and an index would have given their exploration some useful points of reference. However, that is a minor criticism for an otherwise substantial, critically robust and highly engaging collection that has something to offer any reader interested in the broader contexts of blogging. It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that two of the most anticipated books on blogging in 2008 -- Axel Bruns' Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage, and Jill Walker Rettberg's Blogging -- are built on foundations already visible in their work in The Uses of Blogs.

Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

Walker Rettberg, Jill. Blogging. Cambridge,UK: Polity Press, Forthcoming 2008.

Tama Leaver:
Tama Leaver teaches Communication Studies at the University of Western Australia, focusing on digital media and participatory culture. He has previously reviewed David Bell's An Introduction to Cybercultures, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, and Viviane Serfaty's The Mirror and the Veil for RCCS. Tama blogs at www.tamaleaver.net.  <tama.leaver@uwa.edu.au>

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