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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

Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs have given bloggers and students of blogging the gift of an excellent overview book. As several of the twenty-two authors illustrate in twenty-two chapters, blogs, like the waves of disruptive media before them such as the phonograph, radio, film, TV, and the Internet, do not displace the older media; rather, they supplement and complement them. Uses of Blogs is itself an example of the complementarity of the Internet and blogs to books. Indeed, the book has the feel of a series of well-composed blog postings offering glimpses of the blogosphere from 2004 to early 2006.

The book's goal is clearly summarized in the editors' concluding chapter:
This book emerged out of a realization that amid a glut of "blogging for dummies"-style guides, there are still far too few in-depth studies of how blogs and blogging are being adopted across a wide range of fields. With this volume, we've done our best to begin this process of charting the use of blogs right across the spectrum, from blogging for personal expression to blogging for personal gain, and beyond. (250)
Toward its goal, Uses of Blogs is divided into three sections: Blogs in Industries; Blogs in Society; and Outlook. Blogs in Industries includes news blogging, journalism, publishing, PR, business (intra firm), economic blogs and economic policy, the legal commons, online education, and blogging to learn. Blogs in Society includes two chapters on blogging in academia, and one each on political uses of blogs, gender issues, disabilities, Cyworld (from South Korea), goth blogs, and fictional blogs. The final section, Outlook, includes more speculative, forward-looking chapters on rich media blogging, bloggers and the law, blogs and a communication renaissance, and "What's Next for Blogging?"

At the risk of slighting some contributors, I mention a few particularly strong chapters and features to illustrate the character of the book. Not surprisingly, journalism and blogging is well-summarized, as that is co-editor Bruns' specialization -- Bruns is the author of the term "produser" that reflects the active and dual role of bloggers and others in both creating and consuming web content as reflected in Time magazine's 2006 person of the year. Bruns' chapter on news blogging, followed by that of Jane B. Singer, show the symbiosis of journalists and bloggers. There are echoes of Bruns' book, Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (2005) which analyzed blogging's impact on journalism by reporters' new role of "gatewatching" of blogs.

The Australian perspective of most of the authors is one of the book's strengths. Scholars and pundits from the US and Europe have produced some useful "How To" guides, books on blogging for PR and customer relations, and mountains of popular press stories, but nothing yet as comprehensive as this book. Blogging is a world-wide phenomenon and with this book we get substantial contributions from Britain, Norway, Korea, and the U.S.

For example, Jaz Hee-jeong Choi's chapter about South Korea's Cyworld and the questions of identity is a fascinating perspective based on her own survey data and other statistics from that wired nation. She reports that over 90% of twenty-something South Koreans have "mini-hompy," or homepages on Cyworld. Online conduct combines elements of high awareness of others, reflective of a collective, family-oriented society, and emerging individuality. Preexisting family and tight social networks were reinforced with Cyworld.

Personal journal blogs, typified by LiveJournal, are relatively well covered, and are covered under identity issues as well as within chapters on fictional blogging and blogging by subcultures. Paul Hodkinson's chapter on U.K. goth subculture is based on his research on goth identity. Hodkinson tells how goth subculture used a variety of individual spaces and LiveJournal to initiate and reinforce face-to-face contacts.

Despite the challenge of defining such a broad phenomenon, Alexander Halavais' chapter on scholarly blogging captures the essence of much blogging in four concepts: networking, conversation, low-intensity production of "microcontent," and thinking-in-progress. Halavais likens blogs to scholars' research notebooks that reflect work in progress. He hypothesizes that blogs will make visible the invisible college.

Several other areas stand out. One would be economist John Quiggin's chapter on blogging about economic policy and the economics of blogging. He asserts that, unlike in Australia, the mainstream media in the U.S. are weak on discussion of economic and social policy. Therefore, economic blogs fill a void. He also introduces us to theoretical debates such as the extent to which blogging is a true "public good" as well as sketches of the level of resources that go into blogging.

Finally of note in this brief overview are two lucid chapters on legal issues. Ian Oi reviews the legal commons, "a subset of the blogosphere populated by lawyers and interested lay person debating legal and related issues" (82). Some of these issues include the differences between the kinds of copyright licenses available in the creative commons. The chapter by Brian Fitzgerald and Damien O'Brien outlines related legal issues surrounding copyright but also add important topics about jurisdiction, defamation, employee blogging, and journalistic privilege.

The editors are up-front concerning the book's limitations: "Bloggers and blog researchers may feel that their specific, favorite form of blogging has not been covered in enough depth, or that some new and emerging approaches to blogging have not be sufficiently represented in this collection" (4). For this reviewer, the coverage of "dark blogs" (those behind corporate firewalls) by Suw Charman is too brief. However, the chapter suitably introduces intrafirm or closed blogs as email substitutes, lightweight knowledge management and sharing systems, and efficient project management tools. Charman notes that many company blogs started as a "Trojan Mouse" in the same way that many intranets appeared in the last century to be approved after the fact. I believe that the social networking and conversational aspects of company blogs will turn out to be as important as the strictly business applications.

As the editors point out, it is difficult to think about blogging as a unified subject -- the applications and uses are too diverse. That said, I would like to have read much more about blogging in China. The brief discussions of the social networking impact of blogging leaves us wanting more but at least we have leads to some of the works in progress. A quibble about the social networking chapter is that the weak and strong ties concepts are defined but have no reference to Granovetter's (1973) classic article. That kind of minor oversight is more than matched on the positive side by the references to sites such as the Into the Blogosphere collection from the University of Minnesota. Another good feature throughout book is the setting of definitions of key concepts into boxes in the text. A drawback is the lack of an index. Despite such comments, I want to leave no doubt that Uses of Blogs is an excellent addition to the literature.

Uses of Blogs would be excellent as a textbook on blogging for those accepting the challenge of covering what is now such a multi-dimensional subject. It could also be a supplemental text for a variety of communication courses ranging from interpersonal to mass media. Students will find that all of the well-known scholars (and their theories!) of blogging, business writers, and web sites are referenced so they can launch their own research with confidence and hopefully add contributions to our understanding. There are plenty of un- and under-explored parts of the constantly-evolving blogosphere -- Uses of Blogs is an excellent entry point for present and future explorations.

Bruns, A. (2005). Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. New York: Peter Lang.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78: 1360-1380.

Person of the Year. Time. December 25, 2006, 38-80.

Daniel C. Smith:
Daniel (Dan) C. Smith is completing a dissertation on intra-firm blogging and organizational climate in the Communication & Information Systems program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He can then consider a career change to college teaching from his (as yet blog-less) airline engineering job of many years.  <smithdan@hawaii.edu>

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