Friday, June 29, 2007

Cancer Blogs and Travel Blogs

I finished the statistical analysis of the sample of travel blogs I took as a point of comparison with the cancer blog project. The results are interesting:

In terms of post length:
For the cancer blogs, women wrote twice as much as men. For the travel blogs the men wrote a staggering four times as much as the women.

It seems that the topic influences the length of post, where men are more likely to write more about external events and women more likely to write more about experiences that impact them personally.

In terms of evaluative density:
This was the same for both the travel and cancer blogs: women wrote more evaluatively dense posts than the men (and the cancer blogs were slightly more dense in evaluation than the travel blogs, but the differences were tiny here). This suggests that it is the blog format, not the topic that influences the quantity of evaluation used.

In terms of evaluative profile:
This is where the biggest differences lay. Blogs about cancer were rich in the use of Labovian comparators (especially modals and negation). Blogs about travel were rich in Labovian intensifiers and statements of external evaluation 'It was the most amazing time of my life!'.

What do I make of this? Well, it seems that offline genres (like the narratives of illness described by Frank (1994) do influence their online offspring, which is what you might expect. My findings so far suggest that the relationship between blog genre and gender are complex and need to take account of subject matter as well as general blog categories.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blogging and story genres - latest update

In the weeks since my last post I have been busy pulling together some of the analysis on the cancer blogs project I've been working on for the last few months. Finally, some trends seem to be emerging, which I'll put in summary below.

Post length: The posts by the women bloggers are twice as long as those by the men bloggers.
Comments: The women and men seem to get about the same amount of comments
Links: The women put more links in their posts, and link more often to sites about information. They also have more links to personal blogs in their side bars
Evaluation density: The women use more evaluation devices (that is, features that make their posts more vivid or tellable, to use Labov's phrase) per hundred words than the men do.
Evaluation profile: Despite the difference in overall quantity, the profile of the evaluative subtypes was very similar indeed for the women and men's entries.

I was talking about this with one of my colleagues and he said, 'So tell me something I don't already know'. Hmmm. Well, here's my attempt at this:

While all of the above confirms much of the existing research (see for example, Nowson 2006 on gender and blog post length; Herring et al. 2006 on genre and gender), what has not yet been considered is how this relates to narrative theory, and, in particular to sociolinguistic findings about storytelling styles in offline environments. So far, I have come to the tentative conclusion that the analysis suggests that genre is more important in determining narrative style than gender, and that what I am looking at in these blogs is a particular subgenre. I'm calling this a 'hyper evaluated narrative' for now, and positioning this as a new category within Martin and Plum's (1997) categories of story genres.

The next stage is to test the relationship between story topic and use of evaluation. I suspect that the hyper-evaluated narratives are being constructed because the narrators are talking about narratives of illness (as in Frank's 1994 description of this 'orphan genre', which has now given birth to online offspring of various kinds). Will the same evaluation patterns occur in blogs about other topics? And will the same gendered pattern emerge? I'm testing this out in a comparable corpus of travel blogs.

In the meantime, I have reached the stage of writing the introductory section for the first of the papers that will come from this research. It's a chapter in a book I am co-edited with Bronwen Thomas, called New Narratives: Theory and Practice, under contract with UNP. Back to that, now.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Women Business and Blogging - Jory Des Jardins

The third plenary at the WBBC conference was by founder of Blogher, Jory Des Jardins. Her talk was entitled: Tapping Into the Web's Power Influencers: Women.

The talk centred on the questions of why women are becoming influential as bloggers and how does blogging validate women's experiences online. She began with the story of how Blogher began, with Jory's observation that around half of the people online were women, but so few were participating in conferences about technology? Jory claims that this is a legacy effect, where the founders of the web as men were also linking to each other. However the founding of Blogher began to change all that, both as an event and as a business.

The main body of her talk followed the points below, which are mostly summarised from her PPT slides.

Media has been shifting so that...

Virtual reputation is everything: What happens when you google yourself? What do you find? Whether we know it or not, you have an online reputation which you need to maintain.

Dispersed media/dispersed control has resulted in multiple sources of expertise on the web, and the authors who are anyone and everyone, not just those who are socially sanctioned.

We now suffer from information saturation - where we now prioritise items we are 'invited' to read (wikis ,IM, Skype, RSS) We need things to come to us, rather than going out and looking for them.

Women will rule! Women recommend and promote usually and tend to interact more. Blogging is the 'perfect media' for women, and exploits their talents in communication.

Marketers will finally 'get it': Women are now spending more time on line than watching TV!

She next produced a summary of 'Women & their habits online':

Women outnumber men online , overall as well as among marrieds, among people with kids at home, in every age category but 65+

Women outspend men online and off, women who blog are 30% more likely than average female internet users to shop online and spend more when they buy.

Women outpace men online

women are equally as likely as men to 'read a blog' and 'create a blog'

Women write between 46-53% blogs

Women's use of words on a blog 'far exceeds that of men'

(Sources for this information include: Moms online Parenting with the web 2.0, emarketer June 2006,comscore, Pew Internet and American Life Project.)

Her next point debated why Social Media is Important Now, which really looked at the transition from web 1.0 to web 2.0, where...

Web 1.0: would use marketing dollars to draw traffic, then drop them when the showed up, Emphasise page views / clickthroughs, but used web pages as conduits of information with no means for accountability or engagement. As she points out, looking for a post on a discussion boards doesn't work if you want to extract information via the web.

In comparison (and contrast), Web 2.0: Devotes resources to interaction: companies understand the importance, time and resources needed to interact effectively. She argued that companies need someone who not just writes but read blogs. You need to read and interact with other bloggers, not just sit writing one on their own.

In line with this, the nature of engagement has changed, raising questions of how you maintain the quality of blogs? Blogher's response ist to have an editorial standard for their blogging network. You don't want to comprise your message, but you need to have quality. New measures of interaction are comments, posts and links. These show the quality of the traffic given, not just the quantity of it.

She looked at the profile of women bloggers, according to recent Blogher Reader demographic survey results:

94% female, 87% US

64% between 28-40 years old

51% visit daily, 93% will return

94% with greater than high school education

70% married

58% have children at home

53% blog themselves

64% state an income greater than $50k

More significantly, Blogher has become a place of community and a place of interchange, not just a site of information. For companies who want to exploit this, women bloggers become an important marketting resource because bloggers pass the message on, they amplify the effect of anything they are talking about.

Small business use blogging because it gets them renown more quickly. Therefore it is important to engage with them efficiently. The two key measures are Engagement and Influence. How you measure these is debatable. It can be quantifiable (comments, traffic) and qualitative (post quality, respect) Even if someone blogs about your product there is no guarantee that someone will go and buy it. However, for many bloggers money is not the important thing, recognition and reputation is more significant.

She issued a list of tips for companies wanting to reach women:

1. Support bloggers and what interests them

2. Make your promotion blogworthy

3. Help women connect

4. Respect women's preferences

5. Understand how conversations work.

All of which is great advice. Jory's talk was engaging and showed the commercial potential of women and blogging.


Women Blogging and Business - Eileen Brown

The next speaker at the WBB conference was Eileen Brown. Her plenary was entitled: Changing Customer Perception Through Blogging.

Eileen began by raising the gender politics of the technical world. She pointed out that there are only 3-5% women working in her sector of the world of technology. A gender pattern that was certainly reversed at this conference and was commented on by many of the participants.

The central theme of her talk was questioning why companies blog? How can blogging change the public perception of a company? From her experience at Microsoft, negative perception can carry through into custmoer (dis)satisfaction. The purpose of blogging in Eileen's job seemed to be a means of introducing a personal element, presenting the image the company employees were 'real people'.

How fantastic to work for a company that prizes innovation, that has a 'just do it' attitude!

Why does Eileen blog? She then talked about the work of Robert Scoble, and his influence in changing perceptions of Microsoft. Her central argument for using blogs are because it is an effective medium for getting information out to people who she would not normally come into contact with, or could touch herself. However, there is a risk in blogging, as the disturbing case of the threatening posts on Kathy Sierra's blog shows.

Technorati rankings are used as a tool for tracking perceptions of Microsoft. Bloggers have even changed how internal processes have been handled in their company. She then went on to consider what policies on blogging companies have. Microsoft's seems pretty apt to me: 'Blog smart'. In that environment, the blogging community is self policing about the nature of posts that are put forward. 'Blogging smart' is an empowering concept, rather than restricting.

She put out a list of her 'top 10 lessons' for blogging:
Blog frequently (a rhythm of blogging, not necessarily every day)
Answer every comment
Don't sell
Link. link. link
Traffic isn't the goal
Be authentic
Expect criticism - be humble
Don't blog when you're drunk / down / angrey
Blog Smart
Never delete a post

Great advice for those of us who are venturing into this arena.

I was particularly interested in the way that the blogging and its linked idea of storytelling personalises the corporate image. What is it about the narrative and the individual that does this?

And a closing note: great cartoons from gaping void.


Women Business and Blogging conference - Meg Pickard

Meg Pickard kicked off the first session at the WBB conference this morning with a plenary entitled: Whose Web is it Anyway? The following a whistle stop summary of her excellent and inspiring talk.

Her main focus followed these questions:

  • How is content changing?
  • How is web publishing changing
  • How are communities changing?

She suggested that users can interact with content in different ways, based on a continuum of consumption, interaction, curation and creation, all of which have different degrees of intensity with different levels of ease and creativity. In detail of each of these is glossed as follows:

Consumption: here the creators here do all of the work, and readers do not control this, they 'simply' read this. But, what does content look like in the wild? If seen through RSS feeds without visiting the site, the reader moves further away from the source of the information. The reader does not necessarily see the changes to the full web page context.

Interaction changes, though, through commenting functions. However this is not always polite and can be 'rowdy'. This still remains on the creator's territory (they can switch comments on or off). Content interaction also changes where other bloggers can cite your text and even talk about you but on their sites. But this is out of the original source control - a second level of creation or intertextuality.

For me this raises the question of the public and private divide that all bloggers face.

Attention data is also significant, and influences content just by clicking on it. Consumption therefore influences the profile of content. But does it influence the content itself or just the process or profile of consumption? Surely this is to do with status rather than the text itself?

Content curation: a new way of thinking about people engaging in processes of collection (social bookmarking, folksonomy. This changes the notion of authority and widens the way that sources are brought together.

Content mash ups: Meg argued that this was being creative not with particular sources but with the concept of content altogether. She claimed that content is not just editorial tone but the editorial metadata that goes with it and how this can be used to create a more embodied, localised sense of the data.

Content creation: Meg set this against citizen journalism, defining content creation as vocal witnesses to experience. It is not chasing down leads, but rather individuals giving their own testimony. Altogether, these examples of 'microjournalism' can be collated together in a montage or mosaic. The underlying principle is democratic - we are all witnesses of our own experience.
'User generated content' (eg Youtube, Flickr, Blogger) where on independent sites people are creating content for themselves. But how do the users think about their content? Meg claimed that they think about it as acts of storytelling, told for their own audiences.

Meg then asked what makes a blog different from other net genres? Is it the formatting, design, technology, dating, archives, commenting facilities? Or is it the editorial tone and proposition? Is it technology or the conversational potential (interaction). What's the difference between a news article and a blog post? The first is authorative and answers questions, the second asks questions, string together ideas and concepts, are open-ended, non-definitive and provoke comment.

This returned to the question of subject matter. What are blogs about? Can you define a blog in terms of central theme or subject? And while a blog might not have central content, it does have a context, and that is the user themselves.

Meg then interrogated the notion that 'content is king' She proposed instead that Context is king. The context is the vital why that shapes the content itself. Examples to support her argument include, myspace and facebook. The platform is enough and drives the way the site is used.

When the boundaries between users and creators of content change, what happens when things go wrong (grayblog). What happens to property rights? Who has the rights to use and take information without asking permission? 'If you don't want it to be used, why did you put it out there?' Does putting something online mean that you don't mind if it gets used? How on earth do you control all of that?

Meg proposed that the answer to this is the concept of creative commons.

She ended by talking about community. What does 'community' mean? Is this the same as commonality? Is a bus queue a community? The individuals don't relate to each other, but to the bus stop. How do you move from the metaphor of a '1+1' metaphor, but 1-2-1 interaction. Meg's central point is that interaction and relationships

Jake McKee's definition emphasises regular interaction around a shared context.

She posed the question, 'Why is community important?' answering it as follows:
Because they increase relevance
  • They increase emotional connection to the experience
  • The increase social connection to each other
  • (Blog commenters talk to each other, not about the subject)
  • They add depth.
  • The make experiences more relevant, human and personal
  • They importove the quality of content
But communities need nurturing and care...

How do we do this?
With human solutions (moderation, policy, consistency)
With technical solutions (flagging, cerating profiles, peer recommendation, ratings, feeds)
Editorial solutions (proposition, the framing of debate, tone of voice, reward, interaction) 'Prevention is better than cure'.
How do authors involve themselves in their communities?

She argued that the changes between content, context and communities must then change the way that people write.

She proposed a cycle of engagement (casual, connected, committed) which mapped on to her continuum of content engagement: consuming - interaction - curating - creating and then back to consumption again.

She closed by arguing that we are now moving from experiences 'on the web' but 'of the web'. I wonder if we can go further in teasing this out? And a nice touch, she closed Michael Wesch's 'The machine is us'.