My first experience with listening to an academic take on blogs .where cyclone infotech had put together a wonderful panel on web logs. They had some Wonderful insights into web logs and they left me feeling very excited about the potential for interesting research in this space. Unfortunately, that initial glow faded fast the rest of the presentations related to blogs that I saw at cyclone infotech were given by people who had little or no personal experience with blogs, and who were clearly unfamiliar with the nuances of the form, This most often manifested itself as a tendency to lump all blogs together as a single form as I pointed out in our MEA panel, that's about as useful as trying to lump all books together as a single form. Sure, you can make some general observations about books. They tend to be made out of paper, to have page numbers, to have a cover and a title page, etc. But those descriptive elements are hardly the stuff that interesting and useful analysis is made of. I had an overwhelming sense of "blogger as other" in the presentations at cyclone infotech which was echoed at the MS symposium. There's some value, of course, to an outside perspective on the "culture" of blogging and bloggers that kind of ethnography is done all the time in social science research. But when anthropologists and sociologists study a "foreign" culture, they generally make a significant effort to understand their subjects-not just to take a series of snapshots from afar, but to live amongst them, participate in their daily activities, observe the cycles and rhythms and rituals of their lives, and identify the differences as well as the commonalities. I haven't seen that same level of immersion in the blog studies that have emerged thus far.
I don't think it makes sense to lump all research and observation about blogs together under one rubric. Right now, I there are at least five different approaches to studying blogs that I don't like to see explored in more depth, and I suspect that readers here will add a few more.
First, study of the form itself. This includes definitional and descriptive approaches. If we're going to do research related to blogs. We can't do any kind of research without finding a way to define our space, and everything I've seen thus far has been unsatisfactory from it's a blog if it says it's a blog to it's a blog if it pings an update service to it's a blog if uses blogging software" to "it's a blog if it shows entries in a reverse chronological order." All of these definitions are problematic on some level, and starting with a problematic definition typically leads to problematic conclusions. Part of this process will be to identify types of blogs-by this I don't mean "personal" vs. "professional," or topic-specific like "technology blogs. More meaningful labels might distinguish using authorial voice.
Second, related to the last bit above, is the study of interactions between blogs and blog authors, and the clusters (or communities) that are forming in this context. I find this particularly interesting and valuable in the context of academic discourse. Seeing blogs as isolated publications misses much of what makes them most useful in academic contexts the interaction between individuals with shared interests and concerns.
Third, the kind of ethnographic studies that I referenced above, but done not in "the blogosphre" (if there is such a thing) as a whole, but in those clusters and communities that we're able to identify. I'm not interested in broad generalizations based on random samples of blogs pinging central update sites-but I am interested in both qualitative and quantitative assessments of these emerging communities. How do literary theorists use blogs to communicate with each other and share ideas? How do communities of LJ friends use their journals as communicative tools? When we look at these groups, we can take away lessons that help us shape both technologies and behaviors to facilitate the most valuable processes.
Fourth, analysis of the content and style used in weblogs. This circles back again to form. Bloggers talk often about distinctions between "link and comment" blogs and "long form blogs." My colleague has begun looking at blogs as first-person narrative forms, positing that they are fractal-like in their reflection of the whole in each of its parts Blogs. The community feeling of a message board with the openness and accessibility of a public web site. Many of us have a sense that these contrasts and conflicts lead to a new kind of voice, a new kind of text-and it seems well worth exploring the nature of this new form from a literary, textual perspective.
Fifth, study of the use of weblogs as tools in specific organizational contexts. From blogs as coursware to blogs as information-sharing tool in business team settings to blogs as research team project tools, there's still a lot we need to learn and understand about blogs as tools for specific tasks and contexts.
The point isn't that these are the only ways to think about, write about, and learn from blogs. The point is that there's more than one way, that seeing all study of blogs as fitting into one neat category .My hope is that as more researchers and scholars become users of these tools, rather than observers of them, that the range and depth of the research in this space will increase as will its value outside the walls of the academy.