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Blogging Conversations

sweetp's picture

          At first glance, blogs appear as only a medium, a different method to present textual information.  I once possessed this narrow view of blogs, and saw them as simply a new way of expressing oneself: once written in a journal, diaries had now moved to the internet forum.  I wasn’t considering the comprehensive scope of blogs in the beginning; now it is clear to me, through reading the analyses of blogs, such as in jo(e)’s posting, that blogs are actually an emerging genre.

         The blogger jo(e) starts in her defining of the blog as a genre by delineating that “blogs are different than books.” She uses blogging’s “interactive and instantaneous” nature to support this claim.  And that caracterization is true: published on the web within seconds of their creation, blog posts are a much quicker way of sharing your ideas as opposed to a book or, in jo(e)’s case, a literary journal, both of which take months if not years to publish.  What’s more, jo(e) mentions, “anyone can post a blog.”  There is no need to be noticed by a publisher or be lauded by scholars for your work; hell, there isn’t any need to impress anyone in order to write a blog.  After going over all of this information, jo(e) purports the idea that blogging is “replacing the free exchange of ideas that writers could once do in books” (1).

         However, how much of an exchange is happening on blogs, really? Are blogs as truly interactive as they are believed to be? And further, do the comments on a blog affect the shape of that blog?  Classroom conversations and my readings of blogs have given me tools to answering these questions, and through my exploration of these questions I find small but steadfast potential for conversation on the web.

         I began my investigation by observing a blog’s interaction with its comments.  I chose Tim Burke’s blog to look at on recommendation from my English professor, Anne Dalke.  I started by reading the comments, looking for responses that would evoke a reply in Burke’s text.  The comments I saw gave additional information relating to the topic of the post, along with some joking one-liners, questions and literary quotes.  They were all interesting enough-- would they induce a response, in turn shaping the post?  I then hopefully turned to look through Burke’s posts, to see if they were indeed influenced by the responses readers had written.  Alas, my search was in vain; the closest I could find to a comment reference were his various reader acknowledgements.  “Going to geek out a bit here, so skip to the next entry (whenever that comes) if that’s not your kind of thing,” said Tim Burke in a posting this month.  He is connecting to the reader by offering friendly advice.  Another point in which he connected to this reader was when he stated, “I’ve said many times before that….” Here, I felt as if I was being reminded of his dedication to the topic he was referring to.  I found Burke’s use of ‘you’ and ‘us’ to be a casual, welcoming acknowledgement of the reader’s presence. More connections to his readers could be found in Burke’s links.  These were proof that he keeps the reader in mind; he is offering them places to go to learn more about what the he was referring to.  Also, this link usage showed Burke as a blog reader as well as a writer—almost as if he were saying, “Hey Readers!  Look, I read online too!”  Some of the provided links were to other blogs that he praised in his posts’ text. Tim Burke’s blog is an example of one whose shape is not drastically sculpted by its comments. Burke’s nods to the reader and the links interspersed through his text are his way of conversing with the reader.

         My investigation continued as I then turned to define my own feelings towards blog comments.  The truth is, I don’t think that there is hardly ever information worth knowing found in comments; I didn’t go to that website in order to read a “conversation,” but instead am here to read the particular blogger’s posting.  The comments are not a crucial part of my reading experience, as they don’t contribute to my understanding of the text, and I therefore do not opt to read them often. My classmates seemed to have the same feelings: when asked who read the comments to each of the blogs assigned as reading for class, a miniscule portion of them raised their hands. Yet another example of this mindset is shown on Paul Grobstein’s blog, where a student of his named Marquise Demertueil responded to his blog post concerning the interchanges that blogs allow.  She said, “i'm interested in what that voice [of the blogger]…has to say to me, not in the exchange of ideas, which does not even have to be there.”  Not one of these groups or individuals chose to read the comments featured on blogs– in their experience, blogs they were reading were not shaped by these comments, as they didn’t even enter into each one’s consciousness.

         First we see a blogger who seemingly ignores other people’s comments.  Oh well, we think, if the comments don’t directly shape the bloggers’ posts, then maybe they affect the readers’ experiences of blogs. Then we find people who say they don’t even read blog comments.  “What hope do we have for online interaction?” you ask.  I found a more subtle exchange going on, however, one that most certainly affects the shape of the blog.  You see, Tim Burke’s blog exhibits another set of connections: these are the links Burke provides within his text and his small acknowledgements of a reader’s presence in the words of his posts.  Granted, both are unilateral exchanges rather than conversations back and forth, but we have to start somewhere.


Anne Dalke's picture

Linking back?

This essay works its way through three "turns of the screw": your initial "narrow" view of blogs as sites for personal expression, like diaries; your invitation, via jo(e), to think of them instead as providing an "interactive" "free exchange of ideas"; and finally, your testing out that idea by looking closely @ what is actually going on in the blog of Tim Burke, who tries to "live the future he wants," by offering on "Easily Distracted" "an alternative to herd mentality, to close-mindedness, to groupthink, to callow invocations of political positions, to slanted or one-sided selections of material and evidence, to an aversion to exploration and complexity."

But what you report finding in that space is only the very slenderest set of connections: the "nods" Tim makes in the direction of his readers, the links he provides within his text--casual, welcoming, if small acknowledgements that constitute (as you say) largely "unilateral" exchanges, very subtle gestures indeed towards the presence of his readers. And you end your essay by taking heart from this evidence of "his way of conversing" with us, this slim recognition that Tim "keeps his reader in mind."

You also say earlier, though, that you "didn’t go to that website in order to read a conversation." So I guess what I'm asking you to do now is to take a step beyond the framework you've used to organize this paper, which is really jo(e)'s claim that blogs are "truly interactive." Do you think they should be? That such interactivity is definitional--or ideal? Do you wish that blogs were more bi-directional, or can you see a place on the internet for monologues, for what Laura Blankenship called "benevolent dictatorships," for a voice which can speak without always having to be responsive to its audience?

If you think that blogs should be more interactive, then I'd nudge you--as I am nudging all of your classmates--to think about your own mode in writing this blog: how might you make it more inviting to your readers, more of an invitation for them to "link back" and "write back" to you?