Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Tag

On Whose Authority? An Introduction

According to Technorati, the foremost directory for blogs, there are more than 109 million blogs, or “frequently modified web pages in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence” to be found online. (Scott, Quain) From PostSecret to the lolcat to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, blogs have become tools to not only offer critical cultural commentary on American society and the larger world, they bring questions about the role of the author to the forefront of the discussion of online media. What relevance or importance does an author of a blog have, and how is it established or gained?

Unlike normal websites where the content and design have the spotlight and are created to project a unifying message, in a blog, the author generally carries the most importance, as it is there interests, their biases, and their motivations that drive the need to blog about their perspective on the world. There is no need for them to have a unifying message of any kind, which makes navigating the world of blogs a chaotic venture. However, successful blogs to find a message to center themselves on.

A cautious web user, disinclined to trust anything that can’t be found at a library, may pointedly ask what business a person has posting on a blog. Who is the author and what makes the person an expert or gives them credibility in an arena on the web where there are no rules or few conditions of entry, where any person can start a blog? Whom do they address? What ax do they have to grind?

Much of the confusion with blogs has to do with how an author approaches designing and adding posts to their blog. According to K. R. Cohen, “The difficulty here is due to the fact that blogs sit irregularly between familiar modes of address, never quite addressing a person (dialogue), never quite addressing a crowd (speech, public address,), never quite speaking to oneself (diary, monologue, soliloquy)—and no one struggles more with this ambiguity than bloggers themselves.” It’s no surprise that blogs are thus held with more suspicion than other online content, such as content from reputable news sources and other forms of authority on the internet. Ironically, it’s the same venerable sources of authority who are starting blogs on their sites, particularly those that originate in print media, to stay solvent in an era of increasingly slim ad profit margins and the inevitable speed that other blogs beat these sources to the next big story.

At first glance, there is this dichotomy of established media sources seeking relevance versus the average user turning into an expert who has a blog who is garnering thousands of unique page views a day, and is making a tidy profit on the side. However, most blogs aren’t money machines and are maintained and run for very different purposes. Bloggers have a myriad of reasons for blogging, from educating the visitor to defending their decisions or the decisions of others, offering critical commentary on an issue, or giving voices to those who can’t.

It is difficult to make broad-brush remarks about the never of blogs since their strength lies in their incredible diversity. Even formats of blogs aren’t always standard text posts—some blogging sites have a maximum word limit of 125 characters for posts and other blogs have voice posts or videos (vlogs) instead of text entries. It is with this diversity in mind, that I will examine several case studies of different blogs, how they operate, why they are popular, and who the authors are.

Methods

For each of the case studies, several statistics have been gathered about each blog, including:

With whom it is affiliated: Any affiliations generally suggest a blog belongs to a network or is owned by a parent company that has an impact on how it markets itself.

When it was launched: The older a blog is, roughly speaking, the more prestige it has and the more trustworthy it is. It speaks of the longevity of the author and the audience the blog caters to. (The vast number of dead blogs in cyberspace indicate how easy it is for an author, and then an audience, to lose interest.) Generally speaking, blogs only grew a wider foothold in cyberspace in 2002, but interest exploded with the growth of early social networks such as Match.com and Friendster.com, as more users sought to establish a wider presence online.

Who the authors are: Authors may have different motivations for starting and running plogs, and bench on their previous experience to lay claim to expertise, may affiliate themselves with certain agendas, or choose to remain anonymous, suggesting the message is more important than the author.

Number of Google links: Google is the world’s most popular web search engine and is a good indicator on how popular a blog is by counting the number of websites that link to a particular URL. However, splog and other less ethical blogs will have skewed results since they manipulate Google rankings by abusing the meta tags and inserting thousands of keyboards that have no relevance to the blog’s content. Google “punishes” such websites by sending their URLs to the bottom of the search results.

Its Technorati rating: Technorati is the closest to a truly useful and universal blog directory online, as it focuses on how often a blog has new content, who cites the blog, and what blogs link to the blog. The more a blog has of all the above variables, the higher it ranks in Technorati and the more authority it gains.

What software it’s run on:
Most blogs are run on Content Management Systems (CMS), website software that allows for a user to quickly order file large amounts of information into different categories. Many CMS-based blogs are extensible, which allows for users to grow and modify the capacities of their website. Most CMSs are based on open-source platforms, meaning that anyone can download and modify its source code for free, but sometimes offered ad-supported or paid versions of their software to host people’s blogs. Examples include LiveJournal.com and WordPress.com.

Works Cited

Cohen, K. R. “A Welcome for Blogs.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Culture Studies. 1 June 2006. 164-165.
Scott, Craig R. and Qian, Hua. “Anonynomity and Self-Discolsure on Weblogs.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2007.