Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Understanding Participation in Blogging Communities

Scott Eric Kaufman over at Acephalous is gearing up for his MLA panel on blogging and, having asked his regular readers to email or post on their academic or professional backgrounds, has learned some surprising things: specifically, he was startled at how many people were committed enough to the site to email, even though they had never posted publicly, and he was particularly startled at how many of his lurkers are female, given that public posters are largely male. He is currently asking for theories about why people read blogs without posting, and for theories about the causes of the gender disparity between posters and readers.

It’s always an interesting issue, who reads a blog. This blog has always had regular readers who know me in person (it was originally developed to communicate with my somewhat dispersed research group, as well as to keep in touch with people who knew me from when I was working outside the academy). The blog’s origin meant, among other things, that I never had to worry that I was writing for absolutely no one. Along the way, the blog picked up other regular readers – local readers who prefer to drop into my office for a chat, instead of posting; distant and local readers who email their reactions; and the occasional public poster. And then there are the mysterious recurrent IP addresses – people who seem to find it worthwhile to visit, but who haven’t made themselves known in any way.

I’ve already posted a few thoughts over at Acephalous about why I comment on some blogs, and only lurk on others. For me, commenting at someone else’s blog reflects the feeling that it would be an interesting place to have some kind of ongoing discussion – not just in one thread, but in a number of threads over time. I therefore comment on a very small number of blogs – and generally only after lurking for some time, to get a feel for the community and the conventions of discussion. I almost never post one-off, issue-driven comments on any blog, even if I have relevant expertise in a topic – for me, blogging is a medium for ongoing discussion, and a one-off post doesn’t satisfy that interest.

At the same time, I don’t tend ever to become an all-purpose commentator at any blog – I seem to “specialise” the sorts of comments I make, based on the “relationship” I have to that blogging community – and the patterns of my comments often have very little to do with the patterns of my reading: I like Acephalous for many reasons, but am generally particularly struck by Scott’s theoretical, historical and dissertation-related posts. Perversely, however, I almost never contribute to discussions on these kinds of posts – instead, I tend to respond mainly to more “social” threads… At Savage Minds, by contrast, I respond almost exclusively to theoretical posts – and therefore often go long stints without posting, effectively waiting for an appropriate topic to arise. And yet I read the blog regularly, rather than selectively reading only the sorts of posts to which I tend to reply…

In describing my own commenting style, I’m not at all suggesting that I think this is what everyone else does, or should do: I know people who are clear single-issue (or, in most cases, multiple-issue) posters, who will happily join the fray at any blog if they have expertise on a topic, regardless of whether they’ve spent much time lurking in that blogging community. I know others who never, ever post on any blog, although they read far more blogs than I do… Commenting, like blogging itself, serves a range of interests, and falls into a range of styles. Scott is in the process of trying to theorise some of the commenting trends he sees on his blog – if anyone here is an Acephalous lurker, and hasn’t yet noticed the thread, perhaps head over and contribute to the discussion – if, that is, you comment on this sort of thing… ;-P

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