Blogs are more than a tool to publish on the web, they are also a way to build and maintain communities between people who share interests online. A new dissertation from Stephanie Hendrick at Sweden’s Umeå University analyzes how weblog communities are formed and differ from one another.
Linguist Stephanie Fayth Hendrick has, in her dissertation, studied three communities of bloggers in order to better understand how weblog communities are formed and what community norms and expectations are at play. From this study, Hendrick has found that what is valued and rewarded in each community is constructed slightly differently; still afforded through the weblog tool, but socially constructed through the values and norms of each, separate community.
Research on weblog community has traditionally separately examined the blog as an artifact, the blog by its material affordances, or the blog through its social constructions. From the results of this dissertation, and based on previous research on weblog community, Hendrick suggests a new model for weblog research – one that considers social network analysis and an ethnographic approach equally.
Hendrick’s dissertation begins by asking how weblog community can be located when there is no single shared space, such as in platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. Social networking analysis was used to find communities based on hyperlinking, and to measure community strength. It was shown that weblogs form communities by linking to each other, and that these communities have a strong central core, and fuzzy boundaries which allow for new members to move in and out of the community.
Hendrick also examined how social identity, or identity that is negotiated against others, was mediated through the weblog. It was found here that discourses of journalism and diary writing influence social identity in weblogs, requiring a ‘truthful’ presentation of the blogger. Bloggers who blogged under a pseudonym were often subjected to much scrutiny about markers of identity.
In the third and final case study of this dissertation, Hendrick examined if the core and periphery of the same blogging community blogged differently from each other. From a sample of bloggers, it is suggested that innovations in blogging often originate from the core of the weblog community and trickle out into the periphery.