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Labouring lifestyle: assembling the lifestyle blog

This is a Prezi of a paper I presented last year at the 6th Asian Graduate Forum On Southeast Asian Studies at the NUS Asia Research Institute.

Here is the abstract:
Whereas the great majority of blogs are of the 'personal' genre - i.e. diaristic accounts of individuals' lives - academic research has focused mostly on the 'social-political' blogging genre and its relevance to the democratisation of the public sphere. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and drawing upon anthropological critiques of economic theory, this paper discusses the complexities of the articulation of personal blogging with existing models of media advertising in Malaysia. By conceptualising personal bloggers' provision of advertising space and 'advertorials' (paid blog posts), this paper argues that the monetisation of personal blogging has resulted in a new blogging genre, the 'lifestyle blog'.

The advertising industry in Malaysia has responded to the destabilisation of the advertising market enabled by blog affordances by seeking to internalise the bloggers who represent "voicy consumers" in the "economy of qualities" (Michel Callon). Robert Foster has argued that surplus value is created for brands "through the everyday practices in which consumers use branded goods to create social relations and shared meanings and affect." In effect, the diaristic practices of personal bloggers create both an opportunity for this process to take place and, for the more popular bloggers, a platform for advertisers to reach significant portions of a younger, more affluent, audience. By paying bloggers to incorporate brands in their blog posts, the advertisers seek to entangle the brand with the bloggers and their audience's shared network of meaning, or dynamic assemblage.

While these findings are based on the Malaysian context, they have particular relevance for Singaporean blogging, as well as potential relevance for blogging worldwide, which has seen an increased interest in blogs as an advertising platform embedded in local and contextualised markets.

Keywords: advertising, affordances, anthropology, blogs, Malaysia, marketing, media

Visualising a monetised Twitter network

This is just a little experiment with nodeXL, inspired by this example of using it to visualise a Twitter network. NodeXL is a very nice social network analysis (SNA) and visualisation tool. It works from Microsoft Excel, and is very light and easy to use. The NodeXL Tutorial provides instructions on how to use it.

One thing that's particularly nice, for an SNA neophyte like myself, is that nodeXL can both search the net and do the visualisation (you can do this on VOSON too, though). And you can search Twitter too.

Many people on the Malaysian twitterverse will have noticed #xpaxblackberry coming up fairly often recently, and it seems clear that Xpax had purchased the help, perhaps via ChurpChurp, of various key bloggers/tweeters to get the word out. In addition, Xpax was organising an event last Saturday (which I was able to go to, after entering a competition with Nuffnang) to launch their new prepaid Blackberry service.

So - I decided to see what would happen if I put the search term - "xpaxblackberry" into NodeXL.

This is what I got on the 8th October - two days before the launch party
social network analysis visualisation nodexl twitter monetisation

This represents the tweeters who mentioned 'xpaxblackberry' in their tweet, and the lines represent who follows whom, within that group.

The size of the picture is relative to the "Betweenness centrality" of the tweeter: i.e. some people are more connected to other people, either directly or via other people, so they are 'in between' more people. For example: if I know Joe, Peter, and Jane, but none of them know each other, then I have a greater 'betweenness' value.

So, in the above graph, we can see that the four tweeters with the greatest centrality are @kennysia (BC value = 1), @benjern (BC value = 0.876), @julesisapen (BC value = 0.703), @joycethefairy (BC value = 0.671).

I also ran a 'Cluster' calculation, which calculates "the number of edges connecting a vertex's neighbors divided by the total number of possible edges between the vertex's neighbors." (Hansen, Shneiderman & Smith, p16). Basically, it tries to spot the clusters of nodes that are more interconnected amongst each other than to other people. They are represented by represented by the different colours, which can be seen easier here - four major clusters are visible.
social network analysis visualisation nodexl twitter monetisation

The next time I ran it was on the 10th October, in the afternoon before the event.
social network analysis visualisation nodexl twitter monetisation

The top four this time are: @benjern (BC value = 1), @julesisapen (BC value = 0.834), @kennysia (BC value = 0.685), @spinzer (BC value = 0.357).


The third time was on the 15th October, the Thursday following the event.
social network analysis visualisation nodexl twitter monetisation

The top four this time are: benjern (BC value = 1), @julesisapen (BC value = 0.625), @xpaxsays (BC value = 0.432), and @joycethefairy and @MyXpaX are equal in fourth place (BC value = 0.398).

• There are clearly more people, but not many more clusters here.
• Two new tweeters are prominent, @xpaxsays and @MyXpaX - they are 'corporate tweeters'.
• One interesting point is that although @joycethefairy has 1,521 followers, and @MyXpaX has only 19 followers, they have the same degree of centrality in this particular snapshot of the twitterverse. This shows how much the sample can influence the result of the 'social network' being analysed: within this sample thirteen followers of @joycethefairy and @MyXpaX tweeted 'xpaxblackberry', meaning they have the same weight in this sample. What has happened is that @MyXpaX keeps retweeting/mentioning and following tweeters who mention 'xpaxblackberry'.
• @kennysia, who was initially the most prominent and central person, has disappeared right off the graph. This must be because the archives are only kept for so long, and he has not tweeted recently enough; or that the tweets have gone beyond the 10-page limit (discussed here, I'm not sure what the exact story is). Or nodeXL only limits itself to a certain amount of days.

Conclusions
• To do an experiment like this better one would have to analyse more carefully over time (e.g. doing a search every hour or something - for a more sophisticated example see Tim Highfield's foray).
• What's interesting is to note the shifting of the centre of this particular 'conversation'.
• To get an idea of the relative importance of the tweeters, or at least assumed importance, it would be necessary to include some computation of the number of followers each one has.
• The reciprocity of follower/following is important too. The more followers there are compared to following, the more significant that tweeter is likely to be.
• The connections between tweeters are generally quite dense - that is to say, although there is clustering of smaller groups, there are lots of ties between the groups too.
• Overall, the leading tweeters are also leading bloggers. For the moment, I would say that there's no clear differentiation between the Malaysian blogosphere and twitterverse.

Publish or perish - at a price?

I'm a relativey recent arrival in academia, and the more I learn about it, the scarier the pressure to publish becomes. I recently submitted a paper to a journal and got rejected :-( But there was some useful feedback, and I was encouraged by some positive comments too - I think that I may have chosen the wrong journal. But it ain't easy to get it right.

Another thing I've noticed is how the pressure to have conferences and papers on one's resume creates something of an industry which works a bit like this: you pay to go to a conference, and the conference organisers arrange the venue and gather everyone together who've paid in order to present to each other. The organisers pocket the difference, and you get a paper 'published' in the proceedings, or at least you get to say you've presented at a conference.

This institutional pressure has the effect of encouraging certain practices such as recycling papers in different conferences (not forgetting to change the title); the setting up of ever more specialised conferences or journals - usually online ones; universities self-publishing books; and so on. One unfortunate practice a post-graduate student from a Malaysian university told me about was when a senior faculty member agrees to get the faculty to pay for a paper to be published, as long as his/her name was included as co-author.

Which takes me to one example, that spurred me to write this post
Fees and Charges: Authors are required to pay a $550 handling fee. Publication of an article in the International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology is not contingent upon the author's ability to pay the charges. Neither is acceptance to pay the handling fee a guarantee that the paper will be accepted for publication. Authors may still request (in advance) that the editorial office waive some of the handling fee under special circumstances. (IJSA)

Would you want to pay them? It strikes me that being paid to 'handle' submissions is a perfect way to set up conflicts of interest that will undermine the academic credibility of a journal.

I'm not arguing that we should restrict the proliferation of journals and conferences - especially regional ones that can hopefully bring more balance to the dominance of the richer countries in terms of framing academic discourse, and of course it takes money to maintain a journal or organise a conference. But perhaps, at least, there could be some kind of upfront declaration of monetary requirements in journals - the example above was buried at the bottom of the 'Instructions for Authors' and certainly is not mentioned in the 'About' section.
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