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2010 - How was it for you?

13.56

How to do a 15 minute recap of the year?

Answer - check out the archives on the right if you're actually interested, and here is a potted version.

Travel: only one trip to Singapore - probabably the least travelling I've done since I was fifteen and went on my first trip without my mother to Spain, Morocco, and the Netherlands on an InterRail pass.

PhD: it is a painful process, and I needed to get an extension of 6 months in November. I now hope to hand it in by the end of April, but it's going to be tough. But, as I've been telling myself and telling others - this is my last New Year as PhD candidate! It's Doctorate or bust this year!!

Academic stuff: I'm proud to announce my first (co-authored) published work! We got a chapter in an edited volume of cutting edge internet research - the chapter is "Fielding Networked Marketing: Technology and Authenticity in the Monetization of Malaysian Blogs", and the book is Nexus: New Intersections in Internet Research
. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Neal Thomas, my co-author, with whom it was a pleasure to work with, and the indefatigable editors, Daniel Araya, Yana Breindl, and Tessa J. Houghton, who made it all happen.

I also quite liked the article I wrote for Off the Edge - 'Not the MSM?'

Apart from that, and many interesting things such as the SMCKL meetings, getting to know Twitter better, doing two podcasts, the MOST important, literally life changing, thing to happen was of course the birth of Charlie! Being a father is a constant source of an unique kind of pleasure, pure affect I suppose (for the Deleuzian amongst you); and also a nagging anxiety about wanting to make sure he is getting the best possible. Anyway, credit where credit is due - WW has and is being a wonderful mother, and the grandparents have been an unflagging source of support for which I am really grateful. And kudos to any single parent out there! I have no idea how you do it!

Happy New Year. Live life. Explore. Acknowledge your fears. Love.

14.11



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The 15-minute blog post.
I like to blog, but I can't afford to spend a lot of time on it. Solution: limit myself to 15 minutes per post.
One link, one picture maximum.
All comments, critiques and corrections are welcome. Thank you.

Do Malaysian bloggers think that blog advertorials need to be disclosed?

The recent plan by the American Federal Trade Commission to "Fine Bloggers up to $11,000 for Not Disclosing Payments" has got people talking about the ethical and legal aspects of paying bloggers for content, and apparently "Singapore's Media Development Authority is considering mirroring the U.S. government's new tough stance". There has been discussion on the NPR program 'On Point with Tom Ashbrook' (podcast here), a blog post by Dave Gilmor - A Dangerous Federal Intervention in Social Media; and in Malaysia it was discussed on the Digital Edge Podcast, a Twtpoll by @blogjunkie, and various tweets by various people (please tell me about more if you know of any, thanks).

It's important to distinguish between paid advertorials, and reviews of products or reports of events. For the former, the client vets and approves the final content, and only pays if they are happy with it. For the latter, a blogger may be given a product, or invited to an event, and it's up to the blogger to write what they want, if anything. Of course, most people tend to feel more favourably disposed towards someone who gave them something - but my research suggests that if a blogger does not like a product or event, they are more likely to just not blog about it, rather than blog something bad about it.

It can be a very cheap and effective strategy for a company: for the cost of a freebie, or by including a few bloggers into a product launch party, they might get some exposure to a few thousand, or maybe even tens of thousands, loyal readers who value and trust the bloggers' opinion. Particularly when this audience is typically less likely to read a newspaper, watch television, and so on. Even advertorials, which can cost from a few hundred to a few thousand (I estimate), are much cheaper than - for example - a full page newspaper ad (average cost, RM10K?), and the post will stay online too, rather than ending up in a recycle bin (hopefully).

My research so far has indicated to me that some advertisers explicitly require bloggers not to disclose that the post is paid for, but these seem to be a smaller minority. Most bloggers do disclose in some manner: some in a very obvious way - in the title or at the head of the post - and most in a more subtle way, giving the post a tag such as 'advertorial', 'pocket money', or something like that. Other bloggers say that they do not need to disclose, as their readers will know when they are doing an advertorial anyway.

In the myBlogS 2009 survey, I asked questions about disclosure, and the commercialisation of blogs. Here are some of the results.

The charts compare the responses by Bloggers (in pink; n = 356) and Readers (in green; n = 197); as well as the Monetisers - i.e. bloggers who try to make money from their blog (in orange, n=183) and the Non-Monetisers (in blue, n=173). If you see more on the right side, it means more agreed with the statement, and disagreements show up on the left; a peak in the middle means more were 'Neutral'. The more of a difference in their attitudes, the more of one colour you can see. You should also be aware that these graphs are not always directly comparable - because the scale on the y-axis changes sometimes.

There was a “Not applicable to me" option too: rather than including these responses in the graph, I've put them on the side in order to let the graphs show the trend of those who did address the question. Most of the time, the amount is only one or two percent. It's impossible to know why, when asked an opinion, people answer “Not applicable to me" - it suggests that either they don't understand the question, that it doesn't address their experience, or maybe that they have no opinion.

malaysian blog survey attitudes disclosure
Here we can clearly see that most think that advertorials should be disclosed. The “Not applicable to me" answer was 4.4% for the Monetisers, and 10.4% for the Non-Monetisers (for some reason I couldn't get it on the picture). The high number for the Non-Monetisers suggests that some read the question as referring to them, rather than being a general opinion.

But anyway, there is a clear preference for disclosure; though there are more than a quarter who are neutral, suggesting that they believe it's up to the blogger to decide. The Monetisers are (unsurprisingly) the most likely to sit on the fence on this one.

What may be the impact of bloggers doing too many advertorials?
malaysian blog survey attitudes commercialisation
There is a tendency for bloggers and readers to think that blogs are too commercialised, but the readers seem to be less worried about it than the bloggers - this may reflect the fact that bloggers may have been around longer, and thus seen more changes. Both Monetisers and Non-Monetisers see the commercialisation as excessive, the the Non-Monetisers feel more strongly about it.

malaysian blog survey attitudes commercialisation
Continue reading "Do Malaysian bloggers think that blog advertorials need to be disclosed?"

Social networks and commenting

A recent post by danah boyd (and Bernie Hogan) called Would the real social network please stand up? makes some interesting points about the dangers of assuming all social networks are comparable and concludes
"The truth of the matter is that there is no "real" social network. It all depends on what you're trying to measure, what you're trying to do with those measurements."

She outlines three types of networks:
• "Sociological 'personal' networks": measured in different ways, these would be 'ego networks' with the person in the centre choosing to associate themselves with all the others - e.g. by saying they are people who they would trust with a secret.
• "Behavioral social networks": these would be networks based on common practices. They may be observed but not experienced as important by the people involved, e.g. people taking the same train to work, or they may be more important to the persons - e.g. Grateful Dead fans.
• "Publicly articulated social networks": 'articulated' means that you consciously list them somehow (e.g. your list for Christmas cards), and the public part comes about when you tell others - the obvious example being Facebook 'friends', or blogrolls. These networks may be made of all kinds of people, some of whom may not reciprocate the social tie (e.g. think of an inveterate name-dropper); and these networks may serve different purposes. The symbolism of the ties are important here - i.e. I may friend you as a follow-up to an offline meeting, but there may be no real intention of deepening the relationship.

What are blog networks?
I was thinking - how would you classify blog networks? The common identification of the 'blogosphere' seems to be a behavioural network - from outside bloggers are often bunched together as one group, but from within most bloggers do not identify with the group as a whole. One publicly articulated social network is the blogroll - but there are different views on how useful they are in explaining meaningful ties for bloggers (e.g. Schmidt 2007). Leaving a comment, and responding to them, is a practice central to establishing and maintaining a 'publicly articulated social network' in blogging, but of course not every comment has the same meaning (e.g. see my 10 types of commenters).

I'd agree with Bernie Hogan (aka blurky) that it's important not to 'reify' networks, even though they can be visualised in compelling ways. Blogrolls have limited usefulness, but I would argue that mapping the comments reveals more meaningful relations. Here is an interesting example: at bit less than two years ago, bloggers who had clustered around the launch of All-Blogs, met up in 'Blog House' (Bloggers Allied). This is a mapping of the comments made on blog posts that discussed the blogmeet (the blue squares are blogs that received comments, and the red circles are people that made comments).
malaysia all-blogs blog house sna social network analysis

OK - it's all a bit confusing, but we can focus in on the two blogs with the most comments - who, not coincidentally, were the two major figures there.
malaysia all-blogs blog house sna social network analysis

With hindsight, it's interesting to notice how the two major figures there had little common online commenters - suggesting that their networks have different bases. These two leading bloggers were ostensibly working together towards a common purpose, but after the March 8, 2008 elections there was what was touted as a 'split in the blogosphere' - where they both had a public spat. When I asked some of those involved about the 'split', a common answer I got was: 'there never was a blogosphere - there are all kinds of bloggers, and they can do whatever they want'.

When analysing the social dynamics in the blogging field, it would be useful to think of different types of networks that are enrolled in different contexts: in practice, the networks only exist ephemerally, at the moment of their articulation - the danger of 'reifying' them comes from the ability to trace them on the web, which gives them a misleading permanency. A blogroll link may have been added two years ago, a comment may have been made pretty much at random in any blog.

I think that comments are a fundamental practice of bloggers, and investigating those is more important than - for example - looking at blogrolls or other links; though of course they are relevant too. Too many studies of blogs overlook comments, possibly because: 1) they are more difficult to crawl/mine with automated bots; 2) there is a decreasing rate of significance of comments as they increase in numbers (apart from being an index of the importance of the blog and/or the post) - studies that concentrate on the biggest blogs may therefore overlook them. The way I see it, a blog without the option of commenting is just a website, and analysing blogs without taking account of the comments is like trying to understand the social dynamics of a pub without paying attention to the pub goers.

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.

Authenticity and self-interest

Some thoughts after reading this: Quiggin, J. & Potts, J., 2008. Economics of non-market innovation and digital literacy. Media International Australia, (128), 144-50.

The article is a debate about the significance of the non-market productive interactions - with Open Source as the main example.

Quiggin argues that the non-monetary sector will begin to direct the monetary sector, reversing previous pattern of monetisation of non-commercial practices etc. Potts argues that the sectors always interact, and non-market innovations lead into the market.

Quiggin sees a shift back to household production: "innovation is coming from the collective contributions of individuals and households driven by a range of non-economic motives." (146); he also pronounces on forms of rationality - "It is difficult to be both a profit maximiser and a charity. They are indeed competing versions of rationality." (147)

Later Potts kicks in with: "altruistic or otherwise community-minded behaviours are entirely consistent with individual rationality once we account for the existence of the implicit other (mostly future) markets in which the agent perceives themselves to be potentially engaged." (147)

--> Are they arguing about whether or not it's rational to do something altruistically? I'm not sure... but it's a different argument to the one about whether or not the monetary and non-monetary markets are linked. Potts argument ultimately depends on speculating about the motives of the actors, and implying that - whatever they say - the actors are rational and self-interested.

Potts later makes a good point: "it is not the case that there is a domain of markets and market activity on one side, and a domain of non-market activity on the other, but rather an ever-shifting process where behaviours in markets fnd non-market contexts, and this in turn creates new market contexts, and so on." (149)

--> But this does not relate directly to the intentions or motivations of the actor. Motivation is often relative to the beholder, and frequently a post-hoc rationalisation. The assumption of intrinsic self-directed and self-aware action is fundamental to the construction of the authentic self. In contrast to the modernist self-interested rational individual, this authentic self can be marked out symbolically by her ability to deny self-interestedness; the lack of agency implicit in the rational self-interested argument is in opposition to the post-modern paradoxical search for authenticity.
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