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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

How can 10,000 unique visitors mean an audience of 100?

A distinct advantage of internet advertising is the ability to accurately measure the audience (through page views), and to know precisely how many people took an interest in the ad by clicking on it. 'Click fraud' (simulating different people by repeated clicking) is detected by automated software, and 'unique visitors' (based on the IP addresses) deals with the problem of the same person refreshing a page in order to simulate a different person.

This is how Google has made billions of dollars, so it must be pretty reliable overall.

However, how can 10,000 unique visitors equal an audience of 100? To answer this, we have to consider the network within which the ad is displayed. For this example, let's imagine a random blog advertising network - called 'BlogAdNet': BlogAdNet works by registering thousands of blogs, all of whom allocate space on their blog for advertisements to be automatically displayed as and when BlogAdNet wants to. They then go to potential clients and say, for example, 'Our network of blogs receives 10,000 unique visitors a day'; but this does not necessarily mean 10,000 different people. Imagine a very dense network of 100 bloggers, all of whom visit each other's blog every day - each blogger reads 99 other blogs every day. 99 x 100 = 9,900. So, the 10,000 unique visitors could in fact be 100 people, plus one other person (imagine BlogAdNet doing regular monitoring) visiting all the blogs.

I've used NodeXL (a useful social network analysis (SNA) tool that integrates with Excel), to think about a few examples that demonstrate how SNA can give more insight into the behavioural aspects of blog readers. Represnted in an SNA graph, the dense network of 100 readers would look like this (except that I've scaled it down to ten users to be easier to see):
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

Everyone is connected to everyone else, and nobody is more 'influential' than others.

However, this would be very unusual. Most networks are clustered - using the above ten blogs, I've chosen A, B and C as the 'top bloggers': everyone visits them, and they always visit each other (but don't visit the other). DEF always visit ABC, and each other. GHI are a similarly clustered sub-group. And J, who is visited by nobody (aww) always visits ABC (like everyone else), and also D, F, G and I.

Now, the same network, based on the same calculations, looks like this:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

The size of the nodes are based on the 'in-degree' - i.e. the number of incoming visitors. So A, B and C are the biggest, and J the smallest.

You can also calculate 'Betweenness'. In a network, it's not only the direct connections that matter - someone 'between' you and another person may be relaying your thoughts, or enhancing your reputation.
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

So, the node J is now bigger than the other two sub-groups DEF, and GHI. So, in theory, J could be seeing something on A's blog, and then telling others about it; or starting conversations in their comments section and acting as a 'bridge' between sub- groups DEF and GHI. Or maybe J is just a lurker, who never says anything? The only way to find out would be to go and look at what J does. This points to one of the limitations of SNA - you can detect the presence of a link, but you don't always know what it means in practice.

The Eigenvector Centrality calculation combines the above, looking at the number of connections each blog has, and the degree of the blogs it connects to:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

E and H are now smaller, because they have less overall connections. J remains apparently influential, but the lack of incoming links is not reflected here.

OK, I've got to stop this, and get on with writing my thesis!! :-|

Some conclusions

The density of a blogger network tends to depend on a few factors such as: geographical location, shared cultural features, blog genre, gender, and interest. For example, Malaysian bloggers/readers are more likely to read other Malaysian blogs; or female bloggers/readers interested in fashion and makeup will read blogs that focus on that. The density will be increased when they go to events together, when they link to each other, and so on.

If you want to measure influence on the internet, relying on classic data that is based on non-contextualised quantities is not enough. For example, if you say ‘There are 5,000 mentions of new product X since we launched the campaign’; this does not tell you the relative importance of each mention. You can combine that with unique visitors: ‘5,000 mentions of which 200 were on blogs that receive more than 2,000 daily unique visitors’. But still, what if all those 2,000 visitors are part of a densely clustered network who mostly read each other’s blogs?

The subjective and 'thick' understanding of the contextual meaning of links still needs human eyes. But they can be helped by automated processes that, for example, detect key words, emotional content, etc.

What do you think? How important can SNA be in elucidating these more subjective social aspects of online interaction?

I’m still learning about SNA, and don’t know much about what happens in social media monitoring companies, so if anyone has any corrections or advice, please use the comments section below. Thanks! :-)

Alpha Project bloggers

Doing an interview recently, I realised that I am the epitome of the bad blogger! My crime? I am inconsistent - I blog in spurts, but not regularly. A good blogger needs to blog regularly (at least 3 times a week), or at least consistently (e.g. every Sunday), so that the readers know what to expect and don't waste their time. I suppose that with Google Reader or RSS one can get around that, but still...

Anyway, I will make an effort to be more consistent from now on (but I've said that before, haven't I?)

Anyway - a few things have happened since my last post: a couple of screenings ('District 9' - great!, 'Murderer' - pretty lame), a birthday party, I bought a new super chair, and continued to be stressed out by work :-|

Yesterday, there was the launch of 'Project Alpha' (recognise the design?)
Project Alpha launch

It was combined with an Adidas promotion at the Centre Court in Megamall - you could get a "Mystery prize" by saying the password. It's "Drymax", but don't all go rushing to use it. Unless you really want a sample of "Tropical Passion - Adidas fragrance for women" which is all I got, or even a keychain (Tian Chad got both). I was so not impressed...
Tian Chad with Adidas gift

On the other hand, if you go there and buy Adidas shower gels and stuff like that to a value of RM45 or more (I think), you can win extra prizes (a bag, fragrance,...).

I also met Casey Liew, and Dustyhawk was also there, and helped me to choose a microphone afterwards, for my interviews.

After the trailer for Project Alpha was shown, there was a foosball competition. The KennySia and Jojo Struys team beat Nicolekiss and (er sorry I'm not sure...) beautifulnara (thanks Casey!)
KennySia Jojo Struys and Nicolekiss playing foosball

and, in spite of looking very focused,
sixthseal and fourfeetnine playing foosball

Sixthseal and Fourfeetnine lost to Redmummy and Budiey
Redmummy and Budiey playing foosball

The final was won by the Kenny and Jojo team,
Kenny Sia, Jojo Struys and Adidas person

and everyone got something anyway :-) Ahh the life of a blogebrity, freebies galore...
Bloggers at Project Alpha launch with Adidas

OK OK I know they work hard for it. By for example posting (and posing) regularly!

So that was that - I must say I'm intrigued by Project Alpha though - it's going to be an "Online TV Show" - kind of like the Malaysian Dreamgirl I suppose, but focusing on the life of bloggers.

When I think of it, calling it an "Online TV Show" is an interesting mix of terms - by definition, if it's online it's not television: in media studies terms I suppose what it means it is a television genre of programming, but it's distributed online.

It will feature one blogger every week, with a three minute segment every day. So it's like TV in that it is moving pictures with sound, broadcast at a certain time; but unlike TV because one can view it at any time, and it's short. Having it short suits online media - you can watch it in the time it takes to read a blogpost, and it's not going to take forever to download or cost too much if you're using a mobile device.

I must say, Malaysian blogging is always throwing up surprises. This is something of a glimpse into the future of new media I'd say. However, at this point the production of such a programme is taken over by professionals: my guess is that the next generation produsers, will be producing their own short videos. Sure you already have vlogs, but what I mean is that at some point, someone will be putting together an edited clip which would cover similar topics that blog posts do, in a way that is more than someone talking to a web cam.

Check your Facebook privacy settings

Thanks to @SurindRaj I just heard about the most recent Facebook attempt to use your data to make money
Facebook occasionally pairs advertisements with relevant social actions

From what I understand, this means that they want to use your pictures (e.g. your profile picture) in conjunction with ads to - for example - say 'Hey Julian loves ChokkyNutz why don't you try them?'. Actually I guess they wouldn't be allowed to say that, but in any case they clearly want to make their ads more appealing by using pictures of you. An example of this being misused by a third-party application was when a man saw his wife's picture used by a dating site
Cheryl Smith Facebook dating advertisement

Being Americans, I'm surprised they didn't try to make zillions by instigating a law suit, but the story sped around the web, and Facebook responded, basically saying it wasn't their fault and the picture shouldn't have been used in that way.

Anyway - the best thing to do is to stop them by changing your settings in Facebook: Settings > Privacy > News Feed and Wall > Facebook Ads > Drop box: select 'No One' > Save changes.

While you're at it, have a look at some of the other Privacy settings. What do you want people who search for you (and this includes spammers and identity thieves) to see (Privacy > Search)?
Facebook search privacy settings

And how about this one (Privacy > Applications > Settings)?
"Facebook Beacon is a way for you to bring actions you take online into Facebook. Beacon works by allowing affiliate websites to send stories about actions you take to Facebook… If you click "No, Thanks", no stories or information will be published anywhere on Facebook. Any information that was sent to Facebook's servers will be deleted…
[if you don't click 'No thanks'] The next time you visit your home page, you'll see a message remind you that this story is being sent. There are three things you can do with this story: approve the story by clicking Okay, remove the story by clicking "Remove", or ignore the entire message by doing nothing." (How does Beacon work?)

Facebook Beacon settings privacy

Basically - have fun with Facebook, but don't forget that it's there to make money off you, not to help you make friends.

You can also check out a previous related post too - Facebook owns YOU!

Decisions, decisions: ethnographic focus

I have to blog everyday!! Two reasons:
• As an anthropologist, I need to keep a diary to record thoughts and impressions. Later on, I will refer back to these when writing up my theses.
• As a blogger, I should update regularly. More importantly, as a blogger who is focusing on 'personal' or 'lifestyle' blogs, I need to write about what I'm doing, giving that personal aspect to it all.

And, I am falling behind in my schedule for my research and getting pretty stressed :-O Need.To.Work


So, anyway, I have decided to focus only on lifestyle/personal bloggers who have Nuffnang ads. I will not ignore other blogs, but I am finding that the work of tracking blogs takes up a lot of time - about four hours a day or more. Normally I wake up around 6am and am at my computer before seven; typically, with a break for breakfast, I will be reading blogs, archiving, and writing notes until lunchtime. During this time I may or may not have the time to write a post myself. In one month, I have archived 362 posts! This is a lot and basically, I need to focus. So - no SoPo and only Nuffnang.

Why not Advertlets bloggers? Well mainly because I have been with Nuffnang since starting, and I prefer to have the 'Glitterati' status (which means I can't have Advertlets ads) to improve my chances of getting invited to Nuffnang events. Also because the biggest bloggers seem to be with Nuffnang.

Why not SoPo? The two main reasons are: 1) they are not the focus of my research; 2) They don't carry ads (usually)
Exceptions to the last point are Screenshots... and Che Det (for those who don't know, the latter is the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia's blog, Dr Mahathir (aka TDM))

Interestingly, for those who wonder how much money can be made by blogging, here are the details of Che Det's advertising rate: the minimum is RM300 a day, and the top banner is RM1000/day. So, he can make RM30,000+ a month. That is a lot of money! For non-Malaysians, consider that the Malaysian Trade Union Congress is asking for a minimum wage of RM1,200/month.

I doubt that even the top bloggers such as Kenny Sia are able to ask for R1,000/day for banner ads - my guess is that on the one hand TDM has the most popular blog in Malaysia (average 40-50K visitors/day), and on the other hand he just puts the price higher to have to less requests to deal with.

So, overall in my thesis I will deal with SoPo bloggers, and all other kinds. But for my ethnographic, in-depth aspect, I will focus on Nuffnangers :-)

I’m Going Silent this Halloween with Nokia XpressMusic

Well, this is probably too late – but an opportunity to party with Nuffnang is not to be ignored! 8-)

I’ve been scratching my head to come up with something creative to tell you "why Nokia XpressMusic makes Halloween better", but have failed abysmally… so here is my best (lame) offering.

OK, you didn’t find that scary? Well, it’s a 'concept story board' see? Just like in advertising hehe… OK it’s kind of lame, in fact so lame that I now have to explain everything.

The idea is, since the Nokia XpressMusic is ”Big on sound, small in the pocket”, that you can record scary sounds on it and freak people out at the silent party. Here’s the explanation…

OK. But hopefully Nuffnang will send me an invite… or else… I’ll set Freddy Krueger on them!!!

(just joking ;-))