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Writing fieldnotes

I'm skimming through a useful book, Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, which has made me think more carefully about the notes I'm taking on my research so far.

I've been keeping notes on the meets I attend, archiving relevant posts, and also trying to keep some kind of diary (not been very efficient at this).

When I attend a meet, usually what I do is record voice notes as soon as possible after the meet (e.g. driving home), and then try to write up the note asap too; I focus on describing the event, recording what was said, and noting my thoughts and impressions. However, the book (pp68-74) talks of describing people, and doing detailed descriptions of events - it's not something I have done, focusing more on what people say and do, rather than the people themselves. How relevant is what they wear? I do remember Marina Mahathir saying in the BUM2007 meet that the audience mostly looked like accountants (it was in comparison to her usual type of event, HIV/AIDS activists, etc.) which was relevant in that it reflected the typical type of SoPo audience/bloggers - older males with more education. In a typical Nuffnang meet, it's younger people dressed in casual outfits - reflecting perhaps their greater concern with socialising, and blogs as a means to socialise...

I think I also need to describe and record finer details of how people interact. By focusing mostly on what was said, I am prioritising the verbal interaction as opposed to other types of interaction such as spatial ones (who sits with who, who moves around more than others…) or other types of symbolic interactions - e.g. people who dress similarly may group together, or people with certain body language or non-verbal interactions. Of course, one typical interaction which has a lot of meaning is the cam-whoring - there's a lot of that that goes on! :-D

It would be interesting to know how/if people interact differently online and offline. But that would be very difficult to know for other people; for myself I know that because I am not very good at socialising/making small talk, perhaps I find it easier online – but I don't feel a significant difference in my on and offline social practices in that respect. Small talk is not my forte - at the Nuffnang Halloween party, I met one guy but we only talked a little before he went elsewhere... I think that after I started asking him questions about why he blogs, etc. he may have felt somewhat interrogated. Or maybe he just found me boring :-)
"Ethnographers should attempt to write fieldnotes in ways that capture and preserve indigenous meanings." (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw 1995:12)

Well, that's one thing that I hope I've been getting right - that's one of the important reasons for this blog! The idea is to record my thoughts and observations in blog-post format for other bloggers to see.

Anyway, other things that need to be done are: finalising the survey and getting it running; and deciding who I shall follow in detail - I was advised not to do too many... I want to do a mix of A-list 'blogebrities', SoPo, Personal, Problog and perhaps a couple of not so well known. I think I also need to start taking more notes about the blog posts that I archive - describing the interactions in terms of what bloggers and commenters say, but also in terms of what they do (e.g. linking). Maybe I will start to do that regularly when I start to follow my 'chosen ones'.

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I. & Shaw, L.L., 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Blogwars - my first results!

Woohoo! I finally got this Flash player working (I hope).

Although I've been looking at blogs for more than two years now, I only recently finally completed something tangible. I finally got round to writing this paper which I presented it at the 6th International Malaysian Studies Conference in Kuching last month.

It's called "Blogwars - Authenticity and Value in the Blogosphere", and here is the abstract:

A case study of a 'blogwar' centred on a short-lived 'hateblog' that occurred mostly in the Singaporean blogosphere, with some input from Malaysia. In this case, the renown of the protagonists, and the viciousness of the attack, combined to make the hateblog a 'productive' temporary locus of online discursive activity.

Theoretically, the approach taken shall draw upon Bourdieu's concepts of field, social capital and practice; Bakhtin's concept of dialogics; Appadurai's concept of "commodity candidacy", and discussions of value and authenticity. Miller & Slater, as well as Latour, are important in shaping the ethnographic approach to the internet, rooting online practices in offline contexts.

It is argued that through the posts and comments of those who condemn, support, or merely wish to be entertained by, the blogwar, it is possible to explore the underlying practices and norms of blogging.

Methodologically, the short timeframe enabled the gathering of most - possibly all - related blog posts and comments. These were subjected to content analysis, and the results analysed statistically and with social network analysis tools.

In plain language
There was a blogwar based around an anonymous hateblog in Singapore a couple of years ago. By analysing the connected posts and comments, I concluded that an essential aspect of blogs is the belief that a blog reflects the blogger's true peblogwar malaysia singapore anthropology researchrsonality and beliefs (not necessarily everything, but at least aspects of it), and that if readers don't think that's the case, they will not read that blog.

Frankly, it could be better, and the bit on social network analysis (in the paper, not in the presentation) is very tentative; however, I think I made some good points.

I've recorded a presentation with audio which you can watch here (it's 30 minutes); or, if you prefer to download it and watch it offline, you can do so here (it's a large file, 19.5MB). Or, you can download just the presentation, which is 500KB, here. If you want the full paper, please contact me.

I hope you enjoy it, and I'd love to hear any feedback and/or criticisms! :-D

My first interview with an ‘A-List’ blogger

I did my first interview this week – it’s kind of early but the blogger was around and I wanted to take the opportunity. My planned schedule for research is somewhat messed up because the ‘traditional’ read --> fieldwork --> write-up stages are getting mixed up; my ‘fieldwork’ is blogging, taking notes and recording aspects of blogs, and meeting bloggers, and I’ve been doing that for about a year already. And I was blogging before anyway.
Fieldwork - how it used to be :-) (Source)

Anyway, I practiced on a fellow student last week (which was very useful), and met up with the first interviewee for about four hours. I’m calling this blogger ‘AlphaBlogger’: I decided to make them all anonymous, and this blogger gets ‘A’ as the first name – the blogger chose the name, I just said it should start with an ‘A’. The next one will be something starting with a ‘B’, and so on.

Unfortunately for AlphaBlogger the aircon gas in my car needs topping up (something I noticed in the morning only), so I drove an increasingly sweaty blogger through a somewhat jammed Bangsar and into PJ to try to catch some duck rice at the famous ‘Sunrise’ place in Taman Paramount, but unfortunately we were too late at 13.30! That place really runs out quickly. So we ate somewhere else, and after went to Monash for the interview.

Anyway, AlphaBlogger was very friendly and easygoing, which made it easier for me. The interview went well, and was very interesting; I learned a few things about the history of blogging in Malaysia, and blogging in general that I never knew. AlphaBlogger mentioned Blue’s News as one of the first ‘bloggers’ (not Malaysian) – apparently the website owner started a section called ‘Out of the Blue’, which was updates on his personal life and stuff. It’s something that has never come up in the literature: Blue’s News is a site related to gaming, whereas the typical chronologies are the one by (for example) Rebecca Blood, have blogs starting with tech/programmer-type people.

AlphaBlogger’s name is somewhat appropriate, as AlphaBlogger is [edited slightly - 1/8/08] a very early Malaysian blogger. There were very few Malaysian bloggers then apparently, but AlphaBlogger didn’t mention Oon Yeoh who’s been blogging since 2001. One of those mentioned was Absolutely Fuzzy who (according to the Copyright information) has had a blog since 2000.

This is also different from the ‘official’ story I’ve heard before about the ‘father’ of Malaysian blogging, Oon Yeoh, and Jeff Ooi , etc… It may have something to do with the divide between SoPo bloggers and ‘personal’ bloggers; SoPo bloggers always get more attention in the MSM, and – it seems to me – represent in most people’s mind what a blog is about. In fact, the great majority of blogs are not SoPo blogs.

Jorn Barger’s ‘Robot Wisdom’ is often cited as the first blog (1997), but I recently found out about Justin Hall who started in 1994 – said to be the first personal blogger. Again, it seems that in the conventional histories, the personal bloggers are often overlooked… interesting…

Anyway, it was very useful to talk to an ‘A-list’ blogger. I definitely learnt stuff that I would never know otherwise (unless I start getting thousands of daily visitors, which ain't gonna happen anytime soon). So, you know who you are, thanks again and hope to meet up sometime again :-)

And if there's anyone who has any information about the history of blogs in Malaysia, please tell me! I'm about to start a chapter on it, and all information is good :-)

Blogwars – Authenticity and Value in the Blogosphere

**Sticky post – scroll down for the latest post**

Just a short one to announce that I’ll be giving a short seminar talk on some of my research on blogs next week, on Tuesday 29 July from 12-13.00. The title is: “Blogwars – Authenticity and Value in the Blogosphere”: it’s a case study of a blogwar centred around a hateblog, and I’m trying to say something useful about the way in which both commenters and bloggers together ‘make’ a blog.

It’s at Monash University Sunway (it’s the new campus, close to Sunway University College).
Details here; Location map here; Facebook event here.

Please do come along if you’re interested :-)

All-Blogs 100 Days event – Before

Continuing with my data collection re the event, below is a list of posts online before the event. I try to find them by searching for ‘100 days All-Blogs’ in Google and Technorati, and checking the first 10 pages of results (Google returns more than Technorati). Then in the posts I try to follow links from commenters and such, and also guessing who might have posted about it.

To be honest, they mostly say the same thing – just announcing the event details, and so on, some emphasising more the ‘Meet your YB’ aspect than others. I guess what is does show how blogs are used for organising events: 16 21 [updated 08/07/08] blogs in all mentioned it, which may not seem a lot, but the collective readership of those blogs will be in the thousands (mostly concentrated on the big names – Screenshots, Rocky, The People’s Parliament, etc.) [& Malaysia Today 08/07/08].

At the end of the event, one of the last announcements was about the protest the next day, saying ‘see you tomorrow… if you don’t know the details, check the blogs’. Not to re-state the obvious, but it the way it was said – so matter-of-factly – it just brought home to me how much blogs are interwoven with contestatory political action in Malaysia, and how effectively blogs enable the bypassing of controls on information that were so prevalent before. They act as essential logistical nodes that disseminate information and provide an ‘always-on’ low-level mobilising tool for political action.

Continue reading "All-Blogs 100 Days event – Before"

Fieldwork preparation

Over the next three days I’ll be going to two blogmeets: All-Blogs “100 Days” this evening, and a Nuffnang Exclusive Private Screening of the movie Hancock.

I’m looking forward to them, to meet some bloggers and have some interesting conversations; though I always approach these events with a little trepidation, as I am not very good at socialising and I usually feel a bit out of place… At the All-Blogs meets, which are mostly SoPo and journalist-types, I am a non-Malaysian; and at the Nuffnang events, I’m an old fart! However, everybody is always welcoming and I always end up enjoying them :-)

So far, I have developed a technique for preparing for these events, which are important for my research. As an anthropologist, I have to approach them from a slightly different angle: my job is to participate and observe, but without becoming totally detached…

My usual technique so far is:
• Prepare: camera with spare battery, mp3 player with spare battery, notebook, pen, name cards.
• Before I go: go over previous notes/posts about similar events, and try to remember who I spoke to and what about (I am terrible with names…). Check out posts online about the event. Write down some notes about what I expect to see, and my preconceived notions: think about how this might affect how I will perceive the upcoming event. Think about questions I’d like to ask if I get a chance.
• When I get there: go with the flow, try to socialise and talk to people. If possible, ask questions about blogging, but don’t overdo it – remember, people are there to attend the event, not to help my research! Take notes of any talks, or anything that comes up that is relevant; another option is to make voice notes on the mp3 player. Hand out my name card to anyone who may be interested, this will help them to remember me – I hope. Relax and enjoy!
• Afterwards: write/record more notes as soon as I can (I often record thoughts while driving home). The next day, write up the notes in my computer, and do a blog post about it. Check out what other bloggers are saying online about the event. Think about how it fits into the bigger picture of my research.

It’s quite a lot of work, really. But honestly, I thank my lucky stars to have such an interesting job! :-D