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The 10 types of commenters

By now, anyone who reads this blog should know that I find the comments of blogs to be one of the most interesting things about blogs. So, I thought of doing a rough categorisation of different types of commenters (by the way, I know it’s meant to be ‘commentators’, but I just don’t like the sound of it…).

They are categorised in relation to position they take to the post and/or the blogger, and also their ‘Identifiability’ - i.e. how much information they leave about themselves.

The Firster
(aka Kiasu Commenter) Loves to be the first to comment. This phenomenon is restricted to a few high readership blogs. (Interestingly, according to one of my respondents this practice originated from; does anyone have any thoughts on that?)
‘Yay, first!! Na na nananana :p’
‘NoOOooo – I tot I was 1st but den by the time I post some1 beat me oledi :(‘

Identifiability: High – probably not anonymous and probably leaves a link.

The Follower
May overlap with the Firster; will leave comments that say little more than ‘I was here and I think you’re cool/cleve/correct’.
‘Haha lol this one so funny lah’
‘ROFLMAO you brighten up my day haha’
‘Once again you have nailed the issue. My hat off to you!’
'Interesting - never thought of this

Identifiability: Has name and probably links to blog.

The Hater
A version of the classic Troll, but distinguishes him/herself by never missing the chance to insult the blogger, whatever the post is about. It’s impossible to know if it’s the same person coming back, or not, because s/he always posts anonymously, or uses a pseudonym such as ‘Blogger_is_a_fugly_bitch’.
‘You’re a fat idiot’
‘F**k you pathetic fool’
‘I hope you choke on your cigarettes, you poor excuse for a human’
‘Your thighs are fat and you have to photoshop out your ugly zits, I know because a friend saw you at the mall’
‘You’re a disgrace to Malaysians/Chinese/Malays/Indians/men/women/penguins…’

Identifiability: Lowest – typically anonymous and has no link. Continue reading "The 10 types of commenters"

The Part-time Blogger

The great majority of bloggers are 'amateurs', or perhaps 'part-timers' is a better way to put it. They blog in their spare time: students have more time to do this of course, but at the moment the leading bloggers in the Malaysian blogosphere are working adults - typically working in an office in some kind of executive/managerial position. To be noted however is that many of them started blogs when they were students.

Few are those like liewCF who "made the jump from hobby blogging to blogging as a full-time, successful career." (here): as such, he is the epitome of the 'problogger', i.e. a professional blogger. Another leading figure in the Malaysian problogging scene is 5xmom who manages to combine the full-time job of parenting with maintaining five different blogs.

In a sense, I am also a 'problogger' - or fulltime blogger - in that my work at the moment revolves all around blogging - but at the same time that's not all I do. I have to read blogs, write blog posts, and keep up to date with developments in the blogosphere, while at the same time managing the collection of data and trying to put it all into an academic context.

One thing I have noticed recently is that some bloggers will be up and blogging early in the morning: I try to start about 6.30-7am, and I notice that some other bloggers are also 'out and about' at that time. So, my guess is that the part-time blogger will do something like this: get up early to write a post and check out other blogs (using Google reader, for example), leaving comments when desired; go to the office and keep a track of comments using either the office computer or a handphone/mobile device; maybe dash off a quick post during the day if time and work permits; in the evening, perhaps some event beckons - a product launch, dinner with friends/bloggers, etc; after that, go home and download photos - blog if time permits; go to bed.

So - a warning to all - if you think it's easy to blog, make money, become famous and get invited to events with free booze and delectable eye-candy, think again!

How about you? How do you fit your blogging into your daily life?

Advertorials and the blogger

OK, must blog every day right? A quick one before supper, dog walk, and bed. Hmm... will pour myself a little nip of whiskey first though :-) Reward at the end of the day :-)

I finally selected the ten blogs I want to focus on. It was difficult as there are so many interesting blogs out there, and all with useful aspects: in the end, my decision is based pretty much on popularity (i.e. the blogs with the highest visitors) and relevance to Nuffnang. It feels bad to let go of some others though.

I mean, one question is - is it a good idea just to look at the most popular ones? Aren't the less popular just as important, or maybe even more so, in revealing everyday practices of bloggers? Just like if I want to know more about Malaysians, I wouldn't just look at the lives of the rich and famous right? Argh, now I'm wondering all over again... My real problem is time - i.e. I can't track everyone, and I need to focus on those who do advertising, advertorials, etc.

I will also track (but less diligently) other blogs, and of course the comments in those I do track (the 'A-listers') will give insight into how bloggers/readers react.

On that note, here's something I was wondering about today:

When there is an advertorial, normally the blogger indicates that it is one - for example by putting a tag, or prefixing the post title. However, advertorials are usually written in the blogger's usual style, and typically they start like an ordinary post, but by the time you get to the end, it's quite clear it's an advertorial. On one post I read today, the blogger had forgotten to put the tag in and two commenters asked 'hey is this an advertorial or not?' - the blogger responded in the comments and put in the tag which s/he had forgotten. So, there was an example of readers wanting to know if the post was an advertorial or not.

This got me thinking a bit: do different readers of blogs respond differently to advertorials? I have seen readers criticising the blogger, praising the advertorial, asking about the product/service being profiled, and just ignoring the fact it's an advertorial.

It's my guess that - depending on the blog - the readers will respond differently. In Blog X - readers who are used to seeing the blogger try out different ways of doing an advertorial may comment on the quality of the advertorial; in Blog Y - which has lots and lots of comments, there are always some who disparage the blogger and use the advertorial to make accusations of selling out, etc; in Blog Z - the blogger makes more of an effort to discuss the product with the commenters.

I suppose, in a way a blog is a mini-microcosm of social interaction, coloured by and dominated by the blogger. Therefore the regular commenters will reflect that persona to a certain extent. So a blog will shape its readers in some manner, while they also shape the blog/blogger... The advertorial comes in as a specific genre that will get more or less reactions, depending on how the blogger presents it, and how much that diverges from the usual style/content of the blog. Which would also explain why an advertorial in a SoPo blog would be quite out of place; but one in - for example - an automotive blog - would hardly be noticed.

The Commentosphere

A key feature of blogs are the comments, and rare are the bloggers such as kinkybluefairy who have disabled the comments. Interestingly, the reason she gave for disabling the comments - "Because i’m always thinking about what people perceive when they read thingsz" - relates to the reason why I see comments as an integral part of a blog: for me, a blog’s authors are both the blogger and the commenters. First because people read blogs for different reasons, but reading the comments is one of them; also because the blogger is influenced by the comments, and to a greater of lesser degree the feedback from the comments will influence the content of the blog.

People also no doubt leave comments for different reasons - and most bloggers know that one way to publicise one’s blog, and to make others aware that there’s a 'new blog on the block' is to leave comments in other blogs, with a link. On the extreme of that practice, are 'free-loaders': bloggers who leave a comment such as:
'Hi great blog, check out mine'
(this is why so much comment spam now looks like this – spammers are very good at tapping into people’s interests and motivations to make people click on links)
or, in a manner more relevant to the post:
'Hi, I blogged about this too here:'

Anyway, most bloggers like to leave comments in other blogs from time to time, for various reasons, and it’s most definitely a way to expand one’s personal blogosphere.

Baumer, Sueyoshi & Tomlinson is the only paper that I know of that looks specifically at blog readers. This is a good idea. However, in their study "only three of the fifteen participants do not have their own blog." (1117); so basically, they are mostly bloggers talking about their reading practices. Hopefully, someone else will look more at the blog readers – in my upcoming survey, I will allow for them to answer questions even if they don’t have a blog.

There are three levels to blogs in terms of the blogosphere: the bloggers, the commenters, and the readers.

Also to be noted that, in terms of influence, the bloggers are the opinion leaders, trendsetters, and so on. So power radiates out from those who engage the most in the formative practices of the blogosphere.

There are some differences in terms of types of blogs though. In the 'normal' blogs (i.e. personal/lifestyle which are the majority), most of the commenters tend to also have a blog; but in the SoPo blogs this is less likely. This may also be because people in Malaysia are more careful about giving political opinions in public.

I have also started to notice what I’m starting to call 'professional commenters'. The name isn’t quite right, as they are not making money or anything, but what I mean is that these commenters regularly comment in blogs, becoming a fixture of particular blogs comment space, but don’t have their own blogs. It seems that these are more common in the SoPo blogs, such as rocky’s bru, or Che Det.

Those two blogs are high traffic blogs, and Baumer, Sueyoshi & Tomlinson also note that there is a “tendency for the non-bloggers to read only popular, highly trafficked blogs” (ibid.:1117). However on, with a readership of apprx. 15-20K readers a day, and whose posts usually get 1-300 comments, there are a greater proportion of commenters who have blogs too (or, at least, who leave their blog url).

So, a conclusion is that SoPo blogs are less of a meeting space for bloggers, and more of a place for people to engage in political discussion. Duh. It also means that if one is looking for examples of ‘pure’ blogging, it’s not in the SoPo blogs that you’ll find it.

By 'pure' (an essentialist and flawed notion I know), I mean people who blog more for the sake of blogging, rather than to achieve non-blogging oriented goals such as political influence. Blogging is basically a socialising activity, a way for people to share interests and concerns, meet others and display one’s social eligibility.

Oops. I titled this post 'The Commentosphere' and now I’ve gone off track a bit. I guess my main point is that it would also be fruitful to study blogs just by looking at the comments. There are many kinds of interactions and practices there that say a lot about blogging, on the one hand, and also could perhaps be considered separately from blogs.

What do you think?

Bloggers, transparency, truth and personhood

Thanks to Suresh, I saw this letter in The Star, and it got me thinking about a few points about Malaysian political discourse, and discourse on blogs
MOST, if not all, bloggers demand transparency from everybody else, especially the Government and its agencies.

This is a classic attitude that treats all bloggers as one homogenous group. In fact, most bloggers hardly talk about politics at all; although the most visible are those who are reported in the MSM such as RPK, Rocky or Jeff Ooi.

However, it is true that there is a strong ethos of openness in blogging – i.e. that people should be allowed to say what they want. On the other hand, most bloggers will agree that they are allowed to censor comments any way they want. So, there’s a bit of a dilemma here – where some commenters will loudly complain that they have been censored, and others respond by saying ‘It’s my blog and if you don’t like it, &%@# off!’.

There is a fundamental difference with the MSM though, in that anyone can start their own blog – so the opportunity of freedom of speech is not channelled through the bottleneck of corporate, political and social imperatives that are inherent in the various media that make up the MSM. On the other hand, it’s clear that not all blogs have the same audience, so there is not a true equality of access to the public sphere; if I publish a post on this blog, maybe 50-100 people will read it eventually – but if I put a comment on Rocky’s Bru, thousands of people will probably read it.

The letter goes on to argue that “Most of the bloggers, whoever they are, do not practise what they preach” because they use pseudonyms, and let commenters be anonymous or use pseudonyms too; and also says that most comments are “useless and utterly distasteful”, and concludes
They cannot be transparent and truthful if they allow just about anyone to post anything just to disparage anyone.

Bloggers in Malaysia have not grown up; they are still the spoilt brats that they were before. And they have also started to believe in the filth their commentators write.

As long as they do not have the decency to write truthfully and get those who comment not to use pseudonyms, they cannot demand that others be transparent.”

It’s a curious argument. Transparency and truthfulness are being seen as two side of the same coin. In relations to governance issues, transparency means being able to trace actions to particular persons – for example being able to see exactly who approved such-and-such a government contract, or what are the exact terms of the road toll contracts. This means that people can be held responsible for decisions that affect the public interest: whether they want to be honest or not, their truthfulness is guaranteed by the transparency of the system they work within.

However, in relation to a blog, is it necessary to know who said something in order to assess its truthfulness? Reading this blog, you can find out that I am Julian Hopkins, but does that make any difference to my arguments in this post? This is why newspapers will normally allow letter-writers to use a pseudonym, although they do require them to supply a name and address. When bloggers do not write truthfully, they are often exposed to the severe criticisms of other bloggers, and possibly the MSM or even the legal authorities. True, an anonymous blogger may slander someone and hope to get away with it – but as anyone who pays any attention to blogosphere goings-on knows, online anonymity is not as easy as it seems.
And they [the bloggers] also have the guts to say that they deserve the right to post comments by their readers, whom they don’t know personally other than the identities that they had registered their email accounts with, which may not be genuine.

Why do these readers, too, have to hide behind pseudonyms in the first place?

Is it because they want to tell everybody that they are not truthful, and worse, they cannot be trusted. No wonder they have to hide their true identity and present a false one.

So, the argument in this letter seems to be: ‘bloggers’ should not be trusted as voices in the public sphere because they may hide their identity. This ties ‘truthfulness’ to personalities, and (possibly) sectional interests; ‘transparency’ is also tied to ‘truthfulness’ so what the person is really saying is – ‘If I don’t know who you are, I won’t believe what you say’.

This sentiment also pervades the blogosphere, I think: the most influential bloggers are those who are not anonymous, precisely because people are less likely to trust an anonymous person.

The ideals of the democratic public sphere always want to have us judging ideas purely on their own merits – but in practice most of us will want to know who is saying something in order to make a judgement. Just look at how much elections are based on personalities and not policies.

Anyway, to round up this somewhat rambling post, where I’m not sure what I want to say, I guess I can conclude by saying that the potential anonymity of blogs do threaten this habitual association of personalities and trust, and thus generate a strong reaction. Perhaps, in Malaysia where much of politics revolve around patronage and sectional interests (race, region, religion, etc.) – which are often embodied in the person, blogs are even more of a threat to the established system. And thus generate stronger reactions.

Blog name change

As you may have noticed, I’ve changed the name of my blog from the boring old ‘’.

‘anthroblogia’ is meant to combine ‘anthropo’ (as in man/humans), blogs, and -logia (as in ‘the study of’); this is what my goal is, basically, to study how people and blogs interact.

Obviously, it also is meant to evoke ‘anthropology’, and also perhaps to evoke a sense of a place, as in ‘Elbonia’ (or wherever).

I also had a logo planned for my blog when I first started it, it looks like this

Any idea what it’s meant to be? … OK, I’ll tell you - it’s ‘anthropology’ spelt in binary, i.e. ‘digital anthropology’ :-) This was my first idea of a blog title, but I found that digital anthropology as a term is already ‘taken’ – it seems to be more about using digital resources for anthropology rather than looking at the anthropology of digital technology.

I’ve put the logo in as my ‘favicon’, thanks to useful instructions from maro^gal.

The impetus for changing the blog name came from two sources, really. First of all there was a blog post (which I lost the link to, sorry – it’s a Malaysian blog) which was talking about how to do a good blog, and the blogger said that people who had their own name as the title of their blog were unimaginative losers (or something like that). Well, the unimaginative part certainly struck a chord with me, and I started to wonder what I could change the name to. Initially, I had decided upon the name with the idea that blogs are extensions of a person’s offline self online, so calling it by my name made sense – a way of saying ‘This is me online’.

The other thing was that this blog was included in a list of the Top 100 Anthropology Blogs; well, I was chuffed, though there are legitimate doubts about the list (e.g. “Top 100 Anthropology Blogs”? No, I don’t think so.) – but also what struck me was the title my blog was given, “Julian Hopkins”. Perfectly fair way to call it but, once again, pretty boring and – more importantly – it really gives no idea at all what the blog is about.

One possible consequence is that I may lose my first place in Google searches for ‘Julian Hopkins’: I’m not too bothered about that, except that it’s a useful way to tell people how to find my blog and, although I didn’t do any fancy SEO to make it happen, it can make me look very internet-knowledgeable which can help my credibility on occasion. Overall, I’d prefer to be first place for searches for ‘blog anthropology’, for example, but that would take more work…

So, here you are, welcome to the reinvented, rebranded, improved and laboratory tested