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Conceptualizing personal media

Lüders, M. 2008. Conceptualizing personal media. New Media & Society 10, 683–702 (available on-line:, accessed 10 April 2010).
The digitalization and personal use of media technologies have destabilized the traditional dichotomization between mass communication and interpersonal communication, and therefore between mass media and personal media (e.g. mobile phones, email, instant messenger, blogs and photo-sharing services). As private individuals use media technologies to create and share personal expressions through digital networks, previous characteristics of mass media as providers of generally accessible information are no longer accurate. This article may be situated within a medium-theoretical tradition, as it elucidates technical and social dimensions of personal media and revises the distinction between mass media and personal media. A two-dimensional model suggests locating personal media and mass media according to an interactional axis and an institutional/professional axis: personal media are de-institutionalized/de-professionalized and facilitate mediated interaction. The implementation of digital media technologies has important consequences for social networks and fits well within a theoretical discussion of the post-traditional self.

• A useful article which focuses on reviewing existing models (by Luhmann and also Thompson) that distinguish between personal media and mass media in the light of convergence and digitalised media
• Citing Hutchby, amongst others, Lüders argues that it is necessary to “acknowledge the materiality of technology […] without losing sight of the discursive practices through which we understand it.” (p687). She develops a three level model of media that incorporates media technologies such as the internet or the telephone, which allow media forms such as blogs or telephone conversation to develop. For the third level of media genres, she argues that “Media forms with near-naturalized, socially-implemented characteristics at this level constitute points of departure for more specific types of the same media form, that is, the development of different genres.” (p687)
- This is a useful way of looking at the types of media available
• It concludes that there are more overlaps now than before – e.g. a letter was between two people, whereas an email can be strictly symmetrical and interpersonal, or in effect delivered to a mass audience.
• It proposes a model that outlines the continuum that is present – the axes are institutional/professional vs the opposite, and symmetrical/mediated vs asymmetrical/quasi-mediated
• It notes the relevance of a network analysis, in that the types of interaction enabled by media differ and affect the types of communication and potential formation of strong and weak ties.
• It notes the increasing use of personal media forms by the mass media, to generate interest and loyalty amongst the audience. This underlines the increasing blurring between these two areas.

Please note - these are rough notes only, based on a first reading. They may be useful to someone interested in a considered perspective on this paper.
However, these notes do not necessarily represent a final opinion, and are subject to revision in the future.

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 assemblage

I've been hesitating for a long about putting this up. But I hope that someone will give me some feedback on it, and it may help those who - like me - spend a lot of time trying to work out what exactly an assemblage is.

The most comprehensive definition that I found is in A thousand plateaus:
On a first, horizontal, axis an assemblage comprises two segments, one of content, the other of expression. On the one hand it is a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another; on the other hand it is a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies. Then on a vertical axis, the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away. (Deleuze & Guattari 2004: 97-8)

deleuze guattari assemblage diagram visualisation
The two segments on the horizontal axis are in "reciprocal presupposition" (Bogard 2009: 16) - they exist because of each other, but neither causes the other. On top, the territorialisation seeks to define boundaries and stabilise the assemblage. The arrows leading out from the bottom are the lines of flight, cutting through the assemblage and engendering new ones.

Manuel DeLanda also discusses assemblage extensively in New Philosophy of Society, noting in particular the "relations of exteriority" - i.e. that the constitutive components are discrete and linked in contingently causal relations that do not imply 'logical necessity' (2006: 10) - and that an assemblage only becomes one (as opposed to a collective of interconnected components) when there are emergent properties that affect the constitutive parts (ibid.: 38). He adds a third axis "defining processes in which specialized expressive media intervene" (ibid.: 19), but I haven't included that above.

In terms of methodological insights, it is worth considering the original French word that has been translated into ‘assemblage’: agencement is a word that designates something that is put together with a particular goal in mind, a desire to construct something which has an order to it (see also Palmas 2007: 1-2). An assemblage, as apprehended by the analyst, can only ever be partially understood and - because it is traced back from its effects - the danger is to see telos in its apparent direction. One should not however assign teleological essence to something that has already moved on.

For example: Rain is not bound to finish in the ocean, and rivers have no purpose - nonetheless, there is a clear causal pattern that results in a riverbed that carries rainwater to the ocean. The river territorialises the land it flows through, enabling the growth of plants, supporting fauna, and so on. The river is an assemblage of earth, water, fish, gravity and more, and its operation is rhizomatic - it is never the same, and may overflow its banks or change direction at any given moment in response to movements of deterritorialisation or lines of flight engendered by, for example, an earthquake; or human pollution.

A blog is an assemblage too. This blog, as you see it, has been put together by me, and suggested by the affordances coded into it by a collective of programmers. I created it and I can delete it, but it also escapes me: there are copies in archives online, and it operates autonomously - displaying itself to you right now, with components recording the time you stay on this page, which website you linked here from (if any), what browser you're using, etc. It offers you the possibility to comment below, but recently I also have to delete multiple spam comments daily - both your comments and the spam are 'lines of flight', they are deterritorialising movements that reduce my own terrtorialising influence.

Anyway, I would much appreciate any comments on the visualisation above. Or anything else. Thanks :-)

BOGARD, W. 2009. "Deleuze and Machines: A Politics of Technology?" In: Deleuze and New Technology (eds) D. Savat & M. Poster, 15-31. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
DELANDA, M. 2006. "New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity". London & New York: Continuum.
DELEUZE, G. & F. GUATTARI 2004. "A thousand plateaus?: capitalism and schizophrenia" (trans B. Massumi). London: Continuum.
PALMAS, K. 2007. "Deleuze and DeLanda: A new ontology, a new political economy?" presented at the Economic Sociology Seminar Series, Department of Sociology, LSE, 29 January (available on-line:, accessed 22 November 2010).

How many blogs are there in the Malaysian SoPo blogosphere?

This is an interesting paper about the Malaysian SoPo blogosphere – it uses social network analysis (SNA) techniques to crawl links and map the Malaysian SoPo blogs.

It doesn’t seem to say when the data was collected, but the paper was published in 2010, and the crawl was done after the 2008 elections, so let’s assume 2009. One worry I have is that they used the SoPo Sentral of Malaysia directory as the starting point of their crawl – but that was last updated in December 2008, and is not necessarily complete. On the other hand, it’s probably the best place to start. But Dr. Mahathir’s blog (which started in May 2008) is not mentioned which is surprising.

What they did was to take the 385 blogs in the SoPo-Sentral directory and follow the link to a depth of four (e.g. follow links from one blog, collect all the links it links to, then follow those, and again two times). From this they got 4,693 sites, and approximately 2,000 blogs. Another crawl using the same technique on blog posts mentioning ‘Bersih’ in the week after the Bersih demonstrations gathered 878 blogs.

So this suggests that there were about 2,000 Malaysian SoPo blogs. Which is less than I imagined. Edit: Actually, it's more likely to mean that there are between 878 and 2000 sopo blogs.

Here are some of the results. They also compare SoPo blogs to random Malaysian blogs.
• The almost paradigmatic polarisation of SoPo blogs demonstrated in the USA by Adamic & Glance is not replicated here. Instead there is a distinct clustering of smaller groups with scattered individuals forming ‘bridges’.
Source details below

My hunch here is that this reflects patronage-style politics – people affiliating themselves with individuals – rather than identifying themselves with ideology or political stances (to note however that another SNA analysis of the Malaysian blogosphere did turn up a polarisation – though it was not focused on SoPo blogs).
• SoPo bloggers are more likely (compared to random Malaysian bloggers) to be older males (this is the same as the US), and also to reveal details about themselves.
• 27.9% specify a political affiliation as follows: 10.2% UMNO, 7.1% PAS, 4.2% PKR, 2.5% DAP, 1.2% PSM. Surprisingly no other BN parties such as MCA, MIC, Gerakan, etc. Overall, it suggests that most SoPo bloggers see themselves as independents.
• SoPo blogs are four times more likely to be in English than BM (“the small amount of Chinese blog content in [their] data” were not dealt with).
• “the average sopo blogger has more in-links and comments than random Malaysian bloggers”
• (i.e. ‘blogspot’) “has more than 152,000 Malaysian profiles — many more than on or similar services.”

You can access the paper (in a somewhat garbled copy) here on Scribd, and the full details are:
ULICNY, B., M. KOKAR & C. MATHEUS 2010. “Metrics For Monitoring A Social-Political Blogosphere: A Malaysian Case Study”. Internet Computing, IEEE 14, 34-44.

The 'ideal type' blog?

As promised, here is some more analysis of the survey. In this post, I'm going to compare responses to a series of statements that were asked to both bloggers and non-bloggers about their opinions on blogs in general. The idea behind this set of statements was to see whether there was some sort of consensus amongst bloggers and readers about what a blog should be like - i.e. is there an ideal-type blog that the members of the blogosphere believes should be a model to follow? There were some questions on more objective matters (e.g. photos or not, comments or not), and some more subjective matters (e.g. whether a blogger should be honest or not).

For me, often the most interesting questions are usually those that ask people to rate their level of agreement with certain statements (it's called using a Likert scale normally); social science is never an accurate science, and reflecting people's range of thoughts and practices accurately based on a structured questionnaire (i.e. with choices of answers) is very difficult, but this way does give one way of reflecting the many shades of gray that make up human behaviour.

You can see the details of the responses by clicking on the thumbnails below
myblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudesmyblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudesmyblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudesmyblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudes

but what I'll do here is compare them using area charts to get a feel for the trends. The charts compare the responses by Bloggers (in pink; n = 356) and Non-Bloggers (in green; n = 197). 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'. Where there is more of a difference in their attitudes, you can see the colour stand out. You should also be aware that these graphs are not always directly comparable - because the scale on the y-axis changes sometimes.

Functional features
These compare the more 'functional features' that bloggers and non-bloggers prefer.

myblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudes
The clearest preference is for comments - overall just over 80% of bloggers and non-bloggers think that blogs should have a comments function; compared to the chat-box, you can see that there is a lot less interest as to whether or not there is a chat-box on a blog.

myblogs2009 malaysian blog survey blogger attitudes
There's a general preference for photos, but many are Neutral, and about one-fifth think they are not a necessity. The Non-Bloggers tend to think this is more important.

Continue reading "The 'ideal type' blog?"