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Life without comments

I had shut down the comments about ten days ago when I was moving server (a big thanks to my brother for making it painless and possible!) - I didn't want people to leave comments and then they would get lost because the database was already elsewhere.

Anyway, I forgot to turn the comments back on! So, for the last three posts, I've been wondering why there are no comments at all - I realised why today, and so if you want to leave a comment to this post you may :-)

The thing is, it was bothering me... I'm used to normally getting one or two comments, and when they were not appearing, I started to worry a bit - were my posts completely uninteresting? Were the advertisements (especially the one in the centre of the screen - removed now) putting people off? An indication of how it was troubling me was that this morning, while peeling and slicing fruit for breakfast and to store in the fridge, it was trickling through my mind again and finally it clicked that I had turned the comments off.

It reminded me of one of the central arguments I have in relation to the blog as medium - that perhaps the most important difference that it has in relation to other media is the comments feature, and I would go so far to say that a blog without comments enabled is 'not really' a blog.

For my research, I need to identify the key blogging practices, and see how they come together to form the blog-as-phenomenon. So, taking comments as an example, what other practices derive from or cluster with them?

• Authorship: with comments, the author-blogger is not the sole voice in the blog; this means that s/he has to negotiate with the commenters regarding the meaning and import of the content. This 'negotiation' can be one-sided - as the blogger can just delete comments, but this can reduce the interest of the blog to readers.
• Dialogics: a newspaper may benefit from Letters to the Editor, but they are not published alongside and at the same time as the post. The post and the comments make up the blog post - this is the dialogical aspect of blogging - i.e. it is the result of a 'conversation' (as Jeff Ooi often says). One result of this can be that the blogger seeks to draw in comments by - for example - asking questions to the reader (as this post will end :-))
• Time sensitivity: there are only so many comments a person can make, for regular readers who like to make comments the blogger needs to provide regular fodder. This is not to say that the importance of regular posting only relates to giving opportunities for comments, but it is one factor that feeds into it.
• Personalising the audience: the blogger gets to know some or most of the regular commenters, who frequently have their own blogs - this is the genesis of a 'community of interest' or perhaps a 'community of practice'.
• Meeting space: in some blogs (such as Kenny Sia's), where there are a large number of comments, there seems to be people who regularly comment there and get to know each other. So, in effect, they use the space as their own meeting space online; the actual content of the blog may become less relevant to them as opposed to the opportunity to socialise with the other 'regulars'.
• Motivation: the blogger - many of whom have a creative or socially-concerned impulse - is not talking into a void. Comments mean that someone has been moved in some way or other to respond, meaning the work has not been in vain.

OK. That's all I can think of now. What do you think? How important are comments for a blog? How do they affect the way a person blogs?

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.