Interview for _Uses of Blogs_

I was recently interviewed for the forthcoming collection Uses of Blogs. They probably won't be able to use everything I wrote, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here as a kind of appendix.


1)What kind of blogging do you do? Do you feel your blogging falls into a particular genre of weblog?

Well, I blog under my real name, and I don't write much about my personal life; I try to stick to my research and, to a lesser extent, politics. I'm acutely aware of discretion and the invisible line between public and private, and I rarely blog about friends and family. My family members are very private people, and they'd like me to be as well. I know they read my weblog, so before posting, I imagine what their reactions to my words might be. There are also the guidelines “don't say anything that you wouldn't publish on the front page of the newspaper under your real name” and “don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother.” If my weblog falls into a genre, I'm guessing it would be a knowledge-log, or klog. I've seen people put links to my site under the heading “Klogs,” so at least some others see my weblog that way too.

2)How do you see blogging genres evolving in the future? Will there be a point when we'll speak of these genres as distinct forms of publishing in their own right – ie a scenario where 'blogging' is no more meaningful a term than 'publishing'?

I think that even now “blogging” is only slightly more meaningful a term than “publishing.” With blogging, the special meaning is that what you're doing is self-publishing without an editor or other gatekeeper. When I first started studying weblogs in 2002, I quickly realized that making claims or generalizations about weblogs was like trying to say that X is true of all books: Maybe you can make a claim about all books, but it wouldn't be a very meaningful one. Jim Oliver, a colleague of mine, has said that a weblog is not a genre; it's a technology. [NB: He may not think this anymore.] I don't know if I agree that generic conventions are all that separate from specific writing technologies, but many genre theorists – including Carolyn Miller, Amy Devitt, Carol Berkenkotter, and Thomas Huckin – have argued that specific social contexts allow communicative genres to emerge and that emergent genres almost always have some kind of antecedent. For example, you'll often hear people compare weblogs to political pamphlets or broadsides, or to personal diaries. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004) point to the “democratization of celebrity” and its accompanying genres, including talk shows and reality television, as part of the larger cultural and generic foundation for blogging's emergence.

In the future, with the rise of podcasting, vlogging, large collaborative audio projects like [murmur], the joining together of interactive online art and graffiti (, and who knows what else in the pipeline, there are going to be plenty of other ways to publish besides keeping a text-based weblog. The term “citizen media” is inclusive enough to encompass all of these technologies while still retaining the self-publishing, unedited by larger organizations aspect of this phenomenon.


3) How do you conceptualise the blogosphere - is it a network, are there clusters, hotspots? How is it organised?

I haven't done a lot of research using network theory, though I am learning more about it, but based on my experience, I would say there are hotspots where the same people comment regularly, communities form, and readers get to know each other. Bitch Ph.D. and Crooked Timber are good examples of hotspots in the greater academic blogging community, and Chez Miscarriage is one place where a lot of women who blog about infertility come together. I find other bloggers in my referrers, on other people's weblogs when they link out to others' posts, on other people's blogrolls, and in other people's comment threads.

4)How 'democratic' is the blogosphere? What do you think about the idea of 'A-list' bloggers?

I attended a panel recently in which Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, pointed out that there are far more readers in “the long tail” of the power law distribution than there are readers who read the Technorati Top 10, so it's not as though if you're not on “the A-list,” whatever that means (the “higher beings” and “mortal humans” in The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem?), no one will read your weblog, or that if you start a weblog, it will be all that much harder to garner an audience than it was four or five years ago. If one thinks of “democratic” in this sense as having equal opportunity to speak and be heard, I believe the blogosphere can be democratic, at least to an extent, if the blogger reaches out and joins a conversation, writes herself into the network (Walker, 2003) by linking to other weblogs, commenting at other weblogs, and making use of trackback.

However, I would argue that the bloggers who get the most traffic are in a privileged position. They amplify the voices of the writers to whom they link and expose their writing to a much larger audience. I am not trying to say that popular bloggers have any particular responsibility to link to, for example, feminist women or people of color, but I believe it's in the interest of a democratic blogosphere to seek out and bring in minority positions and issues.

I also don't think one can talk about the blogosphere without talking about its uptake in mainstream media and its representations in popular culture. In the United States, I find this to be a problem. The bloggers who get the most positive attention from major news organizations as well as opportunities to publish in other venues tend to be white men. Political, filter-style weblogs are masculinized, personal, diary-style weblogs are feminized, and the two types are overly bifurcated. Personal weblogs about parenting [Actually, blogs about personal life, whether the writers are parents or not] are represented as narcissistic and confessional, and blogging has also been portrayed as activity associated with stereotypical teenaged girls (silly, overly dramatic, self-centered). Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) found that while a majority of bloggers write personal, journal-style weblogs rather than more impersonal, filter-style weblogs, filter-style weblogs are overrepresented and taken more seriously in mainstream American culture. Insofar as “online” and “offline” life are lived by the same people and can't be separated, I would argue that the discussion about the blogosphere as well as the discussion taking place within the blogosphere contribute to its perceived measure of democracy.


5)How do you evaluate the quality of information on blogs? How much danger is there of misleading information spreading through blogs?

Credibility is very important online. It must be earned, either through “real-world” credentials such as an advanced degree or other evidence of expertise on a topic or through an established pattern of writing with fairness and accuracy. If a blogger publishes something he or she knows to be inaccurate, or is proven later to be inaccurate, it can take a long time to live that down. Writers who take blogging seriously do not want to lose their credibility or their audience, and they tend to correct publicly any errors they make. Most people I know who keep weblogs consciously or unconsciously follow Rebecca Blood's set of weblog ethics. At the same time, though, some bloggers write fiction, or intentionally embellished impressions of real life, and do not want to be held to an ethical standard grounded in journalism (Delacour, 2003). Bloggers feel varying levels of accountability to their readers, so the responsibility of verifying information often falls on the readers. As with any information, print or online, it is best to question facts and interpretations and read critically.

6)Is blogging changing the way we write?

One of my colleagues, Charles Lowe, claims that he can see blogging's influence on Lawrence Lessig's writing style in his most recent book, Free Culture. For my part, I think blogging has helped me to see what kind of writing people respond to best. My writing style has always been fairly clear, but through blogging, I've learned that even in scholarly essays that have set conventions, readers appreciate some creativity and imagination in the form of narrative. I think that has carried over into my other writing. Also, through writing for such a public and vocal audience, I am much more careful about what I say: careful to define my terms and qualify my claims.

What we still need are some longitudinal studies assessing student writing before and during blogging. Composition scholars are studying the influence of blogging on student writing, but the studies that I know of so far have only assessed student writing over the course of one semester, toward the beginning of which students started blogging, so getting a comprehensive baseline assessment of students' writing was difficult. I hope a group of composition scholars will do a longitudinal study on blogging's influence on writing using on a large group of students who are new to blogging, starting with a holistic portfolio assessment of each student's writing and ending with another portfolio. Even then, it will be hard to identify criteria to track and to pinpoint which improvements are directly related to blogging and which are more attributable to students' overall intellectual development. Several teachers would have to evaluate the writing, and students would have to be interviewed at various stages in the study to get a sense of where blogging fits in.


7)How do you make your blog? Do you use RSS, and if so, how? Do you use Trackback, and if so, how? Do you use metablogs such as Daypop or Technorati, and if so, how?

My weblog runs on Drupal, which features a built-in news aggregator. I use aggregation for the same reason most people do: It makes it easy to keep up with a lot of weblogs and other frequently-updated sites. I use trackback too, but not every time I link to someone. I try to imagine a reader perusing a post on another weblog a couple of years from now. If I consider my participation in the conversation to be significant enough to be co-archived on my site as well as someone else's, I'll send a trackback. In recent months, spammers have been abusing trackback, but I have no plans to get rid of it on my own site; I think it's a great way to join posts together.

I search for my blog on Technorati, too; sometimes I don't catch weblogs that link to me in my referrers. Technorati is a good tool for finding out a little more about your audience. The tagging in Technorati is valuable as well, but when I browse folksonomies, I tend to go to or


8)Who is your audience?

My longtime, regular audience consists of academics in my discipline, rhetoric and composition, feminist women, and friends and family, but I can see from my referrers that a lot of other readers find my weblog in Google searches. When posting, I try to anticipate what search terms in my post might lead to my weblog. This exercise in anticipating search terms, taken with my trying to imagine how readers will react to what I write, helps me fine-tune what I say and use terms carefully. If someone finds my weblog in a Google search for a specific term, I don't want him or her to come to my weblog and find misinformation or sloppy thinking.

9) Why do you blog?

I've always been a pretty open, extroverted person, and my weblog is just an extension of that quality. I blog because it's a good way not only to get my ideas and scholarship into circulation and get feedback on them, but because it's a good way to make new friends.

10) What impact has blogging had on the rest of your life? Has it been dangerous/detrimental to expose your life to complete strangers in this way?

Blogging has had a significant impact on my career, for the better. Because of my weblog, reporters have interviewed me, I've been invited to give lectures and review manuscripts for scholarly journals, and I was even offered a scholarship to the Internet Law Program, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned graduate students that blogging almost certainly will hurt their careers. I hope that won't be the case with me. I rarely mention coworkers, family, or friends when I blog, and when I do, it's innocuous and complimentary, so I haven't gotten in trouble for anything I've written. I enjoy reading other people's personal writing, but I don't do too much of it myself. It's emotionally risky, even if you do it anonymously; readers can make remarks in comments that hurt regardless of whether or not your real name is connected with the writing.