Technology and Culture

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An Observation on Gmail

As Charlie has said, Google's new email service, Gmail, has its problems. But, it seems some people like it. Like Twain said, "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

Introducing UThink

The libraries at the University of Minnesota have just gone live with UThink, a big blogging initiative. Every student, faculty member, and staff member will be able to have as many blogs as he or she wants. I've spoken to Shane Nackerud, the librarian who's heading up the initiative, and he hopes it will be pretty big, as in students will be able to comment on campus life in such a way that the blogs might compete with or even supplant the school newspaper. Also, instructors will be able to use the system to create community blogs, students will be able to start community blogs for group projects, clubs, sororities/fraternities and organizations will be able to have community blogs, etc. I'm pretty excited about it and am eager to see what people will do with it, but I do have a couple of problems with the system so far: First, no privacy. If you'll notice on my UThink blog, it says "Posted by ratli008" under every post, and I can't change that in my profile (I tried). That's my username, and anyone can see it if they look me up in the university directory. Also, I can't see my stats and referrers, which are vital if you're to know who's linking to you.

New Listserv on Blogs

Late one night (early one morning) at 4Cs, Charlie started a listserv for bloggers and blog enthusiasts to plan a special interest group for next year's 4Cs. I've copied his post from Kairosnews here:

This past 4C's, there were a lot of events to related to blogging, among which was the special interest group event, “Calling All Bloggers: Academic Bloggers Sharing Strategies and Resources.” At that meeting, attendees decided to create the CCCC Blogging SIG listserv ( "a list of comp/rhet/lit folk devoted to exploring the personal and professional applications of weblogs and wikis in teaching, writing, and research." The list is currently being used to share our blogsites with each other, discuss possible panel presentations on blogging for 4C's 2005, and work out future goals for the SIG and the list. But we also hope to initiate many other conversations about blogging and share other resources. Everyone is invited to come participate in the existing conversations as well as to start their own.

And don't be discouraged if you are new to weblogs and/or don't keep your own weblog. One of the many reasons for forming the list was to create a community for supporting teachers in their efforts to learn about and begin blogging.

You can subscribe to the list online through the list information page. Once subscribed, post your messages to the list at

My 4Cs presentation

My presentation is finally up.


Results suggest that the weblog is an important new genre and that it presents a considerable opportunity for a large number of people to have a voice on the Web. As other scholars (Wahlstrom, 1994, Aschauer, 1999, Rickly, 1999, Wolfe, 1999, Takayoshi, 2000, Gurak, 2001, Comstock, 2001) have noted, the Internet, which certainly can be used for feminist purposes, is as prone to gender bias and hierarchy as face-to-face society. Gender bias in the mainstream blogging community has been attributed to the subject matter that men write about (news, politics, technology) and the subject matter women write about (relationships, family, friends, cooking, knitting). Of course there are exceptions to the gender-determined subject matter rule, but, as a student of feminist studies and Internet studies, I find it disturbing that blogging practices are mirroring gender stereotypes so accurately. Maybe we as composition teachers can help future (and current) bloggers move toward a middle ground in our writing classes. Some bloggers say that this “meeting in the middle” is starting to happen already. Perhaps, by using weblogs in our composition pedagogy and encouraging gender-bending in the subject-matter of the posts, we can help subvert arbitrary and confining notions of masculine content and feminine content.

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Results: Observation of "A-List" Linking Practices

Finally, I decided to test the claim that the most widely-read bloggers do not link to women as often as to men. On the Web site “Blogstreet,” there is a list of the 100 most important weblogs. Importance is measured by how many sites—bloggers and commercial news media—link to the weblog. I examined the blogrolls of the top ten bloggers on the list to find out how many were men and how many were women. For the purposes of this study, I am considering a blogger a man if he performs as a man on his weblog; for example, if he has a masculine name and refers to himself as “he” on his “About Me” page, which often takes the form of a brief biographical sketch, I have counted him as a man. Copyright notices were also an effective indicator of gender. Likewise, I considered anyone performing as a woman on her weblog to be a woman. Results are ordered to correspond with the blog’s rank on the “100 Most Important Weblogs” list.
Table 6: Results of Observation of Blogrolls of the top ten most important bloggers from Blogstreet. Importance was ranked by how many other sites linked to these bloggers’ sites.

Blogrolls Indeterminate Gender Community Weblogs
(both men and women posting)
Women Men
Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) 15 21 30 211
Andrew Sullivan ( 0 3 1 3
Dave Winer (The Scripting News) 5 7 16 65
Boing Boing (community of men and one woman) 1 2 1 15
The Volokh Conspiracy (community of men and one woman) 4 3 4 26
Joshua Micah Marshall(Talking Points Memo) 0 0 0 1
Doc Searles (The Doc Searles weblog) 8 7 23 119
Ken Layne 2 2 18 59
Tim Blair 0 0 1 5
The Vodka Pundit 13 9 37 188

As the results show, not one of the top ten most important weblogs is maintained by a woman. Women are represented in only two community weblogs, which are maintained by a community of men and one woman. In all cases, men greatly outnumber women on blogrolls. When understood in the context of blogging practices, these findings have negative implications for women who want recognition on a large scale. If the top weblogs are mostly men, and the weblogs they link to are also maintained by mostly men, it becomes difficult for women to enter the conversation. It should be noted, also, that the majority of women linked to by these bloggers are politically conservative, so the findings are even more disappointing for feminists and other left-leaning voices.

Next: Conclusion

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Illustrative Case: Outburst in the Blogosphere

In September 2002, Dana Jones posted an email from another female blogger, which read:

I once had this notion that should I get my foot inside the door of the 'blogosphere' then ... I don't know ... money would fall from trees or something. One day I posted a comment on one of those pundit's sites and lo and behold, two hours later the comment had vanished. I took that as a sign that I was not welcome in his comments nor was I ever going to be admitted to the punditry higher circle of knowledge and all things blogging. Whatever.
I got so infuriated with so many things in the blogworld this week that I almost packed it in. Instead, I ranted even more. And I said fuck the people who think they run blogworld and fuck the elitist bastards whose only claim to fame ever will be reaching one million hits on their site meter.

Although this blogger did not say anything about men or gender bias in particular, Jones said that she had noticed a hierarchy in the blogosphere and that the prominent bloggers, almost all men, rarely linked to the women. She said that Glenn Reynolds, whose weblog is considered the most popular on the Web, had linked to her weblog before, but only when she had posted about her sex life or sexual fantasies. Jones then called for a boycott of some male bloggers, suggesting instead that bloggers should promote voices that are not heard as much. Another blogger started a discussion thread on Blogroots, a community weblog about blogging. Forty comments were posted to the thread, and many other people weighed in on the issue on their weblogs. In the thread, some people accused Olsen of producing inferior content and blaming it on sexism, and others simply stated that society is sexist, and the blogosphere is no different. Several said that Jones’s posts about sex undermined her credibility as a “serious blogger.” Mary Smith, a female blogger, posted this:

I'm late to this party, but let me see if I can get this into a nutshell: Dana is upset because when she does get linked from the A-listers, they tend to be links only to her posts on sex. Otherwise, she is ignored. Neither is she on Glenn's blogroll; Dana says he has only "serious" women bloggers in his sidebar. (Full disclosure: I'm on Glenn's blogroll.) This lack of attention from people like den Beste and Sullivan is sexist, she says. They pay more attention to the male bloggers than they do female bloggers.

The problem here is that there are two issues. The first is the issue of sexism: Do the A-listers link more often to male bloggers and ignore female bloggers? Do the guys have an online boys club where they check their buddies out first? Was it sheer coincidence that NZ Bear shot up to the top of the blogosphere? Or was it sexism, as no female blogger has ever garnered the attention he received quite so quickly? (We're talking pre-ecosystem—Glenn Reynolds, Bill Quick, and Stephen Green treated Bear like a long-lost brother returned home. Hey, the guy's my offline friend, I introduced him to the blogosphere, and even I was struck by twinges of envy at his instant results. I had to work my ass off for nearly a year to get the kind of notice and traffic he got in his first month.)

She goes on to say that the sexism in the blogosphere is unintentional, an opinion expressed by many others. In response to the Blogroots thread and the other posts, Jones had a response that coincides with the theories of Chodorow, Gilligan, and Belenky et al.: She apologized profusely. Chodorow, Gilligan, and Belenky et al. argue that women are socialized to base their identities on the relationships they have with other people and to sacrifice their own needs and desires for those of others. Jones, although she was angry about not being taken seriously by other bloggers and the fact that male bloggers were only reading her weblog for her posts on sex, apologized so that she would still be a part of the group. Even though a significant number of other bloggers agreed with her accusing the blogosphere of being sexist, she casts herself as a troublemaker, titling her post “Behaving Badly.” She accepts the blame for the entire debate:

If I were to look at myself with fresh eyes, I would probably not like who I am based on my behavior over the last couple of weeks. I am extremely emotional and far too sensitive. My filter mechanism is flawed and I react without thinking. I attacked a variety of people recently who didn't deserve my harsh and hurtful comments - and certainly not in a public forum. I can be quite immature and self-concerned.

Next: Observation of Linking Practices of "A-List" Bloggers

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Survey: Responses to Open-Ended Questions

On the whole, as Tables 3, 4, and 5 show, survey respondents have varying definitions of what “blogging community” is and varying experiences in their blogging practices. One woman, when asked how she defines “blogging community,” replied:

Do you really want me to answer that right now, when I'm feeling rather pissy about it. It’s mostly male, mostly white and very chummy. I've been lucky to have been "accepted" into the community with open arms, namely due to the "sponsorship" of a couple of great bloggers, both men and women, but its still a very male dominated community. I think the war has a great deal to do with it, as I don't know if even women trust other women's views on something so testosterone-laden as war. More’s the pity.

This respondent highlights a salient political event around which mainstream blogging has formed: the War on Terror. After September 11, 2001, the number of weblogs increased significantly. Many of the most well-known bloggers are pundits, often conservative, who post their critiques of the war and what they perceive as the “liberal” and “politically correct” media. There are, however, plenty of bloggers of all political views.

Perhaps the most revealing comments I received from survey respondents were those that answered the last question: “If you answered no to the previous question, would you like to be more well-known in the blogging community? If so, what do you think it would take for you to get the same level of attention as the ‘A-list bloggers’?” Several of the women said that they would not like to be a well-known, widely-read blogger, preferring instead to write for themselves and a few interested parties:

Ooooh, well, I'm not a famous member of the bloggyworld. Sure, I would love
to have more people read my blog and send me comments. I think if I keep
doing what I'm doing--writing about stuff I care about and know about--that
people who are interested in my stuff will find me. I don't aspire to be an
“A-list blogger”--my impression is that those guys spend much more time than
I have to spare. I have a real life going on in the background here.
Metaphorically--a real concert pianist plays 6+ hours per day. Great, we all
love to listen to that pianist, and I love to read those glorious A-list
bloggers. practicing an hour or two a day, I can play pieces I enjoy, please all my friends, and have a good time. That's the kind of blogging I aspire to.

One unfortunate trend I noticed is the women’s tendency to think that they do not have the writing talent to be a widely-read blogger:

I'm on the fringes - story of my life, and that's fine by
me. The A-listers REALLY have something to say. I just make smalltalk,
party conversation. (I've found that to be the aptest metaphor for my
blog, so I'm sticking with it.) If I wanted to become an A-lister,
I'd have to have something to say, and probably find an overarching
theme. Which I don't think I ever will. And, like I said, that's
fine. I'd much rather sit on the sidelines than be the center of

I would like to be more well-known, but that will take time. Many A-level blogs seem to be focused on one topic and become a daily paper of sorts for those
people interested in that topic. Other A-levels are witty and outrageous. Both groups generally have html skills. If you are writing about more mundane things, as I, it takes humor and exposure to gain a following. I am submitting pieces to other blog portals or on-line forums. And practice, practice, practice.

I'm happy. I don't seek fame or notoriety, I do this for fun. The A-
listers are a list because I read them, and make them that. I'd hate to see
commercial blogs, A-list for a price. The quality would dissolve. A-listers
are talented. They deserve whatever it is they get out of having a
“following.” That’s a big job. I don't have the talent to be an A list *Star*
and it's not my intention, so no expectations.

I think becoming an A-list blogger takes a lot of time and energy - and considerable intelligence and writing talent. I drift in and out of the B list - which
is just fine with me. I don't feel pressure to blog my way to the top, and I write what only what I am moved to write. If I'm good enough, I'll get read. If I'm not, I enjoyed the process of writing anyway.

Other respondents expressed disdain for the A-list bloggers and the concept of popular bloggers:

Most of the well-known A- and even B- listers don't impress me that much. The
spats, hurt feelings and self-importance are a turn-off. I believe it is possible to become better known by doing three things, none of which I am willing to do: (1) read a lot of other journals, comment, and add them to a blogroll (2) write about the same things these folks are covering, and link to their posts and (3) write about controversial, political, and technical subjects, a sort of pretend journalism. The first two are the most important.

I really don't know. I can't say that I don't care. But I'm not willing to
change much of how I blog. The "A list" things is yucky. Blogging has the
potential to create a community in which everyone has the same opportunity.
The A list thing creates hierarchy and it's just not useful.

I've discovered that if you go around and comment and kiss serious blogger ass
you are more likely to become an "a-list" blogger, or at least a "b-list" one. It’s amazing. I don't kiss ass, I don't think people like that.

While not denying the fact that there is an “A-list,” these women clearly stated that they want no part of it. Although these responses do not represent a majority of the respondents, I find them surprising; I had predicted that the members of Blog Sisters would want a high number of readers and a large measure of recognition from other bloggers. Some respondents said that they think the mainstream blogging community has a gender bias, but most did not.

Next: Illustrative Case: Outburst in the Blogosphere

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