Last summer, when I was on some sort of second trimester “I am a fricking machine right now, keep the estrogen a-comin'” buzz, I wrote this impossibly long post. My brain was utterly on overdrive as I thought about this whole blogging thing, what it meant to me personally and also what I was beginning to think about it all from an academic perspective. In it I yak on about dominant theories of social networking, such as Barabasi’s, which argue that a site’s power status is acquired through the volume of linkages to it (linkages that are largely not returned). This is why “linky lurve” posts, like my last two, are a “nice thing to do.” Such gestures say “I think you’re special, and you deserve a higher technorati rating darnit.”
But comments don’t count in this measurement at all (and not in technorati ratings either). And I think is a big problem if you are going to do a qualitative analysis of the (largely) women’s community we have right here (hey ladies! And gent! How are ya?). Because commenting is a fundamental attribute to how these here communities (smaller, technically lower "ranked" blogs like this one that make up the “long tail” of the blogosphere) are developed and maintained.
That’s all I’ll say on this for now, but if you are remotely interested, stay tuned for another post on the role of commenting (or not commenting) for us all. (And I so would like your ideas on this one) Anyway. In the beast-post (and apparently I am writing another one right now) I threatened to start researching and thinking about these issues in more depth. Her Bad Mother offered to join me for the ride (and who can say no to such a purdy companion? And her technorati ratings are way higher than mine, so my association can only bring me power and glory, of course. That and the fact that the woman can think up a storm and I love her.)
The first thing we did was send out a panel proposal to the Gender Studies sessions for this communications conference (along with another very sharp blogger who shall remain nameless until I know she does not have a problem with being outed, and then also joining us is one of my b.f.f.s, Paula, who does not blog—what’s up with that?—but who is a supersmart theorist and teacher of writing in online environments). And in order to share ideas and prepare for the panel, we decided to (you guessed it) get ourselves a blog. And it’s right here.
http://blogrhet.blogspot.com/. And our panel summary is here.
Some of you have stumbled on it already and made “uh, I am not sure if I am mean to be here, but here’s what I think..” types of comments. We LOVE visitors! (Otherwise, why make it open?) but we’re also slightly paranoid that we’ll bore the tits off you by inflicting the arsy-academic speak, which is probably stupid because one of our main contentions is that women’s blogs (especially so-called mommyblogs) are knowledge-making communities. (As opposed to a bunch of "creepy" or "mindless" women blogging about all the mundane and trivial details of their private lives and stupidly putting their kids out there in the process, which seems to be popular public perception many of us our familiar with).
Anyhoo. Drop on by. There's not much there now, but we're hoping to change that and even do some cross posting here and at HBM's. My friend, Paula, has a distance from this community that is actually pretty useful (God. I hope she is not going to find the rest of us hideously tedious by day two when we're still banging on about who's been blogging who here, and what this blogger blogged there). Her distance is important in that she can actually ask us questions that force us to define what this community "is," and more specifically the understood conventions and community-building practices of so-called "mommyblogs" (I know my community is made up of more than mommybloggers, and that "mommyblogging" itself is a loaded term, but for the purposes of the panel we're sticking to that focus, even while we're complicating simplistic notions of what mommybloggers actually do).
Most of us intuit how we work our blogs and our communities, and write with presumed knowledge to one another about it, but sitting down and describing how we do this thing we do to an outsider so can be another matter. So Paula's posed a few questions for me, and you can see my initial brainstorm responses below. And, you guessed it, we would love your feedback, criticism, suggestions. If for no other reason than to prove in practice what we're arguing in theory--that we are a deeply interactive, knowledge-making community (and not a bunch of scribbling women with no sense of private boundaries).
Here's a summary of the questions for you:
1. Who are we? (Who is writing these "mommy" blogs?)
2. Who are we writing to? Who is our audience?
3. Why are we writing? What is our purpose?
4. What is the context for our writing? What are we saying? What is our message?
5. How does the medium of blogging affect all this?
And here is my first stab at answering them:
Who are we? (Who is writing these blogs?)
I can only answer this one based on my own experience, and we need to do a wider quantitative survey here--but I would say it’s largely North American women. Mainly white, college degreed, and in the great scheme of things relatively privileged (there are certainly exceptions--do they prove the rule?) Age range is wide, but I would say mainly in the 30 something range, and mainly women with young children (but this might be the bloggers I gravitate to, being a thirtysomething myself). Again, there are exceptions to prove the rule here. There are a lot of women who are educated, have or have had careers, and who took up a blog when they became mothers.
Many SAHMs who use blogging as a means to combat isolation but also women who work—and in this space “mommy wars” between SAHMs and working mothers do not seem to exist—even though the topic is debated widely. I find this very interesting (and I was just talking to someone about this, but can't remember who, so please forgive that I am not crediting you on this!)
Who are we writing to? Who is our audience?
I'd say that those of us who occupy this "long tail" of the blogosphere are mainly writing for one another--it's a means of communication and interaction. This is certainly not to say that higher ranked bloggers are not communicating and interacting, but participating in the community in a reciprocal way would be impossible for bloggers with thousands of readers (and it often feels impossible to those of us with considerably few--hence comment fatigue for many of us).
However, these bloggers (dooce, sweetney, amalah) become dense "nodes" through which other bloggers meet up and connect.
Interestingly, and I've just been chatting to HBM about this, it seems comments are often proportionally much higher in these "community-centered" blogs in relation to visits (you there, lurker;-)). It seems as traffic (and rank) goes up or is perceived to be of high status (and what cues us in that a blog is a "biggy"? That's worth thinking on some more, certainly) comments diminish (dooce is the one glaring exception to this, methinks--proving the rule, perhaps?).
We think this reveals a lot about the way in which audience perceives the blogger, who perhaps shifts from “friend” or “peer” to “writer/author” perhaps? (what do you think, dear reader-slash-friend? Clearly, there’s a lot to say on this alone, but the distinction seems to be one of peer-writer/community vs. author/audience. Not that this is cut and dry by any means—we can all find ourselves vacillating between the two, for sure. (I think. Yes?). (I know I write for an audience as well as for the community--but more on this in another post. That and the fact that I am closet exhibitionist who can be a little more obsessive about her stats and comments than she would like).
I think it would be very easy (and interesting) to do a content analysis of our blogs to show that we are presuming a shared knowledge among our readers (related to kids, breastfeeding, sex, etc). This will reveal a great deal about our perceived sense of audience and also our community.
Why are we writing? What is our purpose?
I know this only anecdotally and experientally: Many women start blogs so they can share photos and stories with friends and families. Others start them because of a sense of isolation (especially SAHMs). Dooce and Sweetney have both written extensively on this. I think other reasons include the wish to write and express one's self. I have written, and so has Mom 101 and many others, on how the blog starts as a means to "be" a writer, but that it becomes about relationships. The community becomes a central reason and motivator to continue writing. (I've been chatting with Slouching Mom about this one via email). Significantly, it can also become a central reason people quit--it can feel overwhelming at times (again--worthy of another post).
Along with community--and I am not sure if this is the same--is the addiction of knowing you have readers via comments and webstats. This becomes another incentive to keep writing. The sense of validation it gives us.
What is the context for our writing? What are we saying? What is our message?
Everything. Certainly the recounting of personal experiences is most common. The sharing of experiences concerning kids, relationships, life as a mother. The sharing goes on in the form of posts, comments and interlinking. One person might write a post on breastfeeding, citing news events, and then another person posts on the same topic, linking to the original--continuing the conversation, and so forth. It would make a very interesting network map. Networks and conversations emerge around specific topics (the cocktails on playdates debacle and its overwhelming response in blogland is an excellent example, as is the response to the infamous Time article on "hipster parenting").
To a point, it is good form to always mention the original post and link to it--this builds trust and a sense of good faith (stealing ideas and posting links to news articles or such as if you found it yourself is considered bad form).
How does the medium of blogging affect all this?
Well, obviously, the linkages I mention above could not take place. Neither could the comments. The blog as a medium is critical because knowledge and ideas emerge as a result of conversation and interaction. You can track how a topic is discussed, how the community interprets it, and the consensus (or lack thereof) about what it all means. There are many other significant ways in which we bloggers adapt our blogs to signify belonging to a particular community (and I myself an exception in this, because Oranges don't signify nothin' relevant here, which was actually one reason I chose them).
1. Using "Mom" "mommy" or "mother" or even "Mrs" in the blog's title. (and/or using a child's name "Keira's Mom"; "Bub and Pie" etc.)
2. Developing graphical banners that ironically play on notions of "perfect" motherhood--often through nostalgic visual references to "wholesome" 1950s mom and/or Pulp fiction iconography: http://mom101.blogspot.com/
Or alcohol (to signal--'let's have a drink together, relax, have a chat"): http://www.mothergoosemouse.com/
The visual rhetoric of our blogs is worthy of a book alone, not to mention the role of photo-sharing. I would argue, along with Her Bad Mother, that photo-sharing is a critical means by which the community comes together and establishes trust and a sense of intimacy, though this issue is highly contentious and debates also center on the issue of children's privacy and potential risk factors that come with this activity (you'll have noticed that I do not share pics, and mainly because my husband is on the other side of the fence on this issue and as I respect his views and wishes--and want my dinner cooked for me when I get home--I don't post pics--but you should know, my boys are freaking gorgeous).
Tell me. What I am missing? What am I getting wrong?
OK. I am going to stop here. Too much already. But as you can probably tell, I am very excited by all this because I think it's important to talk about what we're doing here. And do it ourselves as opposed to let others do the talking and theorizing for us. What we are doing by blogging our lives is in many ways pretty radical (remember finslippy--mommyblogging is a radical act? yes. yes it is). The next challenge is to keep articulating just exactly how it is radical.
So. if you have the time, let me know your thoughts. If you are not a commenter, then do consider emailing me (gingajoy at gmail dot com). I'd really like to know your reasoning for not commenting (or you can just tell me to mind my own business). No judgements whatsover--jeebus, most of the people reading this post will not feel the need to pontificate on it openly, and that might be the wiser gesture! (I am a self-confessed Attention Whore, but thankfully, not everyone else rolls that way that way) But if you have anything to say, I'm all ears, people. Talk to me (to us)!