Social Class in Online Discussions
The first presentation was on disclosure of class in parenting groups (Karen Farquharson of Swiburn). She was interested in the ways in which class was disclosed in these forums and whether there was interaction across class groups. It’s an interesting topic. Not surprisingly, people did disclose class in various ways in this group. There was an article, maybe in New York Magazine that suggested that establishing class relationships was one of the main functions of one of the sites. The presenter did not indicate which four sites she examined, but I am not surprised that this shows up.
Her second conclusion was that people of different classes talk to one another. She explicitly indicated that this was a qualitative piece of research, which is fine, but I wish we would have been exposed to more of an indication of why she thinks her research supports this. I can imagine ways of operationalizing this in order to quantify the relationships. Not necessary, but as it stands, I’d be curious as to how her paper makes that case.
Yukari Seko from York & Ryerson presented on suicidal and self-injury bloggers on livejournal. She made use of TAPoR, an online system for simple content analysis that I will want to check out. She also made use of a term I have tried to push for the idea of blogging to empty space: murmuring. The presentation was very quick and very full, and I’ll be interested in catching the paper as a whole. There was a lot there.
Memes on Livejournal
Hilary Wheaton, from the University of Western Australia, spoke on memes on livejournal. Lots of people have tried to use memetic approaches to look at blogs: the trick is in a clear definition and application. Unfortunately, it wasn’t entirely clear how she was bringing down the memetic concept to something that is really applicable. As with the complaints of the acquisition of “complexity theory” by the humanities as an analog, rather than in concrete ways. There are good ideas here with regard to the idea of ideas that exist outside of the personal identity and–at the same time–connected to the outside. I would have preferred that she took on something more like the idea of symbolic interaction rather than pulling from Rheingoled, Turkle, and Bruns. That’s a personal preference, I suppose, but otherwise it strikes me as slightly too “mushy” to use as an observational lens.
Overall, it seems that the paper provides an entree into a set of possible observations, and there may be more on the evidence side in the paper itself, but the presentation itself didn’t draw clearly enough from a systematic investigation of the perceived memes and memeplexes on the blogosphere. It was only in the last few minutes of the presentation that she discussed the two meme channels: icons and quizzes. More clearly identifying the features of a meme, and how these align with quizzes and icons, and then finally what this means to the use of these symbols. I also had to dash out toward the end, to try to catch another presentation, so this critique may have been addressed in the questions
Tracking the Spread of Hype on the Web
I crossed over to another session to hear the presentation by Lina Heilsten of KNAW on the diffusion of bird flu news/hype among blogs and online newspapers. She begins by indicating that she is going to be looking at nuts & bolts. She is presenting a piece of a larger funded research project that looks at ways of tracking online discussions of science. In particular, she is looking at how to track discussions across different domains (scientific, commercial, etc.). Without the web, it seems that a particular “hype” frame begins and spreads among spheres.
Drew from BlogPulse and Lexis-Nexis/PubMed. Looked at the development of the topic: frequencies of posting over time. Also looked at cross-references (other than hyperlinks). Finally, looked at the interaction between blogs and online news sites. There is a hockey-stick explosion in articles on PubMed in 2005, after a triggering study. This was echoed in newspaper articles, which also was partially triggered by a landmark study. In particular there was a spike of articles in October, which seems to dissipate over time, though there is a second, smaller wave later in the year when it was in the wild in Europe. It also spread through news agencies, starting in a few and spreading outward.
Newspapers, blogs, and medical journals do not often refer to each other. Is it that blogs reference something other than traditional newspapers. There seems to be a peak related to Yahoo and BBC news articles. This raises some interesting ideas. I suspect that bloggers may be alerted to news, but cite the BBC or Yahoo because they are more easily linkable. I think there is an important difference between what you use and what you cite.