Reader interaction in the blogsphere and elsewhere.

I’d wanted to investigate the ways online journals where adapting to new communication opportunities online, but I had to chop much of this from my proposal to keep things manageable. Thankfully other people are writing about it, and my “ethnographic” exploration can continue “from the armchair”. Gary Kamiya at Salon.com discusses the way reader interaction has changed journalism for better and for worse.  The article details the experiences of a number of salon.com writers, and discusses the publications changing strategies for capitalizing on reader contributions:

“You, gentle and not-so-gentle readers, have been on my mind lately. You vast and invisible online throng, slouched in front of thousands of computer monitors, have done something revolutionary. You have forever altered the relationship between writer and audience. The Internet has turned what was once primarily a one-way communication into a dialogue — or maybe a melee. From a cultural perspective, the new democracy of voices online is a wonderful thing. But writers have an odd and ambiguous relationship with their readers, and the reader revolution is having massive consequences we can’t even foresee.”

(Kamiya, Gary. 2007:1)

Salon.com has worked to integrate reader interaction into it’s online publishing strategy. But not all feedback is equal, and the process of democratizing reader feedback had unexpected consequences. The article highlights both the good and bad. For the good he highlights the ability of reactive audiences to act as “an enormous fact checker” pointing to “an explosion in expertise”, albeit a very chaotic one. These reactions demand authors respond to meaningful critiques and these interactions can lead into longer lasting relationships.

This strategy of building relationships through online interactions has been my main research strategy. Blogging my research has not only worked to fact-check my interpretations through the generous contributions of collaborators, but it has also worked to develop a network of personal relationships. For example, I am now working on an email survey which I will send out to people who have responded on the blog. This will hopefully go over better than a random email survey sent out to people I’d never spoken with before.

But enough with the internet utopianism already. And enough preaching to the converted (ie blogging about open access…). The tough sell will come from those just coping with email. To sell this online revolution to more conservative anthropologists, my thesis will have to detail all the bad. [objective = (equal number of good points, listed next to equal number of bad points).] The salon.com article discusses the brutality, idiocy, and thoughtlessness that come with many reader comments, along with long winded tirades and rants. They point to different norms of behavior within traditional print magazines from those online:

“Moreover — and this is a crucial point — the percentage of letter writers who are fools, knaves, blowhards and nuts has exponentially increased. In the old stamped-letter days, the difficulty of writing in weeded out more of these types; letters tended to be somewhat more thoughtful, and letter writers usually adhered to certain conventions of etiquette and decorum governing communications between reader and writer. Not forelock-tugging subservience to their betters, but simple courtesy. There was a tacit acknowledgment of the implicit contract between writer and reader, one characterized by at least a modicum of idealization and respect on both sides. I don’t want to exaggerate this — certainly there were plenty of ad hominem and intemperate letters back then. But having edited several magazines in the print-only era, I can say that there were far, far fewer. Perhaps the unseen presence of an editor, the slightly formal nature of writing a “letter to the editor,” led readers to be on their better behavior.”

(Kamiya, Gary. 2007:2)

While Salon.com authors deal with brutal, often idiotic responses,  my own experience has been a bit different. Responses so far have come from academics, or previous academics.  Reader comments have been very supportive and kind, and are often quite formal. Salon.com authors on the other hand highlight issues of sexism, insensivity, and intolerance – so bad that some authors at Salon avoid reading responses, or searching their names on Google. Academia breeds formality, even without an editor, for I haven’t received any anonymous hate mail yet…

Anthropology and academia in general, are described by Vassos Argyrou as a ‘game of power’, and formality is part of this game. It’s interesting to see how academic blogs attract different kinds of responses than online magazines and other more popular blogs.

The other possibility is my academic drivel bored the trolls to death…

[random notes from the reading]

  • reader comments can scare other readers away, and give a bad overall image.   -> important consideration for ethnographic projects where you might want to develop diverse, conflicting, opinion.
  • Fear of responses can lead to “creative paralysis” [but I dont think this is new to the online world, since in my discussions with fellow students very few people I meet are willing to share creative work publicly. Creative paralysis seems to affect most people, and blogging is a way to work against this].
  • article concludes with hope for more respect in author-reader interactions… Discusses ‘playing the game’ which relates to Vassos Argyrou’s quote in my proposal about anthropology as ‘a game of power’. Academics have to maintain some formality and respect in order to advance themselves in the field… This differs from popular publications where readers are not playing the same game.

Kamiya, Gary. 2007. “The Readers Strike Back”, Salon.com

http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2007/01/30/writing/index.html

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3 responses to this post.

  1. i’ve had both types of responses and i suppose you’ll get them too if you for example start blogging about islam, immigrants or the current war in gaza. several times i found the search terms “islam + leave a comment” in my website statistics. my impression is that here in norway (and in other countries as well it seems) , the comment fields are dominated by right-wing extremists (mostly with bad writing skills). these kind of comments scare other readers away as you write.

    Reply

  2. Oops! I was sure I had replied to this. Please pardon my crappy netiquette. My vacation is over, and the transition from Corona and Oaxacan beaches to -20 degree Montreal has been a rough one!

    I suppose by focusing on the thesis topic I’ve really narrowed down the readership. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. I wonder if blogging about more diverse topics would help the thesis research by getting some perspectives from outside academia. For now I’ll just keep on the thesis topics for the selfish reason of… I’ve got a ton of writing ahead of me!

    Reply

  3. […] Comments Owen Wiltshire on Reader interaction in the blog…Maximilian Forte on writing ethnography classo.w. on self-archiving and anthropolog…The […]

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