Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why do we blog?

A quote from the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s "Portrait of the internet’s new storytellers":

When asked whether they blogged for themselves or for their audience, more than half of bloggers (52%) responded that they blog for themselves. About a third (32%) of bloggers blog mostly to entertain or engage their audience, and another 14% volunteered that they blogged for both themselves and their audience equally. (p. 18)

Well, maybe not. Bloggers are diarists. One thing you learn when training as an historian is that diarists are writing for an audience. Oh sure, they’ll tell you it's private, but unless they burn their diary, they mean for someone else to read it. Always be aware of this when reading the diary or letters of some important historical figure – they knew you were going to read it. Do not think for a moment you are getting unfiltered material direct from their brains – it doesn’t work that way. Thomas Jefferson didn’t write his diaries for himself, he wrote them for you.

And bloggers are public diarists, for crying out loud. I think the phrasing of the question probably had an impact here, as the other main option was “to entertain or engage their audience.” A lot of bloggers may not in fact think of it precisely that way, but they do blog so that they will be read, and they write accordingly, putting forward whatever image they want to shape for themselves, obscuring whatever they want to hide.

Indeed, data elsewhere in the report makes that clear. The top two reasons bloggers gave as their motivations for blogging: 1) To express themselves creatively (52%) and 2) To document their personal experiences or share them with others (50%). (p.8) So it’s not so much that Pew got fooled, but they’ve interpreted some of their data a little screwy.

Buried at the bottom of the report is data that indicates some ways bloggers are very different from most Americans: 25% of Americans have college degrees, 37% of bloggers do; 13% of Americans are knowledge-based professionals, 38% of bloggers are; 16%% of Americans are full or part-time students, 38% of bloggers are. (p. 23) This reinforces the idea that class-wise, bloggers skew towards the professional middle class.

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