what happened to our cluster?
Mark wonders whether blog discussions between bloggers have died out, lamenting the loss of the Scandinavian blog cluster of yore: me, Torill, Anja, Lisbeth, Anders and some honorary outside-Scandinavians. We all knew each other from conferences and most of us were working on PhDs in closely related fields: electronic literature, games, worlds, cybertexts. Blogging was a wonderful way to keep up with each others’ research and ideas while working alone in different cities on topics that seemed weird to almost all our colleagues at our own institutions.
I’m not sure that the golden age of conversations between us was quite as clear as Mark suggests. Did Torill ever really point out an error in a review I wrote of a hypertext? Was the cluster that clear, or was it only visible to those of us who were in the know, who attended those clusters, as Mark and I both did (and do)?
Certainly things have changed over the last four years – as Mark writes, we have less time for research than when most of us were PhD students [update: Mark finds this weird in his update to his post, but as a grad student I was paid to do research for 100% of my time and now I’m paid to do research for 50% of my time, which is still really luxurious copmared to many (most?) academic jobs] and our private lives have changed as well. I think it’s just as important, though, that we’ve also found other clusters of blogs. The field of new media research has grown immensely in the last four years, and at the same time, our individual interests have shifted or evolved. I read a far wider variety of weblogs now than I did when I started blogging – largely because more people blog, and more people are blogging about topics that interest me.
Lilia Efimova and Stephanie Hendrick are two of the people I now think of as part of my larger, looser, current weblog cluster. I read their blogs, they read mine, and we’re mutually aware of our reading because we sometimes leave comments and sometimes link to each others posts. I met Lilia at the AoIR conference in September, but haven’t met Stephanie yet, though I’m sure I will sooner or later. Lilia and Stephanie never write about hypertext fiction or games but they do write about blogs and clusters and conversations online and language and knowledge management, and they’ve written a paper which seems to be exactly what Mark called for: “In search for a virtual settlement: An exploration of weblog community boundaries.” (PDF) It’s a paper they’ve submitted for Communities and Technologies ’05, and it outlines an approach for studying weblogging communities and clusters, and describes the results of a pilot study using their methodology.
One interesting point is that their results show how clusters change over time, although the time-scale of the pilot project is only seven months. So for instance, a member of our Scandinavian blog cluster, Lisbeth Klastrup, became a peripheral participant in the knowledge management cluster Lilia and Stephanie studied in the time around her participation in a conference that many of the knowledge management bloggers attended, although her weblog doesn’t deal with matters directly in their main topic.
- Meme paths
- Weblog reading patterns
- Linking patterns
- Weblog conversations (these are what Mark mentions)
- Indicators of events
- “Tribe” marks, group spaces and blogger directories
Is it a loss that the Scandinavian blogging cluster Mark laments now links more socailly than discussion-centricly? Perhaps not – perhaps we’re still a social network but perhaps our research discussions have widened to a larger group?