Social Software

note: this assignment brief is from the 2013-2014 module

This essay will attempt to justify the opinion that the use of blogging software to form a community is fundamentally flawed due to the inherent nature of a blogging tool, such as Wordpress, being primarily an outlet for an individual.

Whilst discussing media developments over the last century, Shirky (2009) tells us that “there is a curious asymmetry here. The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And the media that's good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations”. Examples are the telephone, which follows a one-to-one pattern and print and television which follow the one-to-many pattern (Barker, Webb, van Schaik, & Jones, 2004). Shirky then states “the Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time”, essentially a many-to-many pattern, however, whilst this successfully relates to tools such as forums and Wikis; tools designed specifically for this purpose. Blogs do not natively support this as they are (usually) an outlet for an individual to communicate to a wide audience following the one-to-many model.

Blog posts are an individual person sharing information similar to a newspaper column with additional benefits including inline media (video, audio, pictures) and hyperlinks to content elsewhere. Once published, the post is static content. It may be argued that the comments section of a blog do allow for community engagement, however I find categorising comment sections as community building tool is a weak argument as participants cannot readily engage outside of the context of the specific blog post.

Using blogs as a community tool, whereby all participants are content creators, requires each person to setup their own individual site and then comment on each other’s posts. There is no native method to link multiple sites and form a community and some sites require additional permissions to comment. Even if sites are manually linked to each other, or through one main site, there is no native cross-blog notifications so the participant has to actively visit each site in turn to engage with it. Most blogs allow for multiple authors, however using this approach for community engagement is shoehorning in a purpose and so the process isn’t fluid for the uses to actively engage. Compare this ineffective process to the simplicity of a Facebook group or phpBB forum and it’s easy to see why these different tools exist as they excel in different purposes.

However, it should be noted that some blogs do rely on participant comments for community engagement and achieve this with some success. The Lifehacker blog weekly hive-five poses a questions to determine a top-5 and asks for users to vote and suggest options in the comments sections. However, this is a system whereby participants are not active collaborators or content creators and the votes and comments are collated manually to inform the results.

Other tools such as community forums, Wikis achieve this with higher success and in particular the Stack-Exchange model of question and answer sites make this process simple to ensure quality as participants can vote on the quality of each other’s responses and self-police the quality of the site.

References

Barker, P., Webb, E., van Schaik, P., & Jones, A. (2004). Using e-learning dialogues in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41 (2004), 93-103.

Clay Shirky: How social media can make history | Video on TED.com. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

Hive five News, Videos, Reviews and Gossip. (n.d.). Lifehacker. Retrieved December 23, 2013, from http://lifehacker.com/tag/hive-five

Stack Exchange. (n.d.). Retrieved December 23, 2013, from http://stackexchange.com/sites