Blogs help self-expression and self-empowerment, and therefore have become a major source of information and communication for Internet users and have the power to engage people in collaborative activity,knowledge sharing, reflection and debate (Blood, 2002; Efimova et al., 2005; Punie & Cabrera, 2005; Williams& Jacobs, 2004). Moreover, they are often perceived as powerful because they allow millions of people to easilypublish and share their ideas, and millions more to read and respond (www.technorati.com) and as a good wayof circulating new ideas (Baker & Green, 2005).Bloggers provide more authentic information, gained through personal experience (Sharda & Ponnada,2007) and trust one another. Kozinets (2002) wrote on this, that people, who interact in spaces like blogs over along period of time, trust the opinions of the other users and take them into consideration when making apurchase decision. There are certain product categories on the web which require more information for people tomake a purchase ( Leskovec , 2007). Tourism products, fit this category as they can hardly be evaluated prior totheir consumption (Rabanser & Ricci, 2005) and depend on accurate and reliable information (Kaldis et al.,2003) thus elevating the importance of interpersonal influence (Lewis & Chambers 2000). Wine also, fits thiscategory suggesting wine blogs may be useful for some consumers to make wine selections (Thach, 2010).“It is human nature to be more interested in what a friend buys than what an anonymous person buys, to be morelikely to trust their opinion, and to be more influenced by their actions. As one would expect our friends are alsoacquainted with our needs and tastes, and can make appropriate recommendations” ( Leskovec , 2007 p.3) Thus,e-word-of-mouth becomes the most important information source (Litvin et al., 2008) and therefore Internetbased recommendations are helpful in wine buying decision (Thach, 2010) and for travel planning (Akehurst,2009; Litvin et al., 2008). O’Neill et al. (2002) studied wine tourism in Australia, and found that visitors’recommendations boost wine sales when vacationing opinion leaders told their experiences.
BLOGS AS SOCIAL NETWORKS
Social networks consist of people connected through various social relationships or exchanges (Herringet al., 2005). Social network analysis (SNA) is “a discipline of social science that seeks to explain socialphenomena through a structural interpretation of human interaction both as a theory and a methodology”(Marlow, 2004 p.2). The goal of SNA is to identify “who the key actors are and what positions and actions arelikely to take” (Krackhardt, 1996, p.161). According to Balancieri et al. (2007) SNA is rooted in the concepts of nodes and connections. Nodes, are the social actors and can be persons, groups, organizations, nations,communities, offices, blogs and so on and “connections” refer to channels of communication, (Balancieri et al.,2007; Martino & Spoto, 2006). Blogs facilitate members’ social interactions and provide conversation (Nardiet al., 2004; Herring et al., 2005) and blog communities emerge from interlinking between them (Efimova &Hendrick, 2005; Efimova et al., 2005). According to Chin & Chignell (2007) “Blogs are a form of socialhypertext, functioning as a one-to-one mapping between a network of web pages and a network of people,which can be represented as a social network and from which communities can emerge”.A Social Network can be represented in three ways: the first one is by giving a simple list of all theelements taken from the set of social actors, and the list of the pairs of elements that are linked by a socialrelationship of some kind. The second has a form of matrix. If two social actors I and J have a relation then 1 isplaced at the cell (i,j), otherwise 0 is placed in this cell. Finally, a description of a Social Network may have aform of a graph where social actors can be represented by nodes, and the connections with each other can berepresented by edges between these node (Marlow, 2004; Martino & Spoto, 2006).
There are millions of individual blogs, but within any community, only a few blogs attract a largereadership (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005). “The vast majority of blogs are probably only read by family and friends,there are only a few elite blogs which are read by comparably large numbers” wrote Jackson (2006, p.295).Herring et al. (2004) also claimed that the most discussions of the blogosphere focus on an elite minority of blogs. These blogs are the most known and regularly linked by others. According to Trammell & Keshelashvili(2005, p. 968) their authors manage to create a persona, making themselves a “celebrity” among the communityof bloggers. These blogs are referred as "A-list". "A-list blogs are most widely read, cited in the mass media,and receive the most inbound links from other blogs. The small group of A-list bloggers has the largestinfluence on the public’s perception of blogging because of their high profile (Trammell & Keshelashvili,2005). The A-list appears at the core of most characterizations of the blogosphere” wrote Herring et al. (2005).