The weblog medium, while fundamentally an innovation in personal publishing has also come to engender a new form of social

interaction on the web: a massively distributed but completely connected conversation covering every imaginable topic of interest. (Marlow 2004: n.p.) In this essay I will explore some of the ways in which blogging constitutes a new literacy practice characterised by what Lankshear and Knobel call an “active sociality” (2006: 1). This “active sociality” is exemplified by modes of participation and displays of identity and affiliation that mark it out as significantly different from other forms of textual communication. I will argue that the various practices of blogging can be best understood within the intellectual paradigm of the New Literacy Studies (Street 1995; Barton et al. 2000; Barton 2007) which conceptualises literacy in sociocultural terms as ‘practices’ embedded in different domains of life and instantiated through local, socially-specific ‘events’. As Lankshear and Knobel summarise: “’Literacy bits’ do not exist apart from the social practices in which they are embedded and in which they are acquired” (2006: 13). I’ll also be drawing on the work of various academics who have researched new and emerging multimodal literacy practices associated with digital and mobile technologies (Davies and Merchant 2006; Lankshear and Knobel 2006) as well as researchers who have published in more general terms on the social implications of digital technologies (Benkler 2006; Jenkins 2006; Keen 2008; Shirky 2008). There are four aspects of blogging that I find particularly interesting and which are relevant to this essay. Firstly, blogging’s variegated practices blur distinctions between the domains of ‘home’ and ‘work’, between private and public spheres and between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ identities. Secondly, blogging frequently merges ‘communications’ media (conversational, two-way) and ‘broadcast’ (transmissive, one-way) media (Shirky 2008: 85-7) to create hybrid forms of text production. Thirdly, blogging is viewed by some as “emblematic of [a] convergence culture" (Jenkins: 2006: 225) in which traditional broadcast media and user-generated digital 1   

content, and the participatory practices that surround that content, have become inextricably linked. Fourthly, I’m also interested in the ways blogging ‘remediates’, to use Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s term (1999), analogue cultural practices, refashioning both dialogue-driven as well as text-based communicative practices through the specific affordances of blogging software. Although Rebecca Blood has claimed that “weblogs are not just a digital variation on an established formula […] [t]hey are of the Web itself” (2002: x), I will argue the contrary; that blogs are complex hybrids of many different types of literacy practices, many of which pre-date digital technologies. My choice of blogs has been mainly informed by these areas of interest and is restricted to just two examples: Blyde Life (http://theblydes.blogspot.com), an example of a personal diary-type blog and Greater Surbiton (http://greatersurbiton.wordpress.com/), an example of a political/polemical blog. The respective blog authors are not known to me personally although I have used work connections to contact the authors to request permission to use their blogs for the purposes of this essay and to correspond with them via email to seek clarification on a number of questions. Neither of the blogs, with respect to their authors, is an example of what are known as ‘A-list’ blogs with a large readership and listed on so-called meta-blogging sites such as Technorati; rather, they were chosen as examples of the ‘ordinary’ blogosphere. They were also selected on the basis of their use of popular free blogging services – Blogger and Wordpress respectively, which typify the sorts of technological features common to most blogs. Finally, I was drawn to these blogs for their contrasting characteristics: Blyde Life extensively exploiting multiple semiotic modalities and exemplifying private-sphere discourse going public to a known audience of friends and family; Greater Surbiton primarily, although not exclusively, textual and exemplifying ‘convergence culture’, the blurring of personal and professional identities and an engagement with a wider and heterogeneous community of readers. These blogs will be discussed in greater detail in separate sections of this essay. Before moving on to these ‘stories from the 2   

blogosphere’ however, I will discuss some of the ways in which blogs’ technological features or ‘affordances’ enable particular types of social behaviours.

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Blogs ignore boundaries and rules, not because they are inherently subversive and defy determinism, but because they are social experiments; not out of a belief system, but simply because they are state of the art. (Lovink 2008:10) A blog is a frequently updated website whose primary content consists of dated entries, more commonly known as posts, arranged in reverse chronological order. There is not the space in this essay to describe in detail the specific characteristics of blogs, but my illustration below (fig. 1.1) represents some of the key features. Besides the two main sections incorporating the title and tagline and the blogs entries, there is usually a third column which can include a range of ‘page elements’. Commonly-used element include sections for the blog author to describe him/herself or to define the purpose of the blog; to list other blogs; links to earlier archived posts; and a space for the integration of other media.

Fig.1.1: Anatomy of a blog

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Now

over

a

decade due, in

old,

the

practice to

of

blogging

has

grown

in

popularity

part,

blogging

software’s

particular

‘affordances’, that is to say, "the possibilities for action that it [the technology] offers” (Hutchby 2001: 449) that resonate with the needs and interests of a wide range of users. Metaphors used to conceptualise blogging have drawn on a wide range of tropes: blogging is, according to Rebecca Mead, "the CB radio of the Dave Eggers generation" (Blood 2002: 50); Cass McNutt has described it as “somewhere between writing a column and talk radio.” (quoted in Siemens 2002: n.p.); for Paul Hodkinson and Sian Lincoln (2008), however, the metaphor used is that of a “virtual bedroom” for the articulation of personal space in order to elaborate and substantiate oneself as a social agent. As the above examples demonstrate, blogging in conceptualised in terms of broadcast media but also as an interactive or interpersonal medium. Geert Lovink’s description of blogs as “social experiments” (2008: 10) captures well a sense of a new medium whose uses and impact have yet to be fully understood in spite of the ever-increasing number of blog authors, commenters and readers (sometimes pejoratively known as ‘blurkers’). Blogging, insofar as it is ‘the new’ anything, is ‘the new whatever you want it to be’. One of the key success factors of blogging software is the low technological threshold to participation; blog pages are edited via a web browser, requiring neither specialist software nor advanced technological expertise. Rachel Blood has described blog software as “a leveler, a democratic medium” (2002: x) and most historical accounts of the rise of blogging identify the introduction of free, easy-to-use software such as Blogger in 1999 (Blood 2002: 7-16; Kline & Burstein 2005: xiii; Kumar et al. 2005) as integral to blogging’s rapid growth. Lucas Graves argues that the technology of blogging didn't just appear and change people's literacy practices; rather, blogging technologies were designed to "facilitate an activity that was already beginning to take place, in the same way that the development of the telephone and telephone networks conformed to the emerging practices of telephone culture." (Graves 2007: 243). He 5   

writes of the transformation of blogs as simple web pages to the sort of software we recognise now which automatically arranges posts in reverse order with a range of features I shall discuss in more detail later. He goes on to argue that blogging, as a distinct genre, emerged at the "intersection of technology and society: Technology and sociocultural practice evolve together, each feeding back into the other" (Graves 2007: 343). Technology informed social action to some degree then but, just as importantly, there was some social shaping of technology too. I would argue that certain blog affordances played a key role in enabling specific blogging literacy practices. Firstly, the chronological ordering of posts would appear to facilitate the uptake of blogging for certain types of text production: life writing in the form of confessional and/or diary-type entries; commentary on cultural or political developments; reviews of new consumer products and so on where regular updates are required. Moreover, most popular blog software have options to enable readers to ‘subscribe’ to new content via email or an RSS feed. According to Biz Stone(2004), technology, politics and diary blogs dominate the blogosphere, lending some support to this claim. Secondly, the dual structure of blogs – a space for primary posts and a smaller box for secondary comments – enables feedback, review and sharing – and makes possible new forms of online dialogue and, as a consequence of them, loosely coupled online communities or ‘affinity spaces’ (Gee 2004). Although some have argued that the presence of the comments feature problematises conventional notions of authorship as “texts intertwine and merge" (Davies & Merchant 2006: 181) and readers become writers in an evolving work, others have argued that blogs reinforce more conventional ideas about the monovocal author writing in “a consistent and identifiable voice” (Chesher 2005 n.p.). I’d argue that the comments box, far from decentering the author, reinforces the notion of authorial authority. Dialogue is certainly made possible through the comments tool, and it is one of the affordances enabling participation, but it is one that is in many respects determined by the main blog entry to which it is structurally subordinate. Other kinds of dialogue and 6   

different types of community are perhaps better facilitated by the following two blog affordances. My third key blog affordance is the possibility of integrating blogrolls, that is to say, lists of links to favourite blogs, or blogs on shared topics, onto the side panel of a blog. Blogrolls support the development of loosely coupled online communities of bloggers insofar as they enable a public display of affinity with like-minded bloggers who, although writing in separate blog space, are bound by common interests and positions. Reciprocal linking, as can be seen in the example of the Greater Surbiton blog, is common and a means of confirming relations based on shared interests and mutual appreciation. Fourthly and finally, the ease of creation of permalinks, that is to say, hyperlinks to a specific post on another blog, further supports the possibility for conversation across different blog spaces and the creation and development of online communities. Some blogging software enables blog authors to receive a link in their comments box every time a blog post has been linked to from another blog. These updates, known as trackbacks, are a visible way of displaying connections between separate blogs and demonstrate how conversations in the blogosphere are frequently distributed between personal spaces and not confined to interactions via the comments tool. Emerging research has indicated that “less connected (or unconnected) blogs represent the majority of blogs available on the Web today” (Herring et al. 2005: 10) and that the blogosphere, far from being “a massively distributed but completely connected conversation covering every imaginable topic of interest” (Marlow 2004: n.p.), appears to be only partially interconnected. Clusters of reciprocally linked blogs that form loose communities certainly exist in parts and there is also much evidence of selective and sporadic (“bursty”) conversational activity between blogs, often between pairs of blogs (Kumar et al. 2005). Susan Herring et al. conclude nonetheless that “blog conversations appear to be a perceptually salient phenomenon” (2005: 10).

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So, blogging software offers a low-threshold means of creating and updating one’s own “protected space” (Gumbrecht 2004) in the expanding online environment of the blogosphere whilst enabling participation with others in a variety of forms. In the next two sections of this essay I will consider the use of blogs for two very different types of engagements in what David Barton calls a “textually mediated social world” (2001), each selectively employing different blog affordances and each with its own distinct types of literacy practice.

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... dozens of weblogs have an audience of a million or more, and millions have an audience of a dozen or less. […] And it's easy to deride this sort of thing as self-absorbed publishing - why would anyone put such drivel out in public? It's simple. They're not talking to you. (Shirky 2008: 84-85) Blyde Life, Sue and Stuart Blyde's blog, was created in October 2008 and is an example of the blogging sub-genre of the personal diary. Unlike most diary blogs which are, in Adam Reed’s words, “structured around an ‘I’ narrative” (2005: 226), Sue and Stuart’s blog is structured around a ‘we’ narrative – “the parents” - whose central character is Amaya, their baby daughter. The blog's subtitle, or tagline, The Life and times of the little Blyde, invokes various genres of life writing (biography and autobiography as well as fictional variants that mimic their conventions) and signals its focus on the early days the new baby or ‘the little Blyde’. Blyde Life uses free Blogger software and deploys, with minimal customisation, one of its standard templates (‘Son of Moto’, amongst Blogger’s brighter and more contemporary designs). The banner image (fig. 2.1) sets the tone for the blog: Sue and Stuart are smiling, their wedding rings are on display, Sue’s hand holds a shared ice cream while Stuart's is placed proudly and protectively on Sue's pregnant belly. This is a blog, the image suggests, about the joys of coupledom and impending parenthood; as readers, we are invited to share their excitement and enjoy with Sue and Stuart the pleasures of having a baby.

Fig. 2.1: The blog’s banner image

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Sue and Stuart have retained the default Blogger ‘page element’ located in the right-hand column which enables blog authors to describe themselves or the purpose of their blog (fig. 2.2).

Fig 2.2: The ‘about’ section of the blog

This page element is relatively short and explains the blog’s social purpose: to inform “friends and family” about Amaya through short textual and photographic updates and to invite its limited target audience to post comments “‘for the record’”. There are no details about Stuart and Sue because the presumed readership is drawn from existing social networks of family and friends in the UK and abroad. Unlike the Greater Surbiton blog, discussed in depth in the next section, the embeddedness of Blyde Life in an already formed set of offline relationships means that there is little need for detailed self-description. Sue and Stuart’s blogging practices are consistent with Yochai Benkler’s analysis of social uses of the Internet for the “thickening of preexisting relations” (2006: 357) of family and friends, both geographically proximate as well as distant. More specifically, Blyde Life exemplifies the use of blogging as a interpersonal communications medium; blogging here is not broadcasting to a large audience but, rather, a smaller-scale conversation within a community which has, as Clay Shirky puts it, “a social density that audiences lack” (2008: 85). 10   

The detailed content of the ‘life and times of the little Blyde’ has been filtered and shaped for specific audience; Blyde Life is not a confessional, ‘warts and all’ diary detailing sleepless nights, nappy changing or the anxieties of being a parent for the first time. The tone is consistently light and humorous, full of everyday details and descriptions of social events given a light-hearted spin. The blog’s humour might be likened to conversational joking, one of whose functions is group bonding (Boxer & Cortés-Conde 1997). In the blog post entitled ‘Del Girl - Lovely jubbly’ (fig. 2.3), for example, the image is of Amaya wearing a sheepskin coat given as a Christmas gift by her grandparents. The post functions, in part, as a thank-you message to the grandparents, but it also provides the opportunity for conversational-style joking based on shared cultural references (football in the Ron Atkinson and John Motson allusions – a recurrent theme in many of Stuart’s posts; the television sitcom Only Fools and Horses evoked by ‘Del Girl’ and the ‘Nags Head in Peckham’).

Fig 2.3: Del Girl - Lovely jubbly

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Blyde Life has retained the comments feature of the Blogger software, although user comments do require moderation by Sue and Stuart prior to publication. The comments tool illustrates one of the ways in which blogging can be used as a conversational medium. Although not all posts received comments, many did with Stuart generally responding via the comments box. The post that received the most comments was, as one might expect, Stuart’s from 16 October 2008 announcing Amaya’s birth which received 8 congratulatory messages. Stuart has confirmed that many of the blog’s readers responded to posts with telephone calls or emails rather than the comments tool, indicating that blogs can generate a range of associated literacy practices using other technologies which are instantiated in different social contexts. It confirms Daniel Miller and Don Slater’s observation that “we need to treat Internet media as continuous with and embedded in other social spaces” (2000: 5). Conversations initiated in one space ‘spill over’ into other spaces; social interactions are not constrained by either virtual or physical spaces but flow into and out of one another. Another way of involving the readership of Blyde Life was the use of online polls, for example, one asking readers to guess the sex of the baby and another predicting parental characteristics Amaya is likely to inherit (fig. 2.4).

Fig 2.4: Online poll

Although the poll offers only a limited degree of interactivity, one of its functions is to reinforce social connections through a 12   

humorous activity that draws on in-group references, themselves presupposing prior knowledge of Sue and Stuart’s characteristics and tastes. In formal terms, Blyde Life is very much a photoblog insofar as photographic images are generally the key media type around which a descriptive or narrative text is constructed (Lankshear & Knobel 2006: 149). Photographs appear in most posts, the only exceptions being two entries posted by Stuart on 15 October 2008 when Sue was admitted to hospital. The blog is therefore constructed as a kind of annotated online photo album. The blog's chronological structure provides a more appropriate platform to record Amaya’s physical, emotional and cognitive development – as well as her parents’ responses - or key milestones in her life (e.g. Amaya coming home

for the first time – fig. 2.5) than a specialised photosharing site like Flickr which, although broadly chronological, has a different means of structuring visual data.

Fig 2.5: Recording milestones in Amaya’s life

Photographical images are used here as a memory tool (van Dijck 2008: 58) to facilitate the process of creating a durable record of 13   

the ‘now’ of Amaya’s first months to be read in the future. Commercial publishers have, for many years, responded to this demand by producing baby ‘memory’ or ‘record’ books for parents to fill in with notes, locks of hair, items of clothing, handprints and footprints and, above all, photographs (fig. 2.6).

Fig 2.6: Baby ‘memory’ book presumed to date from the 1930s (property of Suzanne Dean)

In Blyde Life, Sue and Stuart deploy blog affordances such as the ability to publish dated textual posts, to embed images and to facilitate comments on them, in a way that ‘remediates’ within a digital environment earlier literacy practices of memorialisation exemplified by such analogue textual forms as photo albums and memory books. Recent research on personal digital photographic practices, much of it informed by earlier work by Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu and Susan Sontag, has also argued that photography plays an integral part of the process of identity formation (Gye 2007; van Dijck 2008; Van House et al. 2004). In particular, “[p]hotos reflect social relationships but they also help to construct and maintain them” (Van House et al. 2004: 7). A photograph of, for example, a group of 14   

friends enjoying a meal together (fig. 2.7) both represents a set of social relationships through its content as well as developing those relationships by embedding that image in a public blog post to be viewed by that group of friends who will recognise themselves and, it is assumed, feel a sense of group belonging and community. A high proportion of images feature friends and family with Amaya in social contexts (meals out, day trips to galleries, enjoying a drink at home etc.). The prevalence of these sorts of images supports my argument that the blog functions as a means of interpersonal communication that continues and extends existing offline social networks. In an interesting article on personal photography, Lisa Gye uses the metaphor of a ‘suture’ to articulate the ways in which photographic images bind shared experiences and hold together the “narratives of group memory” (2007: 281) and it would appear that Blyde Life’s images are used to similar effect to strengthen social bonds and facilitate a sense of social connectedness.

Fig 2.7: Photo as ‘suture’ binding the “narratives of group memory” (Gye 2007: 281)

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Gye also argues that "photography is integral to the maintenance of social relationships and that these relationships are reinforced by activities such as the narration of stories that accompany face-toface photosharing" (2007: 282). Gye stresses the importance of "[t]he performative act of showing and telling” (2007: 281) in the social rituals of photosharing. I’d argue that Sue and Stuart’s photoblog is a digital variant of this social ritual of ‘show and tell’; blog affordances enabling the display of images (“showing”) as well as annotation (“telling”) and some dialogue through the comments feature. In one representative blog post (fig. 2.8), a passport picture of Amaya is paired with a humorous anecdote about the problems in obtaining the image. It’s not difficult to imagine this photograph being shown, and the related anecdote narrated verbally in a faceto-face social setting over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Fig 2.8: Who’s that girl? – photography and storytelling

This particular post includes a comment from one of the blog’s readers, exemplifying some of blogs’ conversational potential (fig. 16   

2.9). In this example, the comment is in response to Amaya’s passport photo but turns into a question about a visit. This is a further instance of online and offline spaces in harmonious coexistence.

Fig 2.9: Who’s that girl? – comments box

In this particular ‘story from the blogosphere’, I have tried to argue that Sue and Stuart’s blog is an example of blogging as a performative ritual of sociability based around photosharing, narration and conversation. Blyde Life is connected to recognisable social rituals and literacy practices. However, the use of blog software introduces a new layer of social connectedness and some new forms of socially-situated literacy practices that reshape earlier pre-digital practices.

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This blurring of lines between the audience and the author, between fact and fiction, between invention and reality further obscures objectivity. The cult of the amateur has made it increasingly difficult to determine the difference between reader and writer, between artist and spin doctor, between art and advertisement, between amateur and expert. The result? The decline of the quality and reliability of the information we receive, thereby distorting, if not outrightly corrupting, our national civic conversation. (Keen 2008: 27) ... bloggers will be jousting with mainstream journalists story by story, sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong, but always forcing a segment of the public to question dominant representations. [...] the adversarial relationship between these two forces holds the opportunity to correct many mistakes. (Jenkins 2006 :228) Greater Surbiton was created in November 2007 and is the blog of Marko Attila Hoare, Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University. The title of the blog is a play on words, phonetically evoking the highly-charged ideological construct of ‘Greater Serbia’ as well as defining the author’s current home location. Significantly, ‘Surbiton’ signals the author’s home domain and not the professional sphere represented by the University, located in the neighbouring town of Kingston upon Thames. The title, Greater Surbiton, therefore signals both subject matter but also the ‘place’ from which the blog originates or in which it operates; not the place of work, academic publications and professional identity but a different place where a more personal, and partisan, identity is articulated. The blog has a subtitle, ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ (the French original, ‘Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien’, literally translates as ‘better is the enemy of good’), which is an unattributed quotation from Voltaire. This is also cited as a favourite proverb in Normblog, a blog listed on Greater Surbiton’s blogroll authored by a retired academic. Voltaire is an iconic figure of the intellectual and functions here as a signifier of Enlightenment rationality and a critic of intolerance. The exact relationship between the blog’s content and the tagline remains ambiguous although I’d interpret it as relating to the blog’s

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political stance which is generally in favour of Western military intervention. The blog’s title and tagline invoke the realms of politics and history, including intellectual history, and suggest a form of writing that will be much more bound up with other texts – more intertextual - than Blyde Life.

Fig 3.1: Screenshot of Greater Surbiton

Greater Surbiton uses Wordpress blog software and adopts the sober and discreet Andreas04 template without a banner image (fig. 3.1). Although images feature in all posts, this is a primarily textual blog that generally publishes lengthy and detailed entries. Marko has included the ‘About’ page element in the right-hand column and uses it to both describe the purpose of the blog and to define his own position. Marko's profile displays the sort of information that is commonly found in institutional or professional profile pages, e.g. work experience, publications, research interests and the like and duplicates much of the information found in his Kingston University profile page. However, the profile is ‘framed’ by statements of a more autobiographical and explicitly political nature (fig.3.2).

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Fig 3.2: The ‘about’ panel as space for identity performance

The text clearly describes the subject – “political commentary and analysis” and purpose – the exploration of “what a new progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century” - of the blog. Just as importantly, the text positions Marko politically - “I come from a traditional left-wing background”. Significantly, it alludes to earlier acts of definition by others – “I have been variously accused of being ...” - suggesting that this will be a blog in which definitions – of terms such ‘fascist’, ‘genocide’ and ‘Islamophobia’ for example – and self-definition – the ‘decent’ or ‘progressive’ Left as opposed to the ‘far’ or ‘radical’ Left’ – will be central. Of equal interest, in terms of the structural organisation of Greater Surbiton, is the lengthy blogroll that appears a little way below the ‘About’ section of the right-hand column (fig. 3.3). The blogroll is partly about personal convenience (finding frequentlyread blogs) but is also a very public display of affinity with the 20   

other bloggers listed who, in turn, list Greater Surbiton on their own blogroll. The blogroll links to other blogs but also incorporates news feeds from political commentators such as Christopher Hitchens, David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen and links to static web sites such as the home page of author and women’s rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Fig 3.3: Greater Surbiton’s blogroll

The blogroll is another way articulating Marko’s political positions, personal interests and affiliations with other bloggers who might be said to form a loosely coupled community. Occasionally, some bloggers introduce in a post an external blog which they have added to their blogroll. The post in the Americans for Bosnia blog (fig. 3.4) is an example of this and illustrates the culture of peer acknowledgement and sharing typical of many blog-based online communities.

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Fig 3.4:reciprocal linking as community building

The blogosphere, then, enables informal communities to form – or to help already-formed communities continue to develop – but also, as I will argue later, provides the space for rival or ideologically opposed communities to come into dialogue and confrontation. Although Marko’s first post to Greater Surbiton articulated his vision of the democratic Left, most blog posts take the form of commentary on a news event or another publication, often produced in response to text by Marko. The ‘ancestral genres’ (Miller & Shepherd 2004) that blogging ‘remediates’ include various types of political journalism: the editorial but also the polemical pamphlet or broadside. Blogging affordances support topical and brief posts, making comparisons with ephemeral textual antecedents like the pamphlet or broadside understandable. Blogging also provides a means of textual production that is reactive and not necessarily constrained by the conventions of academic literacy practices that can delay swift publication. Greater Surbiton is a blog comprised of what Gérard Genette calls metatexts. Genette uses the term ‘metatextuality’ to describe the explicit or implicit critical commentary of one text on another text “of which it speaks without necessarily citing it (without summoning it), in fact sometimes without naming it. Thus does Hegel, in The Phenomenology of the Mind, allusively and almost silently evoke Denis Diderot's Neveu de Rameau” (1997: 4). Marko has confirmed in a private email to me his use of blogging is, in part, a corrective to misinformation in the blogosphere. Many of Greater Surbiton’s posts 22   

critique or correct a range of perceived errors of fact or judgement from a such sources as Serbianna, a Serb-nationalist website or Lenin’s Tomb, the blog of Richard Seymour, a writer associated with the Socialist Workers’ Party. Although I argue that Greater Surbiton creates a space for writing that is separate in many ways from Marko’s academic identity and the literacy practices required in the production of academic discourse, it is clear that Marko strategically uses his reputation and skills as an academic in the critiques and polemics of his blog posts. Implicit critical commentary tends to be rare, although a recent post on the death of Harold Pinter provides one example (fig 3.5). The post, a personal perspective highly critical of Pinter’s support for Slobodan Milosevic, can be read as an implicit metatextual commentary on a wide range of obituaries that appeared in the traditional print media (e.g. The Independent, The Times and The Guardian) and television that tended to minimise, insofar as it was mentioned at all, the support Pinter gave the Milosevic regime. The post employs a range of rhetorical strategies to voice its outrage at this high-profile example of la trahison des clercs and one of a number of examples of the blog responding to conventional broadcast media representations of topical events.

Fig 3.5: Don’t cry for Harold Pinter – blog post as implicit metacommentary

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More typically, posts are commentaries on named, cited or linked-to texts. ‘The Curate’s Egg’ (fig. 3.6), for example, cites a post from the Aaronovitch Watch blog which is a riposte to Marko’s introductory post to Greater Surbiton. Although Marko used the comments feature on the Aaronovitch Watch blog to justify his earlier criticism of writer and filmmaker, Michael Moore, which had provoked a charge of hypocrisy from one of the authors of Aaronovitch Watch, he used his own blog as the space for a more detailed rebuttal. Blog conversations, including adversarial exchanges such as those found between Greater Surbiton and Aaronovitch Watch, rarely take place on neutral territory: they are mainly distributed between the highly partisan personal spaces of the bloggers in dialogue.

Fig 3.6: The Curate’s Egg – blog post as explicit metacommentary

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Many of the conversational blog exchanges that Greater Surbiton is involved in, in fact, take the form of interactions between two separate blog sites, with comments and counter-posts published in bursts before settling down and moving on to the next topic. The comments function has been deliberately disabled in Greater Surbiton - (“I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet”, Greater Surbiton first birthday post, 28 November 2008) - requiring commentary to take place outside Marko’s personal blog space. Although separate, blog posts intersect and overlap as comment and counter-comment weave connections between otherwise bounded online spaces and constitute what Henry Jenkins calls “prolonged public conversations"(2006: 226). To publish in the blogosphere is to enter into a relationship with a community of readers, and various forms of blog writing involve and imply various forms of relationship. The political nature of Greater Surbiton, and the existence in the blogosphere of highly polarised blogging communities, produce varied types of relationships between Marko, other bloggers and his readers. Although many of the blog posts that I have cited are adversarial, some are more supportive. The blog post entitled ‘Is Israel today like Serbia in the 1990s?’ (fig. 3.7) is an experiment in making public what would otherwise have been private correspondence. In the post Marko cites, with permission, a letter from a friend taking issue with one of Marko’s earlier blog entries. The post includes a transcription of the letter as well as Marko’s detailed response. It’s a post I find interesting in its attempt to refashion a more respectful and reflective political debate within a blogosphere where ‘flaming’ and ‘trolling’ flourish and where discourse expectations would appear to tolerate personal abuse and ad hominem attacks.

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Fig 3.7: Is Israel today like Serbia in the 1990s? An exchange

In this last ‘story from the blogosphere’, I have tried to argue that Marko’s blog is an example of blogging as ‘remediation’ of earlier analogue practices of political journalism. Blogging creates a space for a different kind of text production that is not necessarily informed by the conventions of academic discourse and which has a very different audience. The specific blogging affordances of blogrolls and permalinks are used to support community development and the creation of extended public dialogues.

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“A lot of the media are thinking about blogs as a new form of publishing but it’s really a new form of conversation and a new form of community” (Joi Ito quoted in Kline & Burstein 2005: 150) In this essay I have attempted to argue that blogging’s varying practices constitute different forms of literacy practice. There is no ‘right’ way to blog – an ‘automomous model of blogging literacy’ (Street 2003)? - only different ways of producing texts appropriate to the purpose and social context of the blog. I have argued that Blyde Life is a photoblog that enacts online rituals of conviviality based around photosharing, storytelling and conversation humour in the context of an already-established network of friends and family. Greater Surbiton, on the other hand, refashions earlier forms of political journalism that help create, or develop already-created, communities. In spite of great differences between the blogs, both exemplify the socially embedded nature of this form of digital text production and the intimate connections with established offline social networks.

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I’d like to thank Suzanne Dean for letting me use her antique baby ‘memory’ book for this essay and Jake Abrams for scanning the images. My special thanks though to Dr Marko Attila Hoare and to Stuart Blyde for allowing me to use their blogs as examples and, above all, for taking the time to reply to my questions. I'd always felt that people who put their stuff up on the web for others to view have a altruistic streak; my prejudices have happily been proven right by Marko and Stuart’s generosity.

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