Blogging as a new medium of communication A study of bloggers’ motives in Oman

----------------------------------------Dr. Samskrati Gulvady College of Applied Sciences - Sohar, Sultanate of Oman

Abstract:
The advancement of communication technology is giving a new dimension to the production and consumption of news/ communication around the world. Passive consumers of information are becoming participants in a new kind of journalism medium called blogging. The Sultanate of Oman is also seeing an upward trend in the blogging activities among its community. It is in this perspective that the study explored the motives of the bloggers (in English language) in the Sultanate. This study draws on the Uses and Gratifications approach of media use to explore the reasons why people are motivated to author personal blogs, and how demographics are related with blogging motivations. The reasons for blogging can be categorized (as per the bloggers’ opinion) as: self-documentation, improving writing, medium appeal, information, passing time and socialization. Most of these motivations are related to each other. Self-documentation exhibits the function of blogs as a combination of diary, notebook and a mailing list through which bloggers keep others posted on their upto-date news. Improving writing motivation talks more of writing as an enjoyable activity for some bloggers - they blog to practice writing in the pursuit of refining their thinking process. Medium appeal is a

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unique motivation gaining attention for the new attributes of new media. Medium appeal of blogs lies on the practical advantage of the internet and technical innovation of blogging tools. Information motivation emphasizes the gratifications sought for surveillance from the perspective of audience as information consumers; the information motivation for blogging stresses the satisfaction gained from providing information to others. Considering the features of internet technology to be multi-form and expansive, blogs serve a variety of ends for people. The findings of the research indicate that bloggers can consciously satisfy their unique motivations by advantages of blogs as an open, free and social venue for intrapersonal, interpersonal and mass communication. Keywords: Blog; blogging motivations; Users and gratifications; gender differences/similarities

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Introduction:
One of the most curious recent trends in Internet communication is blogs which have attained prominent popularity since the end of 20th century. A blog also known as weblog in its most basic form can be defined as a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears firsta. Mass media hails blogs as a revolutionary form of ‘citizen journalism’ and hype the democratizing power inherent in blogs. The content of blogs is subject to a blogger’s free will. Technically, since anybody with access to the internet is able to publish their own blog, there is great variety in the quality, content and ambition of blogs. Within traditionally mediated communication channels, audiences usually play the role of passive message receivers. The interactive feature of the internet renders users not only information consumers but also message producers. Blogs require bloggers to devote much more time and effort to produce messages than to simply obtain them from media. Dan Li cites (August 2005) that Equity Theory helps to explain the gap of effort between blogging behaviour and normal media consumption. Therefore, the active publishing process presupposes that bloggers have specific motives to conduct the act and seek certain gratifications from the activity. Reciprocally bloggers have complete control over nearly every aspect of their blogs given the boundless characteristics of blogs in respect to blog content and form. Bloggers are few to add or change everything on blogs – the only constraints are information technology and imagination. Blogs popularity and versatility prompt two main questions: why do people blog? How do they blog? Researchers around the world have embarked on exploring bloggers’ motivations.

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This study aims to look into the motives of bloggers (in English language) in the Sultanate of Oman, where the blogging trend is recently emerging. This study draws on the Uses and Gratifications approach of media use to explore the reasons why people author personal blogs, and how those reasons steer them in maintaining their blogs. In the current study, the researcher proposes to look in to the following areas: - What are the motivations to write blogs? - How are demographics related with blogging motivations? Since the birth of Uses and Gratifications framework a few decades ago, nearly all the media and communication technologies have been scrutinised under this. Understanding functions and gratifications from media helps explain the interaction between media and audiences, this leading to a more complete knowledge of media effects. As a new form of Computer-mediated-communication (CMC), blogs inherit the principal characteristics of CMC while exhibiting some interesting new patterns. Given the flexibility and expansibility of blogging tools, blogs present the combination of online self-representation, community building, and interpersonal communication in an innovative way. The Uses and Gratifications approach shifts the emphasis of communication research from what the media do to people to what people do with the media. This focuses on the presumption that media audiences play the role as active communicators. Some scholars elaborated the role of active audiences. They argues that in the process of media choice and use, audiences perceive specific

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communication goal, evaluate the potential gratifications obtained from exposure to certain communication channels and then select the appropriate channels to satisfy their communicative needs. Audiences also make a conscious and goal-directed choice of media channels and content. Despite the distinctive traits inherent in those media, most of the broad motivations found by previous CMC studies fall into the fivepart typology of audience needs derived from conventional media. A few exceptions include those motivations exclusively elicited by specific new media attributes. The technical characteristics work as a catalyst for audiences’ selection of one medium over another. The needs form a new category termed as ‘media appeal’.

Cognitive needs:
needs related to strengthening information, knowledge and understanding. This is possibly the most important motivation for internet users in that the huge storage of information and searchable feature enable the information retrieval at unparalled levels of convenience and speed. Affective needs: needs related to strengthening aesthetic, pleasurable and emotional experience. Personal integrative needs: needs related to strengthening credibility, confidence, stability and status – a combination of cognitive and affective needs. Social integrative needs: needs related to strengthening contact with family, friends and the world. Tension release needs: needs related to escape or tension release, which was defined in terms of weakening of contact with self and one’s social roles.

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Medium appeal: needs emerged as the distinguishing motivations
uses can obtain only from internet activity.

Methodology:

This research aims to observe the motives of the Omani (both citizen as well as resident) bloggers in their personal blogs. Blogging has been an emerging trend in the Sultanate of Oman. Though the internet users have increased 3.8% in 2000 to more than 11% in 2007b, in Oman over the last few years, the blogging activity has not increased proportionately. People are slowly coming to know of its widespread nature, and thus venturing into the blogosphere. In this study, preliminary work was conducted to look into various studies done on the topic of bloggers’ motives. A questionnaire was designed by referring to ideas of different studies, like Polish bloggers’ motivations, and American bloggers’ motivations. The pattern of the questionnaire was designed in a way which was convenient for bloggers to respond, where they had to chose their opinion on reasons for blogging from the range of strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, rather than using the seven-point Likert scale where the respondents have to indicate their endorsements on a scale of ‘1’ (strongly disagree) to ‘7’ (strongly agree). All the questions posed in the questionnaire were close-ended rather than open-ended.A random convenient sampling was done, after screening the English language blogs created by the citizens and residents of Oman. Questionnaires were circulated to the bloggers, and their responses analyzed.

Sample:

The researcher began the study by attempting to find the blogs in Oman. Different key words like ‘Oman English blogs’, ‘Omani bloggers’, ‘Oman blogging motives’, ‘Oman bloggers list’, etc were used in the Google search engine. This led the researcher to quite a few blogs (both English and Arabic language).

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The Oman Community Blogc (OCB) gives a list of some Omani blogs in English registered with them. It was found that a few of the blogs listed in this community blogs were inactive, inaccessible or not updated for a long time. Hence such blogs were not considered for the study. Apart from accessing the blogs listed in OCB, the researcher contacted the moderators of this blog to provide contacts/list of the fellow bloggers. Some of the bloggers whom the researcher contacted through email did not to respond. The OCB lists nearly 70 blogs. The researcher was able to track 92 English blogs which belonged to Omani citizens, expatriates and a couple of them belonged to those who have repatriated from Oman. The questionnaire was designed in a way which would be convenient for the respondents to give his/her responses. Questions relating to gender, age, nationality, location in Oman/outside, level of education were covered in the first part of the study. The second section consisted of questions relating to the duration of blogging activity and the type of blogs read by the bloggers. In the third section, the respondents were given 20 potential reasons regarding why people blog, and the readers for whom they blog. In the other section, the respondents were to answer whether they considered blogging as Journalism, All the listed blogs were examined and the questionnaire was emailed to those addresses which were available in the blogs. Some of the bloggers had not revealed their email addresses. Hence the researcher had to contact the moderator of OCB, who in turn contacted the bloggers who were registered with OCB. Nearly 50 emails were sent. In those blogs where email was not available, a message in the ‘comment’ box was sent to the bloggers mentioning the purpose of study. Only a few bloggers responded to this message. The total response received was 38, out of which 35 were used for the study. Three responses were considered invalid for the study as the respondents maintained Arabic language blogs.

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Limitations:

This exploratory study has several limitations. This study aimed to use a random sample of bloggers to increase the ability to generalize the research findings. It is worthwhile to mention that the study had to exclude blogs/bloggers that failed to respond to the researcher, had blocked their blogs, or were inactive. Second, examining bloggers behaviors by self reports runs the risk of measuring errors due to inherent design problems in surveys and bloggers’ cognitive gap between their actual behaviors and memories. The recommended way is to do a content analysis of sampled blogs to measure corresponding values as competent to bloggers’ self-report.

Findings:

Bloggers have specific motives to conduct the act and seek certain gratifications from the activity. Thus, in this study, the researcher was able to collect the data and come up with some findings common among the cross-section of the society. With help of the responses received, the researcher was able to delve in to a study about the motives of bloggers in Oman, which is assumed that it may be the first of its kind in the Sultanate. The researcher observed that there was a common trend in the way people write in their blogs. The bloggers mostly write about their personal experiences, thoughts, opinions of local issues, and sometimes international issues (like the financial crisis) relating it to Oman, leisure, food reviews, and so on. It was interesting to note that the bloggers paid attention even to so-called trivial things like cleanliness of restrooms in certain restaurants, and not only serious matters like vehicle accidents, civic sense, or education. A female blogger shares her views about the content in Omani blogs: “Have you ever realized how bloggers differ from one user to another and from one country to another? While Omani bloggers maintain a common norm of posting things in general with a reflection towards the country, their daily activities, music or news other bloggers

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are more daring and venture to discuss issues which we could not conceive of placing on our blogs. We are motivated by nature to be more on the reclusive side and thus present ourselves in a perfectly acceptable light”d. Table (1) Blogging motivations

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The researcher investigated the motivations by categorizing the motivations in to six main areas namely: A. Self-documentation C. Medium appeal E. Passing time B. Improving writing D. Information F. Socializing

It was seen that the highest motive or the favorable reason for blogging was ‘information (sharing/providing)’ ‘medium appeal’, followed by ‘improving writing. The bloggers did not consider blogging as a main tool to pass their free time.

Information motive:

Majority of the respondents are of the opinion that that blogging acts as a device to provide information to the fellow bloggers and to the general public, to share information which they feel may be useful for their readers and also to present information on their personal interests.

Medium appeal:

The second important motive is the convenient appeal of the blogging medium. Bloggers are fascinated by this factor which allows them to pos anytime and access from anywhere.

Improving writing:

The respondents agree that blogging is a tool to improve their writing skills – be it their passion towards writing or to refine their thinking. By blogging both these purposes are served.

Self-documentation:

The researcher explored the self-documented feature available in blogs, which gives the bloggers a chance to keep a record of what they learn and document their life. Many disagreed to the fact that blogging is used to keep in touch with family/friends. With many

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other advanced telecommunication technologies, the general public has more options to socialize with their near and dear ones, rather than blogging which needs some expertise (discussed below in the education level).

Socializing:

There is a mixed response to the motive of blogging as a tool of socialization. Many respondents agree / neither agree nor disagree that they blog to feel like a part of the community, to meet new people, and to influence others. A small percentage of the bloggers use blogging to earn money / do business.

Passing time:

Blogging is not at considered as a tool to pass time by the selected respondents. But majority of the bloggers prefer to blog in order to try out new things like blogging, and few of them blog to have a feel that it is the thing to do in this computer age.

Table 2Demographic differences (Gender, Age, Education Level and & Nationality)

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Table 2 shows the graphical representation about the numbers of respondents, gender, the age group the Oman-based bloggers belonged to and their civil status (whether a citizen or resident), which are discussed as follows.

Nationality, Gender and Blogging:

From the 35 responses received, 22 were male respondents and 13 were female. It was seen that the numbers of Omani female bloggers was slightly more in number than their male counterparts, whereas among the expatriates, the males outnumbered the females. The higher number of Omani female bloggers can be associated with the feature of anonymity available in the medium of blogging. While blogging, it is not mandatory for the blogger to reveal his/ her real name, because of which it is generally assumed that many female bloggers chose this freedom to seek or share information which is important to them. It could also be associated with the social constraints that are obligatory in the society. Thus blogging becomes a channel to vent their expressions and ideas and share it with the world. The researcher observed that the participation of the local female bloggers was higher in number, which is contradictory to the findings in another study about the Arab blogs (Dr. Abbasse), in which he observes that the female bloggers amount to a mere 6.7%.

Age and blogging:
Ageis an important factor to beconsideredinblogging.Themaximum numbers (23 out of 35) of respondents are in the age group of 21-30 and 31-40. A few bloggers (9 out of 35) in the 10-20 age group and still fewer (3 out of 35) who are above 41 years. A typical blogger is supposed to have characteristics like: regular access to internet, college level education, above-average computer literacy, which

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suit the younger generation with the stereotypical image of an early adopter of new information and communication technology. Another factor for fewer respondents in the 41+ age group may be due to the age limit set in the country for the expatriates working here. The majority of respondents who fall in the age group of 21-30/31-40 indicate the bloggers who are more eager to be in touch with world when compared to the former. Blogs are still on the way to obtain popularity among people from all walks of life.

Education level of bloggers:

The education level of the bloggers was also quite high, where most of them had a bachelor’s (14 respondents) or master’s degree (12 respondents). A few respondents were still in high school1 (8 respondents). This reflects the nature of bloggers to have the basic qualities like formal education, computer literacy and advanced computer expertise.

Geographical location of bloggers:

Another interesting observation was that the major chunk (27 out of 35) of the bloggers (both Omani citizens and expatriates) were based in the capital city Muscat, 1 in Sohar (the closest developed town near Muscat) and the others (7) were temporarily based in foreign countries like Dubai, UK, US and Australia for purposes of higher education. This feature of bloggers concentrating on cosmopolitan cities could be associated with reasons like: the capital city having better access to the opportunities, and more awareness about the new media than the interior regions of the Sultanate. A few bloggers who are in other foreign countries for purposes of higher education also have an access to the new media, and better awareness of its magnitude.
1 The bloggers of the younger age were also considered for the study, as the sample size of bloggers was small.

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This table refers to the gender preferences (similarities / differences) of reading topics from other blogs.

Table (3 ) Gender and blog topics

Reading about the everyday life experiences of other bloggers, ranks the highest both among male and female blogger respondents. IT and blogging topics are preferred by males more than their female counterparts. Reading preferences on Photography and art topics are similar in both the genders. This factor could be associated to the art loving nature of the people living in Oman. Politics and society is another preferred topic followed by Travel. A noticeable difference is that none of the men recorded their interests in topics like feminism, parenthood-children or healthcare-illness.

Discussion:

Profile of the bloggers – who are blogging? During the past decade years, internet usage has experienced a ‘population explosion’ in the Sultanate of Oman. According to the statistics published in the Oman Internet Usage and Telecommunications Report in ‘Internet World Stats – Usage and population statistics’ the usage has increased from 3.8% in 2000

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to more than 11% in 2007f. But the blogosphere is yet to grow in the same magnitude.

Year
2000 2002 2005 2007

Users
90,000 180,000 245,000 300,000

Population
2,424,422 2,398,545 2,424,422 3,311,640

In this study, the men represented the majority of the blogging population (62.9%). But considering the citizens / expatriates and the gender, the female bloggers (citizens) were slightly more (52.4%) in number. But among the expatriates, male bloggers outnumbered (85.7%) their female counterparts (14.3%). The higher number of Omani female bloggers can be associated with the feature of anonymity available in the medium of blogging. While blogging, it is not mandatory for the blogger to reveal his/ her real name, because of which it is generally assumed that many female bloggers chose this freedom to seek or share information which is important to them. It could also be associated with the social constraints that are obligatory in the society. Thus blogging becomes a channel to vent their expressions and ideas and share it with the world. The geographical location of the bloggers can be considered as a major component in their blogging characteristics. The interesting observation was that the majority (27 out of 35) of the bloggers (both Omani citizens and expatriates) were based in the capital city Muscat, 1 in Sohar (the closest developed town near Muscat) and the others (7) were temporarily based in foreign countries like Dubai, UK, US and Australia for purposes of higher education. This

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feature of bloggers concentrating on cosmopolitan cities could be associated with reasons like: the capital city having better access to the opportunities, and more awareness about the new media than the interior regions of the Sultanate. A few bloggers who are in other foreign countries for purposes of higher education also have an access to the new media, and better awareness of its magnitude. The results of the topics preferred to read on other blogs by male and female bloggers suggests that the reading preferences were similar between both the genders. Excepting that none of the male bloggers read blog topics about feminism, parenthood-children and healthcare-illness. The maximum numbers of bloggers were in the age group range of 10-20, 21-30 and 31-40 among the males. There were only 3 males above 41 years. Among the females, the maximum numbers were between the age group 21-30 and nil in the age group above 41 years. This may be associated with reasons like: regular access to the internet, education level, computer literacy, and family commitments, which suit the younger generation with the stereotypical image of an early adopter of new information and communication technology. These characteristics along with gender/age fit well with the stereotypical image of an early adopter of new information and communication technology. Another factor for fewer respondents in the 41+ age group may be due to the age limit set in the country for the expatriates working here. The majority of respondents who fall in the age group of 21-30/3140 indicate the bloggers who are more eager to be in touch with world when compared to the former. Blogs are still on the way to obtain popularity among people from all walks of life.

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Blog topic preferences:

what are people reading about? In terms of topics read by Oman-based (both male and female) bloggers, ‘everyday life experiences’ are the most preferred among the fellow bloggers. This is followed by topics like: ‘IT & blogging’, ‘photography and art’, ‘politics and society’ and ‘journalism and media’.

Motivations for blogging:

why people blog? The Users and Gratifications approach has been acknowledged as a valuable lens for audience studies, especially studies on audience motives and behaviors in the context of media users as information consumers. This paper followed the previous research on bloggers’ motivations while applied the most widely used methodology in the Users and Gratifications studies – self reports from bloggers.
Reasons for blogging can be categorized as: self-documentation, improving writing, medium appeal, information, passing time and socialization. Most of these motivations are related to each other. Self-documentation exhibits the function of blogs as a combination of diary, notebook and a mailing list through which bloggers keep others posted on their up-to-date news. Blogs are used as a tool of knowledge management – bloggers keep a record of what they learn, what they think, etc. Additionally, bloggers take advantage of easy accessibility to keep in touch with fellow bloggers. Improving writing motivation talks more of writing as an enjoyable activity for some bloggers - they blog to practice writing in the pursuit of refining their thinking process. In this sense, blogging is an instrumental activity combined with interest. The relationship between writing advancement, medium appeal, and socialization indicate that bloggers make full use of the instant-publishing characteristics and feedback features to improve their writing skills.

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Medium appeal is a unique motivation gaining attention for the new attributes of new media. Medium appeal of blogs lies on the practical advantage of the internet and technical innovation of blogging tools. Like other forms of CMC, blogs can be accessed by internet users and thus have a huge population of potential readers. Information motivation emphasizes the gratifications sought for surveillance from the perspective of audience as information consumers; the information motivation for blogging stresses the satisfaction gained from providing information to others. Passing time, defined as the only ritual motivation, is also the single motivation that was not commonly approved by bloggers. In consideration of the efforts needed to blog, blogging is a far less relaxing activity than watching television, listening to radio, or surfing the internet. Socialization exhibits an important aspect of blogs as a platform to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships. The characteristics of the internet as combination of mass communication and interpersonal communication provide the technical foundation for the establishment of interpersonal channel. Motivations for media use are presupposed to be affected by personal and social circumstances around media users. Contrary to the other similar studies, in this study, male and female bloggers indicate similar preference of blog topics and the location. No differences of motivations were observed among bloggers with various educational backgrounds. In this sense, blogs can overcome the possible knowledge gap caused by educational attainments and satisfy all levels of bloggers.

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Suggestions for further research:
This study creates a baseline for future research on the credibility of blogs as a source of information to the citizens; comparing bloggers opinion who consider blogging as journalism, but the professional journalists deny this opinion, i.e. blogging vs. journalism; the future of blogs as a new medium of communication, and so on. This study can also be taken forward to analyze the content of the bloggers by combining the qualitative and quantitative methodology. The impact of the geographical location of the blogger, in this case, where most of the bloggers were concentrated in Muscat, can also be taken further.

Conclusion:
Considering the features of internet technology to be multiform and expansive, blogs serve a variety of ends for people. The findings of the research indicate that bloggers can consciously satisfy their unique motivations by advantages of blogs as an open, free and social venue for intrapersonal, interpersonal and mass communication.

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References:
1.Adams, D. 2007. Journalism, citizens and blogging. http://www.networkinsight.org/ verve/_resources/AdamsD.pdf (accessed 25/03/2007) 2. 3. 4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog accessed February 2008 www.google.com.om Pg. 4, Milestones – commemorating His Majesty’s 37th Renaissance Day 2007-

08. First Publishing. SJS Group. Sultanate of Oman Notes: Survey questionnaire 1. What is your gender?

Male

Female

2.

What is your age?

10-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 and above 51
3. Status:

Omani citizen Omani resident
4. 5. Nationality: ……………………………. Location:

(Oman (please specify the region/place (Outside Oman (please specify the country

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6.

Please indicate the highest level of education completed.

elementary school high school or equivalent college/university master/professional degree Ph.D
7. For how long have you been blogging?

less than 3 months months 3-6 months 7-12 years 1-2 years 3-4 years or more 5
8. What types of blogs do you usually read? (select all that apply) advertising and PR business and entrepreneurship Education everyday life experiences Feminism film and TV photography and art parenthood and children healthcare and illness IT and blogging journalism and media literature and writing food and beverages fashion and design Music politics and society Travel Religion sports and leisure Science Languages (Other (pls. specify

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9.

Where do you blog? (select all that apply)

Home School Workplace (Other (Please specify
10. Here, you will find a number of potential reasons regarding why people blog. Please read over each of the potential reasons and then select an appropriate response based on your level of agreement with that statement. “I blog…..
Strongly agree To feel like I am part of a community to provide information because it is enjoyable because I can publish at any time because I can access it wherever I am to document my life because it is the thing to do to learn about new technology/skills because it helps pass time to keep in touch with my family / friends to keep a record of what I learn to share information useful to other people to present information on my interests because it is fun trying out new things like blogging to refine my thinking to meet new people because I like writing to influence others to earn money / do business to seek outside opinions and feedback agree Somewhat agree Neither agree nor disagree Somewhat disagree isagree strongly disagree

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11. Who are among the readers you mainly blog for? (select all that apply)

Myself Family Friends Colleagues internet acquaintance general public don’t know Other (Please specify)
12. Do you consider blogging as form of journalism?

Yes No
13. About how many years have you had access to the Internet (including email, etc)

less than 1 year 1-3 years 4-6 years 7-9 years 10 years or more
14. How often do you access the internet?

several times a day about once a day 3-5 times a week 1-2 times a week less often
15. How many hours do you spend on the internet in a week? ______

(Endnotes) a-http://commonsenseblog.typepad.com Accessed December 29, 2009

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b-Oman-Internet Usage and Marketing Report. http://www.internetworldstatus.com/ me/om.htm accessed October 2008 c- http://omancommunityblog.blogspot.com d- “Omani blogs: where to?” December 2005. http://omaniidiot.blogspot.com/2005/12/omani-blogs-where-to.html. accessed October 2008 e- Sadig, Dr. Abbas Mustafa; ‘Arab Blogs.. analytical study on content and format; November 2006 f- Oman-Internet Usage and Marketing Report. http://www.internetworldstatus.com/ me/om.htm accessed October 2008

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