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Tracing Publics in the Australian Blogosphere: New Methods for International Communication Research (DGMS 2010)

DGMS 2010 (ECREA 2010 Pre-Conference)

Tracing Publics in the Australian Blogosphere: New Methods for International Communication Research

Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai

  • 12 Oct. 2010 – Doing Global Media Studies (ECREA 2010 Pre-Conference)

In recent years, a number of studies have developed more or less comprehensive maps of a range of national blogospheres: Adamic & Glance (2005) mapped the US political blogosphere against the backdrop of the 2004 presidential election campaigns, Kelly & Etling (2009) mapped the Iranian blogosphere, Linkfluence (2009) mapped the intersections between political bloggers in a number of major European countries in the lead-up to the EU parliament elections. A common feature of these studies was that they presented momentary snapshots of these blogospheres, and often focussed largely on explicitly political blogs. Moving beyond such limitations, it would be interesting to see, for example, how the Iranian blogosphere might have changed in the wake of the bloody conflicts following the country's disputed presidential elections, or how significant a role the discussion of EU politics might have assumed within the space of the overall blogospheres in various European nations.

An early outcome from a three-year Australian Research Council Discovery project (2010-12), this paper investigates such questions for the Australian blogosphere. By gathering and analysing the postings made by an extensive list of Australian bloggers in an ongoing fashion throughout the year, we are able to trace patterns of activity and interlinkage across the Australian blogosphere in close to real time; we use these data to identify persistent and temporary publics as they develop and shift in response to internal dynamics and external stimuli. This paper presents both an overall, cumulative map of the network structure of the Australian blogosphere as well as snapshots of temporary flare-ups of activity around specific themes and topics; we also outline the methodology used in creating these new insights into the dynamics of online public communication in Australia.

Building on this work, we discuss the implications of this methodological approach for international and cross-cultural comparative research. Although blog mapping is still in the early stages of adoption in media and communication studies, shared methodological approaches for understanding national blogospheres as networks of public communication have begun to emerge, allowing for international collaboration and the beginnings of comparative work. The more dynamic, cumulative methodological model discussed in our paper would be highly beneficial for international comparative research of blogging networks; in particular for tracking how matters of shared concern not confined to particular nation-states might 'flare up' similarly or differently in particular national contexts; for tracking the cosmopolitan or parochial characteristics of interest-based publics within a range of national and cultural contexts; and for identifying the types of events or issues that are taken up most extensively across global blog networks. Such work would add substantial new insights to a field of communications research which to date draws mainly on global statistics of social media use (such as Technorati's "State of the Blogosphere" reports) or on momentary snapshots of activity within clearly delineated spaces - it establishes an opportunity to do continuous, large-scale and long-term research into social media activities across national boundaries.