(This was the original abstract, but our coverage was overtaken by political events...)
Research into the response of Australian bloggers to major public events has so far focussed largely on a relatively small and unrepresentative sub-section of the overall blogosphere - news and political bloggers (see Bruns et al., 2009). This necessarily obscures the interests of other communities of bloggers in the country, and tracking these interests necessitates an analysis of a much larger body of blog postings and of its correlation with domestic and international events and topics. This paper presents early results from a major, three-year study of the overall Australian blogosphere which tracks several thousands of active Australian-based blogs, and highlights the rise and fall of topical interests within this community over the course of several months during 2010.
In order to capture a larger corpus of blog content, we improve on conventional research methodologies in a number of significant ways: first, we track blogging activity as it occurs, by scraping new blog posts when such posts are announced through RSS feeds, rather than by crawling existing content in the blogosphere after the fact. Second, we utilise custom-made tools that distinguish between the different types of content and thus allow us to analyse only the salient discursive content provided by bloggers, without contaminating our data with static links and ancillary material. Finally, we are able to examine these better-quality data by using both link network mapping and textual analysis tools, to produce both cumulative longer-term maps of interlinkages and themes across the blogosphere, and specific shorter-term snapshots of current activity which indicate clusters of heavy interlinkage and highlight key themes and topics being discussed within these clusters in the wider network.
To move beyond a study of narrowly 'political' blogs in this way is important: recent theoretical models postulating the existence of 'issue' or 'interest' publics and/or communities of practice in society suggest that, if sufficiently active and interconnected to others, such communities may sustain a more diverse and inclusive model of public communication than conventional, mass media-based public sphere models envisage. In other words, our research seeks to provide evidence for a media and communication model that claims to more realistically represent the actually-existing 'Australian public'; we hypothesise that this includes, but extends beyond the more visible patterns in public discourse which are associated with the nexus of formal politics, mainstream news and journalism, and self-declared 'political' blogs. The activities within the Australian blogosphere which our study is able to trace point to a diversity of interests which extend substantially beyond the conventionally highlighted focus on politics and news events, and to a broad range of alternative discursive approaches for dealing even with the standard themes of news and political media coverage - even in 2010, with its various Australian state and federal elections.