Freitag, 5. Oktober 2012

Can Blogs Be Virtual Communities?

To answer this question, Anita Blanchard examined a very active blog, the Julie/Julia Project which followed the blog author, Julie Powell, as she cooked her way through Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. During its one year existence, the Julie/Julia Project had regular updates on most weekdays and also on many weekends. It was a very popular blog with hundreds and then thousands of daily hits. There were frequent comments by readers. Julie would sometimes respond to the comments; other commenters would also respond to each others' comments.

To examine the blog's sense of community, a web survey was conducted of the blog readers. The survey was conducted in the eleventh month of the blog's existence. The survey included measures adapted from McMillan and Chavis's (1986) sense of community measure (SOC). McMillan and Chavis (1986) define (face-to-face) SOC as consisting of the following four characteristics:
  • Membership: Feelings of belonging to, and identifying with, the community;
  • Influence: Feelings of having influence on, and being influenced by, the community;
  • Integration and fulfillment of needs: Feelings of being supported by others in the community while also supporting them; and
  • Shared emotional connection: Feelings of relationships, shared history, and a "spirit" of community.
A total of 501 participants responded to the survey. 81% of the respondents were female at an average age of 38 years of age (SD=11.4).  The respondents reported a moderate sense of community at best. On a 5-point scale, the average sense of community measure was a little bit about 3, around neutral, although comments revealed very strong and very positive feelings for the blog. For this active minority, social connections were made and emotional attachments were established. But for the majority of participants, particularly those who did not read or contribute to the comments (i.e., the blog lurkers), it was not a virtual community.

According to Blanchard the findings have implications for understanding the importance of sense of community in determining whether or not a virtual group can be correctly called a virtual community. The Julie/Julia Project was described as "wildly popular." It was uniformly liked to a great degree by the survey respondents. This is one of the few blogs that has crossed over to mainstream media. The Julie/Julia Project was a highly successful blog. Yet, it lacked a large enough group of people who considered it a virtual community. Without a critical mass of engaged, connected, and attached participants, its survival depended primarily on the blog author alone.

There must be a large enough subset of the members (an active core group) who have a strong enough sense of community for a virtual group to cross over to a virtual community which is important for sustainability. It is worth noting that at the end of Julie's endeavors to cook her way through the cookbook, she stopped her blog posting. Although several participants tried to create an online group for fans of the the Julie/Julia Project to interact, it failed. The Julie/Julia Project was not self-sustaining. It depended heavily on Julie to succeed.

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Blanchard, A. (2004). Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying a Sense of Community in the Julie/Julia Project. Retrieved November 5, 2012 from http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogs_as_virtual.html

Suggestion for further reading:
  • Richard Millington (2012). Tap User Psychology to Build an Indestructible Community Around Your Blog. Problogger

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