Genealogies: Writing, Research, and Influencers

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Sometimes, writing is like watching a bubble form. It is beautiful.

I recently published a journal article on micro-microcelebrity (pdf | link).

In it, I talk about how some very young babies/toddlers/children of prominent Influencers have inherited exposure and fame from their mothers to become “proximate microcelebrities”.

I definte “proximate microcelebrities” as users who attain microcelebrity from their proximity to mainstream celebrities/current microcelebrity whose fame rubs off onto those around them (i.e. a baby, BFF, or partner who gradually attains their own following/fans/haters by being constantly featured on a popular Instagrammer’s feed).

I will write about this another time, because I want to be meta now.

While I trace genealogies of fame in that article, I want to account for the genealogy of that article here.

1) Pre-journal article (October 2015), the writing existed as a Work-in-Progress (WIP) paper I gave at Tembusu College, relating to the module I co-lectured titled Living and Dying in the Internet Age (September 2015).

2) Pre-WIP seminar, the writing existed as Appendix B of my PhD thesis, Please Subscribe!: Influencers, Social Media, and the Commodification of Everyday Life (August 2015).

3) Pre-appendix B, the writing existed as an audio snippet in an Interview I gave to the Asia Digital Life Project (run by the fabulous Patrick Sharbaugh) on Instagram Influencers (May 2015):

“Hospitals, gynecologists, dentists. We’ve seen completely sponsored childbirths, where sponsors help film the live birth of influencers’ babies, who then go on to have tons of endorsements themselves, everything from baby diaper brands to infant formula to clothing […] It’s really an entire economy based on these women’s lives as they evolve from being an angsty schoolgirl to falling in love, getting married, and having a child, and every aspect of it can be monetized if the influencer so wishes.”

4) Pre-audio snippet, the writing existed as a presentation I gave at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation on Winter School (CCIWS13) on social currency in the commercial lifestyle blog industry (June 2013).

5) Pre-winter school, the writing existed as a newspaper article I wrote for The New Paper on mommy and daddy bloggers (January 2011) during a short stint as an understudy journalist in Singapore.

This afternoon, I unearthed said newspaper article as a tribute to the genealogy of my research writing.

I guess you could say my work on micro-microcelebrity was five years in the making. Enjoy!

New’s kid on the blog

Emily New draws online fans with her bringing-up-baby experiences. And she’s not the only mummy blogger with a following

By Crystal Abidin
January 10, 2011

MOTHERS know best indeed, going by the number of people who are turning to their blogs for advice.

Mummy bloggers – mothers who write about the highs and lows of bringing up children – are becoming sought-after online consultants as their product reviews gain popularity with other parents.

And companies like SK-II, 3M and Disneyland are turning to them to showcase new products.

Take 32-year-old Emily New.

The staff planner has been writing detailed reviews of children’s products for a year now and gets up to 500 visitors daily to her blog, ourlittlesmarties.com.

Madam New said that based on her interaction with her readers, she gathers that they are women in their 20s to 40s. Most are like her, a mother with young children.

Madam New told The New Paper on Sunday that when she started her blog in 2007, she did not have a commercial end in mind.

‘My blog (initially) served as an online diary… to pen down my son’s milestones.’

Added the mother of a three-year-old called Edison Chan: ‘Along the way, I received a few invitations to write reviews of products.’

Companies usually liaise with her directly through her ‘contact me’ page or go through a blogadvertising company which she uses, Nuffnang. Through it, businesses can book ad space on more than 100,000 blogs.

Madam New said that while she does not receive a fee for her services, she is usually given samples and sponsored products to test.

These include strollers, childrens’ shoes educational DVDs and toys.

She also reviews women’s products such as cleansing foams and cooling facial gels.

Another mummy blogger who does online product reviews is 34-yearold Leonny Atmadja. The stay-athome mum started her blog, oureverydaythings.com, in 2005 to document her children’s growth.

She claims that it now receives ‘just below 1,000 hits a day’.

The Indonesian-born Singapore permanent resident has a six-year old daughter and a four-year-old son. On her blog, they’re known to readers as Anya and Vai.

Ms Atmadja is often approached by companies directly or through Nuffnang to review products such as baby shoes, online shops catering to children and reading lamps.

Her blog was a finalist in the parenting category of the Asia Pacific Blog Awards. The product reviews have given her a chance to travel.

Last November, Ms Atmadja and her family went on a sponsored a four-day trip to Disneyland in Hong Kong to review the attraction and the hotel.

The newest mummy on the blog is Ms Klessis Lee, a 33-year-old secretary who blogs at jbabiesinthedaisies.com.

She has two daughters, Joey, five, and Jayne, two.

She reviewed her first product – Life Styles Palette’s wall decals – on her five-year-old blog this month.

‘(The blog) was really more for my own documentation. Then I realised (it) has become a platform for parents to share ideas and learn from each other,’ she said.

The three mummy bloggers say they aim to be as fair as possible in their reviews.

Said Ms Atmadja: ‘I write (product reviews) from my point of view as a mum of two. I also make it clear to the clients that I will only say or write something that I personally believe in. I’m not out to sell the products.

‘I will not review products that I don’t believe in as a mother, even if the company wants to give out free products on my blog.’

She added that she has turned down many requests for reviews, including cartoons with violent content.

Ms Lee agreed: ‘It is important to me that I do not recommend products to my readers if I do not believe in them. When dealing with vendors, I also give them my honest feedback…’

Madam New takes the stress of juggling a full-time job, her maternal duties and her blog in her stride.

‘I love trying new products and sharing them with my readers,’ she said.

She said readers have even written in to thank her for recommending items they have seen, tried and benefited from.

‘The main satisfaction comes from knowing that I can share my experiences and ideas with others, especially if they help them solve a certain situation in their own lives,’ said Ms Lee.

Mothers The New Paper on Sunday spoke to said such blogs are useful, especially for firsttime mothers.

A study by Microsoft Advertising and Starcom MediaVest Group of almost 3,000 women aged between 20 and 49 in eight Asian countries found that 58 per cent of mothers said their most-used sources were online networks of friends, reported The Straits Times last June.

Parenting advice

Ms Sherry Low, a 32-year-old management consultant and mother of a two-month-old daughter, told The New Paper on Sunday that she ‘surfs the Internet daily’ for parenting advice.

She likes these blogs because ‘they usually write about the pros and cons of the products… and advice given is detailed’.

As to whether these reviews are reliable, Ms MieVee Wong, a 29-year-old housewife and mother of a boy who is almost two, said: ‘You can usually sense whether they are genuine… If your experience of the product matches their review, their credibility builds.’

Mr Wayne Eo, 27, managing director of online marketing company OOm, told The New Paper on Sunday that bloggers are important as information sources.

‘The first place that people turn to for information is the Internet… Since the target group already exists online, it makes sense for companies to target them there,’ he said.

‘The key fundamental is that people see good content and many viewer hits… It proves the blogger’s credibility.’

Dads write too

IT’S not just for mums. Dads are also getting in on the act.

Well, at this least daddy is.

Mr Edmund Tay (with his family) a 38-year-old social worker, has a blog, edunloaded.com, that gets up to 500 unique views a day. His readers are mostly mothers aged between 25 and 40.

Since starting his blog in December 2007, Mr Tay has reviewed products and services of companies such as Julia Gabriel, GapKids, Drypers and Listerine.

His three children, Nicole, Nathan and Nadine, aged between two and six, have enjoyed trips to the Singapore Zoo and Jurong BirdPark as part of daddy’s ‘part-time’ job.

Apart from ‘some freebies’, he said he sometimes receives ‘a small fee’ – between $200 and $400 – for his reviews.

While he admits that he feels ‘slight pressure’ to give good reviews, Mr Tay maintains that he will be honest in his ratings and try to focus on the ‘other positive aspects’ of the product or service in question.

‘Mothers also like to hear from the daddy’s point of view, so they are really receptive and encouraging,’ he said of his reader feedback.

But he has male fans too.

Fathers he has met are usually ‘happy to find out that such ‘endangered species’ are still around’, he joked, referring to daddy bloggers.

‘Information is important for us parents. I don’t know how my parents did it when there was no Internet (back then).’

The Lifecycle of Privacy Among Microcelebrity Bloggers

Author’s Note:

Here are some early thoughts on privacy as a commodity, and the lifecycle of privacy as appropriated by microcelebrity bloggers. Am hoping to develop this into a full-length paper in the next couple of months and would appreciate any thoughts/feedback/brainfarts. An earlier version of this paper was first presented at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference (IR15) in Daegu, Korea in October 2014.

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Image hand drawn by Carissa Abidin.

Abstract

Commercial lifestyle bloggers in Singapore publicize their personal lives on blogs and social media, using their lifestyles as a vehicle to advertise goods and services. Women bloggers engage with readers by performing a blog ‘persona’ (Abidin & Thompson 2012) that is created for their business, and distinct from their real identities. This persona is premised upon sharing the personal, usually publically inaccessible aspects of their life. Therefore, privacy becomes a commodity that is manipulated and performed to advance their careers. In this paper I conduct a processual analysis of how bloggers sacrifice, balance, and, privilege privacy throughout the life cycle of their career. They do so in relation to their readership, family, attention, and status. Privacy is no longer personal seclusion in which one is free from public attention. Rather, it is manipulated as a commodity for profitable gain.

Commercial Lifestyle Bloggers

Commercial lifestyle bloggers in Singapore publicize their personal lives on blogs and social media, using their lifestyles as a vehicle to advertise goods and services. In this paper, I look at young Singaporean women bloggers in the ‘lifestyle’ genre who engage with readers by performing a blog ‘persona’ (Abidin & Thompson 2012) that is created for their business, and distinct from their real identities[1]. This persona is premised upon sharing selected aspects of their lives that are usually personal and publically inaccessible. Therefore, privacy becomes a commodity that is manipulated and performed to advance their careers.

Through a processual analysis of how bloggers manipulate privacy throughout their careers, I analyze progress from lesser-known ‘low-status’ bloggers to well-known ‘high-status’ bloggers. At low-status, privacy is thought as a necessary sacrifice for career growth until it is distinguished as ‘persona’ privacy and ‘real identity’ privacy. At mid-status, persona privacy is a calibrated performance to increase readership. At high-status, all privacy becomes a privilege with intrinsic value as it entices readers.

The data was collected during anthropological fieldwork between December 2011 and June 2013. Bloggers were interviewed in person, and their blog and social media enterprises observed. I also used a blog and various social media platforms to interact with bloggers, and gathered with them regularly in person. This paper, however, focuses only on blogs and analyzes notions of privacy specific to these informants. Pseudonyms are used.

Low-Status

In the early stages, bloggers have not yet developed persona nor distinguished it from real identities. They conceptualize privacy as a personal quality based on their real identities, and desire to preserve it. However, success in the commercial blogging industry is measured by the volume of one’s blog traffic; higher traffic translates into greater potential earning power. Therefore, bloggers struggle between preserving their privacy but settling for low readership, or sacrificing their privacy and acquiring high readership.

Low-status blogger, Belinda, who has 1,200 daily blog views, is unwilling to sacrifice privacy. She perceives 5,000 daily blog views as a ‘breaking point’ at which she will lose privacy. Belinda has stalled her career by intentionally remaining “low profile”, and only blogs about things she feels “will not attract too much attention”. In contrast, Irene, who blogs about her underage sex to 30,000 viewers daily, feels she no longer “owns privacy”. She attributes this not to the subject matter of her blogposts, but to her extensive popularity in the blogosphere. A high-status blogger, Irene deems this a “trade off” for her career.

However, trading off between privacy and readership is confined primarily to early stages of careers when bloggers have low-status. As they distinguish persona from real identities, this insecurity diminishes because privacy is conceptualized as two distinctive layers: one for the persona, and one for the real identity. Therefore, persona privacy is sacrificed while real identity eventually remains in tact.

Mid-Status

After developing a blog persona, mid-status bloggers are concerned with increasing their readership quickly. Many capture attention by turning usually private events into a public performance. Privacy is manipulated into a public staging, in order to captivate an audience ‘in search of spectacles’ (Kitzmann 2004).

As the most taboo, sex captures the largest audience. ‘Leaked’ sex videos, ‘staged’ domestic violence, and breakup ‘tell-all’ exposés are intentionally produced to bait attention. Yasmine states on her blog that her ‘leaked’ sex video “needed the chance to get your attention and sink in”. Like many bloggers, she intentionally stages intimate moments from her private life for voyeuristic consumption as a business strategy.

Mid-status bloggers worry about nuclear family members reading their blogs when they are ‘staging privacy’. Since bloggers are generally comfortable with personal friends and romantic partners reading their blogs, the insecurity is not because readers know bloggers ‘in real life’. Rather, nuclear family members are regarded as holding intimate knowledge of a blogger’s most private real identity, and their presence thus potentially threatens the congruence of the narratives bloggers construct for their persona (Daniel & Knudsen 1995). For instance, Christine was “pretty okay” about blogging her “private life” until her older brother found her blog. He disagreed with some of her self-presentation and began to police her blog content, causing her much frustration. Belinda, however, “feels safe” because her mother is “not computer savvy” and unlikely to read her blog.

The presence of family and their intimate knowledge means bloggers have less freedom to ‘stage privacy’ without being ‘exposed’. For established bloggers, however, family becomes less of a concern; they no longer need to ‘stage privacy’ to sustain readers’ attention.

High-Status

Once bloggers have captured a sizable audience and become successful, withholding information about their private lives acquires the same value as publicizing it. This is because the mystique over what is not displayed in their persona makes readers curious; the less revealed, the more enticed readers are.

Ellen notes that Allison can “afford to be private about her life now [because] she is more successful”. While Allison used to publish raw pictures about life “behind-the-scenes”, her blogposts are now infrequent and more polished. On her social media feeds, readers leave hundreds of comments asking about her relationship. Yvonne remarks that high-status bloggers do not need to “push themselves all the time, [because] people will still want to know about [them]”. She sees high-status bloggers as “classy bloggers”, because they no longer blog about distasteful topics, unlike their low- and mid-status colleagues. Hence for high-status bloggers, privacy no longer needs to be staged since withholding information has intrinsic value.

It is crucial to emphasize that bloggers also pride themselves as being ‘ordinary people’; they are accessible to readers, and more relatable than mainstream celebrities (Turner 2010). Bloggers cannot lose this status because it jeopardizes their credibility. Therefore it is paramount that high-status bloggers carefully negotiate a balance between revealing their private lives to attract readers, and withholding some of it to entice and create anticipation.

Privacy Lifecycle

For these lifestyle bloggers, privacy is no longer personal seclusion in which one is free from public attention. Rather, it is manipulated into a commodity for profitable gain from low-status to high-status careers. Privacy evolves from a personal good sacrificed for career progression, to being distinguished into persona and real identity privacies. Then, it is staged to lure readers while family is excluded for threatening the persona’s congruence. Finally, privacy becomes a privilege when withholding information is valuable to entice readers, but this has to be done in moderation to sustain the accessibility of blog personas.

References

Abidin, Crystal, and Eric C. Thompson. (2012). ‘Buymylife.com: Cyber-femininities and commercial intimacy in blogshops’. Women’s Studies International Forum 35(6):467-477.

Daniel, E. Valentine, and John Chr. Knudsen. (1995). Mistrusting Refugees. University of California Press: Berkeley

Kitzmann, Andreas. (2004). Saved from oblivion: Documenting the daily form diaries to web cams. P. Lang: New York.

Turner, Graeme. (2010). Ordinary people and the media: The demotic turn. SAGE: Los Angeles.

[1] Elsewhere I have discussed ‘persona’ as a facet of bloggers’ identities, specifically enacted for blogging businesses. It is distinct from personal, non-commercial identities that I term ‘real identities’. Both persona and real identity can be enacted across virtual and physical spaces, and are not defined as online or offline phenomena.

Buymylife.com – eyeballs, influencers, and social media

Awesome possum slide hand drawn by my sister, Carissa Abidin

This August, I had the honour of representing the School of Social Sciences at the UWA 3MT. Earlier this week, I was invited to give the speech again at the UWA Postgrad and Honours Expo. This is my attempt at summarising my entire PhD into 2 minutes and 55 seconds. Are you ready?

You know those people who peer intently into their phones, crashing into things? In just 5 seconds, some of them can convince you to buy diapers, Prada, plastic surgery, and even an education. And yet they’re not salespersons. They’re not professionals. In fact, some of them are only 18 and they’re mainly women! I call them influencers, and they know exactly how to capture your eyeballs.

Social media has become so much a part of our lives. I mean, they’re practically extensions of our bodies. Now I see some of you nodding and smiling, cos you’re addicted to Facebook, aren’t you?

By consistently documenting their daily lives on blogs and social media, influencers create Internet personas to interact with readers online and even meet them in person. They cultivate long-term relationships, build interactional intimacy, and gain your trust. But they also embed products and services into these narratives. Then they tell you that you too can get a taste of their lifestyles, if only you buy these products.

What I study is the attention economy, or simply put, the business of gaining and sustaining someone’s interest. Here, the selling point is not market value, but social value. While market value is the price a product can fetch, social value is one’s ability to command attention and influence people.

But what makes influencers so charismatic? To find out, I spent 18 months conducting anthropological fieldwork with these women, engaging in publishing practices, attending face-to-face fan meetings. And in the spirit of true dedication, I even ate, pooped, and slept with my cellphone!

I discovered that influencers used three core strategies. To offset the commercial nature of the exchange, they enact intimacy online and offline. To remain accessible, they reveal behind-the-scenes of real life, not just glamour. To remain in the business, they form alliances and cliques to cooperate, not just compete head on.

Mainstream media, publishing houses, and even government agencies are now engaging influencers to curate and disseminate information. Although birthed in Singapore, the influencer model is being exported to the rest of Asia, Australia, and the UK. Even the men are coming on board.

But what does all this mean for you and I? In a broader sense, I am studying information flows at the grassroots level where social media has democratized the authority of information. Understanding these flows allows us to rethink how knowledge is formed and disseminated.

Five seconds may seem like a short time. But in the short time we’ve shared, weren’t all your eyeballs stuck on me?

Off stage/On stage

Ever wondered what goes on at a Bloggers’ coverage event? Lifestyle blogger, Beatrice Tan, very kindly invited me along to The Most Marvellous Bloggers’ Party held at Nassim Hill @ Tanglin Post Office this month for a sneak peek!

1. Photography is often the key highlight

 Behind stylised photo-booth shots like these…

… are a tonne of equipment. Advertiser, Cadbury Singapore, engaged professional photo-booth company, Hello Stranger, for this event.

This draw point was even emphasised in the bloggers’ invitations, which highlighted that unlimited 4R print-outs would be made available on the spot.

2. There is a fair amount of showcasing involved

Blogger-ambassadors do their best to encourage others to purchase the product they are showcasing. This means being seen/photographed with the product by attendees to generate hype and some honest compliments from the ambassadors themselves. Here bloggers, Maureen, Brad, and Beatrice are posing with cardboard prints of the Cadbury flavours they are ambassadors of. Each flavour is said to match the personality of the ambassador.

3. Events must be memorable

Because blog-based advertising (also known as advertorials) is exceedingly popular in Singapore and regional countries, blogger parties/previews/coverage/events are frequent weekly affairs. The onus then falls on the advertiser to make the event memorable and distinctive from the rest. At this bloggers’ party, the blogger-ambassadors were challenged to (literally) tear apart candy-filled pinatas!

4. Free tastings for everyone!

Advertisers are also usually fond of handing out samples for bloggers and participants to try out. In this case, Cadbury was pretty generous with copious amounts of chocolate.

And this is the crowd scurrying to the Cadbury stand – a lovely chocolate buffet for all!

5. Social media brings instant hype

In the social media industry, things go viral in a matter of minutes. Here, bloggers and participants were constantly encouraged by the emcee to post their favourite Instagram shots and Tweets bearing the official event hashtag. We’re talking about instant live updates to hundreds of thousands of people on all their social media feeds combined. The incentive? The best posts were announced at the end of the event with more mountains of Cadbury goods as prizes. Pretty nifty ‘mass’ advertising, almost for free.

6. Friends and fans want to see and be seen

Newer/smaller-time bloggers and fans who were not personal friends with blog personalities often ask to snap shots with them. For some, it makes for a nice commemoration of a lovely day, while others are slightly star-struck to be up close with their favourite blogger.

                  

Needless to say, this photo-booth also drew a continuous stream of fans/friends asking to snap shots with bloggers.

7. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all fun and games

Cataloguing the entire event – be in in pixels or text – is no easy feat. In between their official ‘ambassador’ duties, socialising with friends, and networking with partners, bloggers are constantly on the go, pictorially capturing the best angles of the moment. It also takes much effort to mentally note details such as quality of the food, interior decor, fellow attendees, and the sequence of events… all to churn out quality advertorials. Check out the coverage by food bloggers Maureen Ow and Brad Lau.

Other newer/smaller-time bloggers and friends/fans are also hard at work pictorially cataloging the best moments for their blogs and social media feeds. And I bet these giant semi-professional cameras were a drain to drag around.

8. Work hard, play hard

They’ve done a great job, the work is half done! There’s still the ever time-consuming photograph editing and advertorial crafting that bloggers go home to.

All in a days’ work. And we’ve even managed to have some fun :)

Approaching LiveJournal as an anthropologist

LiveJournal.com

Pioneered in 1999 by Brad Fitzpatrick (‘LiveJournal’ homepage), LiveJournal is a virtual community for users to blog and share their online diaries with others. Besides the usual ‘User info’ pages, ‘Avatar’ and ‘Comment’ section that are also available on other free blog hosts such as Blogger.com and WordPress.com, LiveJournal, or ‘LJ’ to its users, has two distinctive features.

Firstly, its ‘Friends list’ allows users to add other blogs or communities to a live feed that collates updates and functions as a filter to streamline selected pages into subsets. Adding someone as a friend also allows users to read protected entries tagged ‘Friends only’, that are otherwise not publically accessible.

Secondly, its ‘Communities’ are shared blogs where users can post updates visible to all members. Interests include fashion, celebrity gossip, health, relationship advice, décor and food among many others. There are usually 1 to 5 ‘moderators’, or ‘mods’, running a community; they approve contributions from readers and also edit entries to neaten up the community archives. Readers who have joined communities but never participated through moderation or submissions are known as ‘Lurkers’; they usually introduce themselves on their very first submission.

Every week, LJ holds polls covering a variety of topics and also suggests blog discussions aptly titled ‘Writer’s block’ (‘LiveJournal’ homepage) for users who need inspiration to write. LJ can be accessed via any Personal Computer (PC) with Internet access or through smart phone applications available to Blackberry and iPhone users. As of April 2010, there are 30,829,336 users on LJ and Singapore ranks sixth internationally with 244366 users (‘LiveJournal’ homepage).

Expectations

Prior to starting an account, I had three expectations. Firstly, I thought anonymity would be prized and maintained by all users. The medium, after all, was the Internet that accorded readers a clean slate to refashion their cyber-identities with the use of avatars. Secondly, I thought most LJ users would be exhibitionists and expected few responses from readers. I thought most users would be more concerned with generating information for consumption rather than consuming material put up by other users. Thirdly, I though communities would be barrier-free, meaning anyone would be able to sign up and participate. This was especially since LJ communities were mediated on the open space of the Internet.

Activities

I signed up for a LiveJournal account and participated on it for 4 weeks, prior to writing up this paper.

1. Joining a community
I browsed through the available communities on Live Journal under the ‘décor’ category and scrolled through 10 to 20 pages until I chanced upon ‘Our Bedrooms’. It is a platform that allows readers to post up pictures of their bedrooms, suggest ideas and solicit feedback from other users regarding décor ideas. I personalized my ‘Friend’s page’ and added this to my ‘Interest Communities’ category. In future, clicking under this tab would reveal all submissions posted to the ‘Our Bedrooms’ community. The whole browsing and adding process took less than 20 minutes.

2. Commenting on a reader submission
I scrolled through numerous reader submissions and commented on posts that interested me. According to the norms I have observed from this community, users would generally give positive comments and encouragement rather than criticism and harsh remarks. I, too, began to reply to reader submissions with compliments, storage ideas or my own experiences. I took an average of 5 minutes to go through each blogpost that was usually rich in photographic content and accompanying descriptions.

3. Adding a friend
Occasionally, long exchanges between users in the comments section developed into online friendships. Users are able to ‘Add’ each other as ‘Friends’, allowing each other access to protected ‘Friends only’ entries. Following the norms of ‘Our Bedrooms’, I left a comment on LJ user Esteffa’s blogpost to identify myself before adding her as a friend. It was a simple process that took less than 5 minutes to accomplish.

4. Submitting a post
Submitting a post to the community took me over an hour. I had to tidy up my room and take photographs of it at different angles while worrying over having an adequate amount of lighting. I then resized the photos before uploading them onto the server. As with the unspoken norms of the community, I gave a short introduction and identified myself as a former ‘Lurker’ of the community, before posting up photographs of my room and adding short descriptions of the artifacts pictured. After this, I had to send my draft to the submission queue for community mods to approve my entry. According to community rules, submissions that were offensive and explicit in nature were banned, along with those that commercially advertised products and services. Within 12 hours, my submission was approved and published, and even garnered 48 comments in the next two days. Most were compliments while others were queries regarding the origin of my belongings. I eventually ended up exchanging numerous pointers with several readers (from Singapore, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan among others) who incidentally shared the same interests and passion as I. It was a really enjoyable experience getting to know so many different people in such a short period.

5. Moderating a reader’s post
Occasionally, mods would publish submissions but comment that it needs to be edited and ‘cleaned up’ or risk permanent deletion from the website. I decided to contribute by adding tags to a few of such entries. These tags are collated on the right of the community’s main page, and are useful as quick references for others in future.

Expectations

  1. Anonymity, norms and privacy
    All three of my initial expectations were challenged. Firstly, almost everyone opted out of anonymity. It surprised me that community users were so honest and open in sharing about their lives in the private space of their bedrooms. Most of them posted pictures of themselves with their loved ones or pets and with objects of sentimental value to them. Perhaps it is because users placed themselves in vulnerable positions through the sharing of their private lives that community norms were developed against flaming and explicit responses. Commercial advertising was also banned so that personal information put up by members will not be treated unethically.

Because all blogposts since the inception of ‘Our Bedrooms’ in 2003 (‘Our Bedrooms’ Profile) were catalogued and referenced with tags, all personal information put online is “eternally stored in memory” (Baym 2006). I was concerned that the entire database of pictorially captured bedrooms if appropriated by stalkers who can thus easily track them down, might jeopardize the privacy and safety of users (Mills 2008). In the event that this does occur, members may contact the administrators of LiveJournal directly and request for public posts to be taken down before launching an investigation. With tension between full participation and security, onus thus falls on users to ensure that their privacy and safety will not be risked.

  1. Networks, communities and copyright
    Secondly, there were disproportionately more reader comments than submissions. Interestingly, the comments section of every blogpost encompassed a wealth of data, and even more so than the actual blogpost intended to share ideas. It was a refreshing experience reading through other readers’ helpful advice because I had not initially expected the community to be anything more than another platform for plain exhibitionism.

    In an apt display of the “strength in weak ties” (Granovetter 1973), the “wisdom of the crowds” (Surowieki 2004) formed a pool of knowledge that other users could tap from as “cognitive surplus” (Shirky 2010). According to Metcalfe’s law, “the value of a network increases rapidly in the number of users connected” (Hendler & Golbeck 2007), and with 17, 928 users (‘Our Bedrooms’ Profile), ‘Our Bedrooms’ has proven itself to function as a “network society” (Castells 1999). Users who freely shared tips did not seem to be concerned that their ideas would be stolen or copied by others. In fact, most found it flattering that others would want to emulate their taste and style. Copyright thus did not appear to be a pressing issue.

In terms of the content shared, there were some areas of tension. With multiple sources of information, it is easy for new users to feel overwhelmed and lost. Also, users ought to compare the personalized advice given to them with other more authoritative and credible voices such as furniture companies or professional interior designers.

As a “community of interest” (Armstrong & Hagel 2000) who is brought together by their love for room décor, readers from all parts of the world could relate to my interest in vintage Victorian furniture certain cartoon characters, resulting in a spaceless proximity and sense of intimacy negotiated online. Users were also very interactive with two-way dialogue between submitters and readers, and among readers themselves. Despite being physically isolated and never having met each other in real life before, ‘Our Bedrooms’ is what Anderson calls an “imagined community” (Anderson 1983) where readers are emotionally bound together via their common interests through computer-mediated communication. The Internet is thus the medium that has allowed the very phenomenon of online communities to occur.

  1. Inclusivity, interactivity and communication
    Thirdly, not all communities were inclusive. I stumbled upon other communities that had stringent membership rules. One community for eating disorders (ED) required members to be ED patients themselves, with pictures as proof, before being allowed to sign up and read members’ posts. However, ‘Our Bedrooms’ has proven itself to be an open community of personalized exchanges.

Interactions revealed elements of both interpersonal and mass communication: blogposts were personal and semi-public in that only members of the community could have access to them; not all members of the small audience are known to the amateur submitter; and exchanges were almost always reciprocal and non-hierarchal in nature (Deuze 2006).

References

Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. (1983). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

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