It has been interesting to follow the various discussions about blogs and what types of communities and discussions they resemble. I thought I would post a note to remind people (or let people know) that the study of online communities is one of the oldest topics explored by academics about the social aspects of information technology use. There are probably hundreds of papers written about Usenet, mailing lists and bulletin board systems. Of course blogs have some distinct characteristics, but overall the existing body of literature about online communities would probably yield some interesting and helpful reading to those interested in blogs. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. One place to look for such work is the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (almost a decade old), but a simple search in a library catalog will yield numerous sources on virtual communities. Of particular interest to those pondering the social network aspects of online communities may be some of the excellent work by Warren Sack and much interesting research done on Usenet by Marc Smith. I realize mapping the blogosphere is a somewhat different issue, but some of the questions that have been raised are relevant to other online communities as well. People have worked for years to find some answers, let’s not ignore them. A piece that seems especially related to some issues that have come up is “Community without Propinquity Revisited: Communications Technology and the Transformation of the Urban Public Sphere” [pdf] by Craig Calhoun.
fn1. When I use terms such as “online communities” and “virtual communities”, I do not mean to suggest that these exist in isolation from other types of communities. See this piece [pdf] by Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia for more on this point.