The Digital Methods Initiative is holding a three day mini-conference with workshop presenting papers and research proposals.Today I responded to Michael Stevenson’s paper on the history of the blogosphere through the eyes of EatonWeb and the Internet Archive. The following is my summary of his paper and argument followed by questions.

Michael Stevenson. The archived blogosphere: exploring web historical methods using the Internet Archive

Respondent: Anne Helmond, University of Amsterdam. 20 January 2010.

One of the main questions of Stevenson’s research is: How can we use and repurpose the Internet Archive to study the history of the blogosphere?  The Internet Archive is especially useful for single site histories, as the Archive is browsed by URL. However, websites rarely exist in a vacuum on their own. This is partly recognized by the special collections in the Archive on a particular topic or event. Blogs, and their (in)formal linking policies, constitute a different type of collection of sites that do not converge on topic or event but on their formal characteristics: the blogosphere. As Stevenson notes “The genre (of blogs) was defined less by content than by form, with reverse-chronology and the centrality of linking trumping the extent to which bloggers focused on similar topics.” How to deal with a collection of websites in an archive that constitute a separate websphere when the device used is especially useful for studying the history of single sites?

Historical accounts of the blogosphere are often from an anecdotal perspective (Blood 2000 & Rosenberg 2009). Stevenson notes that:

What is missing in this approach, however, is reflection on the changing conditions for historical research when the object of study is the Web, or (as may increasingly be the case) is studied with the Web. (p. 75)

The Internet Archive is described as a legacy system in the sense that it is based on browsing instead of the current trend of searching and in this sense displays aspects of an earlier (web) culture. What is sustained is cyberculture. Cyberculture (1980s-1990s) is characterized by a “commitment to egalitarian and universal access to information” (78). Cyberspace is described as “somewhere else” which is still visible in the IA which prefers browsing over querying. The rise of the blogosphere may be seen as “the rejection of cyberspace” and as a transition phase from cyberculture (egalitarian) to web culture (A-lists). The blogosphere is marked with a strong tension between the idea of egalitarianism and the actual compilation of A-lists by disproportionate linking.

Case study
How to delimit the object of study? DMI asks how the dominant devices do it, for example blogs are defined by the engines as anything that publishes a feed. In this case study the first dominant blogosphere device EatonWeb was taken as a starting point. EatonWeb was a manually created collection (expert-list) of blogs and inclusion was based on the formal characteristic of blogs: reverse-chronological ordered entries. “Of the 947 blogs listed by the directory, 857 (or 85.5%) were present in the Internet Archive.” The missing blogs in the Archive were located by following the outlinks of the blogs in the set. This presents a map of the “whole” early blogosphere.

Contribution
Stevenson contributes to studies on the history of the blogosphere by compiling a new special collection, the Early Blogosphere (according to EatonWeb), that may be mapped and queried. By mapping the outlinks of the blogs in EatonWeb the non-archived blogs (the missing pieces of the archived blogosphere by the Internet Archive) are positioned within the network.

Questions
“The organization of the EatonWeb Portal suggested egalitarianism” which is in line with the characteristics of cyberspace. Are ranking devices the official end of cyberspace? Do you consider EatonWeb in that sense a transitional device?
You have now compiled your own special collection of the early blogosphere. Querying this collection, in contrast to the IA, is now possible. What would you like to ask the collection?
The focus is now on outlinks. Where were these links taken from? The whole page? Suggestion for detailed focus: blogroll analysis only. Do they provide a different map?

Further research
Platform specific maps. Actors receiving links from EatonWeb blogs that are not in the EatonWeb themselves are often blog platforms such as Blogger.com and Pitas.com. Redo map with a focus on platforms. Do platforms cluster?
There are some specific Pitas blogs on the maps, but no specific Blogger.com websites. Is it possible to look “beyond” pitas.com (*.pitas.com) or blogger.com (*.blogger.com) which sites were there?

More info on Michael Stevenson’s & DMI research on the DMI wiki:
Tracing And Mapping The Evolution Of The Early Blogosphere With The Internet Archive
Profiling the Archived Blogosphere
Wayback Web Collections
Early Blog Features