Blogging for Engines. Blogs under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations

In February I graduated cum laude with a thesis on blog software and search engines titled ‘Blogging for Engines. Blogs under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations.’ It aims to add the study of software-engine relations to the emerging field of Software Studies, which may open up a new avenue in the field by accounting for the increasing entanglement of the engines with software thus further shaping the field.

This thesis wishes to contribute to the understanding of blogs by approaching blogs as both a medium and bi-product of practice that are both entangled in software-engine relations. In the history of blogging both the medium and practice are constantly being shaped by the search and indexing engines. Not only did the introduction of the ‘nofollow’ attribute have a major impact on the construction of the blogosphere, it also points to how the blogger is (un)willingly entangled in a relationship that the blog software establishes with the engines. The common blog practices of tagging, social bookmarking and the obsessive checking of blog statistics raise the question if we are now blogging to feed the engines. Continue to read an excerpt of my PhD proposal to continue my research on software-engine relations, or download the PDF ‘Blogging for Engines. Blogs under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations.’ (4,2 Mb)

Excerpt PhD Proposal on Software-Engine Relations

Google as the number one search engine is regarded by many to be “the start page for the Internet” (Dodge, 2007) and “Google has become such a commonly used resource that people are beginning to regard it as synonymous with the Web.” (Searls in Gudrais, 2007). What is missing from the current studies into software is the recognition of the central role that the engines play on the web. The engines are considered to be the starting point of the web and play an important editorial role on the web. Introna and Nissenbaum (2000) describe the politics of search engines with the engines

[…] determining any systematic inclusions and exclusions, the wide-ranging factors that dictate systematic prominence for some sites, dictating systematic invisibility for others. These, we think, are political. They are important because what people (the seekers) are able to find on the Web determines what the Web consists of for them. And we all —individuals and institutions alike— have a great deal at stake in what the Web consists of.

The politics of inclusion and exclusion in the search engines, which may also be described as the drama of search engines (Govcom.org, 2007), is clearly visible in the case of the website 911truth.org which suddenly disappeared from Google results. These issues raise the question if and how the web is structured by search engines. Rogers (2008) describes how the engines are demarcating different spheres on the Web. Previous research done with the Digital Methods Initiative (2007) not only showed how the engines construct different spheres but also how these spheres are constructed differently by different engines.  What role does the software play in the construction of these different spheres?

Previous research into the role of software and the engines in the blogosphere showed that there is an increasing symbiotic relationship between the two (Helmond, 2008). In this study into the most prevailing blog software, WordPress, it appeared that is is establishing strong ties with Google, Google Blog Search and Technorati. The blog software and blog engines determine the nature and construction of the blogosphere through co-construction. These software-engine relations enforce a steady regime in the blogosphere that puts the blogger in a position where the politics of inclusion and exclusion are played out in the game of search engine optimization and spam.

(Excerpt from my PhD proposal)

25 thoughts on “Blogging for Engines. Blogs under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations

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  3. Congratulations! One quick question: On the cover sheet it gives January 2007 as date, but the thesis has been finished in February 2008, right? Just wondering wether I should cite Helmond 2007 or Helmond 2008… :)

  4. Thank you! And thanks for noticing the incorrect date, it should be 2008 indeed. I’m keeping an eye on your English feed to read your (upcoming?) publication.

  5. Great, thanks for the clarification. I’m going to cite the thesis in an upcoming book (www.dasneuenetz.de, scheduled to be published in May 2009) which will be in German.. Nevertheless I’ll probably anounce it in my english feed as well.. :)

  6. This paper is excellent so far. I have a lot on my plate so it’s getting read in small slices.

    Did you find any significant proportion of blog software being hand coded by the blogger themselves?

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  10. Hey, I’m really glad to have found this! My own dissertation was conversation analysis in blog comment threads, and I ended up doing a lot of stuff on the structures of blog software. (The diss is up in slightly unfinished format at http://www.studyplace.org/wiki/User:Gusandrews/SearchProject/1208chapters ) I often found myself wishing I had a good history of blog software to refer to. Yours looks like it will be great, particularly stuff on the influence of search engines. My colleagues Finn Brunton and Greg Conti, who do work on spam and other malware, respectively, may also find your work useful, so I’ll refer it along. Looking forward to it!

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