Qian and Scott’s paper focuses on personal blogs as “sites of self-disclosure where individuals share observations and thoughts about their online and offline lives” (2004, p. 1428). They argue that this is a social activity that involves risks and consequences and consequently, many blogging services provide tools to protect bloggers’ identities. The primary focus of the paper is to examine how this opportunity for anonymity impacts degrees of self-disclosure.

It is important to note that anonymity varies in degrees and can take different forms such as visual anonymity and discursive anonymity. It will undoubtedly also be greatly effected by the technology used. 

The authors suggest that self-disclosure within the personal blogging community is at a high level. Bloggers are essentially keeping a diary in a public online space and the growing popularity of blogs can be partly attributed to people’s “increasing expectation of more information as they progressively lose control of their own personal information” (2004, p. 1431). People are genuinely interested in other people’s stories and at the same time, people are becoming more interested in telling their own stories. Personal blogging is incredibly expressive and naturally involves at least a certain level of self-disclosure in order to be successful. Nevertheless, not all bloggers practice the same levl of self-disclosure and Qian and Scott suggest that this is partly due to people’s perceived sense of online anonymity (2004, p. 1432).

A blogger’s anonymity directly relates to the intended audience of their blog, with the authors suggesting that a blogger writing for an online audience that they do not know well offline, will practice greater anonymity. This also relates to bloggers finding themselves in difficulty in their offline lives due to what is written in their blog e.g. employees facing disciplinary action or termination from their place of employment for mentioning their company or colleagues in a less than flattering light. Overall, what we can ascertain is that the audience drives the blogger’s behaviour and their approach to anonymity.

Interestingly, the results of Qian and Scott’s survey showed that an overwhelming 90% of respondents identified their audience and those they knew offline and blogging was used as an extension of offline relationships.

Some thoughts on this reading…

I have become increasingly interested in the blogosphere over the past several months and regularly follow a number of blogs through Google Reader. I have also started writing two blogs of my own as part of my current studies and look forward to starting a personal blog in the near future.

What greatly appeals to me is the feeling of forming a connection and a community between bloggers. By regularly reading blogs I feel as if I become quite familiar with the blogger and as such, I find much more appeal in reading blogs that are written with a fairly high degree of self-disclosure and a limited sense of anonymity. I am well aware that I may not be a part of a blogger’s offline social network, but I feel some sense of community through regular readership and participation through commenting.

From a personal perspective I would feel the need to write with less disclosure if I knew that my audience included my family and those in my close offline social network. I would actually feel more comfortable writing with more disclosure for an audience that was unknown to me in the offline world. I think there will always be a certain lack of self-disclosure in personal blogging as I think we are generally acutely aware that a personal blog is in essence a journal or diary published online for anyone and everyone to read and engage with. We are taking a practice that has traditionally been placed firmly in the private sphere and pushing it out into a very public arena and with the latter in mind, I think we instinctively hold certain detail back.