Adopting an interdisciplinary scope, this paper presents a review of research on blogs and blogging within the social sciences and the humanities. It maps out what kind of research has been completed, how it has been performed and what gaps that might need to be filled in this relatively new area of research. More specifically, the paper will analyze all articles on blogs and blogging published until 2009 and indexed by the ISI Web of Knowledge.
Suggestions for future research
Interest in blogs and blogging has increased dramatically in recent years. Weblogs or blogs can be described as a form of personal, easy–to–manage Web sites with content presented in reverse chronological order (Schiano, et al., 2004). Bloggers are also frequently described as influential agenda setters. For instance, blogs have been found to have influence on media coverage of politics (Ashbee, 2003; Sweetser, et al., 2008; Wallsten, 2007) as well as facilitating communication among individuals (Baker and Moore, 2008; Hodkinson, 2007) and organizations (Kelleher and Miller, 2006; Sweetser and Metzgar, 2007). It follows from these observations that the blog as a form of mediated human expression and blogging as a human activity is of interest to academics from a variety of scientific disciplines. Although research projects interested in various aspects of blogs and blogging are on the rise, few articles have looked at blog research in a cumulative manner. As far as we know, no major review of methodologies, research topics and disciplinary perspectives in blog research seems to have been undertaken.
According to Kuhn (1962), young research paradigms search for generally acknowledged ways of conducting research. What themes have been dominating in blog research through its rather short period of existence? What kinds of research approaches have been applied? Posing and answering questions like these are important in order to reflect on the current state as well as future development of blog research. In line with this, Webster and Watson (2002) claim that literature reviews are important for solidifying and strengthening scientific foundations.
Research reviews regarding Internet–related subjects have been undertaken in a variety of scholarly contexts. Employing an interdisciplinary view, Rice (2005) analyzed research papers presented at the 2003 and 2004 Association of Internet Researchers conferences, finding similar results regarding the subjects addressed at the two conferences. Focusing on Internet research within the field of communication studies, Kim and Weaver (2002) analyzed 561 articles in 86 journals and books. They found that the most frequent research focus was law and policy (22.5 percent of the articles), followed by uses and perception (18.9 percent) and economic (13.7 percent). Methods used were primarily non–quantitative (72.9 percent), and the articles analyzed tended to focus on issues for the Internet itself and uses and users of the Internet, rather than looking at effects of usage or how the Internet might be improved. Research reviews such as the ones discussed here and the one presented in this paper offers “a powerful tool for synthesizing research and providing the big picture of an area” .
This paper presents a review of research on blogs and blogging within the social sciences and the humanities. It attempts to map out what kind of research has been conducted, how it has been performed and what gaps that might need to be filled. Specifically, the paper will analyze all articles on blogs and blogging indexed by the ISI Web of Knowledge.
This article is organized as follows. After this introduction, the research procedure is described. The guidelines for selecting and classifying the articles included in the study are explained. Following that, the results of the research review are presented and summarized. Finally, the findings are discussed and suggestions for future research are proposed.
When outlining past research in a literature review, a number of choices have to be made, often beginning with questions regarding the selection of studies to be included in the review. The researcher must ask how a representative selection of studies can be secured. Two common ways of conducting research reviews might be labeled journal–centric and topic–centric approaches. The journal–centric approach takes its starting point from a selection of academic journals, often limited to a specific time period (Webster and Watson, 2002). This approach is often feasible when the research to be reviewed is found in a limited number of journals. Since there are no established academic journals that focus exclusively on blogs and blogging. As will be showed in our review, such research can be found in many disciplines and in a large number of journals. Consequently, the journal–centric approach was not deemed appropriate for our review.
As noted earlier, research on blogs and blogging attracts interest from several traditional disciplines. In order to study research on blogs, this article adopts a topic–centric method of selection, as inspired by Webster and Watson (2002) who assert that “A complete review covers relevant literature on the topic and is not confined to one research methodology, one set of journals, or one geographic region” . In order to accomplish a wide selection of papers, the authors used journal databases that index articles of multiple journals. For this study, the ISI Web of Science was employed, specifically its hosted databases Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Arts & Humanities Citation Index (AHCI). These two databases are highly regarded, indexing peer–reviewed articles from a total of 3,300 journals of high quality (Arts & Humanities Citation Index, 2009; Social Sciences Citation Index, 2009). It may be argued that conference proceedings better represent the current development of blog research. However, we argue that the most influential research articles are usually published in high quality journals such as the ones indexed by the databases mentioned above.
The search process was undertaken on 5 January 2009. Using the “advanced search” feature available on ISI Web of Science, SSCI and AHCI were searched using the keywords blog*, weblog* and web log* (trunctuated so as to find different usage of the basic word, such as blogs, bloggers, blogging, etc.). This indentified papers that focus on blogs but also those that examine blogs in relation with other media. As for temporal limits, all articles published before 1 January 2009, were considered for inclusion. In total, 311 articles were identified. These were then downloaded (except for the non–available articles, see below) for initial sorting and classification. After this initial sorting, it was decided to exclude 20 percent (N=63) of the articles from further analysis. The reasons for exclusions are summarized in Table 1 and described below.
Table 1: Excluded and included articles. N Percentage Initial articles 311 100 Excluded articles 63 20 Of which: Not relevant 31 10 Not available 17 5 Non–scientific journal 10 3 Peripheral treatment 5 2 Included articles 248 80
Four reasons for exclusion emerged. The main reason was that an article was deemed as “not relevant.” Articles in this group (N=31, 10 percent of total number of articles) usually contained part of the keyword (e.g., “log” when searching for “web log”) but were not oriented towards blogs or blogging. The “not available” category consisted of 17 articles (five percent) of the original 311 articles. These could not be accessed for one of two reasons. Either the journal where the article had been published was not available through the University Library (as was the case with 15 of these articles), or the article was not available due to technical problems (e.g., “404 error”). The authors undertook additional efforts to make sure that these article were not available elsewhere. Searches were made looking for the unavailable articles using the University library system as well as with Google’s Scholar service. The third largest category of excluded articles were those published in what was not regarded as scholary journals (i.e., Forbes or Nation), consisting of a total of 10 articles (three percent). Five papers (two percent) of the initial 311 featured studies that treated the concept of blogging peripherally or not at all. While these articles included keywords like “blogs” or “blogging” in their abstracts, they did not elaborate further on these. After the exclusion process, 248 out of 311 papers (80 percent) remained in the sample. These articles were then analyzed according to a number of variables. This process is described below.
Scholarly interest in blogging can be expected to emanate from many different disciplines. This wide interest should also mirror itself in the themes addressed by the articles included in the sample. Accordingly, articles were classified as belonging to a general “theme”. Seven different themes iteratively emerged as the first author classified the articles: Business, Communication, Education, Library and information studies, Politics, Social medicine, Sociology and psychology, and Technology. Table 2 features examples of articles coded for each theme.
Table 2: Examples of classification into themes. Theme Title of article Journal Author/year Business “Blogging PR: An exploratory analysis of public relations weblogs” Public Relations Review (Xifra & Huertas, 2008) Communication “Media use, social structure, and belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly (Stempel, et al., 2007) Education “Social software for life–long learning” Educational Technology & Society (Klamma, et al., 2007) Library and information studies “The bloggers among us” Library Journal (Farkas, 2007) Politics “Candidate campaign blogs — Directly reaching out to the youth vote” American Behavioral Scientist (Sweetser Trammell, 2007) Social medicine “An African American weblog community’s reading of AIDS in black America” Journal of Computer–Mediated Communication (Kvasny & Igwe, 2008) Sociology and psychology “Understanding intention to continuously share information on weblogs” Internet Research (Lu & Hsiao, 2007) Technology “Weblog success: Exploring the role of technology” International Journal of Human–Computer Studies (Du & Wagner, 2006)
The “theme” variable was coded using a variety of information: looking at the scope of the journals, authors’ academic affiliations and, foremost, keywords and abstracts. In most cases, these sources of information pointed in the same direction relative to theme classification. In some cases, however, there were discrepancies between the aforementioned information sources. An example of this is the paper by Klamma, et al. (2007), where the authors all are associated with an informatics department. However, the overriding information source of keywords and abstract led to classifying the article as belonging to the theme of “Education”.
Scholars seem to agree that it is important to examine different research patterns in new technological settings, identifying what kind of work has been done and leading the way into new directions for future research (Dominick and Wimmer, 2003; Morris and Ogan, 1996). In order to address the growth of different kinds of research over time, a model of phases in media development was employed. According to Wimmer and Dominick’s four–phase model, “mass media has evolved in definable steps, and similar patterns have been followed in each medium’s need for research” . Their model has, among other applications, been used to study Internet research within a specific scientific community (Kim and Weaver, 2002). The four–phase model was deemed relevant for our study and is described below.
In the first phase, here labeled “issues for blogs and blogging”, research is focused on the medium itself, addressing questions such as what the medium is, how it works and how it is similar to or different from already available media. For example, Bar–Ilan (2005) attempted to characterize information management blogs while Riva (2002) tried to determine the communicative characteristics of various CMC services, such as blogs. After a period of development, Wimmer and Dominick argue that the second phase, “Uses and users of blogs”, is geared towards research into uses and users of the new medium. Typical questions asked are: How is this medium being used? Who are the major users? Aside from more general studies focusing on the reasons for and everyday uses of blogging (Guadagno, et al., 2008; Huang, et al., 2007), blog usage has also been studied in a variety of specialized contexts, as shown in Table 2. The third phase, “Effects of blogs and blogging”, deals with the effects associated with the new medium — does employment of the medium change user perceptions? Does it change people’s everyday lives; the way organizations work, or does it have more overarching societal effects? For example, the effects of blogs on the established media have been studied (Lowrey, 2006), as well as the social and psychological effects of blog use (Baker and Moore, 2008; Cheshire and Antin, 2008). During the fourth and final phase most research deals with how the new medium might be improved, either in its use or through some technical development. For example, studies have looked into how PR and marketing practitioners might improve their blogging practices (Kalyanam, et al., 2007; Kent, 2008).
Empirical — Non–empirical
The third step of the analysis was to determine whether or not the included papers were based on empirical data or not. Empirical studies were defined as those articles that were based on empirical, systematic data and/or observations, gathered by means of a specific methodological approach (Chen and Hirschheim, 2004). Non–empirical articles are considered to be “primarily based on ideas, frameworks and speculation rather than on systematic observation” . Chen and Hirschheim argue that “while non–empirical studies help to develop concepts and build theory, empirical studies provide concrete evidence for testing theories”. Following this, they suggest that as specific disciplines mature “one might expect theory-testing to outweigh theory–building efforts” .
Quantitative — Qualitative — Mixed
The empirical articles were classified based on what kind of methods they employed. Quantitative research methodology “uses numerical analysis to illustrate the relationship among factors in the phenomenon studied” while qualitative methodology “emphasizes the description and understanding of the situation behind the factors” . Moreover, mixed research methods can be preferable to shed light on different aspects of research phenomena and allow the researcher to support their findings in more convincing ways (Yin, 2003). The empirical articles were classified as employing quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods. Inspired by previous research reviews (e.g., Cooper, et al., 1994; Kim and Weaver, 2002), the specific method or methods used were also determined. This was done using an inductive approach as the analysis proceeded (inspired by Kim and Weaver, 2002).
Method — Non–method
In order to secure validity and reliability in scientific work, it is often necessary that the author provides a thorough description of the method or methods employed. Inspired by Hrastinski and Keller (2007), the empirical papers were scrutinized for descriptions of how data selection and analysis were undertaken. Typically, these descriptions appear under headings such as Method or Data collection and analysis. The articles were classified as either containing description of methods or not.
Level of analysis: Micro — Organizational — Macro
Following Layder (1993), social scientists often attempt to clarify their research approaches and limit their scope of study by positioning their work on a scale ranging from studies on a micro level (e.g., specific individuals) to a macro level (e.g., countries). Examples studies on the micro level include Guadagno, et al. (2008), who looked at personality traits of bloggers, and Kim and Chung (2007), who studied blogging by cancer patients. Studies regarding online political debate and its consequences (Harris, 2008; Kerbel and Bloom, 2005) were classified as adopting a macro level of analysis. Between micro and macro, an intermediate level of analysis can be identified, which we labeled the organizational level of study. This category included studies conducted in companies, educational institutions, social groups or similar. For example, a study on blogging for educational purposes was placed at the organizational level (Duda and Garrett, 2008).
Classification was guided by looking at the units of analysis used, the aim of the paper and what kind of conclusions were drawn.
Directly — Indirectly
Blogs might be the focus of a research endeavor, creating possibilities for a more thorough analysis of the phenomenon. They can also be studied in combination with other Internet–related artifacts (such as Web sites, discussion boards or chat rooms). This last process of “lumping together” various IT artifacts and studying them as one construct places the blogs, Web sites and other related digital content in a “black box”, rendering them indistinguishable from each other (Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001). On the other hand, it can be argued that there is a need to understand benefits and disadvantages of different combinations of Internet–related artifacts, because a medium is commonly used simultaneously with other media (Cameron and Webster, 2005). To assess this, a variable was constructed that determines whether blogs or bloggers were the main focus of the study, or if blogs or bloggers were studied together with other IT artifacts or users.
In order to test reliability, the first author performed an initial classification of 248 articles. After that, the second author classified a random sample of 20 percent of the articles. The two classification sets were compared using Holsti’s coefficient (Holsti, 1969), resulting in a agreement figure of 0.88, which is generally regarded as a high level of intercoder reliability.
The results of the review are presented in the following order. First, we look at the overall growth of blog research as well as year–by–year development of different research themes. After that, we assess how blog research has grown with regards to empirical and non–empirical studies. The issue of what methods have been applied and if they are explicitly described, or not, comes next. Finally, annual trends are treated specifically looking at the level of analysis in various studies, especially if blogs were studied in isolation or in combination with other IT phenomena.
Growth of blog research
Research into blogs and blogging has increased dramatically in recent years (see Figure 1). Starting in 2002 with only two published articles, many papers (N=101, 40.7 percent) were published in 2008. Academic interest in blogs and blogging is very much on the rise.
Figure 1: Articles published by year (percentage).
Table 3 shows articles published by year and theme, as well as the total number of articles published within a specific theme during 2002–2008. Looking at Table 3 from a year–by–year perspective, the “early movers” of blog research seem to have been researchers interested in sociology, politics, media– or business–related themes. Moving to 2004 we see that blog research appear to broaden, including “library and information studies” as well as articles in themes represented earlier. In 2005 we see all but one field (“social medicine”) represented. Compared with 2004, more than four times as many articles on blogs and blogging were published during 2005. The “politics” and “sociology and psychology”” categories were the largest during 2005, accounting for 26.9 percent (N=7) and 23.1 percent (N=6) of the articles respectively. In 2006, all themes are represented. The largest category is “politics”, containing 25.8 percent (N=8). The final two years in the study are characterized by continued growth. Although research interests on blogs and blogging seem to have shifted somewhat, the number of articles published appear to be on the rise, as indicated above in Figure 1 and below in Table 3.
Table 3: Articles published by year and theme; Number (N) and percentage (%). Year published 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Total Business 0 (0) 3 (60) 1 (16.7) 4 (15.4) 5 (16.1) 12 (16.9) 10 (10.1) 35 (14.6) Communication 1 (50) 1 (20) 2 (33.3) 3 (11.5) 5 (16.1) 10 (14.1) 11 (11.1) 33 (13.8) Education 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1 (3.8) 2 (6.5) 9 (12.7) 13 (13.1) 25 (10.4) Library and Information studies 0 (0) 0 (0) 1 (16.7) 4 (15.4) 3 (9.7) 12 (16.9) 11 (11.1) 31 (12.9) Politics 0 (0) 1 (20) 0 (0) 7 (26.9) 8 (25.8) 3 (4.2) 15 (15.2) 34 (14.2) Social medicine 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1 (3.2) 5 (7) 7 (7.1) 13 (5.4) Sociology and psychology 1 (50) 0 (0) 2 (33.3) 6 (23.1) 4 (12.9) 13 (18.3) 25 (25.3) 13 (5.4) Technology 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1 (3.8) 3 (9.7) 7 (9.9) 7 (7.1) 18 (7.5) Total 2 (100) 5 (100) 6 (100) 26 (100) 31 (100) 71 (100) 99 (100) 240 (100)
Table 3 also displays the total number of articles by theme. The largest theme to emerge is “sociology and psychology” (N=51, 21.3 percent), covering such themes as reasons for individuals to blog (Miura and Yamashita, 2007) or the psychological effect of sharing personal information online (Baker and Moore, 2008). The theme of “business” is the runner–up (N=35, 14.6 percent), mostly containing studies on blog use in various business—related settings. The third most popular theme is “politics”, accounting for 14.2 percent of the articles (N=34). Articles here deal with blog usage by political candidates (Albrecht, et al., 2007) or with political discussion in the blogosphere. The fourth most recurring theme is “communication” (N=33, 13.8 percent). This theme mainly deals with the influence of blogs and blogging on media professionals (Matheson, 2004). The theme of “library and information studies” is at fifth place (N= 31, 12.9 percent), while the sixth most popular theme is “education” (N=25, 10.4 percent). The two themes of “technology” (N=18, 7.5 percent) and “social medicine” (N=13, 5.4 percent) round off Table 3, at seventh and eight place. While papers in the “technology” category tends to have more practical aims, such as presenting new ways of extracting content from blogs (Hidaka and Nakajima, 2007), the category of “social medicine” focus on the use of blogging by individuals afflicted by different illnesses, such as Chung and Kim’s (2008) study on blogging cancer patients or Clarke and van Amerom’s (2008) study on bloggers with Asperger’s syndrome.
Phases of research
Figure 2: Distribution of phases of research by year (percentage).
The Wimmer and Dominick model was employed as described earlier in this paper. Their first phase of “issues for blogs and blogging” is indeed the first one to emerge in Figure 2. During the first two years of analysis, this particular phase was the only emergent one. In total, 41 articles (16.8 percent) were classified as belonging to this first phase. Moving on, we see that the second phase (“uses and users of blogs”) is the largest by far. As indicated in Table 2, over half of the articles analyzed have focused on researching various aspects of use and different users in relation to the blogging phenomenon. This result seems well in line with Kim and Weaver’s (2002) study, which found this second phase to be largest, accounting for 45 percent of the studied material. Much like the articles in phase 2, studies on the “effects of blogs and blogging” also first emanated in 2004. After this first year, however, phase 3 is represented by a considerably smaller amount of articles than its predecessor. Nonetheless, it appears to be the second most popular phase during 2006–2008. Thus, it seems like this type of effects–oriented research seems to be on the rise. In total, 48 articles (19.7 percent) were classified as belonging to phase 3. During the fourth and final phase, research focus on “how blogs and blogging practices might be improved”. Starting in 2004, this phase also appears to be on the rise — although not so much so as the third phase. With 20 articles (8.2 percent), the fourth phase is the smallest one in our study. This result that again mirror Kim and Weaver’s (2002) study, where the fourth phase was found to be the smallest with 11 percent of the studied articles.
The model by Wimmer and Dominick “is not intended to suggest that the research phases are linear” , meaning that the phases will probably not follow conveniently after one another. Although a sequential trend can be discerned in Figure 2, tendencies for the phases to overlap are visible. Indeed, research can be expected to be “conducted simultaneously in all four phases” .
Empirical — Non–empirical
A majority of the articles were based on empirical data (N=166, 66.9 percent). Figure 3 reveals that although the majority of the articles are empirical, many of the early studies were non–empirical. The first empirical article appeared in 2004. Following this year and onwards, we see a major rise of articles published, empirical as well as non–empirical.
Figure 3: Growth of empirical and non–empirical articles by year (percentage).
Focusing on the articles based on empirical data, we look at what kind of methodology has been employed in these studies, and whether or not the methods used have been clearly described for the reader (see Table 4).
Table 4: Empirical articles classified according to method and description of method; Number (N) and percentage (%). Method described Method not described Total Quantitative
(62 percent of classified studies)
100 (97.1) 3 (2.9) 103 (100) Qualitative
(28.3 percent of classified studies)
25 (53.2) 22 (46.8) 47 (100) Mixed
(9.7 percent of classified studies)
15 (93.8) 1 (6.3) 16 (100) Total 140 (84.3) 26 (15.7) 166 (100)
A total of 166 articles were classified. Focusing first on the far right column Table 4, we can see that the majority of these articles employed quantitative methods. Furthermore, almost all of the articles (N=100, 97.1 percent) using quantitative methods described the usage of the methods explicitly. As for qualitative studies, they accounted for almost 30 percent of the articles based on empirical data (N=47, 28.3 percent). A little more than half (N=24, 53.2 percent) of the qualitative studies did include a description of the method used. Although it can be argued that qualitative researchers describe their methods in different ways than quantitative researchers, the need to explicitly outline the methods employed should be evident to all scholars, regardless of methodological preferences. Looking at the last category, we see that a total of 16 studies (or 9.7 percent) employed mixed methodology. The dominance of quantitative studies here can be contrasted to the results of Kim and Weaver (2002), who found that most (72.9 percent) Internet–related research in their study employed “non–quantitative” or qualitative methods.
A detailed account of the methods used can be found in Table 5. Quantitative methods were used in 119 of the reviewed papers, consisting of 103 quantitative papers and 16 papers using mixed methods. Various forms of content analysis proved to be most frequently used (N=41, 34.5 percent). For example, in her study of youth–oriented campaign posts on the official major party candidate Web sites during the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, Sweetser Trammell (2007) found that only eight percent of the posts explicitly targeted a youth audience. Almost as popular as content analysis, surveys were used in 38 articles (31,9 percent). Taking an interest in how bloggers themselves view blogs compared to more traditional sources of news, Johnson and Kaye (2004) used an online survey directed towards bloggers and found that blog users tended to judge blogs as more credible than traditional sources. The third most popular quantitative approach was quantitative experiments with 21 instances (17.6 percent). For instance, Kelleher and Miller (2006) studied online public relations and used an experimental research design. They found that blogs tended to be viewed by their respondents as a more “conversational” means of communication than regular Web pages, and that blogs therefore might provide an interesting opportunity for organizations upholding an online presence.
Table 5: Detailed analysis of method employed. Method employed Number Percentage Quantitative methods 119 100 Content analysis 41 34.5 Survey 38 31.9 Experiment 21 17.6 Network analysis 8 6.7 Other quantitative method 5 4.2 Empirical secondary data analysis 4 3.4 Multiple quantitative methods 2 1.7 Qualitative methods 63 100 Textual analysis 20 31.7 Interview 13 22.2 Discourse analysis 12 19 Observation 8 12.7 Other qualitative method 7 11.1 Multiple qualitative methods 2 3.2
A total of 63 instances of qualitative methods were found, including 47 qualitative papers and 16 papers using mixed methods. The most popular qualitative method was various forms of textual analysis (N=20, 31.7 percent) used on, for example personal blogs (van Doorn, et al., 2007; Williams and Merten, 2008) or on blogs with political content (Auty, 2005; Hargittai, et al., 2008). Interviews were used in 14 studies (22.2 percent), while the third most popular qualitative method was discourse analysis, used in 12 studies (19 percent).
Level of analysis
Both empirical and non–empirical articles were classified as conducting analysis on either a micro (personal), organizational or macro (societal) level. As can be seen in Figure 4, the levels of analysis have been relatively similar over the years. In total, 67 (27.3 percent) of the articles were classified as micro level, 94 (38.4 percent) as organizational level and 84 (34.3 percent) as macro level.
Figure 4: Level of analysis of articles by year (percentage).
Directly — Indirectly
A little more than half (N=143, 57.7 percent) of the articles in the sample studied blogs directly, separating them from other similar Internet–related artifacts. The remainder of articles (N=105, 42.3 percent) employed a wider selection of units of analysis, studying blogs in combination with similar Internet phenomena. Figure 5 shows the year-by-year distribution of these data.
Figure 5: Blogs studied directly or indirectly by year (percentage).
The tendency to use blogs as the sole unit of analysis was very common in 2004. As the number of articles increase throughout the studied period, there has been a leveling of direct and indirect studies, indicating that researchers found a need to study blogs and their users both directly and indirectly. Leading the way into future studies, the results for 2008 show a slight dominance of direct studies.
This study has provided an overview of blog research within the social sciences and humanities. Reviewing 248 articles indexed by ISI Web of Science that have been published between 2002 and 2008, the main results of the study can be summarized as follows.
Growth of blog research. Blog research has expanded considerably during the examined period. The bulk of research was published during 2007 and 2008. During these two years, 70 percent (N=175) of the total number of articles were published.
Growth of themes. Authors interested in sociology, politics, media– or business–related issues were the earliest to publish blog–related papers. The three largest themes during the entire period were “sociology and psychology” (N=51, 21.3 percent), “business” (N=35, 14.6 percent) and “politics” (N=34, 14.2 percent).
Phases of research. Even though the four phases overlapped, as was expected, a trend could be discerned where they tended to rise consecutively. The most popular phase was the second one, containing research dealing with “uses and users of blogs”.
Empirical — Non–empirical. During 2002 and 2003, only non–empirical articles were published. From 2004 and onwards, the majority of articles published were empirical. In total, 166 articles (66.9 percent) were based on empirical data and 82 articles (33.1 percent) were classified as non–empirical.
Methodology. Of the empirical articles, a majority (N=103, 62 percent) utilized quantitative methods. 47 articles, or nearly one third (28.3 percent) employed quantitative methodology. Nearly all (N=100, 97.1 percent) of the quantitative studies provided an explicit description of methodology. As for qualitative studies, about half of the articles (N=25, 53.2 percent) provided such a description. The most popular quantitative methods used were content analysis, surveys and experiments. The most popular qualitative methods used were textual analysis, interviews and discourse analysis.
Level of analysis. About a third (N=67, 27.3 percent) of the articles were classified as performing analysis on a personal or micro level, 94 (38.4 percent) were deemed as aimed at organizational levels and 84 (34.3 percent) articles were classified as macro or societal level. On a year–by–year basis, no clear trends regarding the level of analysis variable could be found.
Directly — Indirectly. The tendency to study blogs in isolation was relatively high in publications from 2004 (N=5, 83.3 percent). After that, the percentages of direct studies have decreased and indirect studies have increased. In 2008, we see a slight increase of direct studies. Overall, a little more than half (N=143, 57.7 percent) of the articles studied blogs directly, whereas 105 articles (42.3 percent) chose a wider scope of units of analysis.
In sum, a typical blog research article is a sociological or psychological, empirical study that use and carefully describe a quantitative method. It is aimed at the organizational level of study and focuses on blogs or bloggers as the sole units of analysis. By drawing on our findings, we now move on to suggest future research challenges for scholars interested in conducting blog research. We suggest that scholars use the findings presented here to reflect on current blog research and how it may be further developed.
Suggestions for future research
The aim of this study has been to show what kind of research has been undertaken involving blogs and bloggers, thereby uncovering “gaps” that could be addressed in future research. Below, we suggest a number of challenges for the future of blog research. These suggestions can be used by scholars in need of an understanding of recent research or in the process of planning future studies.
Research is needed that build theory
As has been shown earlier, research on blogs have mainly been undertaken using empirical data. Although empirical articles are important to help build theory (Claver, et al., 2000; Weick, 1995), it should be stressed that for a scientific field to grow, theory–building papers that integrate and synthesize previous findings need to be produced (Webster and Watson, 2002). Perhaps one explanation regarding the dominance of empirical articles might be that many different academic disciplines have taken an interest in blogging, adopting different theoretical viewpoints on this new phenomenon. Theoretical growth might be associated with disciplinary identity (Weber, 2003) but it might also be fruitful to suffice with a view of blog research as a multi–disciplinary theme, stirring up interest across the more traditional academic subjects (Keen, 1980). As shown through the analysis of phases of research, over half (N=135, 55.3 percent) of the research included in this review dealt with uses and users of blogs (phase 2 in the model employed above). The cumulative body of work dealing with these matters suggests that it might be time to move beyond the “interim struggles” of theorizing (Weick, 1995) and attempt to formulate theories of blog usage. With this in mind, it appears as though more research is needed that addresses questions related to the other three phases (1, 3 and 4) in the model. Although it might be reasonable to suggest that future research projects should focus on these phases (perhaps primarily the fourth, last and least represented one: N=20, 8.2 percent), it is important not to forget the research questions most strongly associated with earlier and more popular research phases. Undertaking research projects emanating from all four phases might lead to an even deeper understanding regarding how new phenomena relates to otherwise well–researched forms of technology or media.
Research is needed that uses reliable and varied methods
Hookway  suggested that even though Internet–related research has mostly employed quantitative methodologies, qualitative studies appears to be on the rise. If this is true when it comes to research specifically interested in blogs, researchers must be careful in describing their methodologies. Looking at the empirical articles in the study, a majority of them indeed employed various quantitative methods. Of these studies, almost all provided an explicit description of the method chosen, i.e., how data had been collected and analyzed. As for the qualitative studies, slightly more than half provided such a description. The need for clear and concise descriptions of methodology in scientific work can probably not be stressed enough (Kirk and Miller, 1986). In the end, this becomes a problem of reliability of research. If a scientist, regardless of chosen method, does not provide the readers with an account of the research process, it becomes difficult for fellow scholars to assess the quality of the research process. The different perspectives offered by qualitative and quantitative research can help enrich research and provide different forms of insight. More qualitative research into blogs and blogging is needed — and this research needs to provide descriptions of the methods applied. The distinction between quantitative and qualitative methods can at times seem arbitrary and stale. Regardless of what label one chooses for various methodological approaches, the need for research methods to be varied is important. Employing mixed methods can help researchers cross–validate their findings through triangulation, thereby hopefully reaching more convincing conclusions (Yin, 2003). In this study, we found that some research methods were more frequently used than others. Researchers interested in blogs and blogging should perhaps consider if one of the less frequently used methods can be of use to them in their research endeavors, which might provide new perspectives on the practice of blogging. Of course, this does not mean that popular methods such as surveys or interviews should be abandoned.
Research is needed that studies blogs directly and indirectly
As evident from the earlier presentation, a slight majority of studies chose blogs and bloggers as their units of analysis and did not include similar technologies and the use of these technologies. The focus on blogs can perhaps be seen as both beneficial and somewhat precarious for the development of research into blogs and blogging. On the one hand, this kind of analytical isolation might help researchers probe deeper into specific aspects in order to help us understand the particularities of blogs and blog usage. On the other hand, studying mixed media approaches might gives us a broader understanding of how the blog artifact is used in relation with other artifacts. As a little than half of the articles in this study have shown, blogs are often studied in conjunction with other technologies. This “indirect” way of studying phenomena might provide researchers with insight into differences between the various units, thereby enabling comparative studies. It seems that this “blackboxing” (Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001) of blogs can both hinder and help research to move further. While the popularity of direct studies in 2004 might be explained with the novelty of blogs, the cause for the rising tendency of direct studies in 2008 is not easily explained. Both rationales are important starting points for future research, as the combination can give us both a broader and a deeper understanding of blogs and blogging.
Research is needed in small as well as new themes
The “theme”” variable used in this study helped us classify the articles, iteratively creating categories as described earlier. We could clearly see how certain themes had been more popular than others. Explaining why some themes are more popular and some less popular is beyond the scope of this study. However, the authors would like to suggest that as research into blogs and blogging move further, contributions from many complementing fields are needed. For example, research in the theme of “technology”” might help improve technical aspects of blogging services. Looking further into the theme of “social medicine” might help us understand how blogging can be useful in health care situations. Thus, a broad and inclusive focus, comprising many complementing themes, will help us gain a deeper understanding of blogs and blogging. A future challenge is to identify new and innovative themes for blog research, as it can be expected that the interest in various applications of blogs and blogging will continue to increase in the coming years.
About the authors
Anders Olof Larsson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Informatics and Media at Uppsala University.
E–mail: anders [dot] larsson [at] im [dot] uu [dot] se.
Stefan Hrastinski is Associate Professor (docent) of Media Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Uppsala University.
E–mail: stefanhr [at] kth [dot] se.
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Received 5 August 2010; revised 23 November 2010; accepted 20 February 2011.
“Blogs and blogging: Current trends and future directions” by Anders Olof Larsson and Stefan Hrastinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Blogs and blogging: Current trends and future directions
by Anders Olof Larsson and Stefan Hrastinski.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 3 - 7 March 2011