An Analysis of Interactive Blogging Features and Language in Fostering Characterization and Community Building

June 22nd, 2008

You may have noticed that I made some slight modifications to the regular articles, adding in a new feature called Journals. I’ll be sure to document these changes later in a follow up. If you have had any experience with tertiary education then this may already be familiar to you. Journals are academic pieces of writing which account for research articles within their field. At University, I basically write one of these per subject in my linguistics stream as a major piece. While most of these are irrelevant to the Gamer Blog, after completing one of my courses (concluding with this piece) I feel empowered to write more articles of this nature. In saying this I don’t think that the article below is greatly worthwhile. Still it is something that I would like to try my hand at in the future, covering issues of video games, technology, language and culture.

Introduction

The Internet is the fastest growing medium of communication in the modern age. The break neck speed of which the Internet is evolving is in turn changing language and the way in which communication takes place. NetSpeak; the language of online communication (Crystal, 2001) is consistently running on this treadmill of evolution, adapting to the various technological changes to existing mediums as well as the birth of new ones. The most documented and notable evolution is Web 2.0, websites that fall under this moniker are ones that have in many cases superseded past technologies (Warschauer & Grimes, 2008). The basis of Web 2.0 is interactivity and blogging is perhaps the most iconic of all of the new mediums to showcase such an attribute. Blogging is not only a key member of the Web 2.0 family though it is also the major online medium which is birthing new forms of language, particularly in the field of character development.

Interactivity and Community

Blogs are highly interactive pieces of writing. Interactive, meaning viewers have the ability to act with the blog itself through various means. Bloggers (authors of blogs) control such features; they control site design, features, permissions etc. Such features are directly related to another distinctive feature of blogging and that is community; a group of people that regularly visit and participate in the activities within the site. These two attributes work hand in hand.

Language and Character

Such aforementioned features would hold no weight on their own if it wasn’t for language. Language creates the content on a blog which draws viewers to the site. A particularly notable part of blogging language and perhaps the most distinctive feature of blogs is character; qualities that distinguish a blogging identity. Blogging is one of the most character driven mediums of literature in current existence (Warschauer & Grimes, 2008). Because of this the language of a blog, particularly a blog that is successful in executing strong character demands to be analyzed to fully understand the crux that this medium stands on.

What this article wishes to do is to address these two unique features of blogging to justify and further understand their effect in fostering character and community.

Subject Matter

In order to effectively understand the interactive qualities and language of blogging, we will analyze a successful blog to see how one blogger has used such things to create a strong community and a strong sense of character among his readers.

In this case I have chosen a blog run by author Michael Abbott, titled The Brainy Gamer (http://brainygamer.com). This blog has received significant garner and praise by many of the Internet’s most famous bloggers (Croal, 2008) (Greene, 2008). Within a short period of time (of ten months) Michael has managed to carve out his own recognizable persona and a loyal and dedicated following of readers which define this blog as a success (amongst the recognition). Michael, of course, uses various blogging features as well as strong language to help build his own character and community, which is what we will look at.

Criteria for Data Analysis

Data required from the Brainy Gamer can be split up into two divisions (one for each core topic); interactive elements of the site and areas where there is strong language use.

As a reminder, interactive elements of a blog are features that allow readers to use and act with the site. We are looking to observe how such features can create a community aspect. So by this we want to see how such features can be used encourage participation and consistent returning to the site. These features are the medium for community themselves but they also are a platform to encourage other forms of interactivity. The interactive elements that I have chosen are a Meebo chat plugin and comments. Additional interactivity can be seen on the About page and Images and Video both of which are more relevant to the language area of the blog but community elements will still be mentioned under these headings.

For language, we are referring to any instances where language is used to develop a character; unique qualities about the blogger; Michael. The beauty of blogging is that language is so dynamic and as a result the whole site and further additional features (for example blog related email) are all covered in language. The areas up for analysis are the About page, Blog Articles, Images and Video (an extension of the core language used). Of course, if language is important in the other features then it shall be documented.

Data Analysis

About

brainy gamer aboutThe About Page is a necessary introduction for many blogs. It is the page where the reader introduces themselves to their audience and is an integral part of the site in terms of creating a first impression (Warschauer & Grimes, 2008). Instead of having a separate About page Michael has opted to compress this into an area at the top left of every page.

The text itself is most interesting, we can see how Michael tries to create a warm and friendly atmosphere by using personal words such as “devoted” and “welcome”. He also uses this prominent space to encourage participation on his blog (“community”, “feedback and comments are always welcome”). There is nothing imposing about what he says, it is all very polite and goes a long way to make a very sincere first impression.

The waving alien image below is also rather inoffensive and the email me link below further opens up avenues for interaction with the author. It is hard to discern what exactly the meaning of the text “Email me” is though. Is this a request for emails or is Michael just stating his email, if you would like to email him? The unknown, frank nature of the text is almost encouraging interaction (“Email Me” as in ‘Please do Email Me’).

The tagline “Thoughtful conversation about video games” (at the top of the page) is like “Email Me”; directed in nature. The intention of a tagline is to briefly describe what a website is about in a few words. Notice how Michael doesn’t use the word ‘blog’ in the tagline? So instead of being a blog his site is instead a “thoughtful conversation”. He uses this opportunity to indetify his blog as a place for conversation by stating that it is actually conversation itself. Such a technique is also often used in advertisements where they try to force attributes or even the product onto your identity though language.

brainy gamer tagline

These features; the text, tagline, email link and image are sections in which the blogger has control over (Six Apart Ltd , 2008). We can see how Michael has used such a feature to invite people into his site, encourage them to contribute and possibly email him too, while at the same time presenting a persona for himself (of warmth and friendship).

Meebo

Underneath the ‘About’ area is a small Meebo plugin[1], this plugin allows anyone to chat with Michael live assuming that he is online (otherwise a message is left). This is another way in which users can interact with Michael. What makes this technology so noteworthy is that it is so seamless in nature which lessens the barriers into participation with the site.

Blog Articles

The core content itself; the blog articles, are the foundation of a blog and are undoubtedly the most important asset of a Blogger. Michael, over the time that he has been blogging has formed his own character through his use of language. The recent post This I believe…except when I don’t.[2] is a great example of this execution.

This I believe…except when I don’t. is a critical look at Michael’s own ideas about video game design and how an upcoming games destroys his thoughts. To strengthen his point he includes a made up quote of the game’s developer mercilessly mocking him (see Quotes). You can see how Michael has created more human (as in flawed and not perfect) character for himself through the language of the fictional quote. The use of strong words such as “hypocrite”, “pontificate”, “stupid little” go lengths to in turn punish himself (and his theories) in such a humourous and amusing fashion. Even more apparent though are the uses of short utterances which drill home a tough message and often ask difficult, in your face questions. Sentences like “don’t you?”, “Admit it.”, “Every single one.”, “A very silly man.”. The powerful language in these phrases dominate over Michael’s ideas which is what he is intending to do. He is attempting to be hard hitting on himself to create a character which reflects back onto him.The use of Michael’s last name is included as well which is a sign of great disrespect in language.

Such a quote shows how conscious Michael is of of his own weaknesses. More importantly though it shows us how Michael has taken advantage of this opportunity to create character for himself, through his own weaknesses. It also shows how willing he is to be light hearted in such a scenario and to not take himself too seriously. This instance is one example of Michael fostering character for himself on the Brainy Gamer blog of which language plays a crucial part.

Comments

Comments are the building blocks for a blogging community, they allow a hub for viewers to share their opinions on the posted article (Ali-Hasan & Adamic,2007). This is the same on The Brainy Gamer. If you browse through the articles posted on the site then you will notice that most articles have at least 10 contributed comments each one of considerable length. In almost every article you will see community members referencing other members contributions and so forth[3].

There are a few ways in which Michael uses the pre-built features of blogging to encourage and establishes the commenting area as a place for informative talk and participation. Firstly having comments installed (with no restrictions) provides a space for readers to express their opinion. The feature itself encourages community as it allows for direct input of messages in an asynchronous way.

Michael is quick to use the technology himself to reply to the contributions of others with his own comments, adding his own ideas back in. This is multi-faceted, he uses the technology as the platform and the language (within his comments) as the device to encourage more talking and community. He does this through his polite and positive character, proof for this can be seen in the various quotations.

He also encourages comments in the articles and on the podcasts and thanks people for their contributions. He does this while maintaining the sincere character that he has formed within the articles. Michael on several occasions has empathetically expressed his sincere thanks from his reader base. A perfect example can be seen an article titled “The genius of the enthusiast”[4] and in the preceding podcast[5]. Quotations can be seen under the set heading.

Images and Video

Images play a subtle but effective role on this site, they are after all a part of the blogging language. On the Brainy Gamer they usually summarize the points of the article quite well and help strengthen the main text. Take for example the article titled “Gamespot – tough crowd for the Wii”[6]. The text discusses how one particular website is being particularly harsh towards a certain set of games.

gamespot brainy gamer

To strengthen his point Michael posts up the following image of a critic looking at a painting with a magnifying glass. The critics face resembles that he is unimpressed with the artwork, this image seems intended to be of a humourous nature relating to the sour opinions of this particular website. Michael uses such imagery to portray a certain feeling that he has of the situation, in the process exerting qualities of character about Michael. The role of the image in this case is as a reinforcer of the text and a creator of additional layers of character.

Video plays a smaller but still important part on the site. Much like in the article “More reasons not to play GTA IV”[7] video is often used to strengthen a point with video taken from a game which is being discussed. Much like the images the video reinforces the core points.

Conclusion

Overall, we can see how through the use of language and technology Michael has strengthened his blog into a community while creating an online identity for himself at the same time. Language used within the blogging articles is the heart of language use for blogs and as seen, it is the basis as to where character is founded.

It isn’t alone though, images and video, the About page, comments and the podcast as well all play their part in presenting a character for the blogger. Each of these outlets are covered in their own language and therefore can be manipulated in such a ways by the blogger to create character.

Language was also used by the blogger to encourage and invite a community onto the blog. Interactive features aided this community by not only being the medium itself but also providing avenues for further language use. As such language and the features of blogging go hand in hand to foster the growth of character and community within a blogging context.

With this said, additional technologies such as the Blogroll, podcasts and email also demand some form of insight under this framework to further understand how the blogging platform operates.

Notes

Brainy Gamer Articles

[1] Meembo
http://www.meebome.com/

[2] This I believe…except when I don’t.
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/06/this-i-believee.html

[3] Comment Examples
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/05/casual-or-acces.html#comments
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/05/confounded-by-t.html#comments

[4] The genius of the enthusiast
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/04/the-genius-of-t.html

[5] Preceding Podcast
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/04/brainy-gamer-po.html

[6] Gamespot – tough crowd for the Wii
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/05/gamespot.html

[7] More reasons not to play GTA IV
http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2008/05/more-reasons-no.html

Quotations

“You’re a hypocrite, Abbott. You pontificate like you’ve got it all figured out, but I know the truth about you. You want my game bad, don’t you? Admit it. You’re way more excited than you were for that silly sandbox Gotham, aren’t you? You want my game, and you want it now. Well I’ve got news for you, smart guy. My game breaks every one of your stupid little rules. That’s right. Every single one. How do you like that? Hmm? What do you say now? Yeah, I thought so. Still want it. Can’t wait to play it. You’re a very silly man, Abbott. A very silly man.”[1]

“My brain thanks you for the reassurance.” [2]

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the Wii version of Mario Kart, and I appreciate the challenge of learning how to be successful in the game.”[3]

“I have been inundated with comments and emails from dozens of respondents offering valuable recommendations and constructive suggestions for the course”[4]

“I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for this overwhelming response”[5]

References

Ali-Hasan, N.F & Adamic, L.A (2007). Expressing Social Relationships on the Blog through Links and Comments, Retrieved 26th May 2008, from http://www.icwsm.org/papers/2–Ali-Hasan–Adamic.pdf

Croal, N. (2008). Top Four Gaming Tidbits For May 13th. Retrieved 26th May 2008, from http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/levelup/archive/2008/05/13/top-four-gaming-tidbits-for-may-13th-2008.aspx

Croal, N. (2008). Top Four Gaming Tidbits For May 5th. Retrieved 26th May 2008, from http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/levelup/archive/2008/05/05/top-ten-gaming-tidbits-for-may-5th-2008.aspx

Crystal, D. (2001). Medium of NetSpeak, Language and The Internet (pp.24-61). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Godwin-Jones, R. (2005) Emerging Technologies. Language Learning and Technology, 9(3), 9-12

Greene, M. (2008). Putting Together the ‘History of RPGs’ Class. Retrieved 26th May 2008, from http://kotaku.com/5009565/the-history-of-rpgs-a-reading-list

Six Apart Ltd (2008). TypePad Features. Retrieved 26th May 2008, from http://www.typepad.com/features/

Warschauer, M. & Grimes, D.(2008). Audience, Authorship, and Artifact: The Emergent Semiotics of Web 2.0. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 27(2007), 1-23

  • Interesting take on one of our favorite hang-outs. I think what kept me coming back to that blog personally was how he runs it like we’re in a classroom. He gives the post/lecture, and we all raise our hands and talk. It’s like a big round table discussion as opposed to the traditional journalistic method. It’s a very interesting style and one that I wish I could emulate better in my own work. It’s tough to be inviting, y’know?

  • I think that there are so many techniques that can be used (under the headings that I’ve listed among others) to create your own identity. It is definetly a tough job to position your site under particular attributes.

    I did a bit of research into this before I re-themed my site actually and used a couple of my own tricks. For example, the use of SMB3 Mario in the header which I feel is synonymous with a lot of postitive, pure fun aspects of gaming. Reflects back on me, don’t you think? ^_^