Personal publishing by an individual or small group – generally not for profit and generally not aimed at a mass audience or utilizing mainstream publishers – has occurred for centuries. In its early years it took the form of, e.g., small-scale pamphleteering, the circulation of diaries within faith-based or friendship communities, or the publication of books of family history or autobiography using the “vanity” press (publishers whose income comes primarily from authors). Because of the economics of publishing, however, these practices tended to be marginal. With the advent of the personal computer and inexpensive desktop publishing tools, small-scale personal publication became easier and a variety of small-scale magazines sprang up. It has been the diffusion of access to the Internet in recent years across much of the world, however, that has enabled a flourishing of online personal publishing and inspired a greater academic focus on this area. This started with personal Internet home pages in the mid-1990s and has continued in the form of the “weblog” (a site consisting of items published in reverse chronological order) and, most recently, of profiles on social networking services like MySpace and Facebook.
Self-publishing has taken a great diversity of forms and therefore attracted interest from academics across a number of disciplines. Zines and personal home pages, e.g., are important means of recirculating fan-created fiction and criticism. Much of the attention paid to weblogs in the press and academic literature has focused on those who use them as a form of alternative or citizen journalism. There has also been some attention paid to weblogs as tools for the creation and maintenance of virtual communities of practice through the sharing of topic-centered information and interlinking between such sites by their authors (Efimova 2004; Mortensen and Walker 2002). These are not the most popular reasons that people choose to self-publish online, however.
A survey of US webloggers (Lenhart and Fox 2006) – echoing earlier, smaller-scale surveys – indicates that the most important uses for weblogs by a considerable margin are as a means of creative expression and as documentation of the writer’s life and experiences. Diaries, both traditional and online, have been studied as part of a broader literary and sociological interest in biography and autobiography – written, oral, and now online (e.g., the journals Auto/Biography and Biography). Such studies reveal the manner in which a medium of supposedly “free” expression can be constrained or at least influenced both by internalized expectations of what “belongs” in a diary (Stanley 1992) and by the constraints of the medium itself (Harrison 2001). Studies of home pages and weblogs also focus on how they may be used to construct, present, explore, or play with identities (Cheung 2004; Miller and Arnold 2001).
Because the newer forms of online diary make interaction between readers and the author easy, social psychologists have examined the weblog as a novel form of computermediated communication and potentially as a form of virtual community. The assumed importance to their authors of a readership for online diaries has been called into question by a number of interview-based studies that reveal a more complex and sometimes distanced relationship between the writer and his or her desired and actual readers (Gumbrecht 2004; Menchen Trevino 2005; Nardi et al. 2004). Even when desired, interaction is not necessarily forthcoming: one analysis of patterns of online responses posted on weblogs (Mishne and Glance 2006) found that while 80 percent of sampled weblogs allowed or enabled comments, only 28 percent had actually received any.
Many diaristic personal publishers – particularly the young – appear to be migrating from individual weblogs and home pages toward “profiles” in social networking services that encourage them to make explicit their personal and professional ties to others in that network. With the increased diffusion of broadband Internet connections and the availability of inexpensive portable digital cameras (including those in mobile phones), weblogs and “profiles” increasingly include pictures, audio, and video as well as text. The implications of these shifts will become the subjects of research in the future.
- Cheung, C. (2004). Identity construction and self-presentation on personal home pages: Emancipatory potentials and reality constraints. In D. Gauntlett & R. Horsley (eds.), studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age. London: Arnold.
- Efimova, L. (2004). Discovering the iceberg of knowledge work: A weblog case. Proceedings of The Fifth European Conference on Organisational Knowledge, Learning and Capabilities (OKLC 2004).
- Gumbrecht, M. (2004). Blogs as “protected space.” World Wide Web Conference 5.
- Harrison, A. (2001). Where are they now? At http://cct.georgetown.edu/thesis/amyharrison.pdf.
- Lenhart, A., & Fox, S. (2006). Bloggers: A portrait of the Internet’s new storytellers. Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Menchen Trevino, E. (2005). Blogger motivations: Power, pull, and positive feedback. At http:// blog.erickamenchen.net/2005/06/28/blogger-motivations-power-pull-and-positive-feedback/
- Miller, H., & Arnold, J. (2001). Self in web home pages: Gender, identity and power in cyberspace. In G. Riva & C. Galimberti (eds.), Towards cyberpsychology: Mind, cognitions and society in the Internet age. Amsterdam: IOS Press.
- Mishne, G., & Glance, N. (2006). Leave a reply: An analysis of weblog comments. WWW2006.
- Mortensen, T., & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging thoughts: Personal publication as an online research tool. In A. Morrison (ed.), Researching ICTs in context. Oslo: InterMedia, pp. 249–272.
- Nardi, B., Schiano, D., & Gumbrecht, M. (2004). Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary?. CSCW, p. 11.
- Stanley, L. (1992). The auto/biographical I: The theory and practice of feminist auto/biography. Manchester: Manchester University Press.