April 14, 2006
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Artifacts and Practices

Lilia Efimova presents a two-part post on weblog studies (1 | 2), in which she emphasizes the distinction between blogging artifacts and blogging practices. Do you study the artifacts -- posts, links, comments? Or the many things people to to create those artifacts?

Efimova suggests the distinction is between archaeology (studying artifacts) and ethnography (studying practices). This is interesting, but (unfortunately) it's a bad analogy. Archaeologists study artifacts because the artifacts are the best available or only evidence. You can't interview or observe a Clovis hunter or a Cluniac monk: there aren't any. Archaeologists are interested in the way people lived; the study of artifacts is a way to find out.

But weblogs aren't simply artifactual clues that could help us learn what their writers were doing. Weblogs are created artifacts, intended to be seen and read and used. A decent respect for the weblog and its creator requires us to look, first, at the artifact. Someone worked hard to make this and wanted us (or someone ) to see it or use it. It's a weblog, not a midden or a sherd.

We're interested in Pepys and Darwin and Anne Frank for reasons beyond what they paid for ink and how their efforts integrated into the economy.

One interesting question comes to mind about weblog ethnography: when do people write? The journal and diary have long been associated with evening, an activity at least notionally connected with day's end. I've noticed, though, that blogging is frequently a morning task. Does this matter? How?