My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Journaler is to Blogger as Dyke is to Lesbian (Why Identity through Activity Fails)

I had a analogy moment today. I’ve been talking to more people who don’t identify as bloggers but who self-proclaimed bloggers label as bloggers because the activities are seen as the same. I’ve heard this rhetoric before. From dykes and lesbians.

A lot of dykes engage in activities that lesbians would recognize. Lesbians call dykes lesbians and dykes rebel against that label. Lesbians roll their eyes at the dykes, failing to understand what difference the dykes feel.

The difference is that identity labels are not simply based on activity. Identity labels are a way of self-identifying with a culture, a set of practices, and a set of values. Even when dykes and lesbians engage in the same practices, the dykes don’t see themselves as part of lesbian culture or embodying lesbian values. Part of this has to do with gender identity; part of this has to do with politics. And of course, the boundaries are not so cleanly rigid. Some people identify as both dykes and lesbians, depending on what fits at that moment for them. But there are also quite a few on extreme ends (see Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival).

One assumption about dykes and lesbians is that they just sleep with women. What about tranny boys/bois? Or what about the various self-identified dykes who have sex with bio boys… but whose only sex practice is anal sex where the girl penetrates the boy with a strap-on? It’s not exactly “straight” as most people would recognize…

So, how does this translate to blogging/journaling?

We have a tendency to label people based on their activities. Yet, identity is self-prescribed. Outsiders can certainly label people based on behavior, but to engulf them into their identity simply because of shared practice is dangerous for all. It means that the two groups who might otherwise share a commonality have a repulsion because one feels oppressed or devalued because the other has tried to enforce a foreign label onto them.

What are the implications for bloggers/blog tool creators to see people who identify as journalers and try to enforce that label on them? How does this affect tool design, community understanding and cultural development? Although i’m only just beginning my interviews, i’m already fascinated by the subtle differences in what people identify as valuable. Both groups talk about community, but the kinds of support and the relationship between the community and the text seems to be different. More motivation for interesting work.

PS: If you’re going to be at SXSW and would love to do an interview and you identify in this spectrum, let me know!

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8 comments to Journaler is to Blogger as Dyke is to Lesbian (Why Identity through Activity Fails)

  • I hate the term blog

    Let me not beat around the bush with this: I hate the term “blog”. It’s “personal web publishing” or “self publishing”. Or maybe just the next generation of content management. This realization has been a while in coming. I’ve “blogged” before it was c…

  • I’m trying to get away from the concept of “people” being involved at all. It’s a content management solution, one with some albeit radical departures from what came before, but that’s what it is.

    People will certainly identify with different terms. Let’s talk about desktop publishing, which I continue to think has many parallels with personal web publishing. Does someone say “I’m a desktop publisher”? No, they don’t. Saying things like “I’m a ‘zine publisher” or “I’m a graphic designer” are perhaps self-identifiers that could be linked to the tool-that-is-desktop-publishing.

    Yes, identity can be bound up with personal web publishing, especially if the content being posted is of a mainly personal nature, so the self-identifier that people use will very much say a lot about the community and context they consider themselves to be a part of. So I perhaps side-stepped your point somewhat to harp on the fact that I, personally, reject the self-identifier of “blogger” :p

    (we’ll just keep trading comments, shall we?)

  • Boris – this is where i inherently have a problem with your approach. You can’t remove people from the equation. Blogging is *not* a content management situation. It’s a process of social negotiation, using content as the means to share, connect and find common ground. Much of the content is completely valueless outside of the context of the person. It wasn’t intended for a worldwide audience. It’s not meant to be publishing.

    When i share a random story from my daily, i do so under the assumption that my readers care about *me*. It’s not meant to be published any more than telling a story in the park is meant to be published. The medium collapses the publishable and the storytelling into appearing to be the same thing. But they aren’t. The audience is different.

    Honestly, i think that if you only view blogs from a publishing perspective, you’ve lost the point of almost all of what people are doing.

  • Isn’t blogging a CMS for some people? Maybe those journalists who are being paid to do it for their newspaper? As you say, there is an element of self-identifying here. If someone uses Userland because their boss tells them to but they don’t self-indentify as blogging then how do you label them? Clearly for some, using MT is “a process of social negotiation” but is it that for everyone? Are you defining it as an activity, or as something derived from the tool? I guess that’s key. I suppose if you define it as an activity, and you define that activity as a “process of social negotiation”, then by your defintions, clearly, blogging is not about a CMS. But then you need to be clear that some people using MT and Userland are not blogging.

    Right? Or did I misunderstand you?

  • Certain acts *may* be a CMS action, but to label the phenomenon as such is problematic. When i’m referring to blogging, i’m not referring to any blogs that are meant only for the individual and not ever to be read by anyone else ever. Thus, there is always social negotiation.

  • Much of the content is completely valueless outside of the context of the person. It wasn’t intended for a worldwide audience. It’s not meant to be publishing.

    Hmmm…I post on my website precisely because I do have a worldwide audience. Many of them come by because of Google.

    I continue to find this interesting, because there seems to be confusion what “blogging” means. To you, it seems to be an activity: a worldwide conversation that involves people. To me, it’s an accessible way to publish content on the Internet. Which is where Lawrence was heading, I think.

    One can use “blogging tools” to build websites. You know, regular websites, with an About Us, Contact Us, Products, etc. They often have a really good News and/or PR section, because that’s what the tools are good at.

    Conversely, I’ve seen sites where people “blog” manually — they just put up pages one at a time, without a tool.

    So it really all comes back to labeling and self-identifying, which is what your post is all about :p

  • “Blogging” is less about the format, and more about a renewed belief –grokking.– of the web as the great equalizer.

    Being a blogger doesn’t mean you use a certain type of content management software… it means you embrace the web as a true evolution. It means you understand that your words and ideas can be GLOBAL.
    And that with a voice that can be heard around the world, you could never be powerless.
    You could never be truly alone.

    I see journaling as a more restricted activity.
    A journal has walls. A blog has doors.

  • Self-Identifying

    Recently, Danah wrote a about the disparity between the label of “blogger” and people’s self-identities: apophenia: Journaler is to Blogger…