Previous Studies of Online Diaries and Personal Blogs
Many researchers have focused on the characteristics of the online diary and personal blog (e.g., Herring, Scheidt, Kouper, & Wright, 2004, 2006; Langellier & Peterson, 2004; Yamashita & Fujinami, 2000). One might think of personal blogs as media primarily used for self-description. In reality, personal blogs often contain information that authors would be unlikely to disclose in face-to-face communication, even with close friends and family. This suggests that blogs have characteristics in common with conventional diaries, such as contents concealed in closed spaces. However, releasing such text as web content means that it can be viewed anonymously by many people and implies that the author wants the contents to be known. Thus, blogs are multi-faceted, with both reader- and self-oriented features (Kawaura, Yamashita, & Kawakami, 1999).
Previous studies have classified online diaries or blogs based on their contents. For example, Kawaura et al. (1998) classified online diaries into four types based on “the direction of diarists’ consciousness” and “expression content:” 1) records of facts oriented toward the self (memoirs), 2) records of facts oriented toward readers (journals), 3) expressions of sentiments oriented toward the self (narrowly defined diaries), and 4) expressions of sentiments oriented toward readers (open diary). Krishnamurthy (2000) proposed classifying blogs into four basic types based on whether they are personal vs. topical and individual vs. communal. The two dimensions proposed by Krishnamurthy resemble the classification by Kawaura et al. (1998) of online diaries.
Blood (2002) claimed that the free-form interface of blogs caused a shift from a filter-style (link-based, externally focused) blog to a journal style, with both styles coexisting on the web. Following Blood (2002), Herring, Scheidt, Bonus, and Wright (2004) analyzed the contents of 357 random blogs and identified three sub-genres according to the purpose of the blog: personal journals, filters, and k(nowledge)-logs; personal journals were found to be overwhelmingly most common. Along with this classification, Herring and Paolillo (2006) conducted a multivariate analysis of entries from random blogs in a sample balanced for author gender and two of the three blog sub-genres (diary or filter) and found that authors of diary blogs write differently from authors of filter blogs; diary style correlates with hypothesized female authorial style, and filter style correlates with hypothesized male authorial style.
Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz (2004) investigated the various motivations that drive individuals to create and maintain blogs. They took account of a handful of alpha blog authors who were very popular and widely read but also paid special attention to ordinary authors with much smaller audiences. Based on in-depth interviews with 23 blog authors in the U.S., they identified and categorized five major motivations for blogging: documenting one’s life, providing commentary and opinions, expressing deeply felt emotions, articulating ideas through writing, and forming and maintaining community forums.
Kawaura et al. (1999) conducted a questionnaire survey of online diarists in Japan and empirically explored the psychological and social process of online diary writing behavior. The authors formulated a causal model of why diarists continued to write their online diaries. In their model, a psychological and social causal relationship was hypothesized: Some benefits of writing diaries satisfy authors, and this satisfaction compels them to continue writing. Furthermore, Kawaura et al. hypothesized that the self-consciousness of authors and feedback from readers would mediate this causal relationship. Their results revealed that online diarists continued to write their diaries because they had discovered the function of self-disclosure through the diaries. They felt satisfied that they had expressed themselves to others and always envisioned the presence of readers when they wrote (Kawaura et al., 1999). In addition, feedback from readers affected all factors that influence the intention to continue. These results demonstrated that online diaries in Japan were not merely a form of self-description but also involved active communication with others.
Kawaura et al.’s survey was conducted in 1997, before the word “blog” was known in Japan. It seems plausible that their conclusions can be extended to personal journal style blogs, as well.
Psychological and Social Processes Supporting the Intention to Continue Blogging
Individuals have less capacity to transmit information than do the mass media, yet they can transmit information freely over the Internet by publishing blogs. Blogs, together with tools such as social networking systems and wikis, put the public on notice that it can play a central role in the next-generation web, that is, Web 2.0. If blogs actually can make the Internet a space with extensive and varied accumulated information, each blog author should provide as much and as diverse information as possible in their blogs. In order for this vision to be achieved, it is crucial that blog authors continue to write their blogs without interruption. The longer they maintain their blog, the richer the information that accumulates in the blog. In reality, however, most blog authors make only one or a few entries in their blog and then stop writing in it. According to a U.S. survey (Perseus, 2003), 66.0% of 4.12 million surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned. What are the mechanisms that support personal blog authors’ intentions to persist in writing their blogs?
Generally speaking, a blog is a diary-like website that is updated on a regular basis. Through frequent updating, the contents of a blog become richer and more meaningful. Therefore, it may be reasonable to assume that most blog authors start blogging with the intention of continuing to write as long as possible. However, as the Perseus (2003) study reported, some blog authors abandon writing blogs in a few days or weeks, whereas others continue over several years or (potentially) all their life. What is the difference between these two groups? To investigate this, we assumed that both psychological and social factors form the mechanism of their intention to continue writing blogs. A causal model was hypothesized that includes both these factors as independent variables and the individual’s intention to continue writing blogs as a dependent variable.
When we determine whether to start a new action or continue an action that we have started already, we consider what benefits those actions will bring us in the future. If those actions are expected to provide us some benefits, we will undertake or continue them. If not, or if it seems the actions will be disadvantageous to us, we will not start them, or else we will abandon them. If the same is true for blog writing, people who expect benefits from blog writing will set up their own blogs, and those who benefit from blog writing and derive satisfaction from it will be more likely to continue blogging than those who do not.
As mentioned above, a blog both provides information about its author and has features that support mutual communication with others. Kawaura et al. (1999) focused on the communication function of online diaries (e.g., email forms, bulletin boards), suggesting that it caused authors to self-disclose and further promoted their intention to continue writing. Characterizing online diary writing as a kind of self-disclosing behavior, the authors pointed out two benefits of self-disclosure for online diary writing based on a previous study about the appropriateness of self-disclosure (Derlega & Grezelak, 1979). One is the benefit to self, and the other is the benefit to relationships with others.
Benefit to Self
Most articles written in a personal blog are based on the personal experience of its author. A survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (Lenhart & Fox, 2006) revealed that the most popular topic among blog authors was their life and experiences. As many previous psychological studies (e.g., Pennebaker & Beall, 1986) point out, writing about our personal experience can help us to understand ourselves more deeply and mitigate major problems or conflicts. Therefore, it might be expected that blog authors can deepen their understanding of themselves through expressing or disclosing themselves in a blog. The more they benefit this way, the more they should feel satisfaction with blog writing. This should reinforce their intention to continue writing.
Benefit to Relationships with Others
Blogs also have a communication function; when someone transmits information on their own blog, they create opportunities for others to participate in their behavior, for example by leaving comments or pinging TrackBacks. If readers exploit this opportunity, the blog author may create or maintain closer relationships with them. This may also help the authors identify themselves as having a social existence. As blog writing behavior is directly connected with belonging to an interactive community through a blog, it might be expected that blog authors can benefit from activating communication with, and consequently gaining acceptance from, others. The more authors benefit continuously in this way, the more they should feel satisfaction with blogging, which should reinforce their intention to continue writing.
The effect of these benefits on the intention to continue writing was previously examined and confirmed based on a survey of online diary authors by Kawaura et al. (1999). This study examines whether it will be confirmed also in the case of blog authors. In the current study, we propose a benefit in addition to these two benefits of blog writing and develop a causal model to explain continued blog writing that includes all three benefits.
Benefit to Information Handling Skills
Another benefit that may be expected from blog writing is for authors to improve their information handling skills. In writing their blog and participating in a blogosphere, blog authors have repeated experience in appropriately transmitting information, leaving comments on other’s blogs, pinging TrackBacks, and obtaining new information from other blogs listed on their blogrolls. Through such blog activities, authors may benefit by improving their information handling skills; for example, they may develop an enhanced sensitivity to information and an improved ability to retrieve information.
As previously described, blog authors can manage their information efficiently by making use of various functions of the blog system such as RSS and topic-dependent categorization. Although they need to acquire a certain level of proficiency to utilize these functions fully, it is reasonable to assume that authors gradually learn the skills for handling information through their actual blog writing. Once a blog author acquires the skills for handling information, he or she will have opportunities to transmit and obtain information more effectively through blogging. The more authors benefit continuously in this way, the more satisfied they should be with blog writing, which should reinforce their intention to continue writing.
The central idea of our causal model for continuing blog writing is summarized as follows: The most important factors supporting the intention to continue blog writing are the degree to which blog authors are satisfied with the three benefits to (1) self, (2) relationship with others, and (3) information handling skills. When blog authors are conscious of, and accordingly feel satisfied with, these benefits of their blog writing, their intention to continue blog writing is enhanced.
We also consider factors related to these benefits and satisfaction: psychological factors such as personality traits of blog authors related to how much they are conscious of these benefits and social factors such as frequency of feedback from others related to how much they communicate with others via their blogs.
Individuals who are highly conscious of their self-expression in their blogs seem to be keen to know who they are. We assume private self-consciousness to be a personality trait related to the benefit to self. Private self-consciousness is the tendency to be aware of covert, private aspects of self that cannot be externally observed by others (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). Individuals with high private self-consciousness tend to attach a higher value to personal than social identity (Cheek & Briggs, 1982) and behave in accordance with their own feelings, attitudes, and perceived rights (e.g., Scheier, 1976). In blog writing, high private self-consciousness authors may tend to start keeping a blog with an introspective motive and may more clearly anticipate a benefit to self, especially the ability to understand themselves more deeply.
Individuals who are highly conscious of being understood by others seem to be keen to verify it. A personality trait related to the benefit to relationships with others is reassurance seeking. Reassurance seeking is a tendency to demand significant contact with others excessively in order to reassure oneself of one’s worth, and it is a relatively stable pattern of motivation and behavior with one’s significant others (Joiner, Metalsky, Katz, & Beach, 1999; Katsuya, 2004). It is supposed that high reassurance-seeking individuals are likely to seek to confirm frequently whether they are loved of or value to others through various kinds of explicit behavior. In blog writing, it may be that high reassurance-seeking authors tend to start blogging with the motive of confirming their value to others, and they may expect blogging to benefit their relationships with others who read their blog and to enable them to attain deep mutual understanding with others.
We propose that the benefit to information handling skills is related to the degree of need for information. Information need consists of one’s need both to provide and acquire information (Kawaura, 1998). Blogs can be seen as one of the most suitable tools for satisfying this kind of need because blog authors can not only provide information easily to their readers, but they can also acquire information from their readers through comments and TrackBacks in their blogs. Therefore, those who have a strong need either to transmit their own information or to obtain information from others as much and as precisely as possible would be likely to expect a benefit to information handling skills from blog writing.
As discussed above, blog writing is a social behavior that enables mutual communication with others based on posted articles. Given this, hypothesizing a causal model for persisting in blog writing based only on individual psychological factors would be short sighted. Blog authors have frequent opportunities to receive feedback from readers through standard blog functions such as comments and TrackBacks. The amount of feedback they receive should have a considerable impact on blog authors’ satisfaction with their blogs. If some blog authors receive a lot of positive feedback (e.g, sympathy, support, encouragement), they should feel more satisfied and motivated to continue writing. Other blog authors who receive negative feedback (e.g., criticism, complaints, and quibbles) should feel less satisfied and less motivated to continue writing.