From its early stages, the Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, was a place where people could communicate with one another. The primary means for individuals to communicate information on the web was through the construction of websites or “homepages” (Döring, 2002). Around the middle of the 1990s, construction and publication of personal websites gained momentum on a global scale. Also in Japan, a large number of personal websites were constructed at that time (Hashimoto, Tsuji, Fukuda, Mori, & Yanagisawa, 1996). Personal websites offer their owners an unprecedented opportunity to present almost anything they want to in an inexpensive, highly flexible mass medium to a potentially global audience (Döring, 2002). Over time, many personal websites were connected to each other by hyperlinks and formed electronic communities, demonstrating “the strength of weak ties” (Granovetter, 1973).
Personal websites can be divided roughly into two types. The first is a “self-description” using the web as sort of a stage for website owners. Such personal websites consist almost entirely of identity claims (Vazire & Gosling, 2004). Contents for self-description can include a detailed profile, for example, job, hobbies, or special skills. Most self-description contents are prepared and updated only by website owners. The second type involves “interaction with others.” In such websites, which can incorporate bulletin board systems, guest books, chat rooms, etc., the website owner is a participant as well. In other words, this type can exist only when there are participants other than the website owner. The communication on such websites can take various forms, such as dialogues between two people or large-scale communication in which the participants can be viewed as a community.
Personal Blogs on the Web
Although personal websites can be thought of as either one of the two types in the earliest stages, online diaries emerged around 1995 as a fusion of the two types (e.g., Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright, 2004). An online diary is a personal diary or journal published on a personal website or a diary hosting website. Authors keep running accounts of their personal lives in their online diaries. An online diary can be defined structurally as a type of website where entries are made and displayed in reverse chronological order. Websites called “diary” (nikki, in Japanese) or similar names were seen from the earliest days of the web (Kawaura, Kawakami, & Yamashita, 1998; McNeill, 2005). The owners of the websites, the online diarists, were at the same time active participants, communicating with others. As online diarists began to learn about each other, webrings were formed to connect the various online diaries. Lists of online diaries by topic allowed people to find websites that had some relation to each other. Kawaura et al. (1998) noted that personal websites in Japan included diaries or similar content more frequently than those in other countries and suggested that cultural differences were the basis for these differences in self-disclosure on the web. Thus far, however, there seems to have been no empirical cross-cultural study of these differences.
Systems and tools usually progress along with the needs of their users. Online diarists have always had a need for both self-description and interaction with others. Starting in about 1998, a new type of website called weblogs (blogs) began to be posted (cf. Blood, 2002) and has gradually merged with online diaries (Herring, Kouper, et al., 2004). A blog is a kind of web-based system that uses a variety of tools to facilitate self-description and interaction with others.
Blogs effectively facilitate self-description, in that all authors have to do is write (type) a title and subsequent sentences in plain text in order to create or update their blog entries. It is not necessary to add HTML codes or upload files to a website. Using a blog system, authors can dramatically simplify the procedures required for online self-description. Additionally, blog systems allow authors to label their individual entries with thematic categories (or tags) and classify their entries according to their entry date and their subject. This function enables blog authors to review their self-description both by history and by subject.
Blog systems provide various tools for supporting interaction with others; the most distinctive are comments and TrackBack. Readers can leave a comment on posted entries and authors can answer it with another comment or by posting a subsequent or revised entry. TrackBack is a mechanism for communicating across blogs. If a blog author writes a new entry commenting on, or referring to, an entry found on another blog, and both blog tools support the TrackBack protocol, then the commenting blog author can notify the other blog with a “TrackBack ping.” The receiving blog will typically display summaries of and links to all the comment entries below the original entry. This allows for conversations spanning several blogs that readers can follow. Both tools help blog authors and readers to interact online in more diverse ways. The extended community of blog authors and readers has come to be known as the “blogosphere,” the web environment in which blog authors “form connections with others while progressing along their own paths” (Badger, 2004, n.p.).
As a result of the affordances of blog software, the process of publishing online diaries became feasible for a much larger, less technically oriented population. In Japan, the number of blog users has increased exponentially since 2003. This dramatic increase, which was labeled the “blog boom,” occurred with the development of the Japanese version of certain popular blog tools and the start of free blog services around 2002-2003. Recent research on Internet use estimates that 8,680,000 Japanese had registered with blog services as of the end of March 2006 (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2006).
However, while many blogs are started, a considerable proportion are abandoned after a short period of time (Perseus, 2003). This study is interested in bloggers who persist in blogging. Specifically, the goal of the study is to clarify the psychological and social processes motivating blog authors to continue to write their personal blogs. In order to do so, we conducted a questionnaire survey of Japanese blog authors and examined two hypothesized models of psychological and internal factors (personal traits/benefits/satisfaction) and social and external factors (feedback from readers) using structural equation modeling. The hypothesized models are confirmed, albeit weakly so, suggesting that in addition to the hypothesized variables, other unmeasured motivational variables may have influenced the intentions of blog authors.