week 6 in e-rhet: project: the use of links in personal weblogs

A couple weeks ago, we started the second project in this semester’s E-Rhetoric course: how bloggers use links in personal weblogs. Myers introduces the idea and does some preliminary work on the question in Chap 3 of The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis. Bloggers link to material and websites outside of the blog; the link is one of the features that defines weblogs as weblogs (Myers, chap 2). They use blogrolls as a way of positioning their blog with respect to others – identifying a sphericule – but they also include links in their posts. And, of course, they don’t just write,  Here’s a link!, or copy and paste urls into the post. A cursory glance at a weblog illustrates that bloggers use links rhetorically – to “more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions,” in S&P’s all-purpose definition of rhetoric.

Myers is not just describing what bloggers do but analysing what they do – and that’s where his work fits in with S&P’s chap 5 on analysis:

In this chapter we help you learn how to do analysis by showing you two parts to this thinking process: (1) naming the parts of a message and (2) looking for rhetorical patterns within and among messages.

To do this, we start with a search model:

Search models are derived from theories about rhetorical communication that identify different rhetorical properties or components of messages (e.g., visual style, type of argument, language style, or parts of a story). Each search model causes you to take a particular point of View when analyzing a message, leading you to focus on particular rhetorical properties and not others. So, different search models will enable you to see different rhetorical properties in a given message, somewhat like sunglasses with different colored lenses. (71)

Our search model is the one that Myers uses in chap 3, in which he starts to construct a taxonomy of how bloggers use links. A specialized vocabulary and specialized concepts mark a search model as a serach model, so the taxonomy will look a little technical at first. For our work, I adapted and organized his taxonomy in the project page Rhetorical Uses of Links in Personal Weblogs. With this taxonomy, we can build on what Myers has found, add to it, and modify and refine it –  according to what we see, using the same lenses that Myers used.

Myers uses another search model inside his own (not uncommon. S&P do it too). Myers discovered that some of the bloggers he was looking at were using links in ways that involved more than straight-to-the-point communication. Bloggers were making jokes with links, misleading readers, and seemingly playing with links, So he drew on Grice’s theory of communication to define a way of working with flouts. Myers covers Grice in chapter 3 but I gave you a link to some more detailed explanation of Grice on flouts so we can use the same search model in our work.

And, finally, I added a category to Myers’s developing taxonomy, What is the link doing rhetorically. Myers noticed that bloggers were using flouts in their links, but other rhetorical critics and casual readers have noticed that bloggers also use rhetorical figures in links. More concisely, they use the link text and the link target to create a rhetorical figure or trope.

For example, I’ve seen an interesting way bloggers will present links in an argument about the value of taking notes:

Don’t believe me? See here, here, and here.

What’s going on here? The links lead to three different quotes each of which gives evidence for the argument. But the “Don’t believe me?” is a rhetorical question, and it’s followed by three links that repeat the same word – a figure of repetition called an isocolon.  (I came, I saw, I conquered). The argument behind this figure is something like this: “There is plenty of evidence available that support my claim. Here are three obvious, self-explanatory examples. Support is so easy to find that it doesn’t warrant doing more than gesturing: here, here, here …”

So, in addition to using Myers’s straightforward categories of what’s being linked to and how the link is interated in the text, we are also taking a focus on the rhetorical moves we see.

This sounds like a lot but because we’re using a method, it’s not. What you need to do is make multiple passes, being methodical in your notetaking.

In the specific blog posts, look at

  • What the rhetor links to
  • How the rhetor incorporates the link into the text
  • How we can characterize the relationship of link context to target
  • What the link is doing rhetorically

And outside of links in the posts, look at blogroll and other links on the page: Are they present? What sites are linked to? How is the sidebar collection titled?

Two more elements go into analysis, and they are here to make the task easier and more robust:

Watch for patterns. Patterns in analyses are detailed in S&P, chap 5, and I also list them on the project page. It’s patterns where things become interesting and signficant.

Record your thinking in notes. Again, this is detailed in S&P. chap 5 and elsewhere. You’re not writing an essay but collecting examples and considerting them. Use the categories and the bullet points in the taxonomy as a starting point, until you can start adding other examples. See a link? Copy and paste the link and surrounding text into your notes page and consider it. Seeking different ways of integrating linktext into the post? Add those to the taxonmy, with a sample to illustrate. You’ll know you’re enaged in the method when you start to add to the options in the taxonomy. Any single link may show up in more than one area, as you consider what is linked to, how the text is handled, the relation of the linktext to the target, and what the link is doing rhetorically. So, make multiple passes as you identify patterns, come across interesting moves, and add to the taxonomy as you work.

In making multiple passes with this search model, you’re doing analysis. This is what it looks like when you’re in the middle of it: messy at first, but becoming more and more refined as patterns start to surface, and as you start to refine and adapt the taxonomy.

Later, when we all have sets of notes, I’ll ask you to refine your ideas by composing a few extended paragraphs from your notes on what you have found so far, a kind of overview, so we can compare findings and prepare to interpret them.

This post was adapted from the presention I gave in class 16 Oct 2014.

on pinboard for October 9th, 2014 through October 18th, 2014

on pinboard for September 22nd, 2014 through October 4th, 2014

on pinboard for September 20th, 2014

on pinboard for September 16th, 2014 through September 18th, 2014

weeks 2 and 3 in e-rhetoric

Weeks 2 and 3 in E-Rhetoric

We got stuck into method, with S&P’s chapters 2 and 3, with exercises in SeeingAsACritic. The in-class discussion focused on distinguishing between evaluative observatipns – like this

  • Swallowing observation in interpretation or evaluation. “The page is marred by an ugly logo.” Description is neutral. Describe the page, the logo, the placement.

and further refining observing by stepping outside of the rhetorical interaction. The mis-step occurs when you

  • Describe the viewer’s action rather than the object. “The viewer’s eye is drawn to the red logo.” This is not a description of the page from outside the rhetorical exchange but a description of a possible reaction by a viewer. “There is a bright red logo in the corner. This is the only spot of red on a page with a black background and white text.” That is a description. On analysis, you would consider how that design works to control attention.

My notes SeeingAsACriticDebriefing highlights a couple well-worked sets of notes.

Week three brought in theory in the form of Classical Rhetoric, S&P chap 9. FirstPassAtCriticalMethodExerciseis a trial run in describing, characterizing, and cataloguing the elements in a rhetorical message, in a set of notes.

This exercise doesn’t call for an essay. You’re not making an argument. You’re not being asked to come up with ideas or evaluate anything. You’re getting some practice in a method – describing the text and context – and in seeing rhetorical elements in that text

The text is a common one, and one that is often thought as having nothing rhetorical about it: The Tech Writing landing page at MSU Mankato: http://english.mnsu.edu/techcomm/

Of course, everything about this page is rhetorically active – which is why it makes for good practice in observing, note-taking, and cataloging. It makes you look twice, or three times, or more.

With this exercise, I also introducted notetaking-as-method full force by asking students to struture their notes under headings:

Description of page
Description of context

Then, from S&P Chap 9, the method asks students to cataloge the rhetorical devices they see operating in the page. A good description would provide some of these devices, but, even more a good description attunes the critic towards seeing elements of


What gets seen? The images. What gets missed? The relationship between the text and the images. What gets seen? The use of purple and yellow. What gets missed, at first: the use of those colors (with black) as an appeal to character: ethos, “regalia” as one student noted. What gets seen? The text in the central pane. What gets missed: The register of the text (part of style), the presence of headings (style, but how they are named is ethos again). Arrangement tends to be a problem because there are at least three:

-the page as a whole is arranged. We need to consider page flow. It’s not as simple as “this attracts the eye first.” There’s far more going on.

– each of the navigation bars (4, by my count) is arranged in its own taxonomy

– the text in the light central pane is arranged in three columns (it doesn’t flow from column to column) (look closely at how that text is laid out: each column is framed to create a block.)

Also up for discussion (which is why this is a good exercise): What elements do we place in delivery and memory? That the links on the page do not change color when followed tosses memory to the user. Delivery is going to include the colors, the need to use a light pane to hold text for legibility, the browser window and design of the page as non-flexible, how the side bar menus operate (the item selected unfolds to reveal the taxonomy, good for focus but also demands audience memory), presence and use of a sesrch field. perhaps placement of the large footer and placement of the social icons there …

And we haven’t even started talking about visual repetition, visual metaphor (although the observation that the colors invoke regalia is part of how the page creates a visual style), or metonymy (how the page stands in for the organization not of the physical campus but a conceptual campus).

What’s next? Week Four

For week four, we’re on to S&P chap 4, and the first project, a small one to start: TextAndContextInFourWebsitesProject. This moves into some serious description of both text and context. It asks students to find 4 web sites that illustrate the 4 ways that text responds to the context, as worked with in S&P, chap 4: conformity, non-participation, desecration, contextual reconstruction. Easy enough, except, I found as I worked through the problem, deciding whether a site engages in non-participation of the context or is engaging contextual reconstruction of the context is a matter of making a case, and making a case means describoing both closely enough that oyu can make the case. That is, I had to persuade myself that an artifact was not really reconstructing the context but simply engaging in non-participation.

I was trying to decide how the OK Go video of A Million Ways responds to context. I wanted to see it as reconstructing the context, but given my description of the video and context, I figureed it could be opertating as non-participatipn. To decide, I had to look more closely at the context of the period and the placement of the artifact as an independent video by an independent, not mainstream, band, and to consider who choreographed it. Tricky, and I’m still working on it.


on pinboard for September 11th, 2014 through September 13th, 2014

on pinboard for September 8th, 2014

  • Is “Incivility” the New Communism? – Locally, our admin has tried this move to silence opposition and try to control register. It's kind of interesting to watch, but is really is a little desperate. Sad, almost, because the label just doesn't carry enough power to silence the opposition. How do you condemn incivility w/o being yourself uncivil? W silence, of course. – (none)
  • something is rotten in the state of…Twitter | the theoryblog – Yeah, ok, if writ large. But it's not happening this way in my sphericule. Which is the point: the rot may be a function of lack of context, looking at tweets as floating free, like plastic beads in the ocean. But locally, exchange is contextualized and there are other social mores and practices at work. – (twitter erhet social_practices network_practices )
  • Peak StreamMode – StreamMode and StateMode as nascent stubs for more development. – (twitter ehret wcw weblogs )