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.

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