I have been looking for figures on the female to male ratio of the blogosphere today when working on an article edit about gendered language in a technology weblog community. I am looking at this more from a community of practice level, so in some sense it does not matter about the ratio of all blogs, rather the makeup of the specific community I am looking at. That being said, these numbers -widely publicized online – do produce a discourse which contributes to the legitimization of blogging language and behaviors. For example, in US authored blogs, most of the top 100 popularity lists (according to technorati) are male authored blogs. However, in Sweden, the most popular bloggers are women. Also according to Technorati’s 2009 report, The State of the Blogosphere, 67% of blog authors are male. Pew Internet, on the other hand, reports 57% of blog authors to be male. While it is ‘only’ a 10% difference, it also changes the overall picture of the blogosphere between one that is mainly male authored to one that is roughly equally authored by both male and females.
This is in no way a new debate, and my point is not to harp on the question of how these percentages are garnered (although that is an important issue), rather I want to underscore the differences in the gender makeup of the popularity indexes between US authored blogs and Swedish authored blogs. US authored blogs are dominated by male authors, while the Swedish blogs are dominated by female authors. When you look at the type of blogs that make up these lists, the US blogs are often news like. They report rather and comment. The Swedish blogs are dominated by a very young group of women who talk about fashion and pop culture (both Swedish culture and international) and are written in more of a diary style. This rough comparison aligns well with an older report by Herring et al which looks at style and genre between male and female authored blogs.
This is also interesting because it says very little about the ‘blogosphere’. The blogosphere is so very big that it has lost much of its meaning as a descriptive term. There is no blogosphere. There is a tool that is used in many ways and by many different communities of practice. A blog is a tool. Just as a newspaper is not journalism, a blog is not a genre of writing. It is a tool. Using blogs, authors report (journalism in various forms from professional to amateur), they collaborate, they publish novels and diaries and poetry, they converse, they share knowledge. But more importantly, through the affordances of the tool, blogs allow for communities to evolve around shared interestes and practices. They allow for conversation (even at a very low rate of occurrence) and collaboration that create a sense of community online. The tool is important, of course. In fact, language and identity within a blog is/must be performed through the affordances of the tool. And conventions which are not used in other forms of online writing, have become popular conventions in weblogs (like the strikethrough and the block quote and the ‘read more here’ link). So yes, affordances of the weblog do lead to certain conventions, but these conventions do not determine the blogosphere – it is what the bloggers DO with their blogs that make up a community. Moreover, these communities are no longer limited to bloggers. Linking between members using tweets and vlogs also allow for communities to be maintained online. Blogs do not a blogosphere (solely) make. It is the participation and the engagement between members that makes the community (the sphere). Not the tool.