Anita Blanchard, Ph.D.
October 7, 2003
In July 2003, readers of the Julie/Julia Project participated in an on-line survey. The purpose of this study was to explore whether blogs, and in particular, The Julie/Julia Project, are a new form of virtual community. Participants were asked to respond to items to assess their sense of community and to answer open ended questions about why they read and like the Julie/Julia Project.
The preliminary results of this study follow.
The 403 participants had been reading the Julie/Julia project on average for 5 months with a standard deviation of 2.7 months. 60% of the participants read other blogs and 20% of the participants were blog authors themselves. 80% of the participants were women.
84% of the participants reported reading the blog “quite a lot.” 36% of the participants reported reading the comments “quite a lot” with an additional 28% reporting reading the comments “occasionally.” However, only 13% of the participants reported that they posted comments occasionally or quite a lot. 63% of the participants reported that they never posted a comment.
The demographic results reveal that most of the participants have been reading the Julie/Julia project for a substantial amount of time, over half the duration of the project at the time of the survey. Although a majority of the participants read more blogs than just the Julie/Julia project, a significant proportion of the participants are not active in reading other blogs. Additionally, only a relatively small group of participants actually authored their own blogs.
In understanding how people participate in the Julie/Julia Project, most participants are frequent readers of the blog itself, but are less frequent readers of the comments. Few people actually contributed comments on a regular basis.
Is it a virtual community?
Twenty-four questions were used to assess participants’ feelings of community, adapted from studies of face-to-face communities. These items were combined into a sense of community scale in which 1 represented a low score (no sense of community) and 5 represented a high score (high sense of community). The participants reported an average sense of community score of 3.13 (standard deviation=.49). This would represent a “neutral” score on the sense of community scale with some people feeling positively (it is a community) and some feeling less so.
Although participants, on average, may not have considered this a community in traditional terms, the responses from the open ended questions showed highly positive and supportive feelings about Julie and reading the blog. Some reveal insights into readers’ feelings about the Julie/Julia Project and their sense of community.
“Julie is really funny and I like her snarky sarcastic wit.”
“The combination of cooking stories, great writing, and a dead-on narrative of the life in New York City makes it one of the best blogs out there.”
“I don’t consider it a community; instead, I enjoy reading Julie’s entries. Ultimately, the only thing that everyone who reads the blog has in common is that we like to read Julia’s fabulous entries”
“I don’t participate in the interactive features. Blogs are mighty personal though. Reading it every day makes me feel like Julie is sort of a best friend even though we never interact.”
Some participants, however, did express feelings of community within this blog.
“J/JP is an example of human search for growth and emergence, reflecting both highs and lows common among humans. It attracts like-minded folks who are “foodies” and/or seeking and sharing similar experience of human emergence; for this reason it feels like it attracts and creates a community of its own.”
“It’s definitely a community. The comments show that.”
“Julie’s humorous escapade has become my workday morning coffee fix. Absolute community can be found in the comments, from dedicated readers to newbies. We all thank Julie for something: the cooking tips to the life commentary.”
Additional statistical analyses showed that the more frequently people read the blog, the more frequently they read the comments and the more frequently they posted comments the stronger their sense of community within the Julie/Julia Project.
This research provides an initial look into the complicated topic of blogs as virtual communities. For many readers, the Julie/Julia Project is simply an entertaining, interactive web page with humorous insights into cooking, working in New York, and the mind of its well-liked author. But for the others who accessed and participated in its more interactive feature, this blog also serves as a virtual community.
We can conclude that blogs, even very popular ones, are not inherently virtual communities despite the large number of people reading them. It is the interactive features in which the blog author and the readers interact with each other that contribute to feelings of community. It is expected that blogs that meet the interests of their readers as well as provide opportunities for the readers to interact will be regarded by their interacting members as virtual communities.