Hungry tummies think alike.

Posted on May 25, 2010

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Gerard Hauser described the public sphere as “a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment.”

In contemporary society, there is no finer example of this than the internet which to me even seems synonymous with Hauser’s definition of the public sphere.

We know of course that the internet facilitates endless ways in which to engage in the public sphere, and blogging, while one of the many facets, to me is the epitome of a space where one can form, discuss and interactively display their own opinions.

Where blogging is concerned, Geert Lovink’s got it right when he says that, “Blogs create communities of like-minded people.”

This can be seen in my niche of restaurant reviews and food blogging, where those (like me) who blog about dining and wining are, to state the obvious, clearly passionate and interested in the subject matter and can therefore be considered ‘like-minded’.

You only have to read one comment from a gastronomy blog to see that those who read and comment on the blog are themselves enthusiastic about food.

Take ‘Melbourne Gastronome‘ for example, this blog has been running for a few years now and receives around 500,000 hits and the niche is very similar to mine, that is review-type blog specific to Melbourne eateries as the title suggests.

This blog regularly receives about 20 comments per blog as dedicated or even one off readers leave their own opinions, suggest restaurants and ideas or just give the creator, Claire, affirmation that they like what she’s doing.

These hundreds of comments that have been left by all kinds of people emphasise Lovink’s idea that they have similar tastes and opinions which consequently produces “homogeneous webclouds” of people sharing similar ideas and thoughts either through comments or blogging themselves.

If we stick with the Melbourne Gastronome example, this type of blog interactivity, that is comment threads, begins to bleed into the realms of participatory culture.

This means that readers, in this case of Melbourne Gastronome, begin to become producers and contributors to the blog rather than simply consumers.

When reading this blog, one particular comment thread caught my eye.  It was in the post “Because life’s too short for vegetarians to eat just mushroom risotto” which is about places for vegetarians to eat in Melbourne.

This post received 26 comments, quite a fair response considering my maximum on one post currently stands at about 3, and basically consists of fellow vegetarians sharing their pet peeves about the lack of good vegetarian dining options in Melbourne.

This comment thread led to people suggesting other restaurants in which they had good vegetarian experience or comments of endorsement about the pathetic shortage of choice at some restaurants.

For example, brickski said…

“The chefs at Matteo’s in North Fitzroy really get vegetarian food. We hosted a completely vegetarian wedding reception there, and all our omnivorous guests couldn’t stop commenting on the food. The recently re-opened Circa The Prince in St Kilda now grows their own vegies in their new rooftop garden and they taste great! Just like Hellenic Republic, that other Calombaris venture, Maha, will also happily accommodate vegetarians with lots of delicious food, even offering an unlisted vegetarian banquet.” and this was only one of the many similar comments.

As you can see, comments of this manner transform the consumer, in this case ‘Brickski’ into a producer of information that other readers of this blog would find useful as she shares a personal tip that ‘Matteo’s’ is great for vegetarians.

Despite the connections with my blog niche and the public sphere as well as participatory culture, when it comes to food blogging it would be hard to agree with the rest of Lovink’s quote that suggests that blogs foster negative public debate.

To me, food blogging is a lot more simple than that, a place where people generally come together to share and harvest ideas about different cuisines.

I would be hard pressed to find a food blog that really caused people to get fired up enough to ‘blog someone back’ just to prove that the Red Emperor trumps Plumes for yum cha or something of the like.

However, if we remove the negative undertones from Lovink’s quote, I will agree, being an example of this myself, that other people’s blogs can inspire us to comment and participate in blog culture or actually blog ourselves.

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Posted in: Elucidation