It’s a harder question than it looks if you really start thinking about it.
This debate may not matter to most of you reading so I’ve hidden it but I encourage academics in my field to read on because I would welcome your guidance!
Wherever I draw the line there seem to be sites that fall just outside it that might fit. Is there a commonly-understood definition? Doering’s lit review on home pages – “suggests the definition is”:http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol7/issue3/doering.html#Definition, “a Web site published and maintained by an individual” (whether or not that individual delegates design to a professional). And she says “if a person’s Web site is restricted to professional activities, then according to the definition suggested here we still have a personal (that is person-related) home page”. But is a site that simply advertises the services of, say, a self-employed dentist a personal home page? In one sense yes – if you want to look at how individuals can benefit from the facilities to build home pages then straight commercial self-promotion seems like it belongs. But if you do include these then at the very least it would make little sense to ask their authors the same kind of questions as you’d ask of creators of “me and my cat” pages.
She also draws a distinction between sites produced by families or small groups (OK) and ‘organizations, institutions or formal groups’ (excluded). But this would seem to be difficult to operationalise. At what point in number of contributors or popularity does a site like, say, “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/ stop being individual and start being an organization’s page?
If a vicar produces a site about his/her church is it essentially to do with an organization or in some sense about him/her in relation to his/her community?
How do you deal with sites that are created by a person, which deal with a particular subject (like “Al’s X files page”:http://www.turning-pages.com/xf/) but where the author reveals nothing or next to nothing of him or herself?
And lastly, how should one treat weblogs and, for example, the profile pages people make on online dating sites, their rooms in “Habbo Hotel”:http://www.habbohotel.co.uk/ etc? And if you include them do you not then have to at least consider virtual community sites not run by these people but where they hang out enough to establish a persistent identity as being in some sense a personal site?
I’m not taking Ms Doring to task here of course – it’s just that I haven’t been able to find any other references that claim to represent ‘what personal home pages are’. Have there been more recent reasonably comprehensive literature reviews?
My tentative ‘solution’ to this problem is to sample home pages from directories and search engines then send my survey to the authors of any sites but subsequently focus my attention on sites that the sites’ owners do not categorise as completely instrumental and for their own benefit (leaving open for examination those sites which are not self-expressive but which are not ‘for profit’ either like Al’s X files page above. I also intend to ask the authors themselves what other pages that they maintain they consider important to them (I’ll have to work on the phrasing) and see what comes up.
But coming back to my starting question, I would like to ask the academics among you, do you find this choice defensible? I feel as if this puts me in the broad stream of home page related research but I would prefer to be able to find or suggest broadly agreed-on definitions of home pages I could refer to.