If all one had for research was the internet, you'd certainly be lead to think steampunk is just science fiction, focused as much of the art is on technology. Yet without an understanding of steampunk's regular dalliances with technofantasy, the joke of "but it doesn't really do anything" is all too appropriate.
Steampunk technology, on the whole, doesn't do anything, especially in its literary manifestation. That is to say, if you were to bring the technology of steampunk out of a book and into our world, it wouldn't work very well once it ran out of phlogiston or aether, or when you tried to invoke whatever arcane powers it runs on. It's very easy to assume that since the aesthetic device of technofantasy is pointless in terms of physical reality, it is likewise meaningless in its thematic content. Yet consider the relevance of the municipal Darwinism in Reeve's Mortal Engines, the underlying social contract theory of the living airship in Leviathan, and the complexity of constructing gender identities in The Alchemy of Stone.
We play with technology as art, it doesn't have to do anything as long as it looks cool in the process.
I highly recommend you keep The Steampunk Scholar blog in your favourites, he has lots of great reviews and discussions there.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and yoour water iced.