Wait – what’s a blog again?

On: May 18, 2007
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About Pepijn Uitterhoeve
I'm Pepijn, a veteran Utopia player (and gamer in general). I intend to write my master thesis on Utopia, and focus mainly on the cooperative aspects. Some more stuff about me may be found here: http://peppie.wordpress.com/about/

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In an ongoing discussion on a forum I got into a scuffle with a formidable opponent about what blogs exactly are. I tried parroting all that I had been taught in various classes during the BA and MA courses in New Media; basically that weblogs are a form (as argued by Albert Benschop in class at one point) and not a function. I agreed with wikipedia’s initial definition that, whatever blogs are, they must have this fundamental characteristic:A formidable opponent! And it's not me or Colbert!

“A blog (short for web log) is a website where entries are made and displayed in a reverse chronological order”

In a rebuttal, my adversary made points about the necessity for blogs to be written in an explicitly personal manner, and that the more people collaborate on a blog, the less “bloggy” it becomes and the more it starts to be a part of some generic “online media”. I tried to refute these points by listing blogs that are not overly personal (Engadget), blogs that have a legion of contributers (Huffington Post) and academic blogs (such as ours, or Terra Nova) which can be both.


Instead of addressing these case by case, he fell back on authority; the assertion by the Reverend David Winer that all blogs require a personal voice in their posts, and the fact that if you define:blog on Google most of the definitions favour a single author writing opinionated pieces. He also added that if we simply stuck to the technical definition (as provided in the first line of the Wikipedia article) wikis, newsmedia archives and a host of other stuff online also qualify as weblogs. Now I’m not sure if I actually said that if there is a reverse chronological order, it therefore must be a weblog, but there does seem to be a powerful lobby out there that demand a personal touch in any reverse chronological ordered entries before these can be called part of a blog.

Please help me out here. Am I right? Is he right? Are we both right? Are we both wrong?

All of the above? None of the above?

Teachers, readers, fellow students: please lift this shroud of confusion.

12 Responses to “Wait – what’s a blog again?”
  • May 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    There seems to be a confusion here between what a weblog “is” and what it “should be”. There are lots of weblogs that don’t conform to the values about what they should be – and some bloggers doubtless aren’t even aware of these norms. Their sites are clearly blogs (what else would they be if not blogs?) but not perhaps consistent with what some believe is the ‘ideal’ of what weblogs should be.

  • May 20, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I’m not sure if there is one answer or one definition. Some early weblogs were mainly posting daily links like Robot Wisdom Log. Another early weblog by Justin Hall at links.net titled “Links from the Underground” also started out as listening interesting webpages on the WWW but gradually evolved into a personal diary. These two approaches, the link log and the diary, share the characteristic that they are frequently updated and these updates appear in a reverse chronologica order, seem to have converged in what we now call blogs.

    How we see and try define blogs is influenced by both the history of these early blogs (although they weren’t called blogs back then) and the tools we now use (as early blogs were made manually). Time and tools are constantly changing the definition of a blog and our framework of what a blog is seems to have expanded.

    I like Wikipedia’s definition because it defines the essence of a blog in terms of it’s structure that can encompass different forms. However, danah boyd argues that we should move away from defining blogs through content and structure but instead define them as a medium and a diverse social practice:

    By reconceptualizing blogs as a medium and bi-product of practice, it becomes possible to understand the diverse intentions that produce diverse output and analyze blogs even when the output itself is inconsistent in terms of style and content.

    danah boyd wrote an excellent article titled“A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium” that explores the problems of trying to conceptualize blogs:

    Blog is not a self-descriptive term and, as a consequence, blogs, bloggers and blogging are being conceptualized in conflicting and unclear ways by both press and academics. The goal of this paper is to uncover and analyze the variable ways in which the term is being used in order to highlight how relevant social groups are talking past one another and inserting bias into the analysis of blogs and blogging. Rather than arguing for a definitive definition, this paper invites scholars to conceptualize blogging as a diverse set of practices that result in the production of diverse content on top of a medium that we call blogs.

  • May 21, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Thanks, that’s useful <3

  • May 21, 2007 at 11:10 am

    @ Peppie
    Formidable opponent? I am flattered indeed!

    @David
    Your comment that ‘their site are clearly blogs’ hits the nail on the head. Most people know a blog when they see one, but struggle with defining it.

    Danah Boyd compared it with defining porn, and he is probably right.

    That is basically my reason for rejecting the ‘form’ definition and favouring the content – particularly the personal aspect. How else would you know it is a blog? Other sites can have reverse chronological order, and a host of sites carry news, but they are not blogs. The reason? They are not personal.

    From Anne’s link (with thanks!)

    “It’s a blog because a blogger’s doing it. It’s a blog because it’s caught up in the practice of blogging. It’s a blog because it’s made on blog tools. It’s a blog because it’s made up out of blog parts. It’s a blog because bloggers are engaged with it, and everyone points at it and says, “It’s a blog!”

    Its a blog because a bloggers doing it… isn’t that as personal as it can get?

    Take a look at this site – > http://www.roaringfish.net.

    It is not in reverse chronological order, and is not made on any kind of blogging tool, but it is personal – it’s mine and I am the only contributor. Is it a blog or not? I usually describe it as such, and I am genuinely curious whether others see it that way.

  • May 21, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    @Andrew: I like your question of whether or not other people see your website as a blog. It makes me think about what I consider to be typical trademarks of a blog. It also forces me to try to describe the feeling that I have when “everyone points at it and says, “It’s a blog!” (danah boyd)

    I would not describe your site as a blog but as a personal website.

    Why? Because my initial “feeling” is: It’s not a blog. I will attempt to explain why:

    1. When I open your site I do not see a list of posts ordered in reverse chronological order. If your site would contain reverse chronological ordered postings of roaring fish cartoons I would consider your site to be a cartoon blog.
    2. I can’t see when the content of your sites was written. This is one of my main “blog triggers,” the indication of date and time of pieces of content.
    3. Your site is structured in the “old-fashioned” website way: Every link goes to a different page. /music.html /intro.html This immediately triggers my “static webpage” design feeling in contrary to blogs that trigger my “dynamic webpage” design feeling.
    4. Your website does not have the typical look and feel of a blog. Blogs tend to share a typical anatomy of a header, post title, post date, sidebar etc.

    I think “personal” is not the only criterium for a blog. Not to be disrespectful but I see spam blogs that are automatically generated more as blogs than your website. Why? Because they display this dynamic regularly updated feeling that I have with blogs. I think you have created a personal website but the line between blogs and websites is blurring.

  • May 21, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    What’s a blog? Lame and time-consuming! We should switch to Twitter and limit all communications to 140 characters :)

    Seriously, though, aren’t comments important to a blog too? Remember, conversations like this one? And in the case of ‘zero comments’, the possibility or affordance of conversation (Cannetti talked about the impact of invisible crowds on our behavior – e.g. future descendants – this would be somewhat similar). This affordance even holds for ‘comments disabled’, in that such blogs are kind of the exceptions that prove the rule (or default setting, in this case).

  • May 22, 2007 at 11:11 am

    @Annie

    those are fair comments, and I don’t disagree with them. The site is in fact an old-fashioned(!)web-site, tacked on to an existing hosting arrangement.

    Despite knowing this, I frequently refer to it as ‘my blog’, based purely on the idea that it is there solely for my personal pleasure, and is a ‘log’ of my various musings. That, and maybe it sounds a bit more trendy than ‘my personal web-site’…

    Your list of blog-triggers is interesting, in that it includes form (reverse chrono, date stamp), and intuitive (dynamic feel and layout), but nothing about the people behind it or content. If a site had the appropriate looks and feel, would you regard as a blog if the content was purely supporting a current government policy? Or if you knew it was run by, for example, CNN?

  • May 23, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    About people and content; Personally I would consider a website (containing my previously mentioned blog triggers) with content that is purely supporting a current government policy a blog, yes. Aren’t 99% of the blogs highly opinionated and subjective?

    What is interesting is the mention of CNN as a news site which tends to share a lot of characteristics with blogs. But as an established format news websites do differ from blogs. As they tend to be more “neutral” they do not include characteristics such as a blogroll because this indicates some kind of bias. What makes CNN a news site and not a blog for me is that CNN only links to itself. CNN.com is a self-referential and self-contained website whereas blogs link to the outside, the blogosphere and beyond.

  • May 24, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Why worry about the “definition” of a blog in the first place? You are here (among other reasons) to discuss and understand blogs, but you aren’t proving theorems about them.

    Describing features common to blogs (e.g., the near-universal most-recent-first structure) is more useful than defining them, because among other reason it sidesteps hairsplitting pilpul like the exchange you describe.

    (just driving by, having found this page by del.icio.us.)

  • May 25, 2007 at 9:40 am

    errr, maybe its just me, but I cant see how you can fruitfully discuss something without agreeing on what that something exactly is in the first place. Hence defining it is important.

  • May 26, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    @Annie

    the problem I see with using form as a guide, is that form is rarely permanent – especially electronic media. Technology and fashion will change, and so will the form of blogs. What happens then? Are they no longer blogs because they lack the traditional triggers, or is Bostick right – defining is pointless because we will have to constantly change that definition?

    This is my reason for using content and authorship as triggers; I see them as more constant

  • June 16, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    […] in response to that stumper from a while back, ‘What’s a blog?’, this is another: What is interactivity?1 […]

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