Review: We’ve got Blog. How Weblogs are Changing our Culture

On: October 4, 2006
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About Anne Helmond
Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Program Director of the MA New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative research collective where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies and web history.

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We've got blogWe’ve got Blog is a collection of thirty four articles about weblogs compiled and edited by John Rodzvilla. It was published in 2002 during which blogs had been around for three years. As well known blog essayist Rebecca Blood puts in the introduction ‘The articles in this collections are early reflections on the weblog phenomenon’. But the reflections are rather superficial and the subtitle ‘how weblogs are changing our culture’ doesn’t seem to get answered.

The book starts off with a few essays describing the history of weblogs. We see a shift from the weblog as a kind of filtering tool with links and brief commentary to the weblog which is more like a frequently updated journal. The question is being raised if the weblog is a rediscovery of the homepage. Cameron Barrett disagrees and sees homepages and weblogs as two different things:

“Homepages are places where you put pictures of your family and your cats. It’s a place to distribute information to a close circle of family and friends. Weblogs, however are designed for an audience. They have a voice. They have a personality. Simply put, they are an interactive extension of who you are.”

In his essay, which is written in 1999, he hopes that the weblog format will overtake the homepage format so that the Web will contain more expressive pages. He doubts it will happen, but seven years later the weblog format seems to be replacing the homepage format after all, including the cats. Hey, even cats are blogging nowadays!

I think the blogging format will eventually completely take over the homepage format because it makes maintaining a webpage easier than ever. Setting up a Blogger or WordPress blog takes five minutes and requires no HTML knowledge at all. Just enter a title, a few lines and maybe a picture and that’s all, your post is done. Because such tools make it exceptionally easy there has been a tremendous growth in weblogs.

Several authors see blogs in the light of the utopic vision of the Internet as a democratization tool. With the arrival of Blogger and other automatic blogging tools nearly everyone could suddenly start a blog without the knowledge of HTML. Everyone can write down their opinion and make themselves heard. But the question is, who is listening? Or even better, in the case of an opinion that could lead to a discussion, who is answering? In a democracy there are questions, there are answers and most importantly there are discussions. But if comments can be turned off, monitored or deleted there is no true open discussion. Jon Katz says about these limitations that “One obvious payoff is that the flow of ideas is strong, interrupted, and impressive”. Of course, excluding abusers from the discussion is a good idea when they are spammers, but people with a different opinion might as easily be excluded. So saying that “they [blogs] seem to almost all be ideologically opposed to hostility, including essayish commentary and observations” seems rather naive.

We’ve got Blog is a collection of short articles that were originally published online. This makes reading the book sometimes somewhat awkward because of the continuous web references. At one point I actually read the book from my keyboard so I could quickly look up a reference. Tom Coates actually compiled a list of all the (originally published on the web) articles on his website.

So should you buy it? Sure, the book is fun and easy to read, but it doesn’t answer the question of how weblogs are changing our culture. If you are interested in personal historical accounts of early webloggers (including weblog romances) and don’t mind that the articles feel somewhat incestuous after reading the same names and same weblogs mentioned over and over again this book is a good buy. But if you rather skim through the articles and pick out a few interesting things I’d recommend visiting Tom’s list.

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