What Makes a Blog a Blog?

What
is a blog?  Deeper minds than mine have pondered that
one, and far from reaching a consensus, the commentators, or rather practicing
bloggers, keep expanding the blogosphere and pushing the envelope of
what can be
considered a blog. Nevertheless, since I am going to be leading some
Beginner’s Sessions at the upcoming BloggerCon, it seems incumbent on
me to formulate my own definition.

The problem is that every time a new definition is formulated, a dozen
new blogs pop up which don’t fit the definition, but which are definitely
blogs. The standard starting point is blogging pioneer Dave
Winer’s
definition
"The unedited voice of a person!" But seeing as the whole topic of editing
is one of the hot threads and themes anticipated at the conference,
and the Presidential campaign blogs are highly edited, yet clearly
are blogs, it is hard to say that blogs are by nature unedited.  In
addition, many of my favorite blogs, and some of the top blogs around,
are collaborative efforts – blogs like the Volokh
Conspiracy
and Boing
Boing
– without even venturing into the ongoing polemic over whether
WIKIs, which are DESIGNED so that anyone can post or edit content, are
really blogs.

One dictionary defines
a blog as "A frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts
and Web links " But frequency is a relative term, both in quality
and quantity (as Philip
Greenspun
puts in his header "an interesting
idea every three months; a posting every day") and some of my favorite
blogs are literally just links of lists, without any personal thoughts
attached to them at all.

You can’t really say a blog needs links either, because some blogs are
intensely personal windows into one person’s life without hyperlinks
to any other web sites, and yet they are definitely, even quintessentially,
blogs. Some blogs are all about images, others text, and still others
audio. 

Russ
Lipton
takes a more fundamental tack when he says, "A weblog is
just a web site organized by time." I think that this is getting close
to the core of what makes a weblog a weblog.  But for me, the
crucial factor is that a blog is a web site organized in REVERSE chronological
order, and this makes all the difference in the world.

Traditional prose, from the Greek dramas and the Roman histories, tells
stories in chronological order, from beginning to end. Books are made
to be read from beginning to end, and although creative writers are able
to play with time to some extent through flashbacks and other devices,
the nature of the technology (the printing press turning out thousands
of pre-written and edited volumes) dictated that literature and commentary
be read from the first page to the last.

Exceptional and iconoclastic writers have chafed at these temporal restrictions
in form for years. Burroughs and Kerouac experimented
with a "cut-up" composition style in which they literally cut their writing
up into phrases
and sentences and then rearranged them at random to create a kind of
abstract stream of consciousness. The Argentinian writer Julio Cortezar wrote
a brilliant book called 62:
A Model Kit
, which consists of 62 unordered chapters which the reader
is invited to arrange in whatever order seems appropriate to create
a near infinite variety of permutations.

Blogs, however, follow a chronological order which is neither random
nor abstract. It is simply straight chronological order IN REVERSE.
This is again a direct result of the technology used to create blogs,
and
defines their basic nature. A blog, if you read it every day, is an evolving,
unfolding story as seen through the eyes of the blogger, but to a new
reader it unfolds backwards as one reads down the page.

This is not an incidental or unimportant difference.  It alters
the whole experience of writing and reading.  It introduces an element
of spontaneity and wonder, because the reader realizes that NOT EVEN
THE WRITER knows how the story is going to come out. The suspense that
a good writer can generate in traditional literature is by its nature
ultimately ersatz, for while the reader may be in the dark, the ending
is preordained, and the writer knows all the time what is going to happen
next.  This is not true in a blog.

Blogs are actually much more like the way we experience the world. They
offer the opportunity to communicate experiences and commentary in a
much more realistic way, a way much more similar to the way that human
consciousness experiences the world.

This is the way people live life. First in our hearts and minds is what
is happening RIGHT NOW.  Available in some detail are the happenings
of the past few days, and they can be reviewed with little effort. The
rest of our thoughts and memories are stored in the mental archives,
where they can be retrieved with varying degrees of effort and accuracy
depending on factors like their age, significance and how clearly
we were thinking when the memories were laid down.  Sort of like
a blog. 

In
the blogosphere Google has become our collective unconscious. It is
much more accurate and accessible than most people’s organic memories,
and this is sure to effect the evolution of the blogosphere as it ages
and grows.  Personally, I believe that in addition to being a potentially
revolutionary method of distributing news and commentary, and a hell
of a lot of fun, blogging is an art form waiting for its first great
generation of practitioners. 

Somewhere in America, in Andalusia,
in Ankara there are young writers breathing in the rarified air of the
blogosphere, sucking up the words, images and ideas, and making the first
preliminary sketches of what will become awesome masterpieces of a new
kind of literature.  In reverse chronological order.

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21 Responses to What Makes a Blog a Blog?

  1. Viswanath Gondi says:

    A blog is a a collection of recent posts about one topic. The ‘one topic’ can be about persons thoughts, an object, about a company, about an event, etc. Most bloggers apologize when they post something out of topic. Also, if the posts are not recent the blog is dead. So, there are two distinct features of a blog, one topic and recency.

  2. Michael Feldman says:

    Scripting, Boing Boing and Dowbrigade, my blog, deal with an incredibly wide variety of topics from politics through science and technology, to humor, pathos, comedy, intelligence, stupidity, tragedy, the human condition, the condition of our refrigerators, the treatment of our conditions and your reactions to our treatment of the conditons of existence. Don’t confuse what defines the blogs you like to read with a definition of all blogs….

  3. Viswanath Gondi says:

    Topic may not be the righ word, flavor might be closer? Scripting is Dave Winers thoughts, Boing boing is has anything that is interesting. Your blog is what you find ineresting. Ok, answer this question, why don’t all posts on nytimes appear on your blog? All blogs have an intopic and out of topic area. The tag line gives a hint to the user on what to expect. Your readers come because you blog a certain kind of material. As the blog gets more readership, you will try to blog what your readers expect.

  4. Anna says:

    Unfortunately i haven’t understood all the things this post consists in-I don’t speek English very well,but this what I have understood is great truth.I have already read few of Cortezar’s books and they were really good.Maybe someday you will read some of my books but first you ‘ll have to learn Polish

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  12. b Kurlek says:

    It is interesting.
    The basis for the description of a blog is “weblog”
    Weblogs have been used by such services as libraries for many years – nothing new here.
    And yet blogs have taken over as a phenomonem .
    Why is that.
    First when you get down to it most webpages do not change much at all.
    Blogs are constantly changing . Yet they are not one static page. They are searchable.
    Curiousity killed the cat. Blogs by their changing nature attract attention.
    Blogs can be on any topic.
    Yet the most common by far are blogs based on people’s daily lives and relationships.
    Men tend to read technical data , women read novels .
    ( This is of course is a broad generalization. Not meaning to insult anyone in our “politically correct times”.
    Relationship or “female smut” blogs are the most widely read by far.
    It is sort of a “Coronation Street ” of our times.
    I guess the readers relate to the issues and strategies of the blog writers as a means of deaing with the issues and conflicts of their own lives.
    Next blogs to a great degree have no democratcized web hosting.
    To host a webpage for a novice is not an easy task no matter what experienced webmasters say.
    You have to arrange for hosting.
    Get a webcreation program, upload or ftp etc etc etc.
    Now anyone can simply have their own webpage that is as easy to use as a word processor.
    If they are wish they can have any of a number of free blogging platforms and services
    such as wordpress or blogger.com
    Even these free services are amazingly sophististicated and very easy to use.
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  13. b Kurlek says:

    It is always a good question.
    The problem so to speak with useful technologies is by their very nature they are both useful and easily used and adapted.
    It as if you are you trying to aim at a moving target.
    All that can be described is use and applications.
    Be glad for it as they say – as the product is not destined to become a static , obsolete entity.
    More to come as they say.

  14. Credit Phil says:

    Blogs is more than online journal. It can be a new form of online magazine, that if done properly, surpasses traditional journalism.

    The refresh rate for Blogs keep people in-tune better than traditional newspapers as well. The problem with blogs is that just about anybody can start them. There’s no way to screen the blogger so there’s a lot of junk out there that doesn’t get filtered out.

  15. A blog, to me, is the newspaper of the 21st century. Digital media is where its at.

  16. Allan Barker says:

    The word “weblog” was first used by Jorn Barger in 1977. So a “Blog” is a “weblog” and can contain any useful information you like.

    Cheers – Allan

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