What is a Blog?

Michael Conniff has an extensive and historical treatment of the question “what is a blog?” in the Online Journalism Review. I highly recommend the article for those interested in meta-blogging.
I’m actually more interested in blogging than blogging about blogging, but this article is a good one and it raises a question that invariably comes up when I do interviews and presentations on blogging.
Here’s my best answer:
A blog is an online newspaper or magazine column without the newspaper or magazine.
I think that captures the notion of self-publishing, regularity, informal tone, personality, educational and helpful content, and observational elements I associate with blogs. It also recognizes that posts are short essays and that blogging is a writer’s medium. I’ve found that people really like this definition and find it helpful.
However, that definition is primarily a conceptual definition. Other people like a more technical definition, and I’ve struggled with that.
Here’s my current technical definition of a blog I’ve used in presentations:
A blog is a form of a website that is produced by easy-to-use content management or “blogging” software that uses templates and is characterized by certain common elements, including one or more of the following: display of content in the form of individual “posts,” reverse chronological entries, RSS feeds, archives, comments and other common features you will observe after looking at a few blogs.
Most recently, I explained blogs (and from the feedback was quite successful) to a group of people, 90% of whom did not read blogs, by showing them the Between Lawyers blog, pointing out the main elements and then moving to each of the individual blogs of my colleagues at Between Lawyers and showing the presence of the common elements. Show rather than tell.
Of the identifying elements of a blog, I think that the use of individual posts and display in a reverse chronological order are the common features that most help people identify what a blog is.
That said, I use my “definitions” as devices to help people learn about blogs and their usefulness. I can’t stand when people use proscriptive definitions of blogs, charge that blogs are really not blogs, or launch into a tirade on what “true blogs” are.
Now, back to the OJR article. I think you understand the perspectives I bring to this issues.
I found this article interesting in light of my recent efforts to come up with definitions I can use in presentations. However, it didn’t help me improve my definitions or come up with a simple, concise definition I might use in presentations.
In part, that’s the beauty of blogs. Blogging has let a thousand flowers bloom. I want to read great blogs – I frankly don’t care whether the definitionists out there deem what I consider a great blog to be a “blog.”
As you read through the article, you’ll notice the quoted bloggers are all over the place and even contradict each other. Jason Calcanis focuses on unedited, unfiltered content as being a key trait of a blog. Wonkette describes herself as an editor of her blog. Are we seriously suggesting that Wonkette isn’t a blog?
I must admit that I got a laugh, as usual, out of Jason’s definition of blogs, and, by implication, what blogs his definitions would exclude. I might be able to simplify his definition – a blog is any blog that has the features of a property of the Weblogs, Inc. network. I mean, we all bring our own points of view into the discussion, but gee whiz, Jason, you might want to be a bit more subtle and a lot more expansive.
If a blogger turns off comments because of comment spam problems, have they suddenly lost the right to call what they are doing a blog? Are the people experimenting with orders other than reverse chronological order no longer creating blogs? Is a blog in which someone other than the author proofreads or edits post not a blog? I’m not sure why we really care about turning definition into dogma, unless our purpose is to become a gatekeeper and decide who is in the cllub and who is not. That’s not part of the tradition of blogging and it would be sad to see that kind of an exclusionary tradition get started.
In any event, the article is a great resource for learning about the doctrinal arguments over blog definitions. I don’t understand how any of this discussion helps bring blogs to a wider audience, which is my interest in developing definitions.
In the meantime, I’ll go back to writing my blog, or at least what I think is a blog, and, if the definitionists ever agree on what a “blog” is (and I doubt that will happen), I’ll consider the definition and what I need to do to fit into it. And, then, as is the common trait of bloggers, I’ll do whatever I want and what makes the most sense for this blog. If that means I won’t get a blog membership card, then so be it.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog)]
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