What makes a blog a blog?

Readings and activities for Week 3

I want to argue ... that the „online diary” mode of blogging is far too quickly dismissed, and is in fact deserving of a closer look.

What defines a blog as a blog is less the specific technologies that produce it — though those are of course important, too — than the mode of interaction that blogs require of their readers, a way of reading that is intimately tied to the blog’s primary existence as a database. "The Pleasure of the Blog: The Early Novel, the Serial, and the Narrative Archive". Kathleen Fitzpatrick.

This quotation from Fitzpatrick points to what we're doing this week. Not defining The Blog as some kind of Ideal object but thinking about what makes a blog a blog rather than something else. That's a fuzzy problem, without a pat answer. It's my request for theorizing blogs, seeing how they might fit and function in the material and digital worlds.

We're not seeking An Answer but working with the question, and with how to address it. There are two non-answers: "It's up to the blogger", and "Who Knows?" The idea for this week is to find a framework that lets us think about blogs as something more than diaries, logs, records ... and a framework that lets us think about diaries, logs, records as something more than information. What makes a blog a blog in the current (2016) information text - image - voice space? What's a good way of thinking about what blogs are and where they fit?

A genre, like the novel. And a medium, like print or tv. Developed from template-driven database posts of links towards essayistic open publishing. A record of posts, frequently updated and presented in reverse chronological order. Mobile technologies start driving the form. Increase in image-text density. Increase in centralization and commercialization of some spaces. Public writing. Ergodic space. A personal learning space. Something literature-like, akin to the epistolary novel, or maybe the novel at large. A commonplace book. A social space, but a personally owned and managed social space, to differentiate blogs from Facebook. Maybe this.

Readings

Here are six bloggers considering, each in a genre of their field, a question of what makes a blog, what's it for, what else can it be, how else can we look at it. It's still a lively discussion in the digital humanities because considering what a blog might be encourages those in the discussion to push the boundaries.

For this week, everybody will read Blood and Rettberg. The other four are a sampling of extensions to their ideas.

Rebecca Blood. A blog post on blogging by one of the first bloggers. Weblog History, 2000

The promise of the web was that everyone could publish, that a thousand voices could flourish, communicate, connect. The truth was that only those people who knew how to code a web page could make their voices heard. Blogger, Pitas, and all the rest have given people with little or no knowledge of HTML the ability to publish on the web: to pontificate, remember, dream, and argue in public, as easily as they send an instant message. We can't seriously compare the creation of the World Wide Web itself with the availability of free technology that allows anyone with a web browser to express their unique, irreproducible vision to the rest of the world...can we?

[...]

We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions. I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from "audience" to "public" and from "consumer" to "creator."

Jill Walker Rettberg, Blogging, 2nd ed., chap 1. 2014.

If we see blogs as a medium, then the formal definitions are sufficient. These are the material limitations of blogs. An online newspaper or company newsletter may well choose to use blogging software as a medium. However, if we see blogs as a genre, or ... a 'type of text', then our definition should include mention of the typical style and content that lets us at a glance say 'that's not a blog' when we see an online newspaper.

... 'frequency, brevity and personality' ... describe[s] the gist of blogging. The first two points describe formal qualities: blogs consist of frequent, relatively brief postings. The third is a question of style and context: blogs are personal. They are usually written by indi- viduals and present an individual's subjective view of- or log of - the Web, their life or a particular topic. Even company blogs tend to be written by an individual or a small group of individuals, as we will see in chapter 6. Blogs are generally written in the first person.In addition to being a first-person form of writing, blogs are social.

Torill Mortensen, Personal Publication and Public Attention. 2004

What makes weblogs a genre different from the autobiography, the diary, the researcher's journal or any other pre-Internet writing? We recognize the weblog through the connections between text fragments, within one blog, but also to other texts available online. This means both existing connections and potential connections: those made by the writer and those made by the reader, as the reader again becomes writer and links to the weblog from his or her own piece of work - frequently a weblog. While weblogs have many non-digital predecessors, blogs cannot live outside of the computer. They are ergodic texts (Aarseth 1997), and demand the assistance of technology in order to be created and used.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, The Pleasure of the Blog, 2007

The question ... is whether the personal blog might be in an analogous situation to the early novel. Structurally, of course, blogs bear a relationship to early forms of the novel, such as the picaresque and the epistolary novel, in their episodic format. But the relationship extends beyond such formal similarities to more epistemological concerns. Like the early novel, the personal blog on the one hand seemingly presents certain dangers to its readers, while on the other, it may be gradually transforming a degraded species of domestic scribbling into as a new form of literature through the production of a new form of subjectivity, a new understanding of the self as it exists not as individual, but instead as part of a network.

Steve Himmer, The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature. 2004.

Where we diverge is on what unifies weblogs and their authors around a form—whether it is technology or technique. Focusing exclusively on the material production of a weblog is akin to arguing that what allows individual novels to fit into a class of novels—or, indeed, for a class “novels” to exist at all—is that they all consist of printed pages of prose fiction bound into a volume. There is a truth to it, and further differentiation could be made between novels as bound volumes containing one long story as opposed to collections of several stories, but it still obscures essential commonalities held across the sphere of novels or, in this case, weblogs. The novel, as Watt, Gallagher, and others have argued, is defined as much in how readers are trained to enter its shared codes as it is by the specific delivery of those codes. Likewise, the weblog relies on particular codes enacted by both author and readers—readers who become, in this case, secondary authors.

Lilia Efimova, Weblog as a Personal Thinking Space. 2009

While weblogs have been conceptualised as personal thinking spaces since their early days, those uses have not been studied in detail. The purpose of this paper is to explore how a weblog can contribute to the process of developing ideas in a long-term complex project. To do so I use autoethnography to reconstruct my personal blogging practices in relation to developing PhD ideas from two perspectives.

[...]

A weblog provides an opportunity to create a flexible personal information management system. In my case it serves as a low- threshold way to create personally meaningful content: writing in small chunks that are easy to fit between other activities, contextualising and including information which is not relevant for specific current goals, but might be used in the future. This collection is organised and maintained in a flexible and personalised way, using chronological archives, tagging or connecting posts via links or titles. Once there, weblog entries and the associated metadata are retrieved, reused, and analysed to see how ideas are connected to each other.

Activities

Everyone has read Blood and Rettberg, so we'll add a few more ways of thinking to the mix. You may want to skim all the readings before you choose one or more to dig into in order get a sense of the range of possibilities.

1. By Thursday: Work with at least one reading besides Blood and Rettberg. In a post, comment, remark, and above all link to examples and use them exemplify a major point of that reading. Write in such a way as to garner comment and response. You're trying to extend the conversation, to encourage your readers to read what you read and comment.

2. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Make the rounds of the blogs on the blogroll, read to see what others are thinking, and comment: Perhaps you took a different direction, comment. Perhaps you worked with the same reading but saw different implications. Comment. Perhaps you have an example of a point to provide: add the link in a comment. Comment on a least three other blogs.

3. By Sunday: You've had time to read, comment, read some more, think. So fashion a post in which you set out how you currently think of a blog, to address the general question of "What makes a blog a blog?". Link out! Examples, other possibilities, images that might illustrate you ideas (but Beware the animated gif, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!).

4. Monday: Post your reflection for the week, with links to your posts, by Mon 1 Feb, midnight.


Other options: in thinking about what a weblog is, think about blog post



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