Defining the weblog

July 1st, 2003 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

I came across Jill Walker’s proposed definition of a weblog which is slated to appear in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. I can’t argue with most of it, but I was reminded of some thoughts I had on how we should perceive and define weblogs.

Definitions of blogs tend to conflate several different concepts:

  • Content management systems (such as Movable Type, blogger, or Live Journal), which allow users to store items (posts).
  • The traditional weblog format: short items (posts), date stamped, and listed in reverse-chronological order. This is supplemented by archives, which are presented/available in a more varied range of formats.
  • What weblogs are about (content). Many definitions of weblogs include implicit references to the ‘blogosphere’. See, for example, Dave Winer’s contention that weblogs are part of communities.

Such definitions leave little room for the much touted expansion of the weblog format to the business world (either in terms of PR attempts like Raging Cow or the informational weblog of Gartner), or indeed artistic works like Pepys’ Diary or, to a certain extent, Dear Owen. However, it is true that talking of weblog communities highlights an important aspect of blogging. “Blogging” is seen as a personal activity, undertaken by private individuals, with strong bonds being created between them. [Interestingly the extent to which the personal is brought to bear can blur traditional understandings of the public/private divide].

Two metaphors combine here, I think, to bring out the meaning at play. First we have the travelogue — the idea of an individual charting his or her journey through the world, on and offline. Second we have the idea of these many travelogues becoming part of a “continuous distributed conversation.” In order to create this conversation cross-linkage is very important, which is where the tools we see developing are very important.

In this regard, Jill’s definition seems to do better than many earlier attempts in terms of accommodating these various interlopers:

The style is typically personal and informal….Examples of the genre exist on a continuum from online diaries that relate the writer’s daily activities and experiences to less confessional weblogs that comment and link to other material, discuss a particular theme or function as soapboxes.

I discussed some of these ideas with Pat while in Ireland, and he pointed out that my ideas might map onto the ISO stack, though I’m unsure which aspect would map to which layer.

  1. 2 Responses to “Defining the weblog”

  2. By Brian Foley on Jul 2, 2003 | Reply

    Hmm. This OSI model mapping is a cute idea.

    Metaphorically, it does capture some of the idea of the different aspects of blogs. The mapping doesn’t have to be too strict either: many common protocol stacks (particularly ones with TCP/IP in the middle) don’t map especially cleanly onto OSI.

    Just as a quick suggestion, level 7 (application) could map onto the ‘what blogs are about’ element you discussed earlier.

    Level 6 (presentation) could, approximately, map onto the traditional blog format.

    Level 5 (session) could be the blogging software, such as Movable Type or whatever.

    After this, things start getting blurry.

    Arguably, from a software point of view, this is mostly nonsense. Blogging software is all at levels 6, 7, and above: level 6 is really intended for things like file formats, encryption and so on (eg XHTML and RSS); and level 7 defines application specific APIs (in this case things like an ‘add post to blog’ command). Everything else is outside the scope of software. As Claude Shannon said in 1949, “Frequently the messages have meaning, that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These considerations are irrelevant to the engineering problem.”

    That said, I still think it has a certain suggestive power, and might be worth thinking about more.

    All this brings me to ask a question: Do Habermass et al draw distinctions between the mechanisms of communication (‘he spoke English’); the experiece of communicating by particular means (‘he liked the sound of his own voice’); and the meaning of given communications (‘he discussed the eschatology of Buffy’)?

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