Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chapter 1 (Second Installment)

I welcome your Peer Review!

First Installment: Introduction

Second Installment: That Which We Call a Blog?

Is blogging self-expression, personal publishing, amateur journalism, the biggest disruptive technology since email, an online community, alternative media, curriculum for students, a customer relations strategy, knowledge management, navel gazing, a solution to boredom, a style of writing, e-mail to everyone, a fad, the answer to illiteracy, an online persona, social networking, rêsumê fodder, phonecam pictures, or something to hide from your mother? It’s all of these and more.
-Biz Stone (2)


The ephemeral and immediate qualities of the internet make it difficult, however, to trace the development of novel trends and emergent technological forms online. Therefore, despite the fact that many individuals are familiar with this internet genre, there is no authoritative definition of what constitutes a blog. In fact, as blogs began to emerge as a new discursive practice, there was considerable debate about which websites qualified for inclusion under this taxonomy.(3)

Blogs first began to appear online in the late 1990s and originally functioned as lists of hyperlinks designed to be helpful to other tech-savvy users who were surfing the internet at a time before HTML browsers or high powered search engines were available (4). As blogger Rebecca Blood writes, these early blogs could best be described as, “links with commentary, updated frequently” (5). Over time, these lists became a way of sharing the cataloger’s idiosyncratic interests with others and individual blogs evolved into unique, eclectic websites containing both personal and political content. By 1997 the term “weblog,” for which blog is shorthand, had been coined to describe these websites and by 1999 when blogging software had become widely available weblog this term had become standard vocabulary in popular discourse (6). Websites devoted to providing templates for blog creation and clearinghouse listings of blogs proliferated. With these tools, greater numbers of internet users were made aware of blogs and were able to create their own; online self-publishing flourished and some of the newer blogs began to include more detailed autobiographical content (7). In addition to sharing their personal interests, bloggers began to share more of their personalities. As some bloggers transitioned from being authors to Authors, the personal subject moved into the foreground of many blogs and reading communities began to organize around individuals. Celebrity bloggers emerged and the so-called “A-list” bloggers soon found that they were able to make considerable revenue by incorporating advertisements and other profit-generating elements into their blogs (8).

Blogs became so popular that mainstream media sources and private institutions recognized the necessity of incorporating them into their more traditional methods of reporting and advertising. The Guardian introduced a news blog in 2000 and other publications, such as The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times, also soon followed and adopted this feature on their websites; blogs are now a standard component of the websites of media corporations (9). Non-profit organizations, such as Amnesty International or the AFL-CIO, maintain blogs to share news about their current projects and to highlight their recent accomplishments. Similarly, political organizations and individual politicians have employed blogs as campaigning tools; Howard Dean’s incorporation of a blog into his 2000 presidential campaign in the United States is one of the first and most notable examples of this technique. For-profit enterprises also utilize blogging as both advertising and organizational strategy. Corporations now use blogs to create publicity platforms for new products and as a site for establishing their brands. Other companies have taken blogs beyond a marketing tool and incorporated them into their business organization structure. Google, for example, mixes these two strategies; the internet technology company uses in-house blogs to help its employees communicate when they are working together on projects and encourages its employees to develop their own personal blogs publicly using Google-owned blogging software (10).

Despite these shifts, there is some degree of general agreement about what qualifies a website as a blog. Formally, the major characteristics of a blog are that it is “a reverse-chronologically ordered, source/author- and –time-stamped, text-based linguistic stream” (11), or “a website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in reverse chronological order” (12). Entries are published in reverse chronological order, or blog posts, and are usually short; the style of writing used by most bloggers is both conversational and concise (13).

The position of recent posts appearing before older posts and the convention of brevity reflects the fast-paced atmosphere of the internet and the way that the demand for updated material influences the form of new media. In describing the three most “significant components of blogs,” blogger Biz Stone identifies “chronology, frequency, and focus” as the elements that define the weblog in Who Let the Blogs Out?: A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs (14). Stone emphasizes that “[t]he quintessence of a blog is its relationship to the flow of time” in terms of the way in which posts are catalogued in reverse-chronological order and in which there are expectations for frequent updates (15). The content of the blog, or its “topical voice” and narrative style, is an element of what distinguishes the medium of blogging in Stone’s formation, but the relationship with time is the feature of the blog’s form that is the most important (16). The weblog’s format points to a more general trend that has been spurred by recent rapid developments of information technologies. Technology is available that allows for the near instantaneous spread of information so that in the blogosphere immediate updates and speedy reports are not only expected but demanded. Novelty – new news – is privileged online and the blog’s form both reflects and participates in this privileging. The immediate and mediated qualities of blogs recall Benedict Anderson’s discussion of immediacy in print-capitalism. Print-capitalism “made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate to others, in profoundly new ways" (17); the simultaneous (18) and contemporaneous (19) experience of events that was enabled by print-capitalism is echoed in the mediation of events in the blogosphere.

In terms of content, most readers expect blogs to be “online journals that can be viewed by the public viewing the Internet” (20), in which bloggers share their “opinions, thoughts and interests” (21) On a blog, an individual or a team of individuals regularly publishes posts about topics that are relevant to the specific blog from a wide variety of perspectives and concerns; some blogs focus on particular issues while others are composed of more heterogeneous or eclectic content. Many individuals have attempted to create classification systems for describing the content of blogs. For example, in Who Let the Blogs Out, Stone, with a penchant for triumvirates, also identifies “three general categories” of weblogs based on the topic areas of “technology, politics, or diary” (22). Vicki Tobias, on the other hand, provides a greater number of categories when describing the “most common types of blogs that present information related to women’s issues” in her article “Blog This! An Introduction to Blogs, Blogging, and the Feminist Blogosphere;.” Tobias lists of “Personal, Topical, Collaborative, Political, Corporate, and Advice” as the defining subject areas of feminist weblogs (23). While Tobias’s focused specifically on the feminist blogosphere, these categories can also be applied to weblogs more generally. While there are blog styles that are left out of these sample taxonomies, it is generally accurate that the topical foci of most blogs fit into the groups suggested by Stone and Tobias.

Whatever their content, an element of autobiography influences the themes of blog posts, as bloggers refer to events in their online and offline lives and concentrate on subjects that are personally significant to them. In addition to biographically driven content, blogs often include hyperlinks to other websites, graphics, and streamed audio or video. New instantiations of blogs that are not primarily textual are emerging as well; these recent versions of the blog include photoblogs, vlogs, and audioblogs. Photoblogs are composed mainly of images, vlogs (videoblogs) contain videos that are often introspective monologues, and audioblogs capitalize on recording software developed for digital music players. Moblogging, or blogging via a mobile device like a cellular telephone, is also popular (24). As new technologies emerge, additional incarnations of the blog can be expected to appear in the blogosphere. The expanded accessibility that new technologies create potentially offers opportunities for individuals who are not able to participate in the blogosphere to enter this cyberspace.

Visual-based communication that does not rely solely on literacy and alternative methods of gaining internet access open up areas for bridging the digital divide. Narrowing this gap of technological accessibility makes membership to the internet communities less exclusionary and has important consequences for connecting individuals and groups on a global order. Like Anderson’s “intelligentsias” who “found ways to bypass print in propagating the imagined community, not merely to illiterate masses, but even to literate masses reading different languages"
(25), bloggers are experimenting with new ways to communicate across digital, linguistic, geographic, and other boundaries.

Despite the corporate applications of the weblog genre, many blogs were created as alternatives to corporatized media like many other internet forms. Some bloggers, however, are hesitant to embrace the popular idea that blogs are a novel journalistic form. In The Weblog Handbook, Rebecca Blood makes this point: “Weblogs are not, as some people say, a new kind of journalism. Rather, they supplement traditional journalism by evaluating, augmenting, and above all filtering the information churned out by journalists and the rest of media machine every day” (27). Blood argues that blogs should be considered a new and independent genre distinct from journalism. Several academic assessments of blogs share this perspective. For example, in her article “The Digital Queer: Weblogs and Internet Identity,” Julie Rak does not address blogs as a form of journalism, but instead explores weblogs as a form of life writing. In this frame, Rak advocates against the “current trend in life writing studies . . . to see online writing as an extension of writing on paper, particularly in the case of online diaries or blogs” (28) and instead argues that blogs "are better understood as an internet genre with a history as long as the history of the internet itself” (29) Like Blood, Rak evaluates blogs as a medium that should not be obscured by being placed under the umbrella of an older form; instead both contend that blogs should be considered to be a unique genre that is “native to the web” (30).

Notes:
2. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out?, 34-5.
3. Blood, The Weblog Handbook, 147-65.
4. Rak, “The Digital Queer,” 170-1.
5. Blood, “Introduction,” ix.
6. Rak, “The Digital Queer,” 170-1.
7. Blood, The Weblog Handbook, 149.
8. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out, 130-1.
9. Blood, The Weblog Handbook, 150.
10. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out, 159.
11. MacDougall, “Identity, Electronic Ethos, and Blogs,” 585.
12. Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog.
13. Tobias, “Blog This!,” http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/fc/fcblogs1.htm.
14. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out?, 39.
15. Ibid., 39-40.
16. Ibid., 41.
17. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 36.
18. Ibid, 24.
19. Ibid, 145.
20. Watt, “Blogging Busts Out for Women,” 7.
21. Wilson, “Women in the Blogosphere,” 51.
22. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out?, 43.
23. Tobias, “Blog this!,” http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/WomensStudies/fc/fcblogs1.htm.
24. Stone, Who Let the Blogs Out?, 128.
25. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 140.
26. Here I am distinguishing between corporations and private institutions that use blogs for business purposes, like the aforementioned Google. and corporatized media, or the mainstream news industry that is composed of major media conglomerates.
27. Blood, The Weblog Handbook, 23.
28. Rak, “The Digital Queer,” 166.
29. Ibid., 170.
30. Blood, “Introduction,” xi.


Notes from the Author
1. My notations system is imperfect, as I am translating Chicago-style and a MS Word document into blog format. Apologies for any wonky-ness. One day I shall be able to afford a research assistant with HTML skillz...
2. This is a continuation from Installment I, so the footnotes reflect that numbering and editing that has happened in the interim. Again, the notation will be imperfect, but I am just using numbers as referents, so I am not going to fuss over a smooth installment-to-installment consistent numbering system. The final version of my thesis shall include such seamless beauty!


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