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1 September 2007:

There's been an interesting exchange in The Guardian about blogging and journalism: first, Scott Rosenberg heralding "the unique way in which blogging has redrawn the line between private communication and mass publication", then Nigel Jarrett's letter this morning saying that there is a confusion of medium and message: "blogging is like writing to a newspaper knowing that your letter will be printed, whether you are dumb, weird, cranky, illiterate, the undiscovered brain of Britain or plodding Mr and Mrs Average".

I think they actually agree, in the sense that they come back to the point that it all depends, as with all technologies, on how you use it. Rosenberg asks why dismiss all blogs and bloggers when you don't have to read them anyway, Jarrett says a lot of them aren't worth reading. As, no doubt, a "plodding Mr Average" myself, I rather think that's what I said in the first place - right at the bottom of this page.

And as such, I've started blogging myself. And yes, I was rather prone to writing to newspapers....

August 2007:

Oh all right, I give in. The ease of the pre-packaged formatting is rather the point - for the reader as much as the author.

And, although a blog might well be one person's ranting into the void, it's fascinating how they become part of - or perhaps they start as part of - a community of people interlinking to each other's comments on each other's blogs, so there's not a lot of difference from a messageboard.

Yet another form of convergence.

January 2005: Well, as is the way of things, blogging found its place pretty quickly: as a pre-formatted online journal, it offers a form of communication familiar from pre-online days, making it quicker and easier for people to communicate directly and personally, without the mediation of other editorial priorities, whatever a journal - or journalism - can communicate. My initial sniffiness (below) overlooked exactly the benefits of that familiarity.

So blogging has made an impact as a source of first-hand on-the-ground reportage in dramatic and fast-moving events, such as the Asian tsunami and the Iraq war, but also on everyday realities in particular jobs, such as the police, or the NHS (though there has been much speculation as to whether the more eye-catching professional blog is a work of fiction). Clearly it helps communities of interest to keep up with each other's occasional notes on new developments and ideas, and it's been used to 'pre-edit' a book (on blogging, of course) - I'd be interested to see how soon it could start to shade into formalised academic colloquia on ongoing research (no doubt it already has). And you can use it to save on holiday postcard bills and (with a digital camera) the slide-show evenings of old.

(No apologies for so many links to The Guardian: it covers the blogging phenomenon in some detail).

What I thought in 2002:

'Oh yes, I've looked at your site'.... someone I was meeting for the first time had taken the trouble to look it up! But pleasure gave way to alarm, as I realised I hadn't looked at it, for quite a while. Time for a review and re-jig. Time to recognise my own unease about the vaIue of a site about me, as opposed to the things I'm interested in that other people might want to know.

All this coincided with a lot of newspaper attention on 'blogging', which I found mystifying - how was this supposedly amazing new thing different from any other personal website or homepage?

The distinctive feature of blogging is journal-style entries, in chronological order. What's caused the fuss is form-based updating through the Web, as developed originally by Blogger.com, which
- allows you to do without a direct dial-up or network connection to the host
- offers self-assembly pages, requiring no knowledge of HTML
- allows you concentrate on what you want to say rather than on the slog of creating a look for it.

Clearly there's a value in being free to concentrate on content rather than coding, but I'm still amazed at the fervour with which some people regard a relatively constraining format. For them, the medium is the message because it makes the author the message, almost irrespective of whether the message has any meaning. In the mobile phone era, it's not just the disturbed who walk along the street proclaiming their private discontents and fantasies: but more opportunities to communicate don't of themselves communicate more worthwhile content. No surprise to find a columnist celebrating the opportunity for self-published commentators - but anyone who reads Private Eye knows that there are columnists and columnists. Sure enough, one blogger has already described someone else as the 'Glenda Slagg of the blogosphere'.

Likewise, I wasn't the first to the idea that, nowadays, Mr Pooter might be a blogger, nor that there's a similarity to the Christmas newsletter. Websites, whether automated blogs or lovingly hand-crafted websites, at least don't arrive uninvited. But, like the Christmas letter (and this site too, no doubt), they can provide examples both sad and hilarious of self-absorption without self-awareness. Pooter, on the other hand, was a conscious fiction - just one among many 'self-revealing' humorous characters (Lady Addle, Augustus Carp, AJ Wentworth), not to mention the 'unreliable narrators' of more ambitious novels. There are bloggers self-conscious enough to call themselves 'unreliable narrators', and no doubt there are writers using blogs to develop modern-day Pooters (if I could be bothered to look). Incidentally, my web searches reveal that 'pooter', for some people, is a cute nickname for their computer - I wonder if they know there's that extra resonance...?

It's the focus on someone's stream of consciousness I find strange. I don't think I work all that hard nowadays, but after working, commuting, eating, housework, reading books and keeping up with what's going on in the world, it's hard to find the time (and the temerity) to just witter on to the world at large. Organising your thoughts, on any basis other than 'and another thing', takes even longer. What do all these people do all day?

I have no problem with the format appIied to a subject, as another way of organising an information resource, and I've added a coupIe of interesting links above, including one to an enthusiast for the power of blogs in developing online communities. However, to me, linking parallel monologue message-boards seems a bit too haphazard, too unfocussed: I'll be interested to see how useful it is to this group of NGO knowledge managers.

Perhaps this is no more than a variant on the debate over hierarchical vs. 'natural language' retrieval, perhaps there's a deeper and more personal issue over the balance between the functional and the personal in relationships. My niggles about 'community' and the Net are for another time, another page.

As I might have expected, within a short while of writing the above, the Net has thrown up something new to make me think a bit harder. (A blog would make updating easier, but would it also make it easier to avoid some necessary re-thinking and re-writing?). Phil Gyford's Pepys' Diary project uses MovetableType's facility to include comments/footnotes to a blog and to explore links between blogs. This could be an off-the-peg means to support collaborative research and the development of new communities of interest/practice.

Provided, of course, that there's a clear focus to the activity (such as Pepys's Diary offers). It's an open question how much thought might be needed to develop a useable information architecture to keep tabs on expanding notes and links in projects that don't come with their own pre-established structure. (Looking at Phil's different blogs and sites brings me back to an earlier point - where does he find the time?).

For me, the essential point remains: not to take the format as a given, but to think hard and long to define what you want to apply it to. Otherwise, as so often on the Web, Gresham's Law applies - and more, in the end, means less.


Last updated 1 September 2007