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",
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....
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
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
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
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
- allows you to do without a direct dial-up or network connection to
- 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
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
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
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
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.