What blogs are and how to stop mistaking them for something else

What blogs are and how to stop mistaking them for something else
by José Luis Orihuela

Paraphrasing the title of the famous text by Doc Searls and David Weinberger, “World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else”, I propose to try to clarify what blogs are and how to stop mistaking them for something else.

A large part of the “dangerous relationships” between blogs and the media is rooted in the difficulties inherent in understanding what blogs are and what journalism is.

A symptom of these difficulties is the very old and poorly formulated question of whether blogs are journalism and the various attempts to magically convert editors, publishers, and columnists into bloggers.

Saying that blogs are personal websites made up of individual entries in reverse chronological order does not seem to resolve the dilemma, so I suggest the following decalogue.

1. Blogs are not a genre, they’re a medium

Just as books, magazines, and CDs are not, respectively, tragedy, comedy, or romance, blogs are neither autobiography nor journalism. In every case we are dealing with media that, as such, can be used for any communicative or artistic purpose. The media does not define the genre, but rather the language and format of the information (text, image, audio, video) that can be used.

2. Blogs are not mass media, they’re social media

Apart from a few exceptions, blogs are media on a communal or social scale. As a consequence, their influence and effects cannot be analyzed within the same parameters that are used to evaluate the mass media. The importance of a blog doesn’t have to do directly with its traffic, but more precisely with its positioning on the web. The capacity for influence of blogs is mediatized by the blogosphere in which they are inscribed and which operates as an echo chamber for news and public opinion in even the most modest of sites.

3. Blogs are not a private space, they are public communication

“On my blog I do what I want” is one of the two most widespread follies of the blogosphere. Blogs are a public medium and that which cannot be done in public is regulated by law. “I write only for myself” is another. If one writes in a public medium, then she writes to be read by others; otherwise she would write in a diary and hide it. Readers deserve to be treated with respect, to be told the truth, to be informed of conflicts of interest with the author or, at times, of the author’s identity.

4. Blogs are not going to cause the end of the media, but they are forcing the media to change

As has happened throughout the history of the Information Age, the appearance of each new medium generates an apocalyptic discourse from the earlier media, which are afraid of being replaced. What this history clearly demonstrates is that the relationship between old and new media is governed by a dynamic of accumulation and complementarity, but not of substitution. Blogs are not going to do away with the media, but they are causing the media to change significantly.

5. Blogs are not journalism by virtue of being blogs (when they are journalism, it is for another reason)

The relationship between blogs and journalism can be considered analogous to the relationship between a typewriter and literature. The tools that we use to write do not define the genre of a work. In this sense, blogs are a tool (a content management system) that can be used for many purposes. Journalistic identity is not derived from access to tools for managing and publishing content.

6. Blogs do not have editors, they are a media self-managed by their authors

The old paradigm of public communication in the analogue era “first filter, then publish” is overturned in the digital age, in which we “first publish, then filter”. Social media let us engage in a form of public communication in which the profile of the editor and the previous control of contents disappears, in which users assume the role of a distributed social filter and search engines become the new intermediaries of information. A blog is a medium that does not have editors and whose operation is directly controlled by the author.

7. Blogs are not complicated, but maintaining them requires dedication

The ease of launching a blog contrasts with the difficulty that writing and regularly publishing quality contents entails. Though blogs are initially easy, fast, and free, the truth is that surviving in the blogosphere requires a continued effort and sometimes even includes costs (own domain, hosting). Maintaining a blog has to be fun for the author and reflect his or her passion for something, but without a doubt it represents a considerable effort and demands a lot of time.

8. Blogs are not just a format, they are also a culture

Blogs are not just defined by their structural elements (individual entries, reverse chronology, archives, categories, comments), nor exclusively by the use of a content management system (Blogger, TypePad, WordPress), but they also involve sharing and spreading the culture and style of the medium. The blogosphere is not just the virtual space for blogs on the internet; it is also the culture that this media has built over the course of its history.

9. Blogs are not a monologue, they are a conversation

Though the comments that readers can add alongside each blog entry are the most obvious form of conversation, the truth is that the metaphor of conversation applied to the blogosphere extends beyond this practice, especially through external links and trackbacks. References cross-constructed through links are one of the focal points of the blogosphere and blog culture.

10. Blogs are personal

A blog is the voice of a specific person. A blog is the style of its author, her points of view, her preferences, her obsessions and her tastes. A blog is the projection of a person on the internet; it’s an identity that keeps being constructed and expressed through various fragments (links, text, videos, images). Blogs are people that propose a conversation for us.

Readings

Herrell, Alan, “Are Weblogs Journalism?”, Poynter Online, 15 sept., 2002.

Orihuela, José Luis, La revolución de los blogs, La Esfera de los Libros, Madrid, 2006.

Searls, Doc and David Weinberger, “World of Ends. What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else”, 3 oct., 2003.
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Translated by: Laura Bennett. Original: Qué son los blogs y cómo dejar de confundirlos con otra cosa.