Just what ARE Blogs. Really.

And how might blogs matter to businesses? Is it just blasphemous to even suggest, (as I edit this post in mid-2006), that Blogs are anything other than the best, coolest thing you could possibly be doing regardless of why you might be doing it? Is it being contrarian to suggest Blogs – or at least the use of the label “Blog” – maybe isn’t all that cool? Maybe it’s just a form of web pulighing that has some advantages and disadvantages just like any other publishing tool.

Here we go then… What is Blogging and is it fad or trend? Or just a buzzword that describes the most obivous of things that already exist; that being web publishing.

As of the date I write this, one of my favorite spots on the web, Wikipedia says “A weblog (now more commonly known as a blog) is a web-based publication consisting primarily of periodic articles (normally in reverse chronological order).”

Great. So that’ll serve as a starting place – for me anyway – to talk about some aspects of blogiture. (I can say “blogiture” now, since it seems blog is now a noun as far as dictionary.com is concerned, though I’m confused as to why it’s not officially a verb as well.) Anyhow, it is both fad and trend in the various aspects that are blogging. The real challenge in determining what aspects of blogging are fad-like and what are trends is in what you choose to define as blogging. But perhaps most importantly, blogging is nothing more than content publishing. I suppose what confuses me a little is the frezny over the whole idea of “blogging.” I understand it from a buzzword-hype perspective, but it’s meaningless from a depth perspective. Blogging, is after all, just publishing. In terms of being on the web, it differs from personal – or even business – web page publishing seemingly at least these four main ways…

  • Easy. Even compared to templated web page builder solutions, setting up and publishing a blog is really easy. This is partly due to easy to use web forms. But also a layer of sophistication in the editing tools as compared to the recent past. Word processor like interfaces are now available within online web pages.
  • Chronology. While you can certainly set up a set of web pages to publish sequentionally and be organized by chonology without Blog specific software, blogs are generally thought of as having such a chronological journal/diary organization as a default organizing principle. Arguably, you could say the same for any print magazine, but we’re talking about the webstorm that is blogging here.
  • Syndication Now we’re maybe getting somewhere. Using RSS or Atom or whatever other standard may emerge, the standardization of syndication for Blogs or their constituent parts creates velocity in various ‘net distribution schemes backwards from the taget blog as compared to traditional pages. That is, a typical web page may adhere to certain standards such as clean HTML or XML code and it will likely be indexed in search engines. But it’s unlikely to be ‘syndicated’ and made part of other types of newsreaders and such as blogs will be. And the difference between them is essentially the format of the source information and essentially not much more.
  • Collaboration. Blog owners may choose to allow for comments or not, but that’s not the kind of collaboration I’m talking about. I’m talking more about collaboration a la community both in terms of content organization as well as technological sharing. Huh? Sure, allowing for comments to be appended to a blog, (similar to a message board posting thread), is a form of collaboration. Waitaminute. Is it? Is it really collaborative to just make comments or even discuss a blog post? I don’t think so. Certainly, you could make a semantic argument that posters have added to the idea, etc. But that’s not really collaborative. Maybe it’s a half-assed sort of collaboration in that even if added posts are just whiney drivel, they nontheless add to the text. Tough call on this one.

    So what about community blogs? By organizing blogs by topic or other means into communities, is that a form of collaboration? Not really. At least not in terms of production of ideas. But perhaps in terms of creating a common space and increasing visibility.

    And then how about tehnology sharing? By having open standards for publishing, this is clearly a form of collaboration allowing the spread of the technology to foster the spread of it’s adoption.

  • Pure Hype. Blogs have the coolest thing in the world. A good name. Again likely by accident, we’ve got blog. Hey, do you think the “Internet” would really have become popular if people always said, “Trasmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol”??? (TCP/IP). No. Probably not. People just plucked out “Internet.” “Personal Web Page Publishing” isn’t real sexy right now. People will do it, sure. But everyone’s going to be “blogging.” It’s just got that “thing.” At least for now. Over time, it’ll become tool and utility like just like everything else. Which is good.

The Wiki article goes on to describe the precursors to blogs and blah, blah, blah, but the bottom line is that blogs are just a buzz wordy way of saying, “It’s a simple web content publishing system that happens to be fairly easy to use.” Set up to be just what they say they are “Web Logs,” they’re generally organized by date. So they’re useful for different content types that nontheless organize based on date, such as diaries, news type stories, event journals and so on.

This is an important point. That Blogs’ satisfy a need to organize content based on this particular organizational method. There are other organization schemes of course. Actually, six total. In Information Architecture, Richard Saul Wurman describes LATCH, (Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Heirarchy), as the 5 major organization principles for information. The sixth, in case you were wondering, is basically random. Or free-form search. So one of the things that helped fuels the blog fire is that it matches this basic chronology format.

So? Fad or Trend or What?

When you add up the things that mid 2006 blog technology provides, it’s easy to see how and why all the hype. It’s all true. Wait another minute. You just bought that, didn’t you? Just because it’s a hyper buzzword and someone says the hype’s all true that doesn’t make it true. Or even if it’s true, there might not be any depth to that truth or any useful meaning. When you go back to the trend vs. fad thing you really should be looking at the evolution of the word and the technology and how everything I’m talking about here applies. As so-called “Blogs” add things like category organization, (in addition to chronology), pictures, other content types and links, are they still web logs? Or is all of this blogtech just another content publishing system that happened to get it’s foot in the door by virutue of the four bullet points I listed above? (And perhaps others I’ve missed.) It’s quickly coming to be that “things that are blog” encompass so much of these other, (dare I call them “traditional” already?), web page publishing tools. At that point, blogs are really more fad as in a sense, the whole idea of blog barely exists. They’re just a new name for web publishing that happens to also maybe use chonology as a primary organization principle. If people want to continue to call it “blogging,” that’s fine.

So what’s my point? The point is there’s partial truths here. And it’s important to understand what they are because how you might want to use blogs or think of them should be considered in light of what aspects of blog are to be used. Individuals can certainly just spew – as I am here – whatever they feel they may want to talk about. But companies also want in on this act. Some think they if they “just get into blogging” all of a sudden they can solve some customer service problems. Or seem more human. Or deliver better content. Or they’re listening to a so-called pundit that tells them they’re missing some blogging boat. They’re all wrong. Or rather, they’re maybe not wrong, but at least so far seem wrong in part of the approach. Before you choose a tool, you have to decide what it is you want to be doing. What it is you want to build. A major mistake I believe a variety of people are making now is mistaking what aspects of blogging are fads and which are trends. And that by simply using a particular tool, you can solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Which may or may not be true. But is likely not true unless you have some clarity as to purpose in the first place. Without that, all that’s likely going to happen is more meaningless brochure-ware out on the ‘net, only now it’ll have the capability of being more easily syndicated.