7 05 2010

One of the most challenging aspects of my dissertation research was defining a blog. “Blog” is one of those words that has become so commonplace in our everyday speech that we don’t really consider what it actually means. It is applied to so many different online spaces that I found it strangely hard to narrow it down to one basic definition. And there’s still not really “one” clear definition of a blog, as they vary widely between topic, content, approach, authorship, etc. It’s more that we know a blog when we see one. I mean, most would agree that this is a blog and that the Daily Kos is a blog. But they are very different sorts of places. What I discovered is that blogs, no matter how different they look on the surface, share some important characteristics. But the ways each individual blog engages these characteristics remains fluid.

The actual word “blog” is a shortened version of the word “weblog.” I’m not wild about the word “blog,” but really “weblog” is even worse. Anyway, weblog itself is a reference to a “log,” tool of nautical navigation, the chronological record of events during a sea journey. Interestingly (or not), the original nautical “log” got its name from the practice of throwing a log attached to a rope overboard in order to measure the speed of the boat. Sailors would count how many knots passed through their hands during a 30 second interval and record that number in the logbook. Blogs, for the most part, reflect this chronological recording of events, typically publishing posts in reverse chronological order with the most recent at the top of the page. Jill Walker Rettberg (whose book on blogging was an indispensable source for my research) says the transfer of this nautical terminology to the web makes sense “as people in the nineties tended to talk about navigating the web.” Puts me in mind of the old ship wheel Netscape Navigator icon (does anyone still use this browser?) And makes me think of bloggers as jaunty pirates, which is infinitely more amusing.

Arggh, I bring ye the bounty of the internet

The earliest blogs were mostly online diaries, so the idea of chronological recording of events makes perfect sense. But there’s still more to a blog than just this journal-style presentation, particularly because these journals are online and can take advantage of the interactive nature of web-based text. In other words, we’ve got to put the “web” in “weblog” to really understand them. Rebecca Blood’s basic definition of a blog is “links with commentary.” I think this, combined with the chronological element, can explain pretty much any blog out there, regardless of topic or content. Some blogs may be more about the links or more about the commentary. But I think even the most commentary-heavy blog still features some sort of interactive link to other outside texts or images. If you can think of a blog that does not feature any hyperlinks at all, I’d love to hear about it.

A blog acts, on one hand, as a filter of the vast amount of content on the web. Instead of having to search the web myself for the strange and amusing, I can just visit Boing Boing to see where I should be clicking. So it brings a certain part of the web to me in one convenient place. What makes a blog great, to me, is not the breadth of its links/content, but the added value of well-written, humorous, and/or insightful blogger commentary on that information. Each post on a blog offers the reader links to other existing web content, but frames that content through the blogger’s unique (and hopefully entertaining and/or enlightening) perspective. Anyone with a web connection can, theoretically, find the same information, but a good blog puts it into a more interesting context through commentary.

I’ll probably have more to say about the blogger and the importance of commentary at some point. But today I feel like celebrating the blog-as-web-filter perspective. Even this is dependent on the blogger’s unique perspective and the topic he or she chooses to cover, as the type of content filtered through links tells the audience something about the topic and approach of the blog. Honestly, some of my favorite posts on the gossip blogs I regularly read are the daily round-up style link lists (like Jezebel’s Dirt Bag or Pink Is the New Blog’s Les News ) precisely because of the range of content they offer as well as the opportunity for the blogger to make quick jokes. Also because I, as a reader, can click only on the ones that really interest me. So instead of having to read everything the blogger brings to me, I can more easily pick and choose (another important hallmark of interactive online spaces).

So today I offer what will likely become a more regular feature on my blog: Link-O-Rama. I, shockingly enough, don’t always have paragraphs to say about the media I consume. Sometimes, I just think something is funny/weird/interesting/enraging and just want to pass it along to others. Since I navigate the web in a particular way and through particular personal/academic lenses, these links still relate to the overall approach of this blog and give me the chance to just geek out about certain things without really have to explain myself too much. Though maybe these things will show up in a longer post later. Who knows? Pirates don’t have to explain their motives.

A few things that caught my eye this week:

**We’ve all heard that Elvis died on the toilet, but apparently not for the reasons you think! Which makes me alternately grossed out and sad inside.

**”New Media” is neither “new” nor “media.” Discuss.

**As Lost winds down, Jonathan Gray reminds us that TV fandom is about the journey not the destination.

**Media outlets continue to justify why they missed the Sandra Bullock baby story. This article includes some interesting quotes from Brandy Navarre (owner of paparazzi agency X-17) full of unsurprising information about how they get their dirt on the stars. Yet they still were unable to crack the baby code.

**I made a version of this almond cake (torta de cielo) this week. And then was horrified to find it on low carb recipe blogs (because it is made with ground almonds and only a little flour), thus undermining my steadfast love of carbs in my desserts. But it’s still delicious.

**Okay so I’m just going to embed this one rather than post a link. All I can say is I love Paul Rudd. I love dancing. So this is pretty much a dream come true for me and I could watch it on a non-stop loop and still laugh hysterically the entire time:




8 responses

8 05 2010
An Admirer

Random comments:

– I called one of my interviewees a blogger, and he gently corrected me to say he considered himself a “columnist.”

– “Weblog” makes me hear Janeway saying “Captain’s log, stardate …” in that nasally voice of hers. (Um, yes, I watched Voyager :oD.) For an ex-linguist, though, the evolution of “weblog” to “blog” is cool.

– Thanks for the USA Today link discussing how the media missed the Sandra Bullock baby; quite interesting, and I do remember SB thanking “all the moms” etc.

– I like Link-o-rama; as long as this doesn’t mean your substantive posts are going to decrease! (I started to bemoan the stripping down of Best Lesbian Week Ever on AfterEllen, but realized it was turning into a mini-rant not particularly comprehensible to anyone who hasn’t follow the site for the last couple of years).

8 05 2010

I am surprised about your interviewee wanting to be called a columnist. All my blogger interviewees emphatically (and usually without being asked) flat out rejected the label of “journalist.” This might be related to the celebrity gossip angle (way to avoid libel charges?) perhaps? I found it interesting that even though they clearly draw from “journalistic” sources (like tabloids), they don’t see themselves as journalists at all. Only two had any sort of journalistic experience prior to blogging, which maybe also matters

My personal challenge to myself is two content posts a week plus a link-o-rama (if I have random things to share). So this week may have cheated. 😉 But at least the link-o-rama is longer! Of course, I say two a week the week before my mom comes to visit, so might be cheating again next week too!

8 05 2010
An Admirer

Interesting contrast! The person I mentioned writes for a news site, not an entertainment site – and he worked in print journalism for a long time, although as a side gig rather than his main profession – so maybe that’s why? As part of that conversation with me, he also said something about how people call so many things “blogs” these days. And when AfterEllen was voted one of the 50 most powerful “blogs” in the world ( – okay, 49th, but still!), one of its contributors told me quite firmly that the site was obviously *not* a blog.

Btw, is there a way to easily quote material from other people’s comments, to include in my own comment, or is it a matter of cutting-and-pasting (and adding quote marks, obviously)? And does the comment box accept HTML? Oh, let me just do an experiment:

Bubble wrap … HREF=”mywebpage.html”>

10 05 2010

You can embed HTML, as you figured out. Or you can just put in the URL, apparently. Let’s try it:

As for the quoting, I tried to figure this out the other day to reply to something else you had written! It seems the answer is to just cut and paste and add quotes. There’s probably a plug-in, but since I have the free account (and no plans to start paying at this point for a variety of reasons), I can’t do it.

8 05 2010
a dark ally

Aye, mate! “Pirates don’t have to explain their motives.”

Explanations are unnecessary because motivations will be attributed by others, and this despite (or because of, or in reaction to) the motivations openly asserted!

Thanks for the nautical trivia. The reference to speed is interesting, both because the travel rate of sailing ships and internet-age communication are rather different, and because it makes me wonder about the effect of drag.

I like both the content-based posts and the link-o-rama, and I’m not surprised by bloggers emphatically not wanting to be called journalists. There are few people doing respectable journalism these days – who wants to be associated with the institutional role society needs them to play? Sadly, those standards seem to belong to another era.

10 05 2010

I hadn’t thought about the relevance of speed to the metaphor until you mentioned it. The fancier a blog is (meaning number of images or other exciting new media bells and whistles) the more “drag” there can be. Using my gossip blogs as an example, sometimes loading PITNB ( takes a bit longer because of all the images etc. Just text is faster. How should we incorporate that that into the metaphor, matey?

30 08 2012

May I simply just say what a relief to find somebody who actually knows what they’re discussing online. You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people really need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised you aren’t
more popular given that you definitely possess the gift.

30 08 2012
Stephanie Jo Kent

I am a jaunty pirate! Love it. And thrilled to be brought back here by electronics\’ comment.

As to the relevance of speed in the navigation metaphor – sailing ships vs cybersurfing – I think the difference between then and now, and the difference in loading times (text vs images) is volume in lateral time (i.e., the time of now).

The closer/tighter/smaller the space, the faster the travel; the broader/ dispersed/larger the space, the slower the travel. The difference is in the density and volume of travel: the quantity of connections available/possible in current timespace. Modernity\’s drive to go fast and ever faster is anti-drag. (Part of the problem with homophobes!) Sailors (back in the day) chose the uncertainties of a ship to filter the reality of their lives. In contrast today, cybersurfers choose the certainties of bloggers\’ perspectives to filter the reality of our lives.

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