Blog technology is a remarkable tool that is used in hundreds of different ways. It’s old by internet standards but brand new and unprecedented in the history of publishing. With a single, simple process, anybody of any age in any place, with unknown qualifications and few skills can:
- publish personally and independently
- publish instantly in colour with great ease
- publish to a potentially enormous worldwide audience
- preserve an unlimited number of articles without a filing cabinet
- categorise and organise their own articles
- search for and find articles by topics
- search for and find articles by date
- instantly and publicly chat with readers
- instantly and publicly chat with other writer-publishers
- and more…
None of this was possible on paper (or papyrus or vellum or clay tiles or marble slabs). None of this was possible before computers and the web.
And that’s why the question of how people use their blogs interests me enormously. I gave a choice of eight publishing models.
Question 17. A blog is a publication channel that people use in many different ways. In your opinion, what sort of publication does your blog most closely resemble?
The shape-shifter blog
In this discussion, percentages are rounded.
Having gathered these results, I wonder even more at the odd nature of the blog as a force in modern culture. It can be private, it can be public, it can shift between the two. It is simultaneously a publication channel, an interactive community meeting place, and an information management system. How different it is from anything that preceded it, and how swiftly we have adapted to its possibilities and accepted it as a fact of life. I wonder what changes in human sensibilities are occurring as a result.
Two of the answer choices (a journal or diary and a letter to friends) essentially compare a blog with a private document or a communication to a circle of friends — and 41% of respondents selected these. This is indeed a feature of personal blogs: that they are personal and semi-private in their content, yet they are usually published for all the world to read for free.
- “My blogs do follow on from my longstanding journal writing. They tend to be very much based on my personal experience. It’s my favorite kind of writing.”
Two other answer choices (a magazine or opinion column) fall on the public end of the spectrum, comparing a blog with traditional news media. Some blogs are exactly that, and traditional news media typically include blogs by journalists. By contrast, our older bloggers are mostly independent, not sanctioned by any authority, and around 39% perceive their blog in this way.
A “newsletter” has a mix of private and public connotations. I see a newsletter as a collated or curated bundle of news relevant to a particular group: employees, club members, family-and-friends, or subscribers with an interest in a particular topic or event. But only about 8% of respondents saw their blog in this way.
A few respondents are producing a blog that is a book in serial form. These blogs have a clear goal and a clear role. Much has been written about this phenomenon.
About 9% of our older bloggers perceive their blog primarily as a way to organise and store information, comparing it with “an album or portfolio” or “a record or database.” While information management is ostensibly the goal, these blogs, like any other, can be public from the start, or be made public at any time.
You can’t nail down a personal blog
Participants found this a difficult question to answer. From the multi-choice responses we gain some insights about how older bloggers use their blogs, but many comments show that choosing a model from the print world just won’t work. A blog is a blog is a blog, with many possibilities, frequently running out of control, and never quite like anything else:
- “Good question. No one answer for me.”
- “My blog is adequately described as a blog and doesn’t really resemble any of the above.”
- “None of these really … educative articles on many subjects.”
“I selected magazine as it’s really a mixture of all of the above.”
“I was torn between answering ‘newsletter’ and ‘magazine.’ Some posts are more personal than others.”
“I intend that my blog is a repository for my experiences and responses to daily life. It perhaps began as more of a journal but is now more like a letter.”
People find multiple uses for their personal blogs.
- “I also publish poetry and comments and observations I have made on Facebook..and WRITE a monthly commentary.”
- “It is turning out to be a combination of memoir and social commentary.
- “Not quite an opinion column, more of a cultural commentary.”
“It covers more than one sort of publication including an album, and a book in serial form, but I also do reviews so it’s opinionative.”
“More than a journal though because I am doing gear lists and hope to do reviews in the future.”
“Some posts include opinion, address political/govt issues, are excerpts of bio for family, describe some of my activities, just writing for fun.”
“It can be several of these, depending on the post. A newsletter or letter to friends could also be answers to this.”
“I also use it to develop and share ideas and thinking.”
“Random thoughts” and “musings” are very common in blog titles and tags and descriptions. Many people see a blog as a place to write about whatever they happen to be thinking at the time:
- It’s hard to say, given the random nature of my blog.
- My blog is mostly random thoughts, observations, etc.
Sometimes readers influence the way a blog develops:
- “I have tried the ‘tips’ or ‘best way’ type of blog posts and found that they do not attract much attention, particularly in dialogue form. What my readers and commenters tell me is that they like the glimpse into my life. Most of my commenters are American and from the UK although I have some others, too. They look at my ‘Canadian’ perspective and we share many similarities and differences through our mutual blogs.”