How to be old—we're all learning

10. Your blog: what type of publication or storage does it most resemble?

Is this a web log post? Photo by Brian Henderson CC BY-NC 2.0

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:

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?

Most older bloggers regard their blog as a journal, magazine, opinion column or letter to friends.

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.

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:

People find multiple uses for their personal blogs.

“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:

Sometimes readers influence the way a blog develops: