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The Art of Blogging - Part 1
Overview, Definitions, Uses, and Implications

George Siemens

December 1, 2002

Introduction
What is blogging?
Uses for blogging
Benefits
Implications

Introduction
Innovations build on existing perceptions and structures - at least until the new ideas are fully manifested. Then, the innovation discards the shackles of the old model and stands on its own merits and strengths. The development of video is often used to support this phenomenon. Video was initially used only to tape existing live stage performances - a new concept built on the perceptional structure of the existing. True innovation in this medium did not occur until someone recognized the uniqueness of video, and the limitations of live stage shows. Through utilizing the characteristics of the new media, new approaches to entertainment and communication were realized. One dimensional stage presentations were replaced with rich multi-angle, close up, edited, polished video enhanced through the use of special effects.

The Internet is still in the embryonic stages of standing on its own characteristics. Communication and content presentation strategies still mirror existing models, particularly newspaper and magazine publishing. Email, for example, is merely an extension of existing mail systems. As such, it is about bending a new medium to an existing process.

Blogging is using a new medium for what it is good for - connecting and interacting. Blogging is a first generation tool built on, and taking advantage of, the unique attributes of the Internet. It has been dismissed as a self-centered passing fad...and as the new model of interactive journalism, communication, and learning. This article explores the the uses, benefits, implications, and art of blogging.

What is blogging?
Blogging, as with any new (or in transition) concept, is difficult to define - it has not yet fully become what it will be. Here are some attempts to define blogging:

  • "If we look beneath the content of weblogs, we can observe the common ground all bloggers share -- the format. The weblog format provides a framework for our universal blog experiences, enabling the social interactions we associate with blogging...These tools spit out our varied content in the same format -- archives, permalinks, time stamps, and date headers." (Meg Hourihan)
  • Dave Winer defines weblogs as being: personal, on the web, published, and part of communities.
  • Halley Suitt details multiple characteristics, including: last place on earth to tell the truth, watching brains at work, a love letter, a diary, an open head - for the reader's convenience.
  • "But what bloggers do is completely new - and cannot be replicated on any other medium. It's somewhere in between writing a column and talk radio. It's genuinely new. And it harnesses the web's real genius - its ability to empower anyone to do what only a few in the past could genuinely pull off. In that sense, blogging is the first journalistic model that actually harnesses rather than merely exploits the true democratic nature of the web. It's a new medium finally finding a unique voice." (Andrew Sullivan)
  • "The best description I’ve read regarding blogging is that “it’s somewhere between writing a column and talk radio.”" (Cass McNutt)
  • "A blog is defined as a Website with dated entries, usually by a single author, often accompanied by links to other blogs that the site’s editor visits on a regular basis. Think of a blog as one person’s public diary or suggestion list. Early blogs were started by Web enthusiasts who would post links to cool stuff that they found on the Internet. They added commentary. They began posting daily. They read one another’s blogs. A community culture took hold." (Jay Cross)

Blogging, as detailed above, is a format constant (archives, links, time stamps, chronological listing of thoughts and links), personalized, community-linked, social, interactive, democratic, new model innovation built on the unique attributes of the Internet.

Uses for blogging
As an emerging tool, blogging uses have still not been completely explored. Some current uses:

Most common uses for blogging are personal and, considering its origins as a personal web publishing forum, this makes sense. Emerging uses promise opportunities in corporations and education. Further application will also be realized as existing uses (communication, learning, knowledge management, interactive journalism, etc.) are adopted by various industries - notably entertainment, health care, government.

Benefits
Benefits of blogging are numerous (which explains its rapid growth!). An overriding benefit is the democratization of information. In classic models, knowledge flow was "stopped" and administered by news sources (paper, magazines, TV). Ideas in keeping with current zeitgeist or political agendas received top billing, while unpopular (though necessary for innovation and social transformation) ideas were ignored. Many of the benefits of blogging are listed above in "Uses for Blogging"...other benefits include:

  • Fostering the fringe - ideas are evaluated based on merit - not on source of origin.
  • Filtering - ideas with merit are filtered through various blogs. Significant thoughts or posts receive multiple-links and spread viral-like across the blogosphere.
  • Multiple perspectives - one-sided perspectives of newspapers are replaced by passionate debates exploring virtually every facet of an idea or concept.
  • Barrier elimination - society is about barriers - actual or unspoken. For example, I don't run in the same circle as Bill Gates - a socio-economic barrier (at the absolute minimum!). In society, this generally means that I do not have the benefit of Mr. Gates' wisdom...blogging, however changes that. Opportunities now exist to hear regular thoughts from people like Ray Ozzie, Mitch Kapor, and Larry Lesig.
  • Free flow - any idea can be expressed...and accessed by any one. The process of blogging separates good ideas from poor ideas. The process itself has built in quality control - try that in traditional media!
  • Real time - discussions and interactions happen right NOW. Waiting for tomorrow's newspaper or radio program seems like an eternity compared to real time blogging.
  • Links and connections - the complexity of an information heavy society requires specialization. Yet specialization is futile if a process is not created to link specialties. Blogging serves this purpose extremely well. Disparate fields of interest and thought are brought together (and dissected) in the machinations of bloggers.

Implications
As a disruptive technology, blogging is altering (or perhaps responding to?) many aspects of information/content creation and use. These changes are not without impact. What are some of the implications of a tool that functions at the same speed as the medium it serves? Here's a few:

  • Content creation and consumption on the Internet has finally caught up with the Internet itself. Traditional suppliers of content (publishers, media, news organizations) will face substantial pressures to respond appropriately, or cease being relevant.
  • Decentralization of content and distribution. This is a trend well underway on the Internet as a whole. Napster capitalized on it...and blogging is the "canary in a mine" reacting to (and reflecting) it.
  • The user is in control. The end user (or audience) of a service or product has acquired a central (rather than previous fringe) role. Disagree with a blogger? Tell him/her via "comments links", and initiate a dialogue with not only the author, but other readers as well. Disagree with a newspaper columnist? Throw out the newspaper...
  • Conversation vs. lecture...I have a mind...I have an opinion. It counts. Just like yours.
  • The pipe is more important than the content. By various estimates, bloggers number between 750,000 and 1 million. The ecosystem of blogging is more important than the content being generated. The content has a life (i.e. new technology becomes obsolete)...but the process for content acquisition (blogging) stays continually fresh.
  • Shared meaning and understandings. Knowledge is acquired and shaped as a social process - resulting in spiraling: I say something, you comment on it, I evaluate it, comment and present a new perspective, you take it to the next level...and the process repeats until a concept has been thoroughly explored.
  • Ideas are presented as the starting point for dialogue, not the ending point.

This article details blogging as a tool needed to respond to the uniqueness of the Internet, its uses, and implications. Part 2 details getting started, "how to" blog, tools, and resources.

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