More on the Changing Nature of Blogs
Yesterday, I shared my list of collected posts about the changing nature of blogs. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this lately as I prepare for a business blogging workshop at the University of Wisconsin next month.
Here’s the definition of blogs that I usually give in this workshop:
In the simplest terms, a blog is nothing more than a website developed using a lightweight content management system like Movable Type, Blogger, or Word Press. The things that most clearly identify a site as a blog are:
Content presented in reverse chronological order;
Ability for readers to leave public comments;
Links in/out from/to other sites and blogs using a ping called a trackback.
An RSS feed
Now, not all blogs have all of these things, but by and large, most will.
For the most part, this definition is still okay. But more and more blogs are moderating comments, or taking/leaving them off altogether. And underlying the whole concept of comments is an assumption that the blogger will respond to the comment, but many say this doesn’t scale when a blogger regularly gets lots of comments. Probably true, but what to do….
When is a blog, not a blog? Or is the definition changing?
As Elizabeth Albrycht discussed in her post, is the definition changing as companies adopt blogging as part of the marketing/business plan? And by this I mean a company actively developing and using a blog to advance its business interests, versus the collateral effect that happens when employees blog and add value to the brand. GM is a company actively blogging as part of the business plan. Microsoft is a company that gets benefit from its employee bloggers.
Another underlying assumption about blogs is transparency. But it is guaranteed that NO company can have the same degree of transparency as an individual blogging about her life or his hobbies. They can be honest about the business and clear about their motives, but they cannot, should not, reveal ALL. Is it still a blog?
What about the blog empires of Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc. These are more like magazines than personal journals. How do they REALLY differ from a Web 1.0 site?
One of the fallacies of blogging is that it brings us all closer. Well yeah sort of but not really. We read a blog and feel we know the writer, not unlike the kinship we feel for celebrities because we read about them in People at the hair salon. But we don’t really know these folks, unless we actually engage in conversation with them. Sure, you CAN build robust, lasting friendships in the virtual world, but for the most part, the closest we really are is acquaintances.
So here’s what I think (Ta Duh). The definition of blog that I’ve been using is fine as it is. But the nature of blogs is definitely changing. And the change isn’t driven by whether it is a company blogging versus a person, as much as it is by VOLUME.
In the long tail, where I happily live, volume is low, and I have the luxury of being able to respond to comments, both privately and on the blog. I hazard a guess that the same would be true of a company in a niche market with a very targeted blog. They could still have a two-way conversation on the blog with customers and other stakeholders.
But when the volumes rise (circulation and inbound comments alike), blogs seem to become more like magazines. Comments disappear. The communication becomes much more uni-directional – blogger out, with little response to comments. If they still have them, comments are more like the Letter to the Editor in the newspaper. The blog may even add multiple authors, versus the “one guy” it started with. The voice of the blog may get a little muddled, whether one author or many, and it is ever harder to find the point of view.
The blog may still look like a blog, but it quacks like a magazine.
None of this is a bad thing, per se. But it is different, and to some degree, challenges some of the underlying expectations we have about blogging.
As I say in the workshop:
- Blogs are conversations, not speeches. Specifically, bloggers write about, and link to, other bloggers’ ideas. And they create space on their blog for readers to participate – to comment on the action.
- Blogs should be authentic and transparent. There are many different interpretations of what these terms mean, and if we delved too deeply into that philosophical debate, we’d never get to the rest of our session. To net it down, some purists want bloggers to be real people, blogging about their experiences, with “everything” out there for the reader to know. Others put a more pragmatic definition on this, as I do, requiring honesty with the reader. Be clear about your intentions, and never lie. But we draw the line at complete transparency as it is actually impossible to achieve, whether you are an individual or a company.
- Blogs are not overtly commercial – This is inherited from the open source nature of the Internet, and is not that difference from the deep sigh that erupted from academia when the Web went commercial after being a bastion of academia and sharing. But blogs do have a point of view. And as more and more companies adopt blogging as part of their marketing strategy, there is an acceptance that blogs can be used to build brands and create interest in products. No one seems to mind, as long as the blog is also providing entertainment, information and value beyond the sale.
I don’t have an answer… In fact I doubt there is a single “right” answer to this conundrum: the more popular a blog gets, the less like a blog it may "feel." However, it something we need to be aware of when we consider adding blogs to our marketing mix.
Posted @ 8:02PM in Blogging, Marketing, Web Marketing
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Several good items here and great questions.
I suggest to small businesses that target a regional/local audience to always maintain dialogue and response in comments.
If it's more a national scope, a dedicated internal blogger should be at the ready, because I believe the power is in the conversation.
By the same token, if the blog is by a consultancy or solopreneur, it should be understood by the audience that not all comments can be answered - that would be near impossible.
A metaphor of a radio talk show may be helpful here. The host may take your call, or the show may end with you on hold. Difference being, while the host - or blog author - may not see your response, the rest of the readers will.
If you can add to the conversation, you should. Someone will benefit if its relevant.
While the spotlight has been on the big corporations, I believe that in the near future, we'll see more mortgage brokers, wedding planners, and dog groomers - local companies - get started blogging.
Blogging should be viewed as a medium and not as a genre. This article still seems to view blogs as a genre.
Compare to the Radio Broadcast medium. Are the criteria by which an NPR concert broadcast, a Weekend Top Hits Music Countdown, A Rush Limbaugh Talk Show Host and a Major League Baseball broadcast determine most effective broadcast techniques, the same criteria? No. The different GENRE impact the technique's effectiveness.
In architecture and other physical design disciplines the phrase "Form Follows Function" is frequently heard. I would argue that the Genre is the Function and that the Effectiveness of a Technique is the form which must follow the genre in Communications.
As long as Blogs are seen as a homogenous genre and not as a Medium of Communication allowing for diverse types of genre within the medium of blogging, there is going to continue to be a misunderstanding of what blogging is and a misunderstanding of what causes various blogs to be successful.
James - thanks for the comment. I don't disagree with you, that a blog is more like a medium than a specific genre.
However, I think you've missed my point -- which is that "we" collectively have expectations about what blogging "is" -- which are neither right or wrong. They just are. But, the environment is changing -- that's why I title this "the changing nature of blogs" -- but our expectations may not be keeping up with the changes.
This is an on-going issue. Good conversation, for sure. I think Susan is right - the question of 'what' a blog is, resides with the individual. We bloggers have all sorts of definitions - which make many non-bloggers cross-eyed because, when we're done explaining, they still don't have a clue.
A blog is not really a website - and as a medium rather than a genre - I like the radio show comparison. However, my blog is NOT a radio show; it's not a website; it's not a magazine; it's a platform to share stories and advice - and I control it. Not the advertisers, not the readers - ME.
So, a blog is a way for each individual to have a voice in the world; whatever that means. Their world, mostly.
My voice may resonate with hundreds of others, or it may not. For corporate, their voice is only relative to their audience.
This requires far more comment than one should take here...so, I'll save the rest for Blogher.
Great thread Susan.
Here's a blog story..that I dare say is fairly typical. Last week I received an interesting call from a reader of Diva who I had never emailed, never skyped; in fact she never even commented on my blog. However, she not only felt that she "knew" me, she went a step further and told me that based on the information I post and the people that link to me (other bloggers that she felt were credible) she "trusted me."
For this woman, the relationship was "authentic." Could a magazine or a radio show have produced the same perception? Perhaps. But it was through something called a "blog" where this particular particular relationship was developed.
I had a similar experience this weekend. I read a fairly patronizing post on a blog I read regularly. I was on the verge of posting a comment, when I realized that I don't really know this blogger. Even though we've exchanged email once or twice, in the real world, I'd classify our relationship as one of the barest acquaintance.
But the kind of comment I had in mind was one that you'd make to a friend who had said something unacceptable. An acquaintance said the same, you'd probably just file it for future reference and maybe adjust your opinion of the person.
So in the end, no comment.
I've lost acquaintances as their blogs succeeded, and became totally uninteresting one-way spouts.
When celebrity-dom arrives, friendships must end, and those of us simply who are blogging, one-on-one, go elsewhere.
As far as a corporation having a blog...
I declare that to be a semantic impossibility, a contradiction in terms.
A corporate entity can hire a blogger to port new advertising, which can appear superficially like a blog, but just as the picture of Aruba in a travel brochure is NOT Aruba,the copy presented is definitively NOT blogging.
Thanks for the comment Harry. I respectfully disagree. I think that blogs can be used correctly *and* effectively as part of a company's outreach to its publics.
There are many different kinds of blogs, just as there are many different kinds of Web sites, and we have a choice of newspapers, magazines, television channels and radio stations. There's no one right way. But.. blogging, unlike these other communication channels, has its own culture, complete with a set of expectations.
However, our environment IS changing. And these changes are clashing with some of our expectations.
Social media is making a difference at all levels, in all places. These things aren't just for the individual expressing his or her thoughts. They are intended to be used by companies as well.
Can "the corporation" blog. No. Can people within the company blog? Absolutely. And some of them will be independent of the business plan, and some will be part of it *by design.* And there will be good company blogs and crappy ones too. Just like all individual blogs are not of the same quality.
This is in response to Yvonne DiVita's comment.
The statement that you made that your blog is not a Radio Broadcast and not a website - dovetails perfectly with the point that I was making about Form following Function.
When the web first became popular, there were print publishing company's that tried to make their website visually duplicate their periodical or newspaper. They failed to realize that differing Mediums can not follow the same rules.
A periodical is a different medium from a website. Therefore, the rules which apply to the usability of a periodical do not apply to the usability of a website. However, just as periodical's are frequently topical, so also are websites. But even topical periodical's do not always format themselves identically.
Sculptors do not follow the same techniques as Oil painters. Oil Painters do not follow the same techniques as those who draw illustrations with Ink. Yet the Sculptor and the Painter and the Illustrator may choose to use the same subject as their model. The techniques are not defined by the topic. However, a portrait painter does things differently from a landscape painter.
But even this discussion is inadequate. Two artists may use the same medium and the same topic and yet still approach from differing styles such as Realism, Impressionism and Abstract.
Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin attempted to collaborate together by living in the same house. The attempt only lasted two months, but during that time Gauguin convinced Van Gogh to attempt an experiment. (The actual attempt occurred after Gauguin fled due to Van Gogh having a psychotic episode which scared Gauguin.)
The experiment which Gauguin proposed was that Van Gogh attempt one painting in which he painted based only on memory and emotion. Van Gogh's preferred method of painting was to paint while in the presence of the subject.
Van Gogh only produced one painting based upon this proposal. It is the one that is called "The Starry Night." Van Gogh painted other Nightscapes including one with a similar title known as "Starry Night Over the Rhone." But even though there are some similarities in the portrayal of the light that encircles a star, yet "The Starry Night" is more evocative of Gauguin's philosophy.
In likening the differemce in Genre's of diverse blogs to the differences between various Genre's of broadcasting, I was not meaning to imply that the Medium of Broadcasting and the Medium of Blogging use the same rules but rather that a shared Medium does not create homogeneity.