Archive for September 27th, 2003

What Makes a Blog a Blog?

21

What
is a blog?  Deeper minds than mine have pondered that
one, and far from reaching a consensus, the commentators, or rather practicing
bloggers, keep expanding the blogosphere and pushing the envelope of
what can be
considered a blog. Nevertheless, since I am going to be leading some
Beginner’s Sessions at the upcoming BloggerCon, it seems incumbent on
me to formulate my own definition.

The problem is that every time a new definition is formulated, a dozen
new blogs pop up which don’t fit the definition, but which are definitely
blogs. The standard starting point is blogging pioneer Dave
Winer’s
definition
"The unedited voice of a person!" But seeing as the whole topic of editing
is one of the hot threads and themes anticipated at the conference,
and the Presidential campaign blogs are highly edited, yet clearly
are blogs, it is hard to say that blogs are by nature unedited.  In
addition, many of my favorite blogs, and some of the top blogs around,
are collaborative efforts – blogs like the Volokh
Conspiracy
and Boing
Boing
– without even venturing into the ongoing polemic over whether
WIKIs, which are DESIGNED so that anyone can post or edit content, are
really blogs.

One dictionary defines
a blog as "A frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts
and Web links " But frequency is a relative term, both in quality
and quantity (as Philip
Greenspun
puts in his header "an interesting
idea every three months; a posting every day") and some of my favorite
blogs are literally just links of lists, without any personal thoughts
attached to them at all.

You can’t really say a blog needs links either, because some blogs are
intensely personal windows into one person’s life without hyperlinks
to any other web sites, and yet they are definitely, even quintessentially,
blogs. Some blogs are all about images, others text, and still others
audio. 

Russ
Lipton
takes a more fundamental tack when he says, "A weblog is
just a web site organized by time." I think that this is getting close
to the core of what makes a weblog a weblog.  But for me, the
crucial factor is that a blog is a web site organized in REVERSE chronological
order, and this makes all the difference in the world.

Traditional prose, from the Greek dramas and the Roman histories, tells
stories in chronological order, from beginning to end. Books are made
to be read from beginning to end, and although creative writers are able
to play with time to some extent through flashbacks and other devices,
the nature of the technology (the printing press turning out thousands
of pre-written and edited volumes) dictated that literature and commentary
be read from the first page to the last.

Exceptional and iconoclastic writers have chafed at these temporal restrictions
in form for years. Burroughs and Kerouac experimented
with a "cut-up" composition style in which they literally cut their writing
up into phrases
and sentences and then rearranged them at random to create a kind of
abstract stream of consciousness. The Argentinian writer Julio Cortezar wrote
a brilliant book called 62:
A Model Kit
, which consists of 62 unordered chapters which the reader
is invited to arrange in whatever order seems appropriate to create
a near infinite variety of permutations.

Blogs, however, follow a chronological order which is neither random
nor abstract. It is simply straight chronological order IN REVERSE.
This is again a direct result of the technology used to create blogs,
and
defines their basic nature. A blog, if you read it every day, is an evolving,
unfolding story as seen through the eyes of the blogger, but to a new
reader it unfolds backwards as one reads down the page.

This is not an incidental or unimportant difference.  It alters
the whole experience of writing and reading.  It introduces an element
of spontaneity and wonder, because the reader realizes that NOT EVEN
THE WRITER knows how the story is going to come out. The suspense that
a good writer can generate in traditional literature is by its nature
ultimately ersatz, for while the reader may be in the dark, the ending
is preordained, and the writer knows all the time what is going to happen
next.  This is not true in a blog.

Blogs are actually much more like the way we experience the world. They
offer the opportunity to communicate experiences and commentary in a
much more realistic way, a way much more similar to the way that human
consciousness experiences the world.

This is the way people live life. First in our hearts and minds is what
is happening RIGHT NOW.  Available in some detail are the happenings
of the past few days, and they can be reviewed with little effort. The
rest of our thoughts and memories are stored in the mental archives,
where they can be retrieved with varying degrees of effort and accuracy
depending on factors like their age, significance and how clearly
we were thinking when the memories were laid down.  Sort of like
a blog. 

In
the blogosphere Google has become our collective unconscious. It is
much more accurate and accessible than most people’s organic memories,
and this is sure to effect the evolution of the blogosphere as it ages
and grows.  Personally, I believe that in addition to being a potentially
revolutionary method of distributing news and commentary, and a hell
of a lot of fun, blogging is an art form waiting for its first great
generation of practitioners. 

Somewhere in America, in Andalusia,
in Ankara there are young writers breathing in the rarified air of the
blogosphere, sucking up the words, images and ideas, and making the first
preliminary sketches of what will become awesome masterpieces of a new
kind of literature.  In reverse chronological order.

Baby Hitler Promo

ø

Since my
college roommate got out of the pen after a long stretch for an unresolved
Roman Polanski complex, he has been sending me weird
bits
and pieces of internet detritus. This little gem defies description,
so I’ll just leave it for your perusal.

Wherever you’re coming up with these obscure electronic artifacts, Brian,
keep it up, but don’t forget to check their IDs. 

from parts unknown

Harvard Community Museum Day

ø

Hey Everyone, I just found outthat tomorrow,
Sunday, from 1 to 5 pm, ALL OF THE HARVARD MUSEUMS ARE OPEN FREE
OF CHARGE.
This includes the Fogg
Art Museum
, the Sackler
Museum
, The
Busch-Reisinge
r, the Semitic
Museum
and the Peabody Museum, where I plan to take my class this week. Maps and refreshments will be available outside
the Semitic
Museum,
at 6 Divinity Ave. Harvard has a
good map
on their web site.  This
is a great opportunity, many treasures.

Celebocracy

4

An idea whose time has come. Once again the Pinhead is on the cutting
edge of contemporary democracy. Trust Zippy to have his finger on the
pulse of American political consciousness. The
Dowbrigade
respectfully
nominates:

Governor of Texas – Chuck Norris

Governor of New York – Bruce Willis

Governor of Iowa (home of the bridges of Madison County) – Clint Eastwood

Governor of New Jersey – Geena Davis (for The Long Kiss Goodnight)

Governor of Wyoming – Harrison Ford

Mayor of Miami – Don Johnson

Mayor of Washington D.C. – Samuel L. Jackson

Mayor of Seattle – Bruce Lee (digitally ressurrected)

comments? additions?