Saturday 19 September 2020

What's in a blog? by Joan Haig

I usually trip headfirst into adventures, but before joining this Awfully Big one, I thought I should probably prepare. What exactly was I getting myself into? I mean, I know what a blog is, but what exactly is a blog? It sounds sticky.

Blogging history began in the 1980s with basic webpages that acted to log website activity and encourage user feedback. The term ‘weblog’ was first used in 1997 during the shift towards more journal-like usage of these webpages. One year later, Open Diary was launched providing space for regular personal updates to be shared and with a function inviting readers’ comments on content; the year after that the shortened term ‘blog’ was coined.

So, should I treat my ABBA blogpost as a monthly diary entry? Are blogs like diaries? Not according to sociologist José van Dijck who argues for important distinctions to be made. Diaries are private spaces; online journals, by design, are public and invite an audience, the presence of which will affect what, why and how things are recorded.

The physical performance of diary-writing, says van Dijck, produces a ‘material, “authentic” artefact, inscribed in time and on paper’. Digital memories, conversely, are revisable, unreliable, ‘mediated’. This reminds me of philosopher Jacques Derrida’s work, in which handwriting embodies meaning and emotion: that is, pen and paper produce different modes of thought from typewriters (and, we can assume, from laptops and tablets).

Blogs quite quickly became politicised, used as virtual megaphones and digital homing pigeons in political campaigns and crises around the world. Youth activist Malala Yousafzai anonymously blogged for the BBC; her journal-like entries provided an escape route for voices trapped in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan.

Though blogs can function as overtly political spaces, most don’t. According to an important piece (and when I say important piece, I mean cartoon) in The New Yorker, blogs can be broken down by function, as follows:

©Roz Chast, The New York Times

[Purely in order to fit into this pie chart, I should say that my debut novel Tiger Skin Rug is out with Cranachan Publishing and available online and from all good book shops, and my next book, Talking History, is coauthored with Joan Lennon and out with Templar next year.]

As well as being political and promotional platforms, blogs are also heavily monetised, being prime advertising spaces in what one study calls the ‘attention economy’. And the blogosphere is a crowded market these days, accommodating photologs, microblogs (social media-like beasts) and vlogs. Back in the Year 2000, there were around 30 blog sites on the Internet. Now there are around 500 million.

Apart from book blogs (which, along with indie bookshops, make the world go round), the blogs I’m drawn to are the ones that read a bit like essays. (Can you tell?) I was a fresh-faced first year at university when I got hooked on the essay form. Not writing the things - reading them. I love a good essay and access them mostly online, sometimes on blogsites. According to one technology historian, however, the blog version of an essay is not quite an essay, taking a more ‘informal, conversational, sometimes even off-color tone’. Some are so ‘off-color’ that digital do-gooders have devised a Code of Conduct for Bloggers.

That such a code exists supports the position taken by my favourite of the articles I came across. In ‘Chaos Theory as a Lens for Interpreting Blogging’, readers are assured that in the ‘apparent random and complex phenomenon’ of the blogosphere, there is, in fact, a sense of order. People within the sphere, the article explains, know what they are doing. Based on the evidence immediately before you, you may well beg to differ.

So, all this prepping leads me to conclude that a blog is not exactly a log, diary or essay. It’s not always political and only sometimes (not in my case) an income stream. I know what a blog post isn’t; I’m still not entirely sure what it is. And yet, I’ve managed to come to the end of my first one on this adventure.




 and social media @joanhaigbooks


Penny Dolan said...

What a thoughtful and well researched first ABBA post, Joan

Sue Purkiss said...

Blimey! Actually getting us to think about what we do when we blog - very novel!

bookwitch said...

All very true!

Joan Lennon said...

So much stuff I didn't know - thanks, Joan!

Joan Haig said...

Aw, thanks everyone :)