Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blogs exist for…?

In the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde wrote
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
Now, Wilde was a man who dealt with aesthetics. He was concerned with all that is beautiful. After all, he was a playwright, poet, and writer of novels. He appreciated art in any form (and flamboyant clothing). He wasn’t interested in only the aesthetics of literature but people. It was as if he tried to reflect what he wrote. To him, art existed for the sake of art, not for any other purpose. However, this claim of his is contradictory, for his “art” made some judgment on Victorian values among other things. So it goes; that in some way sums up Wilde.

So why care so much about this claim of his? Other than making an excellent soundbyte, it can pertain to anything. It’s not just books that are well written or badly written, it’s people that are well dressed or badly dressed, it’s cars that are well-designed or badly designed. This statement extends to everything, particularly blogs. They can be written and designed (I’ll have to come up with an idea about dressing blogs later), either well or badly. We don’t consider someone wearing a turtleneck underneath an appliquéd vest as morally offensive, rather we say they are a bad dresser. As far as blogs go, we can say they are badly written. But we can’t judge the content in them as moral or immoral. In this case, the “art” has to be reflecting something, or as Wilde would argue, existing just because it can, and does.

I would not argue, however, that blogs exist for the sake of being blogs. From some angle we can approach them as art; but for many blog authors, there is a reason behind writing. They aren’t writing merely to have their work admired. It seems rather lofty to ascribe blogs as art, existing only for art’s sake. However, it does make sense to say they exist as well written or badly written.

However, we should consider the potential for artistic achievement in the medium. Yes, this is all so confusing: Wilde was confusing and inconsistent. There is just no way to pin down the what and why of the blog. But we can come to the conclusion that they are a legitimate form of expression, and they can be judged on basic writing conventions. Thus, they are simply well written or badly written.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How many people blog – and how many read?

One has to wonder… am I making a big deal out of this whole blog/literature thing? According to some, yes, because the whole world isn’t caught up in this blog frenzy. Apparently there are loads of people who don’t even know what blogs are (My boss isn’t one of them, though. He found my Livejournal, and every so often asks me how things “are in the blogosphere”).

According to Steve Maich in “Nothing to Blog About,” the “Mainstream Media”, or “MSM” is making a bigger deal out of blogs than anyone should:
For one thing, there are wild discrepancies in the estimates of how many blogs are actually out there. Some figure the number is as high as 30 million worldwide. But once you strip away pseudo-blogs that are really ads or scam traps, and subtract dormant sites, the numbers plunge precipitously. A couple of sites dedicated to tracking blog traffic estimate only about two to four million blogs are actively maintained.

Now, two to four million is small in comparison to the number of MySpace users (61+ million). But we shouldn’t compare blogging to other Internet phenomenons so easily. There is a reason MySpace is more popular: users can post pictures and communicate without (gasp!) writing. Plus, there’s always a chance of scoring some tail. And how many bloggers actually hook up? (Besides Trent from Pink and David from Jossip).

So, who really reads these two to four million blogs? Maich mentioned a Pew Internet & American Life Project that surveyed about 1300 people. “27 percent of Internet users regularly read blogs, but that 62 percent of the online population still didn’t know what a blog is. In fact, 40 per cent of those who said they read blogs then said they didn’t really know what a blog was.” Ouch – numbers like this don’t bode well for the importance of blogs, that is, if we can measure importance by impact.

However, we recognize that the blog is a new medium. I know the span of 10 years can seem long, but c’mon… the novel has existed for about 300 years. We can’t expect every novel-reader to know what a blog is.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Yes, blogs are literature.

Now, for the continuing question: Are blogs literature? I found an excellent post by this English teacher/blogger, Kilian Crawford, from Writing for the Web. His contribution to the query is a yes, indeed, blogs are literature. We may not see it now, but he’d like us to think of all the classic writers, and how they had contemporaries that produced drivel. Thus, if we look at the present, and “contemplate the geyser of writing unleashed by blogging technology, we should not feel disappointed that it’s a geyser of sludge.”

No matter the time, the genre or form, there will be bad writing produced. Moral of the story? If you come across a bad blog, that’s to be expected. Most literature is bad, it is only the exceptional that becomes canonized. We shouldn’t be so hard on bloggers (ourselves) as they are still working with a new medium – it can take time for exceptional writing to be produced. Besides, there’s bound to be a jewel somewhere.

As it stands, we view blogs as writing that focuses on the everyday, or as some would argue, mundane. Some critics use this fact to discount the blog’s potential. But we should view that as the defining characteristics of the blog – immediacy and accessibility. The ability for the “common man” to use and read blogs is what makes the medium unique. I hope that by linking to Crawford’s entry, it provides a better idea of why blogs are inherently literature.

This is a filter, a journal, a notebook...

El Fuerte asked me to provide an example of a notebook blog. El Fuerte is trying to determine what categories his blogs and LJs fit into.

Well, El Fuerte, the line between notebook and journals is blurry. And to be an ideal blog of any type, one would include third-party links… thus everything is a filter. But that doesn’t help El Fuerte.

Journals are shorter, more informal. Journals consist of short, every day kind of entries: they are unedited (and sometimes lack punctuation/capitalized letters…). If you do a opt for a random search on your favorite blog site, you’ll likely find one of these.
The Random Ramblings of a Random Me!
Richard Matich’s Blog

Notebooks can be based on everyday topics, but the blogger in this case labors to create a coherent, edited entry.
David Byrne Journal
dunwatt’s Xanga site

Lastly, filters serve primarily as link-providers. There is usually little copy: the audience gets to know the author based on what they link to, not what they say.
Neat Stuff
Cool Hunting

I hope that helps, El Fuerte. Again, ideally all formats of the blog include links to other blogs and sites. If the author doesn’t make use of HTML (or XML or whatever W3 standard we’re on) the blog is nothing more than a paper journal published online.

But then again, one could argue that all online journals are technically blogs because they’re published online. After all, all “blog” means is “Weblog.” And a weblog is something updated periodically, which most recent posts first. Seriously, that’s all it is, we’re kidding ourselves if we say we must include hyperlinks, a single topic, an archive or a sidebar with links.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

So Many Types... and Themes

In The Weblog Handbook, Rebecca Blood notes that there are several types of blogs (6):

  1. Blogs, aka short-form journals
  2. Notebooks
  3. Filters

This is important to note: blog types vary, so they need to be considered differently, based on content. Williams can’t judge all blogs as “diaries of nobodies” because not all blogs exist as journals. However, if blogs did exist only as journals, would that be a problem? In the field of literature, journals have incredible value. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a journal that has remained popular since publication in 1947. Plus, there are countless important autobiographies to consider, which include everyday events in the writer’s life. And this is exactly what a journal-style blog does…

What Blood refers to as “blogs” should be referred to as journals, because “blog” encompasses so much more than does the term journal. Journals are those blogs that focus on the author’s every day life, something kept primarily for private consumption.

Notebooks are similar to journals, in that they are personal; however, they tend longer and better-edited, making them a bit more formal.

Lastly, filters are link-based. Their primary function is to introduce links to interesting sites and blogs, that the audience (which has been determined by the blog’s maintainer) should appreciate.

Although blogs can be categorized, most don’t fit a single mold. Most blogs I read, for instance, are a combination of the notebook and the filter, for they are definitely edited, with a focus on a certain topic, and with plenty of links included.

And in addition to types of blogs, the focus of the blog needs to be considered – there are photoblogs, travelblogs, fashionblogs, and my personal favorite, celebrity gossip-blogs (I know, I know, I’m trashy). And many other types I’ve failed to mention…

Friday, May 19, 2006

Where can I find the "How Not to Write a Sucky Blog" manual?

So far, I have established my belief that blogs are a legitimate literary medium, insomuch that they can be criticized. Yes, any high-schooler or hack critic can read a blog and form an opinion; it’s even better when said reader comments on the blog. But just like any other medium, comments such as “UR BLOG SUX” aren’t helpful. Instead, we need to consider criticism that is constructive.

However, finding such criticism proved to be a challenge. sells no “How Not to Write a Sucky Blog” or “The Post-Modern Approach to the Autobiography-in-Process, a.k.a. the Blog.” With tools such as these, writing a blog may be easier… that is, if you care enough to read something (after all, how many writers read about writing fiction? I read “In Defense of Poesy” only because I had to). Nevertheless, there are many books on blogging, such as those that can help you understand what a blog is, or how it can grow your business (sidenote: doesn’t “Grow your…” sound pretentious?). But do any of these books really criticize the blog as they should? Glancing at titles and descriptions, I think the answer is no (but then again, I can’t afford to purchase all of these books, or call in sick to find the time to read them).

We now turn to a column criticizing the blog: Zoe Williams wrote in New Statesman that blogs are nothing more than “vanity publishing.” She derides the medium because there are some pretty ugly blogs out there. But she doesn’t stop to ask, “Is The Widdy Web the only type of blog on the planet?” If she had, perhaps she wouldn’t have formed such a harsh opinion, that blogs are “the diaries of nobodies.” Perhaps she was being sarcastic… but I didn’t pick up on it. Next time, we’ll have to look at what differentiates the blog from a personal diary (or a column…) and consider some blogs that simply rock at what they’re trying to rock at.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ah, but is it worthwhile?

Blogs are a means of selling. So, what makes them different from graduation announcements or personal ads?
Ah, debatably the most vital element of the Internet: immediacy.
According to Reed,
Weblog entries are meant to be ‘of the moment,’ a record of how the individual felt or thought at that particular point in time… In contrast to handwritten diaries (many bloggers report keeping them in the past), whose entries are usually delayed, the weblog is valued for capturing a person’s impressions almost as they occur. Indeed, journal bloggers make a virtue of this technology, insisting that individuals should type as they think or feel, that is, without forethought or craft (posts are not usually planned or edited) (227).

He also asserts that “instead of an act of composition, blogging is usually conceived as a form of channeling.” (228). This summary of blogs, that they tend to be unedited rants about personal experiences or feelings, seems to be accurate (see the Livejournal Rants community for an example). That’s the charm of the blog: there is no revising taking place, besides a skim for punctuation errors and a spellcheck.

However, does the immediacy and lack of craft invalidate blogs as literature? It’s obvious bloggers aren’t working on the next Mrs. Dalloway; but should they be judged on the same level?

Are bloggers creating something that be canonized, or are they filling innocent web sites with drivel? Traditional literature can be split into good or bad, so why not blogs? As Oscar Wilde wrote, “books are well written, or badly written. That is all” (Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray).

Looking at it this way, blogs are the same – we shouldn’t generalize the genre simply because it isn’t based on painstaking work. After reading a blog, we should determine whether it is good or bad. The act of criticism – consideration -- legitimizes the blog.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Blogging: personal advertisement

Since the mid-‘90s it has been possible to stumble (or click?) upon blogs while online. Yet, it seems like blogs are proliferating every second. I hope that doesn’t make the situation seem dire – unlike nuclear weaponry, blogs are nothing to fear. And unlike newsgroups ( was so 8 years ago), the interest isn’t dwindling.

Blogging has a lot in common with the Futurists. That is to say, they were all about spreading their art everywhere through modern advertising. And can we say blogging is not a personal advertisement?

No, we can’t. Today, blogging is first-person, self-centered, persuasive activity. A blog is, above all, a medium out to sell you something. If you need proof, just check out myspace; the site allows users (all 65588 billion of them) to network, send messages, and look at each other. One of the key features is the built-in blog. If you’re looking to myspace for companionship, you’re selling your personality in a page. And what better complements your sultry pictures than ruminations? (By ruminations, I mean writing that ponders a topic, not the act of chewing cud. Sorry for the confusion.)

Serious scholarly work by anthropologists has been done on the topic. So don’t take it from me, the English major with a multimedia design minor. In his article “My Blog is Me”, which appeared in the journal Ethnos, Adam Reed explores the role of the blog;
“Just like a paper diary, weblogs are structured around ‘I’ narratives. They present the life of a sovereign subject who has a continuous identity and a coherent history (as one blogger told me, weblogs are ‘the great I am.’) (226).

That concludes today’s rumination: no matter what they may claim, a blogger is selling you something, be it theory, rhetoric, products or themselves.