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Feb 15 2013 - 11:16am
What is a Blog?
When I entered “history of blogging” into my Google search bar and hit enter, I expected to find my results cataloged by bloggers themselves, but in fact my top hits came from Wikipedia and New York Magazine (online, of course). A short history includes the following highlights: In 1994, Swarthmore student Justin Hall recorded his life digitally in Links.net, a digital diary that predates the term “blog.” In 1997 online diarist Jorn Barger coins the term “weblog” from “logging the web,” a phrase programmer Peter Merholz shortened to the handy “blog” in 1999. 1999 was a big year for blogging: Live Journal and Blogger (now owned by Google) both launched that year, providing an easy way for anyone without web design skills to open a blog account and start publicly journaling. New York Magazine and Wikipedia catalog history's next moves, which you can read yourself; what interests me now is that what constitutes a “blog” has been slowly and steadily shifting from primarily personal documentation to encompass professional news outlets. As more and more magazines shift from print to digital publication models, the line dividing “news source” and “political blog” seems to be shrinking. Newsweek, for instance, ended its 80 year print publication run last December by announcing their Final Print Issue and relying solely on publishing digitally. Publishing digitally means instituting a pay model for online articles, which seems an obvious and inevitable move, especially after the New York Times started charging for service in the spring of 2011. However, Newsweek also publishes a blog, The Daily Beast, where Andrew Sullivan blogged until his contract expired in 2012. Sullivan is now starting his own political blog where, rather than offset costs with advertisements, he's trying a pay model, asking his many followers to pay for access to the site. To my mind, paid access to blogs mimics “traditional” publishing models even more closely than before, further blurring the line between what is a magazine, or a newspaper, or a blog. What other blogs are considering charging for access? What does this mean for the future of blogging? First, there are mixed reports floating around about which corporate news sources are instituting paywalls, but casual rumor suggests that the Washington Post and Slate.com are both likely to start soon. Intriguingly, the Washington Post themselves report they are “reportedly considering” the move to paid digital access, while Slate vehemently claims they are not considering a pay structure while simultaneously suggesting they might be. Speaking of merging public and private discourse, witness this public twitter argument between Forbes journalist Jeff Bercovici and Jacob Weisberg at Slate about the meaning of the term “pay model.” What's pay mean, really? What's money? Clearly, charging for access to digital information, long considered the land of the free, is not popular. But what about more traditional blogs? First, we should probably interrogate the term “traditional,” but going on the model of blogging that we use here at Gottesman, I would consider a blog a place where users of varying degrees of a-professionalism all produce content about a collective theme. Blog pieces are casually written, tend to include a lot of hyperlinks (scroll your eyes upward), often contain illustrative images lifted from other areas of the internet, and attempt to enter an ongoing conversation about a topic others also discuss on the internet. In my definition I would also include a lack of corporate sponsorship: I'm dubious about “blog” arms to corporate magazines, but since most publications now have blogs, my definition is outdated. Blogging platforms like Tumblr, Wordpress, and Blogger make it easy to reproduce or announce blog posts across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. We live in an interconnected world, created by our desire to interconnect. Using these guidelines as a model, I would consider Maria Popova's Brain Pickings a classic blog. She updates frequently, she pools content from other sources, she interrogates a particular topic casually but thoroughly, she sprinkles her posts with images and embedded quotes, and she re-publishes her posts on Twitter. While readers have come to expect to read delightfully thoughtful blog posts for free on the internet, Popova notes on her site: “Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes 450+ hours a month to research and write, between the site, the email newsletter, and Twitter.” What?! Her blog takes time to write? And indeed, she politely requests her readers donate to her site under the heading, “Donating = Loving.” She says, “If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.” If you click the donation box, you can see that your options range from $3 to $25 per month, which seems reasonable. What do you think, dear reader? Does the future of blogging include individual paid memberships to blogs? Is this desirable, inevitable?
Posted in: Publishing|By: Anne Hays|1706 Reads