If you’re new to the concept of blogging, there is a really good chance that you don’t quite understand what a blog is. I know I didn’t. I thought I did, but I soon realized that my narrow definition was completely outdated. See, I’m a 30 something now. I was born in the early ’80s and I (like many of you) are part of that awkward generation between the “dark ages” (as our children already see it) and the onset of the personal computer revolution. I’m going to channel my inner grandpa for a second here so, brace yourself. “In MY day not everyone HAD a computer in their home! We had to walk to the Library if we wanted to go web surfing…uphill….BOTH DIRECTIONS”. I often tell my kids about the days before personal computers, the internet, cell/smart phones and DVR. I can tell by the terrified looks on their faces that they are truly thankful they didn’t have to grow up in such a boring and primitive world! In any case, with respect to computers, I like to call people like myself the “IT-Betweeners”. Some of us are computer programmers, some are computer savvy, some know how to turn the computer on, but NONE of us will rival the next generation when it comes to information technology. Our kids likely won’t have to read blogs about blogging, they will use the computer chips in their brain to access and modify online content. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), you likely don’t yet have that capability. So, for those that have yet to master cybernetic enhancement, what IS a blog?
What is a Blog?
First, a few definitions that are a little less ambiguous before we move onto the more the tricky definition:
Blogger: A person that partakes in blogging (not much room for error there)
Blogging: The act of writing a blog, blog post or otherwise managing a blog (simple enough)
Blogosphere: The entire blogging community as a whole, everything blog related (don’t worry, I thought it was part of earth’s outer atmosphere too!)
Blog (short for “web log”), as defined by a quick definition search on Google, is:
“a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis”.
So there you have it, that’s it. No more to learn, except that that was my OUTDATED definition to begin with. Now, on the surface, its still a semi-accurate description. However, in my newly enlightened opinion (there my opinion, now its a blog?), this definition is as outdated as mine was. Lets break it down into a few true or false questions:
1) A blog is a website or webpage: (TRUE) Nothing surprising here, we all knew that (if you didn’t…good luck to you!) Though, as I will elude to later, there has recently been a differentiation between blog and “website”.
2) A blog is run by an individual: (TRUE and FALSE) When most people think about a blog, they immediately think of a chubby guy sitting in his parents basement writing about how unfair it is that he can’t find a date to the prom (I apologize to any overweight people looking to start a blog about their failing love life…you’ll find someone!) The amusing imagery aside, this was the original concept of a blog. In the olden days (the late 1990’s…I’m so old) blogs were originally online journals in which people shared their daily life, their opinions, their wants, wishes and aggravations. Back then I called those people “losers”. Today, I call most of those same people “sir” and “ma’am” because they run the damn world! But I digress. The important take home point here, is that blogs are now created and run by individuals, groups and corporations! They have become THE way to disseminate information on the web! If you want to check out my more “personal blog” for an example of a loser (I mean individual diary like) blog head on over to thedizzydaddy.com. If you’d like to take a look at a few professional / corporate examples, check out “Business Grow’s” article on some of the more popular or better run corporate blogs. The take home point here, is that the blog has become a highly effective way of marketing as well as just documenting events!
3) A blog records opinions, links to other sites etc: (TRUE-ISH) It is very important to recognize the amount of diversity that exists in the blogosphere. There truly is a blog for every occasion! You want to laugh, head on over to College Humor. You want to read about someone’s life, click on down to my The Dizzy Daddy blog (second shameless plug…). You want to take a walk on the scientific side, then migrate down to the Science blogs. Want to learn how to blog, well then you came to the right place (or a place at least…). That, of course, is just a quick generalization, as there are COUNTLESS blogs about COUNTLESS topics. However, many (but not all) blogs are written in an informal fashion. A reader friendly forum is always more inviting than strictly information. Make people laugh while they learn, well they are more likely to come back. So, even the informative blogs tend to contain opinions in the form of bias, expression of interest in a particular topic or product, a spin towards their own ideas or just a splash of their own personality. Don’t confuse this with a lack of facts. The amount of factual information you’re going to find in any given blog is variable and largely dependent on the type of blog, but not every blog is simply opinions or recounting one’s trip to the grocery store. Keep in mind, that you can create a lot of useful (and a lot of useless if you prefer) information on a blog while still introducing a healthy smattering of your own personal style and/or opinion! In fact, the most successful blogs HAVE personality! If you’d prefer just the facts, well I suggest you read a college chemistry book (trust me, mostly lacking personality!) or tune into BBC. If you want to learn while you getting a chuckle…why are on my blog?
What is true, is that any decent blog will give links to other sites. This is for a couple reasons. First, it’s a great way to reference other users work without stealing it. If you build a blog around stealing other’s ideas, you will get called out on it. In some cases there are legal ramifications. So, make sure that if you base a post, project or idea off of someone else’s work, you give credit to them by linking to their blog. Its a little complicated, but your safest bet is to reference, reference, reference. It’s like writing a paper for school (do kids still do that?). You can cite any book you would like as long as you give credit to that book and author in your work. I’ll go into this in more detail in a future post as its important for a beginner blogger to understand, but for now, check out Peg Fitzpatrick’s “Five Reasons it’s Wrong to Steal Other People’s Content”.
The second reason that you should reference other blogs and websites is that you are fairly egotistical if you believe you’re blog gives all of the answers! Referencing other blogs or websites is one of the most effective way to make your posts more comprehensive! If you don’t quite understand the answer, or if someone has already done a fantastic job of outlining the information, why not let them do the talking! Blogging is about getting your work or efforts noticed, not keeping people on your page. As Mr. Macy learned from “Santa Clause” in “A Miracle on 34th Street”, if you can’t give people what they want, send them to someone that can and they will likely come back to you! I promise there is not one blog or website on the internet that will give you all of the answers you are looking for (except this one…staaaay with meeeeee, Precious…..). I keed, I keed!
4) A blog is updated on a regular basis: (Tralse?..Frue?) I won’t lie (ok, I will, but uh…not to you…), I have no idea what to say about this one. In a sense, it’s true. Blogs are typically a running log of events or information. Generally (but not always) in reverse chronological order. The frequency of the updates can vary greatly. Some blogs are updated every few minutes, while others go months without a single post. Truth be told, if you stop updating your blog (but keep your domain active), well, I assure you it’s not going to magically turn into a pony (though that would make my daughter very happy). You wont be forced to change the description of your website if you don’t update it often. So, I guess this is “supposed” to be true, but in reality, frequency of updates in no way influences the categorization of your website. The “updated regularly” is essentially a means to differentiate a blog from the concept of a static website. Static simply means that the “website” is based around static pages (not individual posts) that may change in content, but each page remains in largely intact. It gets a little more complicated, because blogs can have static pages, but I’m by no means an expert on this one. If you want to learn more about blog vs. “websites” (though blogs are a kind of website as we’ve established, since it exists as a site on the web) read this fantastic article on WikiHow; “How to Tell the Difference Between Blogs and Websites”. This is a question you should ask yourself more than once though, is a blog or “website” what you need. I’m not going to delve into that topic here, maybe in the future, but Google is your friend with this question!
So, what is a blog? Now you should understand that that question is like asking, “what is a person?”. They come in all shapes and sizes, some are big, some are small, some are good, some are bad, some are funny, some are depressing and some make you question the world we live in. However, if I was forced to define “blog” I suppose it would look something like this:
“A website or webpage containing information, facts, opinion, humor, perspective and/or links to other sites that is put forth by individual, group, or corporate contributors in a formal or informal fashion with the potential for regular updates in the form of posts including changes to existing content and/or the generation of further content.”
If you asked me for a more metaphoric definition, I suppose I would say a blog is a global means for self expression. Long story short, your blog is your world. You can do with it as you please (within legal guidelines). You want to start a blog centering around pictures of your pet turtle and update it every 15 seconds? GO for it, just don’t expect a lot of traffic (traffic is number of people visiting your site, by the way). You want to rally the world around your cause, have at it! You want to create a blog about why you believe Abraham Lincoln WAS a vampire slayer…sure why not? You might actually have something there! Think of a blog as a blank canvas and you are Rembrandt, or Picasso, or maybe a 4 year old child (hey people love stick figures!)….the content and quality of the blog depends on you or your group! If you’re a good writer with exceptional people skills, you have a fairly good chance of getting people to pay attention. If you’re a socially inept ex-medicinal chemist (that’s me!), well good luck to you!
Before I move on, here are a few fantastic resources if you’re still pondering the question of “What is a Blog?”