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Design is Philosophy

On the understanding of the word “blog”

According to Dictionary.com, the word “blog” is defined as

“an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page;”

This is but one of several definitions but they all contain the same basic elements; words like “personal”, “chronological”, “thoughts” and “diary”. But if you look around the web today or look at the blogs you normally follow, whether they be programming blogs like this one, gossip blogs, tech blogs or political blogs, I am sure you will agree that this classic definition doesn’t fit the bill. To take it to the extreme: How is The Huffington Post – widely lauded as being the best political blog for years running – a “personal chronological log of thoughts” or an “online diary”? Even sites with a strong personal element like Vancouver’s own Miss604 are hard to place under this description. In fact most well read “blogs” are more akin to online magazines than the definition they take their name from.

And that, my friends, strikes at the very heart of today’s question: Does the classic definition of the word “blog” actually fit the understanding of the word any more? Or has the blog evolved into something all together different that no longer fits within its definition? And more importantly, has a divide opened in the use and understanding of the word “blog” in which the internet literati on the one hand and the “commoner” on the other are in fact talking about or envisioning two entirely different things when they use it?

It is my contention that the term “blog” has in fact become a divided one whose meaning and subjective understanding differs so widely depending on the user and interpreter that communication between people placed on opposite sides of the divide for all intents and purposes is meaningless.

This all ties in to how we as humans interpret and understand words. If I say a word like “cat” or “coffee” to another person I am not merely referring to a physical representation of that animal or object, and neither is the understanding of the word by the listener a manifestation of the same. When a word is uttered, written or otherwise communicated, it is laden with understanding based on past history. For example, when I say the word “cat” without referring to a specific one, an image of a poofy orange and yellow cat with thick warm fur fills my mind. But to you it may be a skinny and ugly gray cat with sharp claws that smells. And based on these preconceptions our thoughts and understandings of the word can be widely different. Which is why we react differently to the same situation – we relate the current situation or communication to past events stored in our minds and make snap judgements based on them.

As is the case with the word “blog”. When I say “blog” a myriad of thoughts come to mind, mostly relating to social networking, information sharing, new media, news and current information. But that is because I can be counted in the loose group often referred to as the “internet literati” and because I work with blogs for a living. For the uninnitiated, the commoners, the ones outside of the blogosphere, the word “blog” more often than not has some very different connotations. In fact, to many a blog is little more than a virtual soap box for a vocal majority to share their rants and raves about things that to the common man or woman on the street seem irrelevant and uninteresting.

And that’s a serious problem: Whereas the uninnitiated loose definition of a blog does in fact fit the “classic” definition cited above, when we, the innitiated, and media in general refer to “blogs” and “the blogosphere” we are in fact talking about something else.

What they are referring to is a segmet of blogs that actually provide quality content on a constant basis – web sites that provide a platform for social, political and technological discussion, learning and advancement. Because although it is true that on the whole the majority of blogs out there today fit firmly in the category of “rants and raves about the morbidly irrelevant” there are sites dumped into this category that are relevant, important and informational.

The problem is that because these sites are all thrown together in one big group and there is no real demarkation between the classically defined blogs and those that provide relevant information, linguistically or otherwise, the uninnitiated are likely to write all blogs, regardless of actual value, off as irrelevant. And by doing so they are shutting out a massive and growing source of important information.

As a result, depending on the classification of the person you are talking to, telling them that you are a blogger or asking them to visit your blog can have very different results: While a member of the internet literati will understand that you probably have something of value on offer, an uninnitiated person will likely equate your statement to a confession that you are putting your diary, random photos or links to videos of people doing stupid things online. And they will judge you based on this first impression. Which is relevant because the majority of these “uninnitiated” are the people currently in power, whether it be your employer, your client or your local, municipal, provincial or federal elected representative.

What is needed is a clear demarkation between the classic blog and the one that goes beyond simply providing spurious content to provide actual valued material. In other words we need a new word.

I am curious to know what people in general think of when they hear or use the word “blog”. What is your understanding of that word and what kind of web site do you think of when you use it? Please post your thoughts in the comments below; I am very interested in hearing what you have to say.