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.

8 thoughts on “On the understanding of the word “blog”

  1. I understand Blog as a web-site which has to be maintained with regular entries and comments, so are individual blogs and social “portals”.

    Blog has become a common noun, what do you think about this? Take yours, it is not just an online diary although is cooked according to your personality , it contains much more for other people – some kind of building site, “a platform for social, political and technological ” interaction. So, for me, BLOG=INTERACTION.

  2. I often tell people I have a “site” since they may not understand what a blog is – or they may have a pre-set notion that a blog is only written by lonely kids in their parents’ basement 😛

    I think the medium is constantly changing, I mean even at “BlogWorld” this summer there were hardly any people actually blogging. It became more about being social, the photos, and more than anything, Twitter.

    As for my what my blog is about… I also have a hard time with it. I’m not so much a personal blogger as I am someone who adds a personal element to my site, like you said. I often describe it as “hyper local” or just… “everything about life in Vancouver — my life in Vancouver”.

    Great topic for discussion!

  3. I think you’re on to something there Rebecca: Blogs – or at least the blogs that matter – aren’t actually blogs any more. But doesn’t that mean we should stop referring to them as “blogs”? Should we make a new category or definition to encompass sites such as your own? And where did the e-zines go? In many ways most of the so-called “blogs” are more like the traditional e-zines of the past. Maybe it just doesn’t sound hip enough? Or maybe we need a new definition of the word “blog” and then we can relegate the classic blogs to a different genre – online diaries perhaps.

  4. The meaning of the term “blog” has evolved much over its short life. But words evolve all the time. Today, I am usually happy, but never gay whereas 50 years ago I would have been. I rest my case.

    The rapid evolution is due, in part, to technology that pretty much enables anyone to alter their blog through the use of the same tools any website is created or altered. As a result, what might have sprung from a “blogging” platform can resemble virtually any website on the Internet. Are these often highly commercialized sites still blogs?

    I’ll stay with the conservative, or, to use your terminology, classical definition, thank you very much.

    Tanya sent me.

  5. I think of my blog as my own magazine-like publication that I post an editorial to each day. A web page that is update regularly? Mine is part daily journal, part photo album, and part filing cabinet. It’s also my writer’s petri dish where writing gets developed and sometimes launched from.

    I think the last time I was here via Tanya’s I was on different page and I saw no place to comment.

  6. It’s in flux. It varies with platform. From what I’ve observed over 5 years or so, blogger people tend to be more likely to be bursts of one purpose, short term, furtive journalling from one’s basement. Livejournal and vox also tends to be sporadic but community and building social from common areas. Some are now using notes on Facebook like a blog. Typepad, WordPress and self-hosted tend to be longer term bloggers. Some blogs are splogs for gaming google with scraped tidbits, some are thicker-veiled splogs with SEO-oriented content or a way for a static comercial site or personal branding person to look lively. Some by blog mean link and joke dumping. Some, by “blog” mean self-publishing with no interaction or reading blogs, just a response to life or print medium. Some are using it for “indie” publishing to make regularly or continuous magazines, what used to be called group blogs. Some use their blog as their portfolio of photos for sale. Some like a notice board for touring events or to collect all their touring info in one place. More words to cover the range will evolve as needed I expect.

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