How do you define what a “blog” is? Back in the day, a blog was a weblog—an online journal. This definition had connotations of timeliness, of narrative, and of a personal focus.
But these days, blogging has expanded. Bloggers may be hobbyists or corporate CEOs. Blogs may be personal or professional. Even the tools that bloggers consider decidedly blog-focused, like WordPress, are used increasingly on news and other content sites.
So what is a blog? Where are the boundaries around blogging? Do they even exist any more?
Blogging is about content and community
This may be true, but it’s also true for much of the web. To say bloggers are content creators is a bit irrelevant: journalists are content creators, and so is your next-door neighbor who uploaded a video of his cat to YouTube.
If we break the web into the categories functionality-based sites (like online banking and ecommerce stores) and content-based sites, we see that there’s often not a whole lot of difference between “blogs” and other sites in the content category.
Whether we’re blogging with words, videos, audio files or images, regular updates to a site—even one like microblog Twitter—are generally regarded as “blogging”.
There are a few delineations, though. Wikis can be updated frequently, but they’re usually updated by users of the wiki itself, and they’re most commonly used as references. That said, many blogs seek to act as references of points of authority on their topic, as do wikis. Wikis may also provide a narrative if they’re used to store progress information—details about the evolution of, or updates to, a project, for example, or meeting minutes. This also reflects one of the common goals of blogging.
Forums, which can also be considered within the content site category, tend to be more conversational, and less get-the-facts-to-you focused. And the information they communicate tends to be less time-relevant than that on blogs or news sites. However, they, too, share some similarities with blogs: they aim to create community, and individual threads generally have a sense of narrative — a forum thread usually tells the story of a discussion.
Blogging is about publishing
A blog is a regular publication, and it’s true that there isn’t a huge variety of site types in the “regular online publication” category. There are ezines and electronic newsletters, and there are news sites. Other than that, the only regular publication site type is probably the blog (if you have others, add them in the comments!).
What unites these communication types is that they present content from a position of authority. In the publishing model, the publisher is the brand and the authority, and any authors they present have the backing of the publisher. They usually publish on a specific topic for a specific audience, and they do so regularly. Their publication is effectively a product, which sets these site types apart from information repositories like wikis, forums and work folios.
Blogging is about meeting a need for information
Again, meeting a need for information isn’t something that’s unique to blogging. Even sites that offer pure functionality, like Delicious or Google, can fit this description. Forums, wikis, classified sites, and news sites are all focused on meeting a need for information. So are many emails, newsletters, RSS feeds, and so on.
So what’s unique about blogging? What defines blogging from any other kind of online content creation? Is it that blogging is a unique combination of factors—content, community, temporally-relevant publishing—or is there something else at play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.