Tuesday, August 17, 2004

BlogWondering (what the heck is a blog?)

Okay, we have thrown the word "blog" at you, and tried to be cute at saying it is a thing and an action. But we humans like things clearly defined, so let's dig into some definitions of "weblogs."

Pick one you like, write your own, or just live with a fuzzy definition. You will get a better sense of blogs once you begin looking at them and you will even be more attuned when you begin participating in the blog world.

Jill Walker (who has a weblog!) shares a defintion of a weblog, written for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory:

A weblog, or *blog, is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first (see temporal ordering). Typically, weblogs are published by individuals and their style is personal and informal. Weblogs first appeared in the mid-1990s, becoming popular as simple and free publishing tools became available towards the turn of the century. Since anybody with a net connection can publish their own weblog, there is great variety in the quality, content, and ambition of weblogs, and a weblog may have anywhere from a handful to tens of thousands of daily readers.

Examples of the *genre exist on a continuum from *confessional, online *diaries to logs tracking specific topics or activities through links and commentary. Though weblogs are primarily textual, experimentation with sound, *images, and videos has resulted in related genres such as photoblogs, videoblogs, and audioblogs (see intermediality; media and narrative).

Most weblogs use links generously, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics. Readers may start at any point of a weblog, seeing the most recent entry first, or arriving at an older post via a search engine or a link from another site, often another weblog. Once at a weblog, readers can read on in various orders: chronologically, thematically, by following links between entries or by searching for keywords. Weblogs also generally include a blogroll, which is a list of links to other weblogs the author recommends. Many weblogs allow readers to enter their own comments to individual posts.

Weblogs are serial and cumulative, and readers tend to read small amounts at a time, returning hours, days, or weeks later to read entries written since their last visit. This serial or episodic structure is similar to that found in *epistolary novels or *diaries, but unlike these a weblog is open-ended, finishing only when the writer tires of writing (see narrative structure).

Many weblog entries are shaped as brief, independent narratives, and some are explicitly or implicitly fictional, though the standard genre expectation is non-fiction. Some weblogs create a larger frame for the micro-narratives of individual posts by using a consistent rule to constrain their structure or themes (see Oulipo), thus, Francis Strand connects his stories of life in Sweden by ending each with a Swedish word and its translation. Other weblogs connect frequent but dissimilar entries by making a larger narrative explicit: Flight Risk is about an heiress's escape from her family, The Date Project documents a young man's search for a girlfriend, and Julie Powell narrates her life as she works her way through Julia Child's cookbook.

You can find no shortage of various definitions for "weblogs"- here is a gaggle of them, er, rather a "google" of defintions (a search gfrom Google).

But before you get too far clicking and defining, let's just refer to blogging as a personal, chronological organized publishing system for the web.

Some of the key characteristics of a blog might be:

  • It is a person's viewpoint (usually) that is key. A blog is opinion, commentary, diary, reflection, but it nearly always represents the voice of an individula or a group of people.

  • Blogs are quite often text dominant, but can include most any other type of media. However, the emphasis is primarly in the written word, so it is a prime vehicle for practicing and demonstrating writing.

  • Blogs are chronologically organized, e.g. newest writings are first (but not always), and older items can be archived automatically by the system.

  • Blog tools provides an easy interface to create and edit content (no HTML skills are required, although they come in handy). Most blogging toolsallow you to compose via a web interface, so it can be done from anywhere.

  • Usually a blog offers a great deal of flexibility on the formatting, and choosing features to use or ignore, so one can be very free to individualize (or stay simple and use the built in templates out of the box). Some of the better blogging tools will produce web sites that run on modern HTML/XHTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) producing content that adheres to web standards, meets accessibility requirements, and just plain looks like a web page created in this century.

  • Blogs are open to the public to read. In its technology, blogs do not provide password protection or private areas; to achieve this you would have to directory permissions on a web server.
  • Blogs are quite often a hub for electronically connecting to related blogs, and they feature comment tools so site visitors can provide their thoughts on your writings.

We could go on, but this is probably getting boring to read.

For more about blogs/weblogs in general we refer you to:

General Info

about Blogs, history of blogs...

George Siemens (elearnspace blog) has written one of the better overviews of blogs, resources, tools, etc:

The Art of Blogging - Part 1

The Art of Blogging - Part 2

Dave Winer, one of the original developers and promoters of weblogs, writes on the Harvard Law blog site What makes a weblog a weblog? providing a list of key features as well as functions. Dave is rather strongly opinionated (just read his blog) and has written his own version of The History of Weblogs.

Sébastien Paquet writes profoundly on "Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research" which sounds pretty academic, but is quite enlightening not only in discussion weblog history, but what is unique about blogging as a communication activity.

What We're Doing When We Blog by Meg Hourihan (megnut) a well written introduction to what weblogs can do and a nice down to earth description of weblog features.

Jay Cross's Blog Page provides a comprehensive guide to "what is a blog" as well as a 5 minute streaming Breeze audio guide to blogs.

Russ Liptom blogs that "a weblog is just a web site organized by time."

From d2r, a rather comprehensive introduction to weblogs.

Weblogs? is part of a great collection of resources from Middlebury College.

An Incomplete Annotated History of Weblogs provides annecdotes for the timeline minded.

From "rebecca's pocket" by Rebcca Blood, a weblog history a well written narrative history, her site is well worth exploring for more resources. She has also written a great book, The Weblog Handbook.

Blogs in Education

Some seeds for ideas how blogs might be of value in teaching and learning...

EdBlogger Praxis is a resource site that features daily updates of how educators are using blogs.

Thoughts about weblogs in education was written by Dan Mitchell at De Anza College.

Blogs and Education by Jim Flowers.

The Year of the Blog: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom by Barclay Barrious is a beautifully designed blog, but better than, an excellent resource with details on blogging tools and tutorials plus thoughts on blogs as writing tools and using blogs to host class content.

Blogging in Higher education contains a good list of educators and schools into blogging as well as the home of the EduBlog WebRing.

Weblogs in Education: Bringing the World to the Liberal Arts Classroom an article by Sarah Lohnes in NITLE News.

Weblogg-ed: Using Weblogs in Education is Will Richardson's massive, link heavy blog. Will is doing some amazing work in using weblogs are a teaching tool and a school web site hub for the k-12 system. See also his FAQ on using weblogs in education and some annecdotes that try to answer "why webblogs?".

Blogs: A Disruptive Technology Coming of Age? an article from Syllabus Magazine.

Weblogging: Another Kind of Website by Chris Ashley, this article was written for the fall 2001 edition of Berkeley Computing and Communications.

EduBlog Insights by Anne Davis at Georgia State University's Instructional Technology Center.

The Subtle Knife: Blog*Diss: Blogs and Academics has more good resources.

Weblogs in Education - Edublogs has even more and more resources.

CarvingCode: Weblog Presentation for faculty by Randy Brown at Sinclair Community College.

A Beginner's Guide to Blogs by learning object expert David Wiley offers a nice concise entrance into the blog world.

Blogging Across the Curriculum by Pattie Belle Hastinsg at Quinnipiac University, based upon her first experiences in using Blogger as a student tool for design projects.

Resources About Blog Tools

Weblogs Compendium tools list

Blogroots tools

Year of the Blog: blog tools and how-tos

Save these for reference, you could be weeks reading them all ;-)