Now that I’m teaching Blog Writing, I’ve encountered a sticky problem: I don’t know what a blog post is. I mean, obviously I know the way any thinking person in 2016 knows. I know that this is one I’m writing right now, for instance. But when it comes to defining what a blog post is, and even moreso what a blog post isn’t, I get pretty lost.
So I’m going to try to find a definition. Right here, right now.
For starters, we know that a blog post is a piece of writing published online. It comes in the form, somewhat, of traditional journalism: a headline, followed by information of some sort. It’s published for the world to see, regardless of how large or small a portion of the world actually bothers to see it.
Now things get muddier.
Wikipedia, however, has a blessed lot to say on the topic of blogs. So let’s look at some highlights from that:
- This basic definition helps a lot: a blog is “a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (‘posts’) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). Until 2009, blogs were usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often covered a single subject. More recently, ‘multi-author blogs’ (MABs) have developed, with posts written by large numbers of authors and professionally edited.” I think that last sentence is where we start to get confused. What’s the difference between, say, The New York Times and a blog? Is Buzzfeed a blog? (I say yes.) What’s the difference between the Times online and Buzzfeed? Add in the fact that the Times actually has sub-blogs, and now we’re really confused.
- This is wonky, if kind-of interesting: “Before blogging became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BIX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software created running conversations with ‘threads.’ Threads are topical connections between messages on a virtual ‘corkboard.'” I think what we’re saying here is that before blogs, we had digital communities, message boards, and the like. Blogs just re-organized this idea: Instead of going to a subject-specific message board to shout your thoughts to the Internet, now you could have your own space online dedicated just to your thoughts, on topics of your choosing.
- Blogs at least started out as basically online public diaries. But they’ve certainly evolved beyond that. For starters, I would not spend time in a diary trying to come up with a definition of “blog.”
- There is an entire section of the Wikipedia page called “blurring with the mass media,” and this is where I get confused: “Many bloggers, particularly those engaged in participatory journalism, differentiate themselves from the mainstream media, while others are members of that media working through a different channel.” So, basically, anything published online, whether it’s journalism or a diary or other thoughts, is a blog?
I think the answer to that last question is something like: yes. The Internet allows anyone who wants to, with the basic means (a computer and Internet service), to publish anything online. When I teach Blog Writing, I’m basically teaching people how to write for an audience of strangers online. If one actually wants readers, the question is simply how to be clear, how to appeal to a wider audience, how to shape thoughts that might interest others, and how not to get into trouble.
Everything else — whether you write essays, longform journalism, interview pieces, diary entries, or some combination thereof — is up to you, the blogger. That’s what makes it so fun — and so hard.