Genre Models for Blogging
One of the things I really want to talk about at C’s which I probably won’t have the time to go into detail about is the superimposition of previously established genre models on blogging. I think that they provide a poor fit, when marshaled to explain what blogging is. Fundamentally, the time-centered reverse chronological structure and the greater attention to frequency rather than accuracy of content makes the “journalism” genre rise to the top.
Blogging as Journalism
Given the limited usage of blogs to report “spot news” it seems that the only way that this genre model is one of a wildly tempestuous sea of editorializing. “Who edits this stuff?” is the question that seasoned journalists ask. The answer is of course—no one. However, treating blogging as merely an agglomeration of ill-informed opinions is a cheap way to discredit its contribution to discursive practice. Treating it as a political tool to be mobilized, as a lobbying venue, is similarly flawed. If blogging constitutes a “hive mind” of sorts, it suffers from the same assets and liabilities of any democratic society. Sometimes popular opinion is right; more often, it is wrong. Nevertheless, voices which are seldom heard gain strength through the open platform that blogging provides, due to the ability of anyone, in David Weinberger’s words, “to be famous to fifteen people.”
A better variation of the notion of blog as “editorial” is the consideration of blogging as an epistolary form (I should credit Turbulent Velvet for this wonderful observation). Political rants are usually linked to media articles, critiquing them in much the same form as a letter to an editor. However, the looseness of this genre construct also invites comparison to a sort of “message in a bottle,” subject to the whims of search-engines and social networks which sometimes cause great writing to bob to the surface, and sometimes sink beneath the waves of endless web pages.
This, however gets away from the time-sensitive nature of socialized blog discourse. A static web page would serve the “message in a bottle” construct just as well as a blog. This tends to obscure the civic nature of most blog participation. The time-centered personal content provided is also often matched up with another historical genre.
Blogging as Diary
Given the massive number of livejournal blogs, this genre construct might be a little better. However, it doesn’t really jibe with the content of a typical blog. Not all bloggers write about their lives; professionals, in particular, carefully shield readers from their day-to-day realities. Even those who don’t usually realize that writing about personal topics in public can have repercussions. Often (as verified by the Pew report) people read the blogs of family members. Awareness of factors like this limit the potential of blogs as free-form diaries. Writing on blogs has an audience, random or concentrated as it might be. Diaries are not usually written for an audience. Personal content is usually mythologized to a greater degree than any sort of “private thoughts” so as to appeal to some imaginary construct of an ideal reader with similar tastes or feelings. However, it seems equally dangerous to postulate that all blog writers are potential professional writers who craft their output to match desired effects. Like any compulsive behavior, sometimes the behavior itself is its own reward, rather than the impact of that behavior on others. Some people adopt blogging as a way to enrich their lives and to chart their progress towards goals. This is perhaps diaristic, but only in the sense of a “learning journal.”
Ultimately, I think blogging (as a genre construct) is not satisfactory when taken as a purely “artistic” or “political” activity. Because of its public nature, it is certainly civic in nature—however, the limits of audience penetration involved may force us to rethink exactly what civic participation is. The political/news side of blogging profits from the expansion of the tool to include things such as RSS feeds and aggregation tools. However, as Jouke Kleerebezem has pointed out, these things are anathema to the practice of blogging as an “art.” Art thrives in an atmosphere of scarcity, and dissipates completely when any sort of hive-mind concept emerges. However, the original limited social neighborhood promoted by linking practices actually fosters the production of effective, socially important art. While I don’t agree that time-date stamps impede art, I certainly agree that feeds that provide summaries for harvesting do. A hand-written letter with images and doodles cannot be transcribed into relevant metadata.
Perhaps though, if we factor out blogging as an artistic practice the model which emerges, using all the technology has to offer, is a new type of genre classification worth close investigation.
Blogging as Knowledge Work
I am deeply fascinated by the recent European scholarship on blogging as a knowledge building activity. I think this works better than any simple model of blogging as an avenue for self-expression (letter or diary) or as a political activity (journalism). Knowledge-work is social without really being dependant on expression; it is engaged with civic issues without being a pure avenue for punditry. I think this model is far more nuanced (though it minimizes the personal, expressive aspect) than the other two possibilities. It is far from perfect, but I think it is the closest model for blogging as a genre yet.