Why Does Everyone Say Such Wack Stuff About Blogs?

This is mostly an exercise in getting some thoughts out of my system so I can move on. If you’re not interested in blogs, you may want to move along.

For those of us who are still here, let’s do an exercise. Look at the following websites:

What do they have in common? (I’ll give you a minute.) OK, time’s up.

The answer is: they are all blogs.

I count one high-traffic group blog that’s part of a commercial network, two personal blogs, one cultural critique group blog, one blog that’s an extension of a magazine, one that’s part of a newspaper, and one that’s a personal art project of sorts.

The only way you can say they’re not all blogs is if you define blogs the way my husband defines pie. In his universe, only the kind of pie he likes is pie. Pie must have pieces of fruit in it, or it’s not pie, with the exception of pumpkin and pecan – because, you know, he likes them, so they are pie. So several kinds of pie I like, which aside from pumpkin includes lemon meringue and coconut cream, is not actually pie. Even though everyone else in the world thinks it’s pie, to him it’s not pie because he doesn’t like it.

If you are going to claim any of these websites are not blogs, you are probably making a similar argument.

These days, blogs are created by everyone from Alice next door to the marketing department of Monkeypants International Ltd. to the local chapter of the Wombat Liberation Front. If we see that our local newspaper has started a blog, we say “oh, they have a blog now.” If we learn that our next door neighbor has a blog, we say “how lovely, I better not read it in case I find out she heard us arguing last week.” If we learn that a company based in a nearby town has a blog now, we say “oh gosh, I’d better get over there and leave them a nasty comment about my recent customer service experience.”

We really don’t spend a lot of time saying “that’s not a blog” when confronted with a blog. People basically know a blog when they see one. However, despite their ability to recognize a blog, many people seem confused about what blogs are and how they work. Deeply confused. Since this is the internet, I will now proceed to tell you why they are wrong.

We all know that there is a vast diversity in blogs. If a commercial network and a person and a newspaper and a magazine and a company and a nonprofit organization can all have blogs, then it’s pretty obvious that a blog is a publishing format. Yes, there are some conventions that most blogs follow. A blog post is usually signed by an individual. Blogs usually accept comments. Posts are often fairly short, updates are usually frequent, and you can tell when they were made, unlike a static website where they have an about page and it could have been written now or in 2000.

If a blog is really just a publishing format, though, with a few expected conventions, then a quite a few of the things people say about blogs make no sense.

It’s not a blog if it doesn’t have commenting.

Did you notice whether all of the blogs on my list up there accept comments? Did you check for that before concluding they were blogs? I daresay not. I constantly see people get hung up on this when having theoretical discussions about whether something is a blog. They say “a blog without open comments is not a blog.” So then what is it? A website on which you post your thoughts in date order with the most recent one at the top but it isn’t a blog? As much as some people object to blogs not having comments, judging it elitist or egocentric or whatever, the fact that you think it’s bad manners to not have comments open doesn’t make something not a blog. What about before commenting was available? We didn’t have blogs then?

If you’re stuck on this issue, let me ask you a question. If a blogger stops having comments because they’re getting attacked, but they continue to publish in the same way they did before, how long before it loses its blog status? When Dooce went for quite some time without comments, did it cease being a blog? Did it then turn back into a blog when Armstrong turned comments back on?

If you want to have a popular blog, stop writing about yourself, that’s boring and nobody cares! Write about a topic that people find interesting. Find a niche and own it!

There is a whole universe that consists of blogs about how to make money with blogs. (As far as I can tell, the best way to do that is to start a blog about how to make money with blogs.) What cracks me up, though, is how they view blogs. In their world, a blog is a source of information. If a blog does not offer information, it doesn’t matter, because no one would read it.

I don’t know if they’ve ever heard of Dooce, or what niche they think she owns in order to be so financially successful. Personal blogs just don’t fit into their world. Shannon at threeseven.ca describes the backlash against personal blogs a bit more strongly than I would in Bloggers are great! (as long as they aren’t mommies), but I think she’s on to something. Part of it is undoubtedly that women aren’t supposed to complain about being mothers. But part of it is that people who think of blogs as repositories of topical information just don’t understand what the topic is. The topic is you? Your life? Huh? They can understand how someone who is interested in gardening would be interested in reading a gardening blog, but they just can’t grasp how one person’s life could be a niche that anyone else would find interesting. Why would anyone want to read anyone else’s diary?

Which is why no one ever publishes autobiographies, because they don’t sell.

(Seriously, a lot of mommy blogs are boring. Just like a lot of technology, business, politics, gardening, food, gaming, and art blogs. Strangely, not everyone is an engaging writer. But who cares? Just don’t read it if you don’t like it!)

People without children are in the minority in the blogosphere. The mommyblogs outnumber the other blogs. Being childless in the blogosphere is a radical act.

This is the flipside of the confusion above. Which blogosphere, exactly? The one made of women’s blogs? The one made of all personal blogs? The one made of all personal blogs if you don’t count LiveJournal? Liz Rizzo, writing on BlogHer, touched on this recently:

See, I walked into the first BlogHer thinking that blogging was personal blogging. I thought that the whole conference would be about personal blogging! BlogHer ’05 began my love affair with mommy bloggers because to my mind they were really blogging. I remember learning about the Technorati Top 100 and thinking, “Yeah, but half of these aren’t really even blogs!”

I totally grant that the feeling of being overwhelmed by the mommybloggers is a feeling, not a fact-based claim. I also totally grant that it’s easier to say “blogs” than “personal blogs.” But I would be stunned if the mommyblogs were more than 30-40% of all blogs.