Friday, September 12, 2003
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Advice to new bloggers
1) Unsure about starting a blog? What do you have to lose? It takes ten minutes and zero dollars to set up a blog on Blogger. [UPDATE: Blogger just announced that they are adding most of their Blogger Pro features into their regular Blogger program, so now you get even more for nothing.] The real question is, why not start a blog? At worst, you'll run out of things to say in two weeks and delete it. Trust me, if my brother can blog, anyone can.
2) If you decide you like blogging, then switch to Moveable Type: Boy, have I been converted. I didn't know what I was missing until I made the switch. Comparing MT to any version of Blogger is like comparing any BMW to a Saturn. Yes, the latter is a fine car (I own one), but the former is much more fun. [What about Typepad?--ed. Never used it, so I can't comment. However, Tom Maguire just switched over, so it must have some virtues.]
3) Think quality over quantity. Yes, some bloggers have the ability to post in triple figures per day at a consistently high level. You, like me, are probably not one of those people. In baseball terms, you don't have to swing at every pitch -- wait for an issue or idea that's right over the plate.
4) You can still edit your text once it's posted. Blog enthusiasts repeatedly emphasize that the blogosphere's comparative advantage is the lack of editors. That's true as far as it goes, but that doesn't mean that once you've posted something it's sacrosanct. In the hour after I initially post something, I will often revise it, to clean up typos, correct my grammar, add relevant links, and bulk up my arguments with more detailed arguments or supporting facts (within reason). Yes, there are no outside editors in the blogosphere, but the best bloggers have well-honed internal editing systems -- and they use them on a regular basis.
5) Write about religion. Or better yet, Harry Potter and religion. Forget Britney Spears -- it's religious controversy that sells. Well, that plus Harry Potter; I have a healthy new respect for the legions of online Harry Potter fans that came swarming to my site after the leading Harry Potter blog, The Leaky Cauldron, linked to my post on the subject.posted by Dan on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM
I have some interest in genre definition here, however, since I wasted some years of my life in an English Lit Ph.D. program. In effect, by your definition, a "blog" might be described as a series of topical written remarks, posted in an Internet-accessible format on an Internet-connected site, using certain defined features provided by particular software products.
Is this the most useful definition? What about a single essay that's updated on an impromptu basic, Internet-accessible?
What role in this definition does interaction with users play? Not every blog has a comments section. Is some type of response to users a prerequisite? Is hyperlinking to sources, stories, etc., a prerequisite? All these seem to be features of the blogosphere promoted in the self-definitions of bloggers.
Would an essay posted on a site using html, in which the essayist revised periodically in response to e-mailed comments, and the essayist hyperlinked, be a blog if it did not adhere to the conventions of particular flavors of software?
Finally, how did the 18th-century "periodical essays" of writers like Joseph Addision or Samuel Johnson differ (other than electronic format) from blogs?posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
I'd say that a comments section ought to be regarded as a prerequisite.
For one thing, half the fun of blogging lies in seeing what other people have to make of a post, and chasing down other people's commentaries via trackback is a horribly inefficient way of doing this; as I like to point out to people, when we consider the directed graph(1) of trackback links between bloggers discussing a topic, with N participants, we have the potential for N*(N-1) ~ O(N^2) links, and this is assuming that there isn't an iterated back and forth between the commentators. Having a comments section means that all responses and counter-responses are centrally located in one convenient spot, and the reader's attention flows in a natural manner from one comment to the next.
The second reason for considering a comments section crucial is that it often happens that the comments one gets are even more enlightening or thought-provoking than anything said by the blogger himself(2). This often happens on, for instance, Brad DeLong's blog; though he's an extremely smart individual, even he can't know everything, and the best of his readers' comments are an education in their own right.
Finally, it seems to me that blogs with comments sections get a lot more repeat visits, if only because commentators want to see what others have to say about the things they've said. In other words, people seek out social contact with others of similar interests, and reading and responding to comments are one way of attaining this end.
(2) Yes, I'm a linguistic reactionary, and refuse to use barbarisms like "themself" or "they" where the singular tense is obviously most appropriate. The masculine tense has traditionally been the used to denote the neutral sense in the English language, and to abandon this usage makes as much sense to me as asking the French or the Germans to drop the genders from their nouns.posted by: Abiola Lapite on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Congratulations on your anniversary. I've only just started blogging, after much trepidation and having been almost put off completely by a couple of supercilious, established bloggers (it's not all sweetness and light in the community).
Yes, some bloggers have the ability to post in triple figures per day at a consistently high level. You, like me, are probably not one of those people. In baseball terms, you don't have to swing at every pitch -- wait for an issue or idea that's right over the plate.
Instapundit, the Nomar Garciaparra of blogging? (Or is Nomar the Instapundit of baseball?)
Write about religion. Or better yet, Harry Potter and religion.
Ultimate blog topic: UN helps Harry Potter find satanic Britney porn in Israel using Linux
To Hei Lun Chan, I say "no fair"! I've got to respect bloggers enough to think they'd be able to develop some definition of blogging. As far as I can see from the main sites, the ONLY sure definition seems to be (1) internet accessible, (2) contains hyperlinks; (3) some type of interaction with readers (though not necessarily in formal comments); (4) periodic update. But based on Prof. Drezner's remarks, it isn't based on a single piece of software (and obviously, it shouldn't be). So I think it's an enormously valid question to ask what's a blog and expect a formal definition, not an "angle of the dangle."posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
To John Bruce: I hope you're not losing any sleep fretting about the lack of a precise definition of "blog." I'm tempted to drag out the old Louis Armstrong response to someone who asked what jazz was: if you have to ask, you'll never know. But I won't. One of the great things about blogging is that it is, to a large extent, undefined. This opens up a vast space for people with different talents, interests, quirks and backgrounds to participate in the creative evolution of a new medium. I just started experimenting with my own blog. I have no idea how it will turn out and I am not overly concerned with fitting it into any particular definition. It is the joy of play...posted by: phil beckman on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
"If you have to ask, you'll never know" makes good copy, but it doesn't make good musicians. You assume that good music, or good writing (of which good blogging is presumably a category) comes from some kind of spontaneous impulse. Hogwash. There may be trial and error, as you appear to indicate that you're going through, but in the end, there are lessons learned that can be discussed. This means the topic is subject to intelligent analysis, which ought to assist, not stultify, progress.posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Happy first blogiversary. I know what it's like as I've just celebrated my own over at www.tallrite.com/blog .
But I wish I knew an easy way to run a comments function such as this one. I'm a one-man-band with no-one to ask !posted by: Tony Allwright on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
There's a surprising commonality to the definitions. They all have the same components:
1) Online outlet for personal thoughts
So, the same essay constantly revised wouldn't cut it because of the time element. A comments section is clearly not a necessary condition, though it may be desirable.
Hope that helps.posted by: Dan on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
In re literary reactionisn:
"even more enlightening or thought-provoking than anything said by the blogger himself..." The quandry could easily be resolved by writing "...by the blogger in question" or "...by the original blogger" or perhaps even simply "by the blogger." Any of these formulations makes the footnote, and the implied debate, unnecessary.
Your friendly neighborhood copy editor,
Dougposted by: Doug on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Does a blog have to include personal thoughts? Page3Girls (which is no longer running) used to post pictures of naked women in reverse chronological order on a daily basis. Then there is the "Dullest Blog in the World" (sorry I don't have a link) which is hilarious. It posts short accounts of utterly mundane activities.
I'm not trying to be a contrarian. The problem with defining "blogs" is that because the web log can be used for so many different purposes any definition will either be too narrow and end up excluding many blogs or too inclusive and end up defining nothing. You don't need a single, overarching definition to start a blog or to become a successful blogger. Nor are we incapable of engaging in an intelligent analysis of blogging in the absence such a definition.posted by: phil beckman on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Phil, I don't think I started out there, but I'm coming to agree with you. It seems to me that the issue is how best to make use of the Internet medium, that makes self-publication extremely efficient and inexpensive, and thus bypasses some of the traditional gatekeeper and conventional-wisdom biases of the print and broadcast media. I think a "blog" is one way to do this, but not necessarily -- in terms of strict definition -- the only way. Hyperlinks can replace footnotes in an informal way, for example, but I'm not sure if they're necessary, and they may be a distraction if used only for their own sake. I'm not sure what the exact use is of reverse chronological order, other than to identify the most current entry -- and this might be a deleterious bypass of the traditional Aristotelian stress on "arrangement" as a key factor in rhetoric. The order in which things are put is an important authorial prerogative, it seems to me, and shouldn't be sacrificed to a definition of "blog". But one question is, is a "blog" or a blog-like thing the best way to employ the medium? Are there other effective ways with different assumptions? (Maybe this was my original question.)posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
John and Phil,
The "personal voice" question is a valid one, although even institutional blogs make an effort to construct a clear identity for its blog. The other components of the definition are not particularly problematic, so I'm comfortable with the definition.
That doesn't mean that there aren't other ways to "employ the medium." I just wouldn't call them blogs. Doesn't mean they're not important (I'd put Drudge in this category, for example).posted by: Dan on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
write about religion
i do. i have a news/blog/features site called Christdot. (yeah, we knocked off slashdot on purpose). i don't know about this Harry Potter fella though. i think he might be a sign of the Antichrist. just kidding--believe it or not, there are millions (or maybe thousands?) of christians who don't believe that right-wing fear-filled crap.
nice blog. peace.posted by: Nathan on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
You know, I was just thinking about the "write about religion" bit. What it actually means is say something not fully informed and a little oversensationalistic about religion. If I wanted to start a page about antinomianism and its implications for gay ordination, I'd have a real snoozer, it seems to me (except the gay part, maybe). But it wouldn't pull them in the way Harry Potter would. So I'm not sure if the point is to write about Harry Potter.posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Best advice I have ever gotten was to name my blog something that starts with the letter A. That way it appears at the top of alphabetically-arranged lists of links.posted by: Laurence Simon on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
If blog is a contraction of "web log", doesn't that provide a necessary and sufficient definition? It must be accessible via the World Wide Web, and it will take the form of a log. As a log, it can consist of just about anything and everything that strikes one's fancy from one-line quips to doctoral dissertations, and everything in between, that can take advantage of the multi-media approach offered by the ever-evolving browser technology.
Oh, and Lar, it's easier to have a surname that starts with an "A".
But a piece of writing that takes the form of a log is in chronological, not reverse-chronological order. See, for instance, Robinson Crusoe, or Men Against the Sea. By that reasoning, Charles Austin would be saying that "blogs" aren't blogs (or blogs aren't "blogs").posted by: John Bruce on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Don't think of it as "reverse-chonological order." The log entries are arranged in chronological order, starting at the bottom.
This allows the most recent entry to be more easily accessible.
Most web sites are organized by subject. Weblogs are organized by time.
(BTW, I have seen blogs that used daily top-to-bottom order.)posted by: Eric James Stone on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
I'm starting my own blog. You'll be my first link.
Thanks for the motivation.
P.S. I'll let you kow the link after I know what it is going to be.
Mr. Bruce writes: "I have some interest in genre definition ... In effect, by your definition, a 'blog' might be described as a series of topical written remarks, posted in an Internet-accessible format on an Internet-connected site, using certain defined features provided by particular software products. .... What about a single essay that's updated on an impromptu basic, Internet-accessible? What role in this definition does interaction with users play? .... Would an essay posted on a site using html, in which the essayist revised periodically in response to e-mailed comments, and the essayist hyperlinked, be a blog if it did not adhere to the conventions of particular flavors of software?"
I do not mean to offend Mr. Bruce, but Triumph the Insult Comic Dog already thought of the right answer to questions like this.
While interviewing the crowd lined up for the premier of "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones," he gave them a trivia quiz. The only question was:
Triumph: What substance was Han Solo frozen in?
The video - link
Mr. Bruce: "I think it's an enormously valid question to ask what's a blog and expect a formal definition, not an "'angle of the dangle.'"
It is a valid question, but it shouldn't be surprising that people who do something are often the least interested in defining precisely what they're doing. They're having fun doing it, not ratiocinating about its nature.
Mr. Bruce: "'If you have to ask, you'll never know'" makes good copy, but it doesn't make good musicians."
There's a big difference between being a great musician and being a great taxonomist of music. Most composers aren't musicologists like Brahms.
Mr. Bruce: But a piece of writing that takes the form of a log is in chronological, not reverse-chronological order. See, for instance, Robinson Crusoe, or Men Against the Sea. By that reasoning, Charles Austin would be saying that "blogs" aren't blogs (or blogs aren't "blogs").
Blogs are in chronological order. I read them by going to the last post I read and then scrolling up for the new items.posted by: Scrutineer on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
The "Ultimate Blog Topic" sounds about right...but what would the ultimate blog title be?posted by: John on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Since I've only had a blog for a week, any advice is welcome :)
A problem I faced when wanting to start a blog was my total lack of experience. I have never built my own webpage and knew nothing about HTML.
Everyone recommended using something like blogger or blogspot if you were just starting out. But, I could see from reading on the web that Movable Type was really a much better option as far as functionality.
Well the good news is the Six Apart people who made Movable Type just came out with Typepad. Typepad is based on MT and allows people like me, who know nothing to design their own site, with comments, trackbacks, blogrolls, multiple authors, photos, links, etc. fairly quickly.
It's just been released, so I know there are features the Typepad users are asking to be added, but for the most part, it's pretty easy.
I don't have nearly the links, etc. on my page yet, but I am blogging! Instead of running out of things to say, I'm finding I have way too many things I want to blog about.
So, if anyone else out there wants to do this, but has no idea how, check out Typepad. (FYI - I am in no way related to Six Apart or their products. I'm just a user.
And feel free to check out my site here.
DCposted by: DC on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Trust me, if my brother can blog, anyone can.
"Don't blog like my brother!" - "Don't blog like my brother!"posted by: Dell Adams on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
It's all a matter of opinion about what's quality... I mean, some people might think posts are quality if they have lots of links to articles they happen to be interested in. Personally, I'm not crazy about blogs that post nothing but a link with a 2 word comment or such.posted by: Chloe on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
Thanks for the push, I've been thinking about it for a while, and I've finally gone and done it.
I love reading blogs, but have the same complaint about "reverse" chronological order. Of course the posts are in order, i.e. chronological, by definition. But they cannot be read in an orderly manner excpt by scrolling backward. I would much prefer to read a blog from top to bottom, as we do the comments. (My preference would be to treat comments as a footnote, as most blogs do, and be able to read entries top to bottom in the same user-friendly manner.) That way, I could pick up where I left and scroll without shifting until finished, receiving the content in the order it was written. As it is, the reader is obliged to read today's content without the benefit of yesterday's remarks, unless he is willing to go backward, read each post, scrolling top to bottom, then shifting to the next, repeating the same process with every past entry.
Of course having the screen scroll from top to bottom is counterintuitive to everyone, because we are trained to read posts and handle them as we do pages in a book or document. We don't think of turning pages as an inconvenience. Too bad. This new medium offers as way to eliminate that subliminal interruption. Now that the form is established, it is not likely that anyone will succeed in doing it different, even if doing so would bring about an improvement.
It reminds me of organizing the alphabet on a keyboard. There are several explanations offered, but I think the most convincing is mechanical. It was necessary in the days of typewriters to have frequently used letters separated by infrequently used letters so they would not tangle.posted by: John B on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
John B: If you visit a blog daily, or several times a week, do you really want to be scrolling all the way down to the bottom to find the newly posted entry?posted by: Chloe on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
So how would you classify James Lileks' posts on the Bleat? I LOVE the Bleat, read it every day. On the other hand, I don't bother with blogs that mainly just link and provide little commentary, even if they ARE "blogs", more purely defined.
So by all means, Mr. Bruce, give me some good, regular essays, stop procrastinating about defining blogs (by the way, did you FINISH the PhD :) ), and get going!!posted by: the REAL Gore on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
I wrote my ANNUAL BLOG REPORT on May 7.
I have used your advice #5 several times on my blog. For an example, read my post, HARRY POTTER, on June 22.
All the Best,
Happy Blogoversity. Or bio-diversity. Or non-university, or what is this ver city anyway.
TypePad is great, and prolly worth the low cost (Ben, Mena, and Anil seem like fine folks); but MT can be freely hosted some places.
Blogger's cool new(ish) Blogger button, right in the Google toolbar, is really easy to use (I use it on my company/ internal blog).
p-Machine might be better than MT; and live-journal (& greymatter) are open source web log tools.
I guess when I wrote that "Islamic terrorists are death-eaters" I should have titled it Harry Potter? Great site, Dan; get tenure! Join the socialized teachers, and complain.
I'm also looking into Moveable Type because your blog looks so professional with easy commenting and access to your achives by topic.
As for the definition of a blog, it's really just a tool for an individual to write (create), edit and publish his own work. Great for control freaks!
Thanks and continued success...posted by: Chip on 09.12.03 at 12:47 PM [permalink]
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