cover

Blogging
Second Edition

Digital Media and Society Series

Nancy Baym: Personal Connections in the Digital Age

Jean Burgess and Joshua Green: YouTube

Mark Deuze: Media Work

Charles Ess: Digital Media Ethics, 2nd edition

Alexander Halavais: Search Engine Society

Graeme Kirkpatrick: Computer Games and the Social Imaginary

Martin Hand: Ubiquitous Photography Robert Hassan: The Information Society Tim Jordan: Hacking

Leah A. Lievrouw: Alternative and Activist New Media

Rich Ling and Jonathan Donner: Mobile Communication

Donald Matheson and Stuart Allan: Digital War Reporting Dhiraj Murthy: Twitter

Zizi A. Papacharissi: A Private Sphere

Jill Walker Rettberg: Blogging, 2nd edition

Patrik Wikström: The Music Industry, 2nd edition

Blogging

Second edition

JILL WALKER RETTBERG

Copyright © Jill Walker Rettberg 2014
The right of Jill Walker Rettberg to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First edition published in 2008 by Polity Press
This second edition first published in 2014 by Polity Press
Polity Press
65 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK
Polity Press
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 02148, USA
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
ISBN: 978-0-7456-7131-4
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.
Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.
For further information on Polity, visit our website: www.politybooks.com

Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction
1  What is a Blog?
A brief history of weblogs
How blogs have adapted to a social media ecosystem
Three blogs
Defining blogs
2  From Bards to Blogs
Orality and literacy
The introduction of print
Print, blogging and reading
Printed precedents of blogs
The Late Age of Print
A modern public sphere?
Hypertext and computer lib
Technological determinism or cultural shaping of technology?
3  Blogs, Communities and Networks
Social network theory
Distributed conversations
Technology for distributed communities
Facebook and Twitter as microblogs
Publicly articulated relationships
Colliding networks
Emerging social networks
4  Citizen Journalists?
Bloggers’ perception of themselves
When it matters whether a blogger is a journalist
Objectivity, authority and credibility
First-hand reports: blogging from a war zone
First-hand reports: chance witnesses
Bloggers as independent journalists and opinionists
Gatewatching
Symbiosis
5  Blogs as Narratives
Goal-oriented narratives
Ongoing and episodic narration
Blogs as self-exploration
Fictions or hoaxes? Kaycee Nicole and lonelygirl15
6  Blogging Brands
The human voice
Advertisements and sponsored posts on blogs
Micropatronage
Sponsored posts and pay-to-post
Exploitation and alienation?
Corporate blogs
Engaging bloggers
Corporate blogging gone wrong
7  The Future of Blogging
Implicit participation and the perils of personalized media
References
Blogs Mentioned
Index

Acknowledgements

Without the constant conversations with the readers of my blog and with other bloggers, and the inspiration of reading blogs throughout the blogosphere, this book wouldn’t have existed. I love social media and am immensely grateful to those early bloggers and to the people who made the first blogging software, thereby opening up a new field – and to the visionaries, dabblers and practitioners who came before them. A visit to Blogger.com made me aware, back in October 2000, that anyone, even I, could easily make a blog. That opened new worlds to me.

While writing this book, I had the support of my colleagues at the University of Bergen, particularly in Digital Culture, and I would like to thank everyone there for years of conversations and ideas. I also spent a month at the University of Western Australia, finishing the first edition of the book while a guest researcher at the Department of Communication Studies. Tama Leaver (of tamaleaver.net) was especially helpful during my stay in Perth, reading most of the chapters and making many valuable suggestions for additions and reorganizations. I also received useful comments from Ingeborg Kleppe at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration. Working on the second edition, I’ve been able to draw upon feedback from my own students and from others who have taught and read the book. Thank you for all the help you’ve given me!

My editor at Polity Press for the first edition of this book, Andrea Drugan, was an inspiration and support throughout the process of writing this book, from working out the synopsis to finishing the manuscript. Her feedback was always rapid and helpful. I’ve also appreciated the comments I’ve received from the reviewers, which have helped me to make many improvements to the manuscript. Working on the second edition, I’ve had excellent support from editors, copy-editors and proof-readers at Polity: thank you!

Thank you also to Rand Corporation for permission to reprint the diagram from Paul Baran’s paper, and to Jason Kottke for permission to use a screenshot from his blog.

And of course, my deeply loving thanks to my family, especially to my wonderful children: my teenager whose own writing online is an inspiration to me and my two little ones born after the first edition of this book was published. First and last, thank you to my wonderful husband and colleague Scott Rettberg for suggesting great examples and discussing ideas along the way, for reading the manuscript several times and giving me very useful pointers, and for being a splendid partner in every way.

JWR

Introduction

Fifteen years ago, the word ‘blog’ didn’t exist. Ten years later, mainstream media routinely used the word without bothering to explain it. Weblogs have become part of popular consciousness with a speed that is remarkable by any standard. What is this new form of communication that so suddenly entered our culture?

I began blogging in October 2000, when I was working on my PhD thesis, and I’ve been blogging ever since. Like most bloggers, I learnt about blogging by doing it. Blogging is as much about reading other blogs as about writing your own, and the best way to understand blogging is to immerse yourself in it. However, blogs are also a part of a larger context. They are part of the history of communication and literacy, and emblematic of a shift from uni-directional mass media to participatory media, where viewers and readers become creators of media. Blogs are also part of the history of literature and writing. A path can be traced from early autobiographical writing through diary writing and memoirs up to the confessional and personal diary-style blogs of today (Serfaty 2004). Blogs are part of the current changes in journalism and in marketing. They are part of the growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which in their turn have roots in the social network theory put forward by sociologists in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in the network structure of the internet, which was designed around the same period.

Blogs are founded upon the link, building connections between related issues. Blogs are themselves related to many different contexts and can be interpreted from many different disciplines: media studies, the history of technology, sociology, ethnology, literary studies, marketing, journalism and more. Furthermore, blogs can function as a lens with which to see how all these fields have developed up until today, and with which we can understand more about other related social media.

This is the second edition of Blogging, and it is updated and revised throughout. Blogs are still blogs, five years later, but they are part of a very different ecosystem today than when the first edition of this book came out. Today, social media are mainstream. The blog indexes and search engines of the middle of the last decade have all but disappeared and instead we use Facebook, Twitter and other sites to share links to blog posts and even to discuss them. A lot of the shorter posts we used to see on blogs have moved to other sites that make short updates very easy. And photographs and other images are a lot more central to blogs today than they were a few years ago, both in traditional blogs and in new forms of blogging services where images are the main content, such as Pinterest and Instagram. As I have revised the book, I have added discussions of these new tendencies. The history of weblogging is extended to the present, of course, and recent developments in the relationship between blogs and journalism and blogs and marketing are also included. The basic structure of the book remains the same, though, and I have deliberately kept most of the examples from the early years of blogging, both because they are an interesting part of the history of blogging and because they are as relevant in understanding blogging as an example from today would have been.

The first chapter of this book is an introduction to blogs, explaining how blogs work. We look at four blogs in detail that are representative of three different kinds of blog. I’ll then discuss the defining characteristics of blogs and, finally, look at the history of blogging.

The next two chapters look at blogging from two broader yet different perspectives. chapter 2 sees blogging in a historical context, and explores ways in which major cultural shifts, such as the introduction of print, the spread of literacy and our expanding access to the internet, connect to blogging. It also examines ways in which cultural theories of communication and writing relate to the practice of blogging. In chapter 3, we look at current research on blogs as social arenas, in particular discussing social network theory and considering how social networks like MySpace and Facebook relate to blogs.

The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of the book deal with different kinds of blogs. chapter 4 looks at the symbiosis between blogging and journalism. chapter 5 considers blogs as narratives, and explores the characteristics of blog narratives both in terms of narrative structure and in terms of the uneasy relationships between fiction, self-representation and authenticity. chapter 6 examines commercial blogging, looking at the ways in which blogs are being used in marketing and by businesses, as well as at the ways individuals are setting up blogs as small businesses and earning a living from advertising revenue.

Finally, chapter 7 offers speculations on the future of blogging. Blogging has very rapidly become a popular form of writing – will we still blog in twenty years’ time, or will other ways of communicating have taken over by then? Will blogging continue to increase the general public’s ability to speak back and to be heard? Will it be subsumed by mass media, or change into something else altogether? What are the perils and promises of blogging?

This book contains references to many blogs, as well as to conventional sources. Blogs that are discussed are not generally included in the main bibliography, but are listed separately at the end of the book, along with their URLs at the time of writing or, in the case of blogs that are no longer actively maintained, their URL at the time they were active. However, blogs are by nature an ephemeral form, and some will have changed URLs or shut down completely by the time you read this. If so, I would recommend trying to enter the URL into the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at http://archive.org. This will usually provide you with search results allowing you to view the blog as it appeared at regular intervals during the period when it was active.

This book aims to be like a blog in that it constantly links to – or refers to – actual examples of what blogs are doing and what bloggers are writing, as well as to more conventional sources such as scholarship on blogs and their context. Being a book, it can also draw upon the strengths of this slower, longer format by providing a context and a sustained discussion that would be difficult in the faster, more fragmentary medium of blogs. But although reading about blogs is valuable for those who wish to gain an overview and to think about the meaning of blogs in today’s culture, anyone who really wants to understand blogs will need to start their own blog, and to read other blogs. It’s easy. If you haven’t already tried blogging, give it a go!

CHAPTER ONE

What is a Blog?

To really understand blogs, you need to read them over time. Following a blog is like getting to know someone, or like watching a television series. Because blogging is a cumulative process, most posts presuppose some knowledge of the history of the blog, and they fit into a larger story. There’s a very different sense of rhythm and continuity when you follow a blog, or a group of blogs, over time, compared to simply reading a single post that you’ve found through a search engine or by following a link from another website. A blog consists of more than words and images. It cannot be read simply for its writing, but is the sum of writing, layout, connections and links and the pace of publication.

You probably already have some idea of what a blog is, but, if you’re like most of us, your concept of “blog” may be skewed by the kinds of blogs that you have read or that you have read about in the media. This chapter will provide you with a definition of what a blog is, but, more importantly, I hope to give you a broad sense of what blogs can be.

In the first edition of this book, I included a section on how to set up your own blog. Five years later, I am still quite sure that you will understand blogs better if you try setting up your own blog, but I think it’s easier to learn to do that from the internet than from a book. Go to one of the common blogging engines like Blogger.com or Wordpress.com, and follow their instructions. It’s free and it’s really very easy – you just click a few buttons, select a template to determine what your blog should look like and you’ll be ready to publish your first post. I prefer the more open systems like Wordpress, which you can even install on your own server if you want total ownership, but a lot of people enjoy blogging on more limited services like Tumblr and Pinterest. Even Facebook is a kind of blogging. So as you read, please don’t be afraid to dive in and try things for yourself.

This chapter starts off with a history of blogging to give us a sense of our surroundings. Next, I’ve chosen three kinds of blogs for us to look at and analyse: a personal, diary-style blog; a filter-style blog that combines expertise with a personal twist; and two topic-driven blogs: a political blog and a craft blog. After examining these blogs, I’ll discuss some definitions of blogs and consider how well they suit our examples.

A brief history of weblogs

Weblogs are unequivocally a product of the Web, and their history can be said to have begun at the same time as the Web was born. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee and first implemented at the end of 1990, when Berners-Lee finished building the tools necessary to publish and view the first website: a web server on which to host the website, a web browser with which to view it, and the site itself. At the time, Berners-Lee was a scientist at CERN, the well-known particle physics lab in Switzerland, and his project was not seen as particularly important. The internet had already existed for two decades and was used by scientists, programmers and people interested in new forms of communication. Before the Web, the internet ran a number of protocols, such as email, UseNet (discussion groups), IRC (a chat system) and Gopher (a way of browsing files on remote servers). Many people simply saw the World Wide Web as yet another protocol. Berners-Lee’s prototype web browser was entirely text based, so web pages couldn’t include images or other media as they do today, and web browsers were not available on most computer platforms. It wasn’t until 1993 that the Web opened up to the general public with the release of Mosaic, the first widely available graphical web browser, and also the first web browser to allow embedded images. Previous browsers had displayed images in separate windows, not in the same window as the text.

Most early websites were imagined as finished products rather than the constantly updated blogs and social media we are familiar with today. In retrospect, personal home pages can be seen as a precursor to blogs, but they were envisioned as complete presentations of the user’s interests, not as something that would change daily. Websites were, however, often published before their creators imagined them to be complete. ‘Under construction’ signs were a common sight on websites in the 1990s, often accompanied by an icon depicting a worker with a shovel, as on road signs, showing the tension between the desire for completion that we had inherited from print and the constant flux of the Web.

By 1994, some pioneers had started online diaries. One of the first diarists was Justin Hall, who still blogs today. If you look at the early pages on his website, Justin’s Links, you’ll see that his site then was very different from today’s blogs, and provides a wonderful example of the shift from building ever-expanding, densely hypertextual websites to developing blogs that are not intended to ever be completed. Hall used the section of his site called Vita to tell the story of his life (links.net/ vita). Some pages show links organized chronologically from his childhood to the present; others are organized thematically by family, by places he grew up and has travelled to, by school, and by people who’ve meant a lot to him. Once you click a link, you find yourself in a labyrinth of interlinked stories that keep leading you through parts of Hall’s life, frequently circling back to certain key topics, such as his father’s suicide when he was eight, or his fascination with the Web. In 1996, Hall began publishing diary entries (in a section of the site called Daze), but each entry still had the same rambling style as his autobiography. Hall didn’t start using blogging software until 2003. Up until then, he hand-coded each entry.

When Justin Hall began publishing regular diary entries in 1996, his site matched today’s understanding of what a blog might be. However, at the time, the word ‘weblog’ didn’t exist – or rather, the word existed but was used for a different purpose. The term ‘Web log’ was used in the early 1990s to refer to the log of visitors that a person who administers a Web server can see. A Web log showed the number of total hits a site had received, how many unique users had visited, how much data had been transferred and other information about the traffic to the site.

In December 1997, Jorn Barger proposed the term should be used differently (Blood 2000). Barger’s site, Robot Wisdom, was (and still is) a frequently updated list of links to other websites Barger has visited and wants to recommend, and Barger used the word ‘weblog’ as part of the title of his site, Robot Wisdom: A Weblog by Jorn Barger. This, it seems, was the first usage of the word ‘weblog’ in this sense. Robot Wisdom was a very bare list of links, with little or no commentary on each link. This style is similar to that of the more widely read Scripting News in the early years. Scripting News is the weblog of Dave Winer and was launched in April 1997, several months before Robot Wisdom, and also consisted of links to websites the blogger had seen with very minimal commentary. Here are the first few lines of Winer’s very first post, with the links underlined:

Tuesday, April 01, 1997

Linkbot, Big Brother.

Barry Frankel says Web Ads are Intrusive and Wesley Felter replies.

Check this out. Amazing!

MacWEEK: Goodbye AppleLink. (A tear comes to my eye …)

Winer is still a prolific blogger, often writing several posts a day. The most obvious difference is that each post is longer, giving more context and presenting Winer’s opinions on the topic at hand. He will also often include links to more different sources. Today, Winer uses links to build an argument, pulling ideas together from different websites and weaving links into miniature essays. Winer’s 1997 posts are much closer to Robot Wisdom’s simple list of links, logging the websites visited in much the same manner as the history menu on your web browser.

Early bloggers hand-coded their sites, meaning that they had to create their blogs from scratch and edit raw HTML code or use a visual HTML editor like Dreamweaver each time they updated the blog. In late 1998 and throughout 1999, several free tools appeared that allowed bloggers to easily publish and update blogs and online diaries using templates and Web-based forms where posts could simply be typed straight in. Open Diary launched in October 1998, offering online diarists free hosting and an easy publishing solution. By January 1999, they hosted 2,500 diaries, all of them anonymous. In fact, Open Diary required that users be anonymous:

The Open Diary is a totally anonymous diary community. We don’t want to know who you are, and we don’t want your readers to know who you are. Therefore, please do not include any information in your diary that would identify you. Such information includes full names, street addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses that include your name in them (like JohnSmith@xyz.com).

We do not allow any such information on this site, and if you enter it, it will be deleted. […] Remember, there is a potential audience of 100 million people on the Internet who could read your diary, we would prefer (and we think you would also) if they didn’t know who you are. (opendiary. com, ‘The Rules’, accessed at thearchive.org’s archive for 25 January 1999)

Early weblogs differed from many online diaries in that they were generally written by people who used their full name, and, of course, in that they primarily consisted of comments on other websites and not of diary-like discussions of the writer’s own life.

1999 also saw the launch of Pitas, the first free weblogging tool, followed by the release of Blogger in August of the same year. In her early essay on weblogs, Rebecca Blood argued that the actual posting interface of Blogger may have influenced the way weblogs developed in this period from being sparse lists of links, like Barger and Winer’s early posts, to being more essayistic, including thoughts on issues not directly related to a specific website and links to other blogs that led to conversations between blogs (Blood 2000). When you posted to your Blogger blog in 1999, the interface provided a small box for you to type the post’s title, and a larger box for you to type whatever you like. Other blogging systems, like that at the still popular community blog Metafilter, had and still have a more rigid system. At Metafilter, you fill out several boxes, each clearly labelled with instructions to the writer:

•  Post Title. Keep it short and descriptive.
•  Link URL. Web address of the site you’re posting about.
•  Link Text. These will be the first words of your post, and will be a clickable link to the web address you entered above.
•  Description. The body of your post. Feel free to add links within your description, keep it one paragraph long if possible, line breaks will be stripped.

Recently, two extra boxes were added: an extended description and a box for tags. The original interface leads to a very specific form of post that is quite similar to the early style of Winer and Barger. For instance, in August 2007, one could read posts such as the following:

The Icelandic coastline. A gallery of photos of the rugged, cold, and beautiful coast of Iceland.

posted by Gamblor at 5:40 AM – 18 comments

Time lapse animations of planets and satellites. See what an amateur digital astrophotographer could do a decade ago. This is what the animated gif was designed to do.

posted by dkg at 6:43 AM – 20 comments

Statetris is Tetris with European countries or American states as blocks.

posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:53 PM – 27 comments

As you can see, the posts match the constraints set up by the four boxes of Metafilter’s posting interface. There are exceptions, as it is possible to compose a post without using the initial link, but Metafilter is heavily dominated by brief, sparse posts linking to one or more interesting or unusual websites. The comments, however, can develop into lengthy debates, often involving scores, sometimes hundreds, of participants.

By the year 2000, Rebecca Blood wrote that the transition from the sparse lists of links, or filter-style weblogs, as she calls them, to the more essayistic form of blogging had largely taken place. She credits the free-form interface of blogging sites like Blogger with this shift:

It is this free-form interface combined with absolute ease of use which has, in my opinion, done more to impel the shift from the filter-style weblog to journal-style blog than any other factor. And there has been a shift. Searching for a filter-style weblog by clicking through the thousands of weblogs listed at weblogs.com, the EatonWeb Portal, or Blogger Directory can be a Sisyphean task. (Blood 2000)

But not all early weblogs were sparse, minimal lists of links. An early blogger who wrote considerably more essayistic posts than Jorn Barger and Dave Winer was Peter Merholz, who was the first person to shorten the term ‘weblog’ to ‘blog’. Merholz simply noted this in the sidebar to his blog in 1999: ‘I’ve decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee’-blog. Or “blog” for short’ (Blood 2000). Merholz’s posts to his blog PeterMe have consistently been more essayistic than sparse, often discussing issues of usability and interface design, the field within which he works. Merholz still blogs today and has maintained this essayistic style.

Looking back, blogs like Metafilter, Scripting News and Robot Wisdom are very reminiscent of Twitter messages today, and perhaps also of Facebook status messages. On Twitter, users are limited to 140 characters in each of their posts, requiring extreme brevity and often somewhat contorted language to get a message across. Like Metafilter, Twitter and Facebook provide small boxes to write in and provide the user with prompts that guide what the boxes should be filled with. Facebook initially asked ‘What are you doing right now?’, later changing this to ‘What’s on your mind?’ Twitter used to ask ‘What are you doing?’ but now simply explains ‘Compose new tweet’, although if you press the icon that brings up a new window to write a tweet, you are given the prompt ‘What’s happening?’ Presumably, we have already learnt how to use Twitter, and no longer need such explicit prompts.

Another factor in the shift Blood identifies from a brief to an essayistic style of blogging is likely the merging of two previously fairly distinct genres. Early web diaries such as that of Justin Hall have little in common with the early weblogs of Jorn Barger or Dave Winer, or with the Metafilter of today. Carolyn Burke, who started her online diary in January 1995, wrote at the Online Diary History Project, ‘I wanted everyone in the world to expose their inner lives to everyone else. Complete open honest people. What a great and ideal world would result’ (Burke, n.d.). The early years of the web were characterized by utopianism and optimism: finally, everybody would be able to communicate freely. Blogger’s slogan in 2000, ‘Push-button publishing for the people’, takes another tack on the matter– not shared intimacy, as with personal diaries online, but opening up publishing to regular people.

Once free, easy-to-use blogging systems like Blogger.com and others were established, blogging took off. By 2002, the Oxford English Dictionary was asking Peter Merholz for a print source for the word ‘blog’ so they could include it in their dictionary (peterme.com, 14 June 2002).

The blog search engine Technorati.com launched in 2002. The number of blogs it tracked grew rapidly, from a little over 100,000 in late 2003 to three million by July 2004. At this point, the total number of blogs was doubling every few months. Blog search engines like Technorati made the connections and conversations between blogs much more easily accessible to outsiders, and provided vast amounts of data about the blogosphere, as people had begun to call the global networks of blogs and the conversations taking place in them. Technorati began to release quarterly reports on ‘The State of the Blogosphere’, which were much cited and discussed and gave some of the largest-scale pictures of what blogs across the world were like. Technorati still exists today, but after indexing well over 100 million blogs in 2008 they have cut back to only one million blogs today, and have stopped indexing blogs in languages other than English. Technorati today still lists the one hundred most popular blogs (that it indexes) but is now more concerned with marketing and advertising across social media than with being a search engine for blogs. Their now-annual ‘State of the Blogosphere’ reports still contain interesting information about the blogs they track.

In 2004, the year that Technorati saw the number of blogs double every month, Merriam-Webster declared ‘blog’ to be the word of the year, reporting that ‘blog’ was the most searched-for word on their online dictionary that year. By then, the media were writing about blogs regularly and almost everybody seemed to have heard about them. But in a survey late that year, 62 per cent of internet users still said they didn’t know what a blog was (Rainie 2005). No wonder they were trying to look the word up in a dictionary.

During the next few years, other personal publication platforms went mainstream, making our idea of what ‘blogging’ is more splintered but also showing the success of the basic idea of individuals freely being able to publish online. Twitter was founded in 2006, and by 2012 was one of the ten most-visited websites with more than half a billion active users. Facebook launched in 2004, at first only for students, but opening up to accept anybody as a member in late 2006. A few years later, it has more than a billion members. These figures are astounding in demonstrating the eagerness of humanity to communicate. In 2008, the term ‘social media’ was adopted and rapidly entered the mainstream as a broad category that describes online many-to-many communication. In many countries, a majority of the population has an account on Facebook or some other social media. While social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest are not usually referred to as blogs, they clearly have a lot in common with blogs. Twitter is sometimes referred to as ‘micro-blogging’, with reference to the brevity of each post, and as we have seen, Twitter is very similar to early blogs like Scripting News or Metafilter. Many people use YouTube to publish a video blog, or ‘vlog’, where they speak to the camera much as a conventional blogger types on the keyboard. Pinterest could be seen as a visual blog where people share and comment on images they find online. And Facebook is in many ways a closed blogging system, not unlike LiveJournal was with its complex privacy controls, friend lists and possibility of sharing (or posting) status messages, links, images and other content.

How blogs have adapted to a social media ecosystem

Blogs were social media years before the term was coined and, in many ways, blogs still form the backbone of social media. Far more people are on Facebook or another social media platform than there are bloggers, but much of what we do in social media is at root a form of blogging. In a post to Jerz’s Literacy Weblog on 12 June 2012, Dennis Jerz borrows words from William Gibson, suggesting that blogs have ‘evolved into birds’, changed so they are barely recognizable, much as the dinosaurs did. But although a blogger in 2002 might not have predicted Pinterest or Twitter, it’s unlikely they would have been particularly surprised to learn about them. The basic idea is the same: let everybody share their thoughts and discoveries online. As I see it, the major changes in the last decade have been a greatly increased centralization within each service, but many competing services; far more emphasis on images; briefer fragments to suit reading and sharing habits on mobile devices; and a fragmentation of conversations which now to a lesser extent take place in the blogs themselves and are instead spread across Twitter and Facebook.

First, new blogging services tend to be centralized and often advertisement-driven, rather than installed on the blogger’s own server and controlled by the blogger. You can use Twitter or Facebook very much as you use a blog, but you cannot host your own Twitter or Facebook stream on an independent server; you have to use their server, their layout, and accept their ads. Tumblr.com is another example of a blogging site that only works if you accept being locked into their ecosystem.

Second, the increasing use of smartphones with integrated cameras and internet connectivity has affected the way blogs have evolved. The first shift here was to short messages and updates. Twitter’s 140-character limit was specifically designed to be compatible with the 160 characters of an SMS on a phone (allowing some space for the Twitter handle of the sender) but as we increasingly access the internet on the go through our smartphones, the brevity of Twitter also perfectly matches the small screens of our mobile devices and the little bursts of time we use to access media on our mobiles, for instance while waiting for something or on public transport. Facebook’s mobile client allows us to use Facebook similarly.

As the cameras in our smartphones have improved drastically, we’re also seeing that photographs are becoming increasingly important in social media and blogs. Facebook gives more and more space to images in its news feed, and services such as Instagram allow mobile photo sharing, complete with inbuilt filters that let us make our snapshots look like vintage polaroids or whatever we would like, turning the limitations of the phone camera into aesthetic qualities.

It’s not just photographs that are increasingly popular: graphics and images in general are far more dominant in blogs and social media than in the early days of blogging. Greater bandwidth allowing faster download of images, better quality screens for viewing images, online image-editing tools that are high quality and free, and the growing use of handheld devices and tablets for reading web content all contribute to the image density of social media today. On Facebook and blogs, we see that slogans, jokes and motivational quotes spread quickly from user to user if superimposed on a photograph that contrasts, illustrates or complements the written text. Infographics and visualizations abound, and with their colourful and sometimes interactive charts and diagrams they are far more appealing to a drive-by audience than is a mass of text.

Sharing links to sites that interest us is an important feature of social media, and this too has become more visual. While text-based sites like Metafilter still exist, sites that are shared on Facebook are now automatically displayed with a thumbnail image, and social bookmarking sites like Pinterest emphasize the visual aspects of a site, displaying images linked to websites much as a mood board with photos cut from magazines pinned all over it. Blogs likewise feature images more prominently than in the early years, with many standard blog layout templates requiring a featured image for each post and many blog genres tending towards heavy use of photographs throughout each post.

It is impossible to estimate how many blogs there are in the world. There is no central registry for blogs. In 2012, the popular blogging host Wordpress.com stated that it alone hosted over 50 million blogs, with more than 100,000 new blogs set up each day – but it did not state how many of these are actively being updated.

One problem with trying to count blogs is the number of inactive blogs. Many people will try to create a blog to see how it works, but then abandon the blog after a single post, or maybe after a week or two. The reverse problem occurs with spam blogs, blogs that are created by marketers and spammers that are simply foils for search engines, full of garbled, machine-generated posts that link to websites that the spammers want search engines to see as popular. Another reason it’s hard to track blogs accurately is that the internet is distributed and there is no central counting house for blogs.

The media monitoring company NM Incite tracked 181 million blogs at the end of 2011, according to a post in their blog, The Social Marketer, on 8 March 2012. They do not specify whether this is a global figure or English-language only. The China Internet Network Information Center reported there were more than 300 million ‘blogs and personal spaces’ in China in 2011 (CNNIC 2011).

A better way of estimating the spread of blogging is to survey a representative sample of the population, or of internet users, and ask whether or not they contribute to blogs and read blogs. The World Internet Project collects data from twenty different countries and has found a lot of variance in the popularity of blogging across these countries. For instance, as many as 20% of users in the United Arab Emirates work on a blog at least once a week, but only 5% in Australia do the same. And while 95% of New Zealanders and 94% of Swedes never work on a blog, only 62% of Mexicans and 61% of people in Cyprus never blog (USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future 2012).

Three blogs

An immense range of different blogs can be created by using simple blogging software. We’ll look at blogs that represent three main styles of blogging: personal or diary-style blogging; filter blogging; and topic-driven blogging.

Personal blogs: Dooce.com

Heather B. Armstrong, also known by her pseudonym ‘Dooce’, rose to notoriety as one of the first bloggers to be fired from her job because of things she had written on her blog. In fact, the term ‘to be dooced’ is listed in UrbanDictionary.com as meaning ‘To be fired from your job because of the contents of your weblog’. Armstrong used this momentum to build a strong and committed readership for her still very popular personal blog, Dooce.com. Over the course of more than a decade