I received a very welcome email from "Oon Yeoh":http://www.malaysiakini.com/transitions/ concerning the definition of blogs - i believe Oon is writing a book on the topic, thus his extensive research and thought on the matter. He and i will be panelists during the "upcoming INFOSOC":http://www.nitc.org.my/infosoc/.
(Warning: Long posting follows)
Oon Yeoh's original email:
I want to share with you my further thoughts on blogs.
Let me say that your enthusiasm for blogs is very encouraging, although I think your interest in blogs is quite different from "Jeff":http://jeffooi.blogspot.com/ and me.
I first got interested in blogs because they were a way for me to learn more about a subject. For example, I visited "Dan Gillmor's blog":http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/ to find out about the latest in technology. As I have highlighted to you in early discussions and in many articles that I have written for The Edge, the original bloggers (people like "Dave Winer":http://www.scripting.com/ for example) were techies that wanted to share links with other liked-minded individuals. The fact that they appended commentaries and opinions were secondary and peripheral. The main purpose of their blogs was to share links.
That's historical of course and since then, blogs have mushroomed all over the place, and it's probably accurate to say that most blogs are not of that nature anymore, although it is also correct to say that the most popular blogs (by visitors) such as Instapundit.com, "AndrewSullivan.com":http://www.andrewsullivan.com/, "Kausfiles.com":http://kausfiles.com/ and so on are all of the "links" type. Meaning their central purpose is to expose other readers of links that they've found. The commentary is important, but secondary.
My understanding is that your interest in blogs is that it's a mechanism of young people (and maybe old people as well) to express themselves. Personally, it doesn't matter to me whether these things are called blogs or not. As I noted before, The Economist calls itself a newspaper but most people see it as a magazine. But I do feel that it is important to distinguish between a links-based blog and a journal-type blog. Because they are two completely different creatures.
The former is to bring links and news to others. The latter is to share your personal thoughts about whatever is on your mind.
The former acts as a portal or a transit point which ultimately sends people away (people come in to find interesting links which they will click on and visit). The latter is the final destination (people come in and linger and read what's on your mind).
You see what I mean? The purposes are very different although both use the same kind of content engine (blogger, movable type, etc...).
The audiences these two different types of blogs serve are probably quite different too. Someone who visits Hani's Honey, for instance, might not give two hoots about what's happening in the news. Likewise, many people who visit Transitions might not be able to fathom what purpose Hani's Honey serves.
This is not to say one is superior over the other. They just serve different purposes. Apples and oranges. Both are fruits. Neither better than the other. But different.
The reaons Jeff and I set up our blogs is because we're basically news junkies. We read a lot about what's happening locally and internationally. And we want to share with other Malaysians interesting tidbits of news on current affairs, in the world of politics, media, IT, economics and so on. Very rarely, if ever, do we mention in our blogs anything about our personal lives. Because that's not the purpose of our blogs.
Dan Gillmor once told me that one of the key reasons he blogs is that "readers always collectively know more than you do." And that is so true. Ever since Jeff and I started our blogs, lots of readers have written in to us to alert us of interesting links and stories that they've found online. Sometimes they share their views on something we touch on. And we learn from them. And we feature them in our blogs so that others can also benefit from the new links that they were kind enough to share with us. Again, as you can see, our kind of blogs leads back to links. We think it's a crucial component of what we do.
As for the journal type blogs (I've visited a few on your directory as well as the ones on Mycen.com.my) and my impression is that they serve a handful of purposes, namely:
i) an outlet for teenage angst
ii) to share their daily lives with others
iii) to express themselves about personal things that matter to them
These may be interesting and intriguing to some people and will have their own set of audiences. But I seriously doubt that any of them will have mass appeal. But that's okay. Perhaps their aim is not to have mass appeal but only to share with a few close friends, and some strangers who happen to come across such sites. If that's the purpose, then blogging is a great tool to achieve this.
But if the idea is to generate a big audience, and to be so influential (as Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds have achieved in the U.S.) that even senior editors and journalists take notice, interact with, and respond to their daily postings, this just ain't gonna happen with journal type blogs. And the reason is obvious. Most people don't care about what John Doe blogger has to say about his daily life, no matter how interesting it may be. But, as I noted earlier, this may not be the aim of journal-type bloggers in the first place.
It's probably worth noting the difference between the two types of blogs in the upcoming conference that Najah is organising so that the audience better understand the nature of blogs.
My response to Oon is as follows:
Dear Oon Yeoh,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I've been giving the issue a lot of thought too lately, and my conclusion concurs with yours.
Najah and i were talking about it over coffee the other day - the general categorization of "blogs" (let's use this term loosely for the time being since most people would call their websites blogs although they aren't through a strict definition of the terms i.e. does not include outgoing links) can be divided into 3:
# Topic specific blogs - i.e. "Gizmodo.com":http://www.gizmodo.com/, "Instapundit.com":http://www.instapundit.com/, "Transistions":http://www.malaysiakini.com/transitions/, etc. - these tend to serve very specific purposes e.g. tech news, general politics, malaysian news, etc.
# Personal blogs - the writing in these blogs tend to be of a very personal nature, and, as you pointed out, most have a very limited appeal and following. Though through an analysis of the feedback i've received from users of the GMBL - some of these sites have gained an almost cult-like status with large followings - Malaysian "Bridget Jones' Diaries" so to speak. But, i would agree with you that such sites are the exception rather than the norm, and perhaps those that are very popular are popular because they appeal to our voyeuristic tendencies.
# Hybrids - "Najah's":http://www.najahnasseri.org/ and mine probably fall within this category (though Najah will tell you that she wants to be more focused with hers). Sorta a mish-mash of everything, these blogs tend to provide commentary + links on any major issue that comes across our individual paths e.g. Iraq war, Malaysian politics, emerging technologies, etc. But at the same time, a very large dose of personal "blogging" also occurs - where we share with our audience personal information or events in our lives. In terms of purpose and function, the hybrids are probably the least "appealing", if that's the correct word for it. Hybrids are neither really here, nor there and this creates a sense of unpredictability that may not go down well with many web users.
I agree with you. During INFOSOC we need to be able to tell the audience what a blog is - the presentation of the panel would be quite useless unless such a basic definition is not clearly established, and established early one. The definition of blogs that you've consistently advocated would provide a structure that we could work with.
By this definition, i think then we can conclude that blogs have been around since beginning of the Internet - Yahoo would probably be the very best example of an early blog. But why has blogging become such a major publishing force lately - indeed, why has the term "blog" become so widespread? I think the definition of a "blog" (as perhaps compared to just a "portal", "vortal" or plain ol' website with links in it), should also include the technologies that have made distributed publishing so accessible. "Blogger":http://www.blogger.com/, "Movabletype":http://www.movabletype.org/, "GreyMatter":http://www.noahgrey.com/greysoft/ - these are the technologies that have powered the first wave of blogging - i think we can all agree that blogging wouldn't have emerged as strongly as it has without the ease and comfort these techs have provided to the average user (who tends to know very little about .html, .php, etc. or any of the scripting that is required to maintain a well organized blog).
What i predict will be make up the second wave of blogging will be AV blogging - already we see "Audblog":http://www.audblog.com/ coming along and gaining a following. Visual-based blogging can't be too far behind. You will notice that i've begun experimenting with these possibilities myself on the VOI. Once AV blogging comes to the fore, it will open up a whole new can of worms: if the first wave of blogging turned traditional publishing on its head, AV blogging will take that a step further - blogs will begin to become one-stop media centers with the ability to confer the total media experience.
For example (and certainly not limited to), i can imagine Transitions - you being a journalist, you may provide audio commentary from an event you're covering, or perhaps even visual media of a Malaysian political rally. This, in fact, has incredible value - in the past, we could only read about political demonstrations - now we'll be able to see it with our own eyes, how its like on the ground (and perhaps witness the police brutality, for example, that goes on during such events). Before, with the federal government having a strangle hold on AV media, this would not be possible. The second wave of blogging will stretch and break this information monopoly just as the first wave has done with traditional print media (either on the 'Net or in physical print media).
The exploration of this second wave will be the crux of my presentation during INFOSOC. I will also discuss the pre-conditions that will need to be in place for the second wave to take place e.g. more bandwidth, more easy-to-use tools, more broadband penetration, etc.