A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

30 December 2004

Never Duplicated, but Often Imitated

More on the Genre of Blogging

Hullo all. I've left you hanging quite long enough, I think. But it seems to me that that's allowed in the blogging game.

The question I posed was "What are the features of blogs which make blogging a distinct writing form?" But really, this is the wrong question. The correct one would be "What are the features of successful blogs?"

It's easy to find blogs. They're all over the place and at root have in common only their immediacy. Blogs allow the sage and the idiot to put whatever occupies their individual minds at any given time out there in cyberspace for all.

But the rules are not strictly defined. A major tenet of Metroblog is that I never re-edit a page after publication. As proof, I invite you to look at the "Travesty" entries below. Of course this requires a fairly strict (as blogs go) editorial policy. This is not the case with some.

But the unedited blog is an inefficient communication tool, barring exceptional skill on the part of the writer.

So first, how do we define a strong blog? In order to cut through the whole tangled problem, I did what any expert does, and referred to the experts:

  • The Bloggies

  • The Antibloggies

  • The Guardian

  • I mean, if you can't trust the Guardian, whom can you trust?
  • The Uncategorical Blogging Awards

  • 'Cos I thought the PETA Essay was great.

    Oh--and here's Max Cannon, a personal favourite. Not blog-related, but fun.

    The question I wanted to ask was: "Upon what criteria are blogs to be judged?" This requires a bit of study. From the pool of samples available through the above links, I came up with what seem to be the major features of a good blog.

    1) Good blogs are written in coherent English. Yes, that's amazingly anglocentric, but it demonstrates the limitations of my survey: I was only looking in English. So with apologies to the brilliant bloggers writing in Spanish, French, or Swahili, that's where we're gonna stick.

    None of the blogs nominated for awards used the teenspeak phone-text format (I wnt 2 c u 2nite).

    2) Blogs are immediately and exclusively personal (with the exception of the emerging corporate blog genre, increasingly observed by big brother and therefore somewhat muffled).

    Although marketing is penetrating the blog genre, it's still a sufficiently small part that we can ignore it from a statistical point of view, and I suspect we can ignore it as a marketing tool as well.

    3) Blogs are updated. Allowing huge amounts of time between posts loses your readership. I have seen a number of blogs where the author posts "I am not going to post today".

    The Anti-Blogggies actually have an award in the "Least Updated Blog" category, although the winner isn't as bad as some.

    Apart from these three characteristics it's a bit hard to find macro-scale criteria.

    Micro-criteria will have to await digestion of the facts.

    Are you with me so far?

    25 December 2004

    Merry Christmas to all, if you're into that sort of thing.

    Likely candidate for gift of the year; from my sister and brother-in-law, and possibly the fruit of their union my niece. My niece at eight months of age is displaying the family passion for the written word by chewing a number of books really meant to be chewed by much older children.

    The gift? A bound copy of my first novel, written for the Three-Day Novel Contest last September. Why does it read differently as a bound book rather than a collection of pages? I don't care. I just want to read it and find out how it ends.

    May the best of the season and the new year attend you.


    21 December 2004

    Definition of the word "Travesty"

    A professional writer who can't spell "definition".

    20 December 2004

    A Defenition for the Word "Travesty"

    Clearly a plot by the liberal media elite to undermine US journalistic institutions. I mean, who can take seriously a magazine that puts "Let-Me-Finish" Guy on the cover the year following this.

    "Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize made satire

    --Tom Lehrer on the reason for retiring at his peak.

    19 December 2004

    Wow, It has been a long time.

    Some of the time was spent in research, some in mulling it over and trying to come up with a co-ordinated whole, and some of it was spent Christmas shopping.

    Other bloggers have said most of what I want to say about Christmas, so I'll dedicate a short paragraph to my dog-owner rant.

    Dear dog owners:
    May I ask why the rules don't apply to you?
    Yesterday the SO and myself were out in a regional park. It was wet and misty, the paths were wide and flat and the river nearly steamed under a few stray rays of sunlight.

    When what to my wondering eyes should appear but an ass, and his dog. The two of them were wandering about unconcernedly; the leash which should have been connected to the dog at one end and the owner at the other dangling from the owner's arm.

    It wouldn't be so bad if he was the only one. But out of five dog-owning couples and two single owners that we met that day (with four out of the five accompanied by more than one dog) only one couple had their animals leashed. And only one of the two dogs was actually leashed until we came close to the couple.

    I won't go into why this whole thing is stupid. I will only remark that there are very clear signs at the entrances to regional parks stating:

    "All dogs must be leashed".

    Likewise the very pleasant park where the SO and I perambultaed last weekend was infested with literally dozens of people whose pets capered freely off the leash, despite similar signs.

    I do not especially care for dogs. Or any pet, truth be told. However I understand that it is your right to waste your money on a domesticated wolf relative should you choose to do so. It may even be your right to choose to let the creature off the leash in total defiance of city bylaws.

    It is my right to carry bear spray, and to use it if I feel threatened, say by an unleashed dog.

    I no longer believe the Kennel Club cant that "most dog owners are responsible". On the contrary. I now regard dog ownership as being symptomatic of a greater disregard for the wellbeing of society. Your animal wastes not only your own, but also my money (whose taxes pay for bylaw enforcement?). Your animal pollutes my neighborhood with its discarded faeces, and attacks local wildlife with impunity. Not to mention the number of people attacked by animals so special they just had to be let off the leash in defiance of local bylaws.

    It cannot be co-incidence that the most obnoxious owners of the most obnoxious dogs also tend to drive the most obnoxious vehicles, such as SUVs.

    My cure: First, the fee for dog licenses should be raised to the approximate cost of the owner's car insurance, unneutered-or-spayed animals quadruple. Unlicensed dogs or cats should be immediately impounded and destroyed after seven days.

    Too cruel, you say? Unfairly penalizes the majority for the actions of a few? I could say that about car insurance. However, I have an alternate solution:

    When a dog is found to be in breach of a city bylaw or commits an attack, the owner shall be held fully responsible. The owner shall be impounded with the dog, and if not bailed out by payment of a $100,000 fine shall be destroyed, possibly along with the animal, after seven days. And made into dog food to support the SPCA's efforts to house and feed the enormous pet overpopulation.

    Although personally I'd be reasonably happy if we repealed the statute which prevents the killing and eating of dogs and cats for food. No more starving homeless AND no more wandering animals!

    This was a much longer rant than planned. I'll have to return to the conventions of the blog genre at a later time. Here I illustrate one of the most powerful conventions: The right of the author to digress in any direction at will without apology.

    Sorry about that.

  • Note on spellcheck: The Blogger spelling checker, which I now try to use to improve my presentation, picked up the words "ordinated" (as in co-ordinated), "leashed" and of all things: "bloggers".

  • 07 December 2004

    Descent Into Madness

    Before we get started, I'd like to note that this entry is really quite timely.

    I'd also like to mention that it's three AM, I can't get back to sleep, and I have to catch a morning commute at oh-dark-stupid AM in a couple of hours. What a perfect time to mess with one's blog template and reflect on the vagaries of language and meaning!

    This, O Avid Fan, is It.

    Can you hear me now?
    'Cause if you can hear me,
    this one out.
    This is the big one.
    This is the one you've all been waiting for.
    --Men Without Hats, Intro to the "Pop Goes the World" album.
    Or CD, if you prefer.

    We are gathered here today to consider the genre of blogs, considering their features, requirements, and potential import along the way.

    So without further ado, let's get started.

    Stop me if you've heard this before . . .
    We agreed back in an earlier post that a genre may be said to have occurred when a given form turns into the dominant literary response to given situation.

    Quoth the Avid Fan: Wha?

    Me: Well you don't write thank-you notes in response to the situation of getting a traffic ticket. You might instead try to write a sincere and convincing appeal-to-the-court type of thing, but not a thank-you note. You write thank-you notes in response to receiving a gift or an invitation.

    The thank-you note has arisen as a genre in response to the situation of receiving gifts.

    If you read your morning paper and become incensed with their insensitive portrayal of the Janjaweed and what they're doing for the people of Darfur (encouraging them to expand their horizons by walking across international borders carrying all that they own) you don't write a thank-you note, but a letter to the editor.

    In our society, it may be worth observing that the mode of response often says something about the author as well. The aforementioned letter-to-the-editor, in my local rag, is most commonly used as a place to rant, usually by the sort of mean little person who believes the country would be better off if we still had public flogging.

    The internet has helped to expand the scope of genre by making communication easier and more informal. My last Xmas mass communications went out by e-mail. It has also tightened some rules for genre by allowing the proliferation of fora (forums? forii?) which exist as a totally focussed response to a single, sometimes unique situation. The people who participate in online discussion and debate are engaging in a genre (albeit sometimes by creating this sort of response to this sort of question).

    Okay, so a situation turns up, someone crafts a written response. If these events turn up often enough, we may say that a genre has arisen.

    But beware. In any genre there are unwritten rules:

    "The point was driven home somewhat forcefully when I received a letter recently that said: Darling, I cannot live without you. Marry me or I shall kill myself. You can understand my concern, until I looked at the envelope and noticed that it was adressed to "Occupant".
    -Tom Lehrer

    The reason that the music-related post and answer above seem discontinuous is that the latter doesn’t actually respond to the needs of the former. Later posts in the same thread indicate that the participants are not all reading from the same playbook. They do not all follow the same rules.

    So what about blogs?

  • i. To what situation are they a response?

  • ii. What are the features of a blog

  • iii. And what must a responsible blogger do in order to be taken half-seriously?

  • In short, what are the rules for blogs?

    Over the next post or two (hopefully just one, but fluidity is one of the terrific features of a blog) I will attempt to answer some of these questions, patch up the holes in my arguments, and attempt to ignore any inconvenient facts.

    Let's get stuck in.

    To What Situation is a Blog a Response?

    Uh--hang on. Already we need to examine some features, because the question above begs the further question "Is the blog itself the response to a situation, or is it instead the particular blog entry? Or is the blog itself the situation?

    Okay, so let's examine the features of blogs, in the next post. Because another feature of blogs is a certain capriciousness on the part of the writer. Also, this is a big subject and I want to take it slowly.

    Bloggers with literary aspirations:

  • Breakup Babe

  • Tony the Blogger

  • Wil Wheaton

  • I note that Wil Wheaton's tagline is "50,000 monkeys at 50,000 typewriters can't be wrong". True, but 49,999 monkeys, as I have proven by repeated and cruel experimentation, can. So he'd better hope none of them calls in sick.

    Or perhaps this is a reference to the blogosphere entire?