Thursday, March 10, 2005

You Are Not A Blog

You Are Not A Blog Posted by Hello

There appears to be some confusion as to what a blog really is.

The problem is that some bloggers think a blog is a means of self-expression, that a blog is a mirror that can reflect their moods and minutiae.

"Minutiae" means little unimportant details. Mundane trivia. Random drivel. Boring chatter. In short: self-expression for the sake of self-expression.

Some bloggers think they are a blog. They think whatever they are, this is what should go into their blogs. They are a blog and their blog is them. Wrong.

Blogs may have been perverted into exhibitionistic, narcissistic, monotonous accounts of feelings, opinions, and ideas.

But the "digital diary" or "online journal", composed of personal, private thoughts, self-expression, is not the original purpose or form of the blog.

The blog began as a web log. Log means list. A blog was originally just a list of web site URLs and other internet resources, with only enough commentary to clarify the nature or value of the listed items.

In the beginning, the blog was impersonal, cold, dry, unemotional. And this was good.

Original bloggers did not write about the movie they saw last night, their favorite music, or how they felt about anything. They were not seeking to reveal their inner selves or personal lives.

The early blogs were guides, not to the blogger's private thoughts and feelings, but to the online realm.

Here's an actual sample of one of the earliest blogs, the second blog usually cited after Tim Berners-Lee's "What's New" page at CERN, called "What's New" by Mark Andreessen, in June 1993 (initial excerpt, bold text is hyperlink):

June 17, 1993

A new server at MIT, containing lots of interesting information, is now up and running.

CNIDR (the Clearinghouse for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval) now has a Web server (as well as a Gopher server and a WAIS directory of servers).


You didn't read an early blog to learn about the blogger authoring it.

You read an early blog to learn about what was available on a specific computer system or network, the internet, or the web.

What was true then is true now: you are not a blog.

You are not a worthy topic for a blog. You are interesting only to yourself, and even to that audience, only interesting intermittently.

None of the high traffic, high link popularity blogs are Vanity Blogs.

If your blog is all about you, your life, your interests, your opinions, it won't be read by very many people. Hardly anybody will care about it.

To be successful, a blog has to stick pretty closely with the original purpose.

A successful blog will have a strong, unique voice in it, but the blog will focus on something other than the blogger.

A successful blog will share information with others.

It will be personal primarily in the sense of "Here's what I discovered in my research" or "Here's what my opinion is about this topic, based on my long experience or technical training or professional expertise."

Original blogs attempted to fulfill William Gibson's prophetic assertion that
"...there'll be people who make a living pre-surfing it [the web] for you. There's a real need for that--otherwise it becomes this monster time-sink. You can just sit there forever. Looking. Looking. And maybe not finding anything. Seeing a lot of goofy stuff."

A blog is meant to be a pre-surfed portion of the web.

The blogger went out exploring the web and found these really great sites. Here are the URLs of these sites, with a brief description of what they are, what you can expect when you visit them, why you might want to visit them.

[Even this post is not bloggy enough. It needs more links in it. I'll return to this post and revise it, embed links in it, so I practice what I preach.]

Enabling users to post comments made blogs interactive, which took blogs out of the realm of bulletin boards and into the realm of discussion forums. Out of the realm of passive user viewing and into the realm of active user participation.

This is why television, church sermons, college lectures, conventional political campaigns, dictatorships, one-way broadcast advertising, radio programs, and even web sites are dying. They're largely or entirely uni-directional. They aren't interactive.

From now on, if it's not interactive, in most cases, it won't survive. Or it will be relegated to a marginal influence, a specialty curiosity, an archaic artifact.

There will probably always be some non-interactive entities like books, movies, music concerts, and spectator sports. But even these may eventually succumb to various forms of audience manipulation.

The masses will be demanding that everything be more participatory: from online resources to governments.

Tyranny is doomed. Democracy is triumphant. Blogs represent the democratic principle in knowledge proliferation.

With blogs, anyone with access to a computer, that is connected to the internet, can publish any material they want. Thanks to Evan Williams, Google, and Blogspot, anyone can operate a blog for free.

Blogs are reshaping the world we live in. Not web sites, not cell phones, not military power, not politicians, not movies, not music. The blog is the equalizer, the revolutionizer, the dangerous, radical kingdom-overthrower.

You are not a blog...

...but you can use a blog to impart information, improve your writing skills, increase your self-confidence, and inspire others to think independently of those who wish to oppress and manipulate them.

Blogs represent freedom of thought, equal opportunity to be heard, and the death of monolithic media monopolies.

Watch the mainstream media fall.

Watch the governments collapse.

Watch the people rise up in power.

[Rebecca's Pocket, "Weblogs: a History and Perspective", 7 September 2000]


reinvention-marketing said...

I'm sorry - but I have to disagree. There are MANY blogs that are exclusively about the writer's life (with surprisingly heavy site traffic). They aren't business blogs. But boy are they are popular. A quick check of the Ms. Magazine blog list ( and you will come face to face with some amazing women-authored blogs that have infinitely more traffic than any business blogs. They provide thought-provoking insight into a woman's world. And they inspire me...every reach a little further, to demand more from myself, and to know that I am not alone.


steven edward streight said...

Thank you Kirsten for the information and your viewpoint.

When I say that blogs should not be vehicles for random, intimate self-expression, I refer primarily to business blogs.

I mean that business blogs should stick to business topics, advice, news, practical information that other business people can use.

I also clearly take a strong position against digital diary blogs. I don't understand why anyone would waste their time reading about another person's life.

Isn't it better to live our own lives and not try to experience someone else's life vicariously?

If someone is a genius, hero, innovator, super-talented celebrity, or other extraordinary individual, one might be interested in their taste in books and films and music.

But even in this case, the interest would seem to be very limited.

I will check out the blogs you mention. Perhaps there is room in the blogosphere for Vanity Blogs, blogs that reveal a person's feelings, tastes, and opinions about mundane aspects of life.

But when such drivel invades a business blog, or any blog dealing with a serious topic, it just seems like clutter that gets in the way.

Anonymous said...

Steven: I read your post yesterday and found it rather upsetting. It appeared to be full of a kind of contempt and arrogance that I associate with the corporate mentality. And then I came back and read your response to Kirsten and it appears that your post would have been less upsetting had you included some of what you're saying in this comment to Kirsten. For example:

"When I say that blogs should not be vehicles for random, intimate self-expression, I refer primarily to business blogs."

This isn't there in your post. Your post is about blogs in general. That's what comes through. And although it is well written and quite witty it adds up to a POV that is quite problematic in the larger context of blogs, form and personal expression. You make these sweeping generalisations about personal blogs that reinforce a lot of the really irresponsible things that many mainstream journalists are saying. They are wrong and so are you. And while what you say may be true of *some* blogs it is not for you to proclaim what a blog should or should not be. If you were to state it as a question or perhaps reflect on what you personally don't enjoy that would be more acceptable but the style of your post is that of a proclamation, not a perspective.

"I mean that business blogs should stick to business topics, advice, news, practical information that other business people can use."

I agree with this statement. That's true. But, again, this isn't what you say in your post. Either reedit the post to express that or don't argue that this is what you *meant*. If you had written "you are not a business blog"... well, that makes sense.

"I also clearly take a strong position against digital diary blogs. I don't understand why anyone would waste their time reading about another person's life."

You do. And if you do believe in that position then you should leave it up for others to enjoy or endure. What you say isn't unique. Lots of people share your view. I share your view in a limited capacity. But where we differ is that I don't go a step further to say what a blog is or is not. You have argued for a return to the *original* purpose. But, again, you take it further by saying that this is the true form. This is the right form. This kind of thing is a purist sentiment. I have a problem with purism of that type. It hobbles creativity and innovation. You see this in all forms. I defy that.

"Isn't it better to live our own lives and not try to experience someone else's life vicariously?"

How is reading about somebody elses life wrong? Human beings are fascinated with each other. At least some of us are. I agree that not all lives are fascinating. But I disagree that that one must be important or have made some important contribution to merit biographical inquiry. Certainly I'm somewhat more interested in what kinds of books one of my mentors read than I am with what my neighbour is reading but that doesn't mean that i might not find my neighbour's life interesting on some level. For example, how do they deal with the problem I'm having with my kid or how do they handle a divorce, breakup or lay off. Actually some of the details of people's lives can be quite extraordinary. If you've ever read Joyce's Ulysses you'll know this. The chapters dealing with Bloom's reality, for example. His taking a crap and using a particular section of the news to wipe his arse. Or the detailed minutiae of his breakfast or his walk around Dublin. That book is ALL minutiae. It is a tribute to the ordinary, the quotidian, the boring.

"If someone is a genius, hero, innovator, super-talented celebrity, or other extraordinary individual, one might be interested in their taste in books and films and music."

Coming back to Ulysses for a moment. One of the two main characters is Stephen Hero - an allusion to the Odyssey and Odysseus of course but also to the idea of the hero. In modern literature the hero is the ordinary person. The "everyman". And yet, the educated and snobbish Stephen Hero is far less interesting than father-figure Bloom. Bloom the uber ordinary.

What I'm getting at here is that what you're saying here is very antithetical to the idea of participatory media and the voice that blogs give the ordinary/everyday person.

And on a side note I find it particularly troubling that you as a marketing specialist appear to have naked contempt for the life, the boring, everyday life of the average person - the "consumer". Shouldn't such lives be your inspiration? Shouldn't you be intimately concerned and interested in the lives of the ordinary everyday person if this is your profession? This is the part of all of it that makes me angry. It is evidence of my suspicion that many of the people who do marketing and advertising work actually look down on the average person who they regard as merely mindless zombies to be targetted and strategized and who are only rewarded for their consumer "choices" (I have done some of this kind of work myself and have focussed on speaking to audiences whom I already respect... for cultural or not for profit missions).

I invite your response. I invite you to tell me how I have misread your post and your comments. I invite you to tell me you are not contemptuous of other people's ordinary lives. Please correct me if I am wrong.

steven edward streight said...

Mel, you are wrong.

Wrong, not meaning "bad" or "stupid", but wrong in the sense that you are championing a set of concept that is opposite of mine.

You are a worthy debate opponent.

I feel we could have a couple of beers together and really enjoy a fascinating exploratory discussion.

You patiently present your case with zeal and intelligence. I want such well written and seriously considered confrontation. This is how the real truth shines forth.

Thank you for pouring out your thoughts and feelings. You had to feel somewhat comfortable with me and this blog to do such a thing. I appreciate your vote of confidence in this forum.

Now, my Vaspersian response. Ready?


Those who have changed the world have always spoken in what is called a Triumphalist Tone.

You cannot change or influence anything with wishy washy, politically correct, "tolerant", "I'm ok, you're ok, everybody's ok, the world's ok" type speech.

From the Judaic 10 Commandments and the Buddhist Four Noble Truths About the American Declaration of Independence and the Cluetrain truths must be presented forcefully.

I will repeat:

(1.) Vanity Exhibitionistic Narcissistic Mundane Trivial Personal Drivel Chatter Blogs are polluting the web and decreasing the overall value of the blogosphere as a news and information medium.

(2.) Elements of Vanity Blogging that creep into business, academic, and other serious topic blogs cause tremendous damage to the credibility, usefulness, and professionalism of these blogs.

(3.) Business, academic, and serious topic blogs need to have human warmth and personality, but not by featuring discussions of favorite music bands, personal tastes in films, children's exploits, shopping frustrations, vacation reports or all the other boring, valueless chatter.

(4.) When a business, academic, or serious topic blog degenerates into "more mundane details about me and my personal life" type text, it is usually a warning sign that the blogger is on a celebrity kick, thinking people care about them as a person. The blogger is a person, but it's not the person that is valuable to a reader, it's his or her expertise. I don't care what music Seth Godin, Glenn Reynolds, Jakob Nielsen, Laura Ries, Dave Taylor, or Cory Doctorow likes. They can tell me briefly, in an About Me page, but to insert such personal talk often and at length in a serious topic blog, this is not good.

(5.) Vanity Blogs will vanish as no one visits them, no one leaves comments, no one gains anything significant from them, and as the authors run out of stamina, being frustrated that no cares about their boring and pointless lives.

(6.) I feel compassion for people for being living entities who are born to struggle, seek truth, suffer, and die. Aside from that tragic reality, I have respect only for those who try to transcend their limitations, rebel against illegitimate or abusive authority (cruel parents, bullies, dictatorships, etc.), and practice self-denial to help others.

(7.) You are correct that my post could be improved and clarified. I've suspected this was the case, that I wasn't Triumphalist and clear enough about certain points. But my revision will probably anger you even more.

(8.) I am Vaspers the GRATE, not Vaspers the Teddy Bear.

(9.) Grate, as I intend the word, means to rattle, to challenge, to confront, to startle, to wake up abruptly, to sound an alarm.

(10.) How many autobiographies of average people exist in print, in books? How many sell well? Just about zero. Unless the average person is actually above average in writing skill, lived experiences, genius, humor, etc. Name one successful autobiography of an average person in book form. None.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your thoughtful response. You are right to identify, from the beginning that you and I are coming at this from very different places.

Vaspers, I appreciate that you reminded me of the "grate". That's important here in terms of where you're coming from. I also regularly write from a similar place but I try and connect this to my values - of equality, progressive attitudes, etc.

I'm trying to find a middle place – where quality and equality can exist in harmony.

I thought your answer to my question about refining your post (i.e, that you'd go much further in the direction I dislike) was illuminating and further reinforced the integrity of your position (however much I disagree).

You stand your ground and make no apologies. I really respect that. I feel I am coming from the same sort of place. That I speak my mind and make no apologies – because I believe in what I'm saying. That we may both speak our minds in such uncompromising terms is one of the things I really love about blogs.

As to your responses about "vanity blogs". I agree with you and with others who point out such blogs are generally boring to read. My problem is with the fact that much of the language that derides the vanity blog often hides a particularly loathsome political agenda that seeks to reduce and deride the "personal" view by associating it with the lowest expression it can take. Namely, that people start painting the blowhard vanity blog and the unauthorized voice of dissent with the same brush (i.e., it's "personal" so it doesn't matter).

My criticism is levelled at the idea that blogs be one thing and that one thing is defined in qualitative terms. You disagree. I hope that time, and not force of authority, sorts this out. The blogs that are valued tend to have a life whereas those that are not doing anything special perish under the weight of the writer's ego self-indulgence.

There are a lot of people who have a marginalised voice. Who do not have access or, when they do, lack the education or confidence to share their ideas and lives and thoughts. And for many of these people it is the very *personal* experience of their lives that we need access to. The people whose lives are unlike our own and whose experiences might give us some insights about them that we do not otherwise have access to. Are these people important? Worthwhile?

That brings me to your question about the publication of biographies about ordinary people. You're correct, again, that the publishing industry doesn't sell books about everyday people. Who owns publishing houses? What motivates the market? How are consumer tastes shaped? Are we really more fascinated by celebrities or is this what the market reinforces to sell its entertainment products? Whether I want it or not the television is full of trashy entertainment shows detailing the lives of stars. I couldn't care less of J-Lo grew a third breast and yet the television is telling me her every move. Did I ask for that? Would I rather know about some guy who lives down the street – possibly given the deluge of information I DON'T want or need. Joe down the street is not a life I hear much about.

For all the things I disagree with in your original post I feel there is quite a bit in your response that I agree with. I suppose it comes down, for me, to a blend of the two. This is, as I said at the beginning, my difficulty ...

balancing the desire for quality in form and expression (which matters to me a great deal in my professional and creative life) and the possibility of changing the media to be more inclusive of other kinds of voices.

steven edward streight said...

Mel: thanks for clarifying your point of view.

I strongly desire harsh but intelligent attacks on my posts.

I want combat. I want brave disagreement. I want people to point out, "You're incorrect here. What about [....]? But [...] is also true in [...] cases. Have you considered [...]?"

It's hard to disagree and be calm at the same time. I'm not too great at it. Sometimes I have to edit and revise my posts to tone them down, when a post was written in the heat of the moment, in anger, in frustration, in outrage.

Here's what I just posted on your blog under "Who Do You Think You Are?" mentioning my post "You Are Not A Blog"....

[posted on Mel's blog]:

I continue to state in my Triumphalist manner:

Narcissistic Exhibitionistic Vanity Blogs are decreasing the overall value of the blogosphere.

Vanity Bloggers have every right to publish their blogs and I hope a handful of friends and family are thrilled with knowing what bands they like, what they had for lunch today, and what movies they adore.

I don't care if people publish blogs that are online diaries.

I just mainly wish the business and serious topic blogs would not diminish their practical information value by divulging inordinate amounts of irrelevant personal details and stories.

Then again, I also wish music was far more politically radical and artistically experimental.

I can dream can't I?

It's very sad and strange to see a research tool (the blog) deteriorate into a self-disclosure confessional platform.

To me, it's similar to the deterioration of the telephone.

When the phone rings, I always hope it is important and relevant.

If a person is calling "just to talk", I hate that. I don't like "talking just to talk", in other words, "self expression for the sake of self expression".

A person who calls me on the phone "just to talk" is a person who is using up my time so they can kill some time and possibly ward off disturbing thoughts that plague their mind.

And when the phone rings and it's a telemarketer, i.e., irrelevant and unimportant, I hate that too.

So a Vanity Blog, or lengthy personal details in a business or serious topic blog is like the telephone caller who is talking just to talk, or like the telemarketer who has irrelevant and unimportant information.

Business blogs that focus on a topic and don't go off on personal tangents tend to be far more popular than those that blabber on and on about personal life details.

I've seen business blogs that publish post after post of irrelevant personal life details. I find such blog of little or no value, even though the blogger is a pioneer or an accomplished person in a given field.

Such rampant self-revelation makes me wonder if they are self-impressed or egotistic.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | March 13, 2005 10:01 PM

Anonymous said...

Steven - you are a great sport and strike up a wonderful debate. Thank you for the match and rematch. I, like you, am prepared to be wrong. We both put our ideas out there in the world in hopes that others will think about them and read them. We are both lucky that others find our questions and pronouncements interesting enough to read and comment on and sometimes disagree with. The real beauty of democracy is that we have the freedom to express our thoughts and the intelligence to further develop those ideas - beyond the limited satisfaction of believing ourselves right or wrong. I am enriched by the exchange, Steven. Thank you! ;-)

David St Lawrence said...

Steven, you make three telling statements that beautifully illustrate the viewpoints of those who initiate paradigm shifts and are overwhelmed by the newcomers who take their precious artifacts and use them for purposes that the designers never considered.

Your statements:

In the beginning, the blog was impersonal, cold, dry, unemotional. And this was good.

To be successful, a blog has to stick pretty closely with the original purpose.

It's very sad and strange to see a research tool (the blog) deteriorate into a self-disclosure confessional platform.

A blog is a platform for citizen publishing, it is no longer a notepad for some dry list of useful links. Get over the idea that you or any of the fine people who contributed to the internet and blogging have any control over what people are creating with the tool you may have contributed to.

The fact that millions of people practice unmoderated psychotherapy on one another is no real concern of yours. They are probably doing less harm to themselves than if they were downing the addictive anti-depressants that are so freely prescribed everyday.

Blogging is an art form, a profession, and is begining to be a vehicle for a new wave of creativity that will blow us away.

I've taken the time to sample some LiveJournal stuff and there is a power in those barely readable posts which which bears watching.

When a 14 year-old writes a post about her politically compromised teacher and the blogging world responds with telling effect, we are not looking at illiterate scribblers. Sure, they suffer from the ill effects of a degenerate educational system, but they are communicating in a way that never existed before and they will overcome their lack of grammar and spelling to become powerful new voices in the blogosphere.

Blogging is a paradigm shift of enormous proportions. We agree upon that. To hope that it sticks to its research lab roots is the final fantasy. The communication tsunami has been unleashed. People are talking to new friends all around the planet about things we can't even conceive.

Don't go the way of MSM and Ozymandias. Don't try to stop of channel this new torrent. Grab your blog and paddle fiercely to catch the next wave.

The future is being blogged as you read this..a billion voices will write tomorrow's history instead of the well-connected few of the past.

Embrace the future. Don't become yesterday's expert.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that you have the same close minded, we are better than you, I'll tell you how information is to be communicated mindset that major media has.

I pity you and your lame theory, maybe you'll figure out that expression and art can take form in whatever medium it likes, and rather than fight that, it's the medium's duty to embrace that art form.

Yvonne said...

This was fun. Not very useful, but fun. I write about women and how to reach the women's market online. I'm grateful for those blogs you say are not blogs-- they help me keep my finger on the pulse of my target market. Without them, I would have to spend more time and money doing research to find out what women are doing online, what they buy, how they think, what's important to them, and so on.

So, while I believe business blogs should focus outward-- on the audience not the author-- I applaud all the blogs written as journals or rantings or conversations of one. They are the voice of the people-- people I get to learn more about, without having to ask them to opt-in to a newsletter that might or might not make it through their email filter.

Businesses would do well to subscribe to and read some of these citizen publishers-- regardless of their content.


steven edward streight said...

When David St. Lawrence (what a dignified and authoritative sounding name!) mentioned:

"those who initiate paradigm shifts and are overwhelmed by the newcomers who take their precious artifacts and use them for purposes that the designers never considered."

...I had to laugh a bit, but not at David himself.

The major pardigm shift of the original blogs was this:

They created a "pre-surfed web", they listed interesting sites according to specialized fields of professionalism.

To blabber ad nauseum about the mundane trivia of an individual's life is no "paradigm shift." They've been doing that with CB radio, telephones, postal letters, print diaries, in person communication (especially boring at parties and on dates.)

Women: how many of you just adore the man who blabbers on egotistically about his job, his car, his favorite sports teams, his food and wine tastes, his mother, his college education, his career goals, his vacation, his ulcers, his, his, his, his???

Sure, you may glean some important insights on why you never want to see the self-obsessed jerk again.

But the etiquette of all communication is to focus on the other, the client, the blog visitor, the spouse, the friend...and not to dwell on yourself.

I'm sure the inventors and pioneers of blogs must have had it cross their minds that "wow, someone might actually pervert the original intention of the weblog and blabber monomaniacally about the mundane details of their boring lives, but...oh, well, nobody will read it, and besides, as long as they don't hurt anyone, who cares?"

But they do hurt other people, in those cases where they give too many intimate, private details, plus phots, of their lover, spouse, children, parents, employer, etc.

Those who rave in favor of personal blogging seem to skip over these concerns.

Now, Yvonne has a very interesting angle on this whole issue, and I respect her position very much, since I know a little about focus groups, interviews, customer profiles, and personas in marketing.

I'm not sure how scientifically or statistically valid this is, referencing personal blogs for data on a target market's lifestyles and needs, but it surely could be of some limited value, at least as a starting point.

I must repeat: I don't care if people use a blog as a personal diary.

But any platform for confessional purposes is doomed to failure and extinction.

Even telephone answering machines are used to screen out inessential calls from those who blabber narcisisstically: "I just called to say Hi and see what you were up to".

The ultimate personal blogger: The Cable Guy, played by Jim Carey, in that film of this title. He was so lonely and craved communication and friendship.

If you have something interesting to say, have a unique viewpoint, a special experience, a real reason to blog, I applaud your personal blogging. I might even blogroll it.

Otherwise, get a life.

steven edward streight said...

Er, delete that "get a life" comment. That sounds rather harsh, elitist, and even critical.

What I mean is: an average life with nothing special, heroic, exciting, adventurous, noble, self-sacrificing, example-setting is of very questionable value from a literary or blogging viewpoint.

I am not saying an average life is worthless.

I am saying it is of little or no interest to readers...

...UNLESS it is really funny, well-written, uniquely presented, has some compelling reason to spend time at it.

There is too much information out there. So why add to the clutter for no good reason?

I am simply provoking the average people out there who think any blog is a valid as any other to push themselves to excel, to innovate, to enrich their lives and try something different, then write about that, in your own individual style.

Mediocrity is the curse.