What is a blog?

Or rather, what is inherent to the blog format? This is partially a response to Dilyan, who took umbridge at my comments on the latest CDC podcast. He wrote a response on his own blog which further betrays some of the unspoken assumptions he holds about the blog format and comes awfully close to usefully articulating some differences between blogging and publishing.

One of the great things about working with the internet and digital media is that it is so binary – situations and digital functions are often quite black and white. So lets put ourselves in the ‘digital’ frame of mind – what is the standard of ‘reality’ we can appeal to when talking about blogs and the lke? I believe it’s code; it’s protocol; it’s a close reading of the content of this digital technology.

A blog is a specific subset of a website. Websites are built generally on HTML and can be as complex or as simple as the limits of processing power allow. Close to the simplest website possible would be an empty “index.html” file in the root directory. In this situation the server upon receiving the request to load the page over TCP/IP finds the index.html and serves it up to the user. This bare-bones structure meets the minimum requirements for ‘being a website’ if the server is accessible from ‘the internet’, i.e. it’s has a unique address recorded on a DNS server. What the server does, in fact, is almost irrelevant to the status of the website – worldwide accessibility from the internet (a function of its address being recorded in a DNS server) is the only necessary component of a website.

It is probably not possible to itemise all the expectations one could hold, or have ever been held, about websites quawebsites, but for the sake of comparison to blogs, certainly no one expects websites to inherently possess comments. It would be equally rare to find someone in this day and age who expects a website to be completely static. Websites change, are redesigned, go offline, come back online, and fluctuate through many series of transformations, entirely  without generating much protest (with a few exceptions less related to their status as websites and more to their function as other things; portals, as community hubs, etcetera). The timeline for these changes, however, is often on the scale of weeks, months, or even years.

Let’s contrast that to blogs: are they inherently expected to change, or  ‘update’? If a blog does not update for a long time (i.e. stretches of years or more) does it become any less of a blog than it was when it was in the middle of a regular posting (i.e. ‘update’) schedule? No, therefore it is far to say that regular updating is not an essential quality that goes into making a blog a blog (even if it is an expected one).

At last we come to it: Are comments an inherent function of blogs? Again, it would be impossible to itemise every expectation held about a blog in the whole wide world so what does the reality of the ‘code’ tell us? Better still, what does the code of one specific blog platform, WordPress, tell us?

It tells us that comments are a function of WordPress, but like many other functions it can be enabled or disabled. Only in the absolute strictest sense can this be construed as making comments an ‘inherent’ part of the blog format. They are only inherently in that they can be “there or not there”  which is a meaningless observation to make. It’s certainly an unfalsifiable statement, thereby failing scientific (and logical?) rigour. In what conceivable circumstance would that sentence ever be wrong? Only if something could be both there and not there at the same time (quantum mechanics suggests possible situations but lets not go there).

What then, if removed, would prevent a blog from being a blog? Nothing to do with appearance (Cf. – a feedburner RSS feed of an actual blog). Not comments, as we’ve already established. No. Instead there are three things I count as being inherent and necessary components of a blog:

– Reverse chronological presentation.

– One or more posts (or updates).

– A (semi)permanent archive.

I think I’ll write about these three in greater detail at a later date.