The emotional description of a blog

One topic that often comes up in conversations about blogging is how do you define a blog.

Answering the question invariably includes a description of the attributes a website must have in order for it to be a blog:

  1. Reverse chronologically-ordered content, written by the author
  2. Author’s personality/passion shining through in the posts
  3. Commenting – the means for visitors to comment on the blog itself
  4. Trackbacks (links to and from other blog posts)
  5. Content distribution by RSS

It’s attribute #3, on commenting, about which a lot of people have different opinions. Many don’t agree at all that commenting is an essential element. Influencers like Seth Godin, for instance. Dave Winer, too.

I’ve always maintained that a blog without the ability for visitors to leave comments isn’t really a blog, given that a blog is all about openness of unfiltered expression and conversation. It takes more than one to have a conversation.

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Dave Winer’s post yesterday in which he defines the one true characteristic of a blog:

The unedited voice of a person.

That’s all. Nothing else is a requirement.

That’s a pretty good definition. If you think about it, the attributes I mentioned above are the technical description of a website that’s a blog (and see Dave Winer’s 2003 definition). What Dave is talking about is the emotional description.

I very much like this emotional description. But what about commenting?

Well, I’d look at it this way – comments are to conversations as blogs are to individual and unfiltered expression.

In other words, to have a conversation, you must have either comments on your blog itself or a related device that connects people’s expressions, those unfiltered/unedited voices. Trackbacks, for instance, which link and connect content on the web.

But to be a blog, a website doesn’t require on-site comments, just the unedited voice of the blogger.

I’d accept that view.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Dominic Jones

    Dave Winer’s description is an excellent one. But is he saying “single person” or “single voice.”

    If it’s single person, then the Official Google Blog, the most widely read corporate blog, is not a blog.

    But if it’s a single voice, then can a corporate blog written by multiple people and presumably edited — like Google’s — represent a single corporate voice? Or does it need to allow commenting to be a legitimate corporate blog?

    I’m not sure…

  2. Shel Holtz

    Interesting you should raise this now. I just got finished listening to some of Steve Gillmor’s “Gillmor Gang” podcasts that have been backed up on my iPod, and in one of them, he dismissed commenting as a requirement for a blog. His answer was pretty much the same as Dave Winer’s: “If you want to comment on something I wrote on my blog, do it on your blog.”

    His rationale is the time he doesn’t want to spend addressing inappropriate comments, which I suppose is more of an issue with A-listers than it is for the rest of us.

    I’m still not sold on this notion, though, since I presume there are many more people READINGblogs than there are people with their own blogs.

  3. Mridula

    The little of what I have seen of corporate blogs, the readers seem to like the ability to comment and their comments heeded to fast. In fact, on the McDonald’s corporate blog someone pointed out Dell as an example as to how to handle the comments. I also wonder if the firms like the feedback they get through their readers/customers?

  4. Garrison

    Hopefully this view will become widely accepted.

    One of the problems we’re beginning to experience is our project not being ‘accepted’ as a blog because a) we do not allow commenting and b) our blog is commercial (despite the fact we don’t have Adsense, very unusual for a travel blog, and none of the accommodation providers featured on our blog pay us!)

    These were the 2 reasons for which our blog was condemned when we tried submitting it to a UK blog directory. Looking at all the blogs ‘lucky’ enough to be featured in the directory they all had one thing in common: Adsense!

    We did allow commenting in the early phase of our project but what we found was bogus comments (not spam) being posted by people connected to the places featured. So we ditched it.

    That said, we have plans to re-introduce commenting when we’ve at least 1,000 ideas catalogued. By then we plan to introduce articles by country and that is where commenting will be more appropriate for our blog.

  5. Simon Wakeman

    So what’s a blog then?…

    The discussion about what makes a blog a blog has resurfaced again – I was struggling with a definition recently when putting together a presentation about social media, so the debate is particularly timely for me.


  6. Simon Wakeman

    So what’s a blog then?…

    The discussion about what makes a blog a blog has resurfaced again – I was struggling with a definition recently when putting together a presentation about social media, so the debate is particularly timely for me.


  7. neville

    That’s an interesting thought, Dominic, re a group blog like Google’s. In such a case, I think “unedited voice” would refer to each blogger not the collective. If, as you say, Google’s blog posts are edited by someone, then for that reason alone it wouldn’t qualify as a blog.

    Shel, this argument (if it is that) on defining a blog will undoubtedly continue. The more I think about Dave Winer’s definition, the more I like it as a way to simply describe a communication tool or channel from the point of view of its special characteristic rather than from the technical angle, ie, the attributes of the site itself. That’s far more important as an aid to helping people understand the concept of blogging.

    I’m becoming convinced that you don’t have to have on-site comments for a website to be a blog.

    If you want to blog as part of a conversation, and have what you say be linked to by others or show up in searches, etc, as a connected link in the chain, then you do need to have something in place that enables a connection. Trackbacks, for instance.

    But I think it’s much better to enable comments on your blog, even though it isn’t a strict requirement for your site to be called a blog.

    Garrison, you’ve touched on a really thorny issue of members of a community who don’t want to play by the rules. A tricky one to address and it’s a shame to have to turn off commenting as a way to combat it. So there’s probably an underlying issue to address before commenting on your blog becomes the social exchange you’d like it to be.

  8. Garrison

    Neville, allowing comments seemed like a good idea at the time but as we thought through our project we decided it best to reintroduce commenting for different elements of our blog. We plan on publishing travel articles on the locations featured and perhaps that may be our commenting re-entry point.

    Our blog draws its inspiration from U.S. product blogs such as Mighty Goods and Uncrate.

    We’re also developing a forum at present which aims to become the first social network for holiday-makers and accommodation providers. It’s a very simple twist on the traditional format of holiday rental sites – which we plan on opening up (this field is still firmly entrenched in 1996!)

    Might be time to start calling our project a magazine not a blog and be done with the “is it” or “isn’t it” debate – what d’ya reckon?

  9. neville

    You have a terrific-looking site, Garrison. I doubt it will matter much what you call it – you’ve constructed a place that’s a great foundation for connecting. Delicious, RSS, badges, it’s all there.

    If it were my site, I’d call it a magazine!

    If your model is sites like the two you mention, it may be worth asking them how they addressed bogus comments, if they had that issue. I notice that neither site has commenting enabled.

  10. Garrison

    Cheers Neville, nice one. Believe it or not the current design is actually a glorified wireframe – I’m now working on a proper design (whatever that may be!)

    The sites I mentioned don’t have commenting enabled possibly for the same reason: product owners using the blogs to big up their products. Uncrate allows comments on selected posts. Both are powered by Movable Type.

    For us, starting off HP as a blog offered a quick route to market and lay down the foundations for our forthcoming web app and in-house ad system.

    Your original post is entitled the emotional description of a blog and for me personally it hurts a wee bit when people denounce HP for not being a true blog. I know pure effort does not alone make a blog but the sheer scale of the project is overwhelming in its many disciplines.

    Mindful of this problem I did originally call it a magazine but was advised to call it a blog. For now though I must focus on finding and adding inspiring holiday ideas, and like you say, build upon the foundation already built.

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