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70 Million Definitions of “Blog” And Counting

Do you have a definition of a “blog”? Or a simple expression that you can substitute for “blogging”?

Maybe you do. (Feel free to share it!)

And maybe you don’t. Perhaps, like me, you’ve a number of different definitions and explanations, depending on who you’re talking to, or which blog you’re talking about.

Yvonne Russell at Grow Your Writing Business got me thinking about blog definitions at the weekend, when she hosted a fascinating conversation at the Writers’ Cafe on whether the term “blog” was on its way out. It proved hard for us to have this kind of conversation without first articulating what it means (to us) to “blog”. Some of the definitions that emerged were:

  • A means for businesses to develop relationships (Susanna, Great Adaptations)
  • A constant stream of communication that lets customers know you’re on top of your niche (Gayla, Mom Gadget)
  • Citizen publishing (Rosa Say, Managing With Aloha Coaching)
  • Frequently updated content in a strong informal voice (Sonia Simone, Remarkable Communication)
  • I’ll define a blog with a simple “to publish” and I doubt that the word will fade. Publishing text on regular basis on a blogging platform will remain blogging. (Mig, Online Public Relations)
  • Interactive web pages you can use to have meaningful conversations with customers, prospects, and stakeholders (Brad Shorr, Word Sell)
  • An easy and affordable way to tell your story on the web, and to let other people share in the telling of it (that was my effort)

But as the conversation developed it became clear that our definitions all depended on our style, approach and experience. Here’s a flavour of the conversation:

The richness of all the descriptions shared here lies in the fact that each speaks as much of the person explaining it, as about the blogging process itself. It’s also about the purpose of the particular blog and the nature of the client’s business. (Yvonne Russell)

It seems there are different kinds of blogs for different purposes. Maybe that’s another reason the word blog will fade away - maybe new words will be coined to reflect the different kinds of blogs or maybe they’ll just be called Web sites Lillie Ammann, A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye

A blog can have myriad definitions. It all depends on what the publisher and the readers want to accomplish… [And] the objectives of the publisher and the readers tends to change over time. A lot of traditional marketing tools such as newsletters and direct mail have a quality of sameness, whereas blogs are really organic. Blogs grow and are influenced by their environment (not only individual readers but the aggregate character of conversations). (Brad Shorr)

As I reflected on this conversation the more I figured we’d never come up with one single definition because we all use blogs in different ways. They’re a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They’re written, published, designed, nurtured, loved with a different purpose in mind.

And with 70 million blogs out there (and counting) that’s a lot of different definitions.

You notice this when people take time to reflect on the purpose of their blog, or adjust their focus or direction. They share what it is their blog means to them: how it supports or fulfills their bigger purpose. Some recent examples from blogging friends of mine:

No matter what I end up writing about, my blog HAS to continue to be a “forum for joy” - an upbeat expression of “Me” that can spread that joy as wide and as far as possible. I want to be “joyfully banal” if I want to, even right after I hit Starbucks in the solar plexus, or wax poetic about John Adams and the Declaration of Independence. (Terry Starbucker)

It is my hope that Lives Less Ordinary will help you to recognize and accept just how special, how unique you truly are… This blog is the place where I share my own journey of discovery, and this is your invitation to join me. (Amy Palko)

[My blog] provides an outlet for creative expression, a venue for professional reflection, and a connective conduit to people from around the globe. (Diane Cordell)

I’m still mulling over the question of blog definitions: whether it’s important to have one, whether it matters what mine is, whether we could ever narrow it down to something we could all agree on.

And I’m still wondering if there are elements we’d call defining features of blogs - and if so, what would we choose? Is it the regular updates, the informal voice, the linking out, the readability of the content, the conversation and community… and does that mean we dismiss some things as ‘not’ being blogs if they don’t have them?

I guess if I had to pick one it would be the human dimension of blogging:

Content shaped by the blogger’s perspective, values, history, experience, personality. Purpose driven by the bigger picture of their hopes, ambitions, goals.

I think that’s why purpose is so important to the blogging endeavour. That purpose can be as broad or as narrow as you want to make it - but you need to know why you’re writing, or publishing, or blogging what you do, and how it fits with that bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve, and who you are.

Do you have a single definition of blogging - or more than one? Does it vary according to the purpose of the blogs you write, edit, manage, read?

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Comments

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    To define is to restrict. People have been squabbling for years about the definition of a poem and I’ve never seen a decent definition. Even the crack I had at it became so long and convoluted trying to fit everyone under the umbrella that it became meaningless.

    On one level a blog is like a word processor, it is an application that works within certain parameters – it has functions like comments and tracking that can be turned on and off, it can be made public or kept private – but as for what people do with it, well, look what people have done with word processors.

  2. amypalko says:

    Thank you so much for linking to my new about page, Joanna. As you know, it’s gone through a few incarnations, but I really am happiest with the current attempt to articulate my blog’s purpose. I think that the reason why I’m so happy with it is because of this emphasis on invitation. I really do think of my blog as an invitation: a invitation to share, to connect, to explore.

    I suppose it’s a more esoteric definition than yours, Jim, but for me, blogging is more than the technology that facilitates the functioning of the medium - it’s the ongoing personal expression of the blogger and the myriad of conversations which take place there.

    But then, as you say, Joanna, every blogger will have their own definition, and I think that’s exactly the way it should be :-)

  3. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, Yvonne’s post has inspired a rich conversation that may go on for quite some time. While I agree with Jim that to define is to restrict (that may be what’s inspiring us to search for a better definition of “blog”), I’m seeking a new definition in order to help business people more easily grasp the essence of what a blog is and what it can do for an organization. In the end, maybe the generic term “blog” will stick around, but we will refer to subcategories of blogs in a standardized way. The human element is the closest thing I can think of as a common denominator, but even there, I’m sure there are exceptions. With that in mind, along with your theme of purpose, should we consider that the purpose of any given blog is a collaboration between the blogger and the blogger’s readers? I was talking to a client just yesterday about this, trying to develop an editorial strategy. After a while. we came to the conclusion that regardless of the approach we started with, readers would guide us by telling us what content they liked and what information they’d like more of. That’s why I was zeroing in on the organic nature of blogs - this kind of interplay is normal for blogs but quite unusual in other forms of business communication.

  4. SpaceAgeSage says:

    Blogging: The online connection and interaction between an initiating person called the blog author (writer/photographer/cartoon creator, etc.)and an audience of readers with the goal of offering or exchanging conversation on matters personal, public, product-related, or poetic.

  5. --Deb says:

    I don’t usually even try to explain a blog to people who don’t already know. If I mention my blog and get a blank look, I usually just say, “That is, my website” and at least then they can kind of follow along (grin).

  6. Terry Starbucker says:

    Hi Joanna. The words you highlighted were telling - “human” and “purpose”. To me, our “human purpose” is to do precisely what we’re doing now - connecting with each other. I’ve thought about that so much in the past month, and I realize how important it is to me in sustaining my spirit. Given this wonderful post, I suspect you have a similar point of view.

    Thanks for the link, and all the best!

  7. Barbara Ling (aka Owlbert) says:

    Morning,

    My blog purpose is simple - touch the hearts/emotions of readers by either humor, insights, brilliance etc., so that when they do leave, they feel they’re better off than when they first arrived.

    Enjoy,

    Barbara

  8. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim
    says:

    Joanna, this is a great continuation of the blogging conversation. I tend to refer to a blog as a content management system. The amount, style and type of content is very individual. My business clients seem to connect with this definition as it broadens their perspective and enables them to customize the system to their unique needs.

  9. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Jim, I know what you mean.

    A blog is a means to an end, we can do with it what we choose to. As soon as we start to define it we find exceptions that disprove it or lie outside our narrow definitions…

    Suppose I can’t help thinking there are some defining characteristics… but I doubt we’ll ever all settle on a list.

    Joanna

  10. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Amy, I felt that reincarnated about page was a great example of a purpose-ful blog!

    I like the idea of blog as invitation… it’s probably the kind that I enjoy the most. But that is still probably just one way of doing things, flowing from what you, the blogger, are hoping to achieve with it… I guess.

    Joanna

  11. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Brad,it is a fascinating conversation isn’t it, and one I couldn’t resist picking up.

    I think the point you make about the organic nature of blogs (esp the contrast with ‘broadcast only’ media) is well made. Certainly fits with my own observation and experience.

    Do you find it’s a concept that makes sense to the businesses you’re talking to *before* they start to blog though?

    Joanna

  12. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Space Age Sage - that’s a pretty comprehensive definition. I don’t think I’d find it easy to repeat when asked what a blog is though…!

    Joanna

  13. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    -Deb, I’m the same. I try and keep it as simple as I can for people who new to it.

    Though I was surprised in the opposite direction recently when a family member (who follows my blog each day) expressed surprise that it would turn up under a google search as a ‘website’. I blustered that it *was* a website, just an odd special sort that got updated with fabulous content on a regular basis!

    Joanna

  14. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Terry, that’s a very powerful thought. Thank you :-)

    Joanna

  15. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Barbara, that’s a lovely short, simple but powerful purpose. Very neat. Thanks for doing the same on Twitter - leaving us feeling better off than when we first arrived :-)

    Joanna

  16. SpaceAgeSage says:

    OK, OK. How about “a unique connecting point for creative conversations online … where one individual begins by sharing themselves, their talents, or their product …?

  17. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Karen, thanks for that perspective - it’s a good reminder to start with what people are familiar with and work from that. (Though say ‘content management system’ to lots of my friends and colleagues and they’d say ‘what?’ - I guess it all just depends on where people are starting from)

    Joanna

  18. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hmm, SpaceAgeSage, I like that.

    “a unique connecting point for creative conversations online … where one individual begins by sharing themselves, their talents, or their product …?”

    What do others think?

    Joanna

  19. Ulla
    Twitter: ullahe
    says:

    When I try to explain “blog” to other people, I say, it’s an easy way to publish on the web. You don’t have to know html, you just type in a textfield. You don’t need someone to put your content into a webside, you can do it yourself.
    I also say, it’s a way to communicate with other people in an easy way. It’s a kind of journal, and people use it for many different themes.

  20. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hello Ulla

    It’s good to meet you - and on Twitter, and Flickr!

    I like the emphasis on it being easy, and something you can do yourself. That’s very liberating and empowering isn’t it?

    Joanna

  21. Jamie Grove - How Not To Write says:

    To me, a blog is like a set of index cards for the mind, while the perfect post is a single idea honed in such a way that it stands alone or slides seamlessly into the stack.

  22. Yvonne Russell (Grow Your Writing Business) says:

    Hi Joanna
    Thanks for highlighting this lively conversation - a great roundup. I think the conversation will evolve as blogging evolves, and as each of us experiments with different purposes for and ways of using blogs.

    Already there’s a new word to add the blogging mix - a “bliki”. A bliki is a combination of a blog and a wiki.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bliki

    Thanks also for spreading the word about the Writers Cafe, Joanna.

  23. Meryl K. Evans says:

    Helen Keller said, “Blindness cuts us off from things. Deafness cuts us off from people.”

    I fall in the latter and blogging took care of that problem. It was around before Twitter and you couldn’t discover new friends by email. So blogging and reading blogs made it possible to meet people and participate in a conversation without any barriers.

    There’s no deaf accent coming through either or misunderstanding (Goodness knows, I misunderstand people all the time).

  24. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Yvonne, it was my pleasure to spread the word about the cafe - so many great conversations start there!

    Thanks for getting me thinking so hard about this one.

    Like you say our definitions will keep on changing and developing as we create and experiment and find new ways to use them - maybe that’s one of the defining characteristics of blogging, the invitation to create and innovate…

    Best wishes

    Joanna

  25. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Meryl, thanks for sharing that experience. I like the idea of a blog as “conversation without barriers” very much

    Joanna

  26. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Jamie, sorry for jumping over you there.

    Thanks for that wonderful definition of a blog - and of individual posts. One of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much is that each post contains something of value - a word, an idea, a conversation - like you say: one thread of a tapestry, one page of a book, one card in the deck.

    Thanks for joining this conversation

    Joanna

  27. Confident Writing says:

    On What It Means “To Blog”: Reader Definitions

    There was such a good discussion here recently about what we mean by blogging (70 Million Definitions Of Blog And Counting) that I thought a follow up post was in order. In particular I wanted to share some of your