April 06, 2005

Blogs – some key characteristics (for Shock of the Old conference)

Writing about web page http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/events/shock2005/

As part of my presentation on academic blogging at the Shock of the Old conference in Oxford, I am listing some of the key characteristics of 'the blog phenomena'. The aim of this is to show that blogs have a useful role to play, but one that is quite different to any other e-learning technology. Here's the key points.

  • A blog is a personal website, it has an ‘owner’;
  • But it is much more – the extension of the owners mind and life onto the web – journaling;
  • An extension of their personal identity;
  • But also a way of trying out different identities;
  • A sandbox or demilitarized zone;
  • A place for reporting experiences;
  • A place for making sense of experiences, or not as is sometimes the case;
  • A place for just recording experience (a “bucket”);
  • A place for defining what is important;
  • A place for combining disparate experiences;
  • A place for expressing ideas and opinions about the world;
  • A place for testing out theories;
  • Develops ideas and themes over time;
  • A way of developing writing and communication skills;
  • Not necessarily serious or authoritative;
  • Sometimes quite scurrilous, close to the edge of the acceptable;
  • Dynamic and changing;
  • Snapshots of points in time;
  • Ephemeral (but archived);
  • Public and private;
  • Networking – a means for advertising oneself and seeking like-minded friends;
  • A place for developing or criticising each other’s ideas;
  • Democratic;
  • A simple but powerful tool that anyone can master.

As such, it is a powerful and personal tool for web publishing. Its cultural impact has been significant. We suspect that its impact on academia has also been great, although with few large-scale institutional blogging systems, that’s hard to demonstrate. Much of its impact is on “informal learning”. But we do know that the blog is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous technology (moblogging). And as WiFi access and portable technologies extend their range, this ubiquity is likely to increase dramatically.

- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Leighton Joskey

    Why do you list blogs as democratic?

    I can't really make that connection myself.


    06 Apr 2005, 10:50

  2. OK, it would be better to say that on a simplistic level they are 'more democratic' in that they make it easier for individuals to communicate and test information, opinions, theories. The skills level required to use them is much lower, and hence they are more accessible.

    Interestingly, there is a comparison to the pirate radio phenomena in the sixties. Many at the time, including the philosopher Felix Guattari, claimed that this was a democratising technology. However, as others had warned (including Guattari's co-author Gilles Deleuze), the beaurocratic and technological processes required to get such a radio station operating could in fact encourage un-democratic behaviour.

    The simplicity of the blogs technology is a leap forwards from that position.

    Of course they only contribute to the democratic process if used well. If blogs fill up with foundationless and ill thought out rants, then they can actually detract from the democratic process, swamping us with dountful and misleading noise.

    So it would be better to say that they can be used as a powerful tool within democracy, but its up to the users to use them democratically.

    06 Apr 2005, 11:06

  3. Leighton Joskey

    I see where you are coming from, in that a blog as a free expression of will can promote dialogue, which is important in the democratic process. I guess I just see blogs themselves as more autocratic – you decide what to write on a blog regardless of peer review or others' feelings on the matter.

    Your last sentance was interesting – …"but its up to the users to use them democratically"

    I am trying to think about how to use my blog democratically. I can put forward my views on it, and track back into a network of other views (though probably would tend to do this with similar views to mine) but unless I used it as a means to canvass opinion and change my own views in response it is still analogous to a party political broadcast or leaflet.

    I still see blogs as a one way window, for people to see in, not for me to see out. 'Till I can make that shift I'm going to struggle to see them as democratic.

    07 Apr 2005, 11:13

  4. Perhaps its my somewhat (Ancient) Greek concept of democracy, which was founded on a notion of parrhesia, or fearless free speech. The idea is that citizens need to be able to speak freely, without fear of reprisal. Without that we are all slaves and democracy is impossible. But there's another dimension to that freedom. If you just uncritically repeat recieved notions, if you just talk ill considered nonsense, then you are another kind of slave: a slave to opinion, or a slave to your lack of critical powers. Talking privately encourages that slavery, whereas taking the risk of speaking openly, of being criticised, encourages you to speak free of opinion.

    That's what I mean when i say that there is something in the blogging technology that encourages democracy, but it is still the responsibility of the blogger to use it wisely.

    Foucault did a really good and much more sophisticated investigation of parrhesia.

    08 Apr 2005, 06:30

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