Saturday, June 21, 2008

Whose Blog Is It, Anyway?

While trolling the web recently for some advice on building an RSS feed for my employer (who doesn't yet know I'm exploring the possibility...won't he be surprised!), I came upon a nifty article at Stephen's Web, "Managing Your Blog Entry - 11 Better Tips" by Stephen Downes. I was immediately attracted to Downes's independent thought on the subject of blogging, being myself fully aware of the fact that, according to more than one article I've read, mine is not a "real" blog. You know the sort of article I mean--the kind that tell you what your e-mail "should" or "should not" be (it "should" be brief, it "should not" be detailed, etc.), what a "proper" web page "should" be...and of course what a "real" blog "should" do or be.

My thought always has been, "This is my blog. It "should" be whatever I want it to be. Ditto for my e-mail, my web sites, and, yes, my RSS feed. Sure, these things must follow certain protocols--my web site had damn well better be written in HTML or a successor thereto, or it plain won't work!--but for the rest of it, well, who says it should be thus or so...and who asked him in the first place?

Downes, I think, would not disagree (read him for yourself and make your own judgment), but he expresses himself far less pugnaciously than I just did. His springboard is a list of "shoulds" created by a journalist named Vincent Maher, whose list Downes carefully deconstructs. For instance:

  • A blog entry is a stub for conversation
    One of the key ways to create a loyal audience for your blog is to create a community of readers who interact with each-other on your blog. This means that your blog entries should be structured in such a way that they start conversations. This means they need to be short and punchy, with a clearly defined point or set of points.
  • No it isn't. The point of a blog isn't to gather a loyal cadre of readers around you dutifully writing comments. And you certainly should not be writing your blog simply to entice the commenters. And if your readers aren't capable of reading anything other than short and punchy, are you sure you should be writing to them? Think this through. A blog entry isn't some place you create to prompt conversation. A blog is a place where you say something. As for the commenters, they should be writing on their own blogs, where people can actually link to them.

  • Be active in your own conversations
    Don't sit and watch the comments streaming in and do nothing, get in there! Unlike traditional journalists, the blogger's role is to steer and be part of the conversations they start.
  • The blogger's role is to blog. If it feels to you that this includes responding to comments, do that. If you'd rather make sure your responses are highlighted and indexed, respond in a new blog post. But don't let anyone convince you that you have to be some kind of chatterbug to be a good blogger. Respond if you have something to say and be a good listener otherwise.
And so on. A nice, thoughtful, and entertaining essay. Give it a read.

Also, Downes did provide me some pretty helpful RSS advice, too, in his excellently named article "How to Create an RSS Feed With Notepad, a Web Server, and a Beer." It worked, even without a beer, of which my employer would not have approved. During business hours, at least.

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