R’s Mom had this post about blog etiquette which is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, both in the context of Facebook and blogs, the media I use online the most.

A question I never really asked initially, since when I started blogging I thought of it as an online diary, and which I could never really satisfactorily answer thereafter was/is – what is a blog?  I think if we are clear about what a blog actually is, then maybe we would also know how to behave on blogs online.

My sense of what a blog is has changed as the media has blossomed but here are some of the characteristics I identify a blog with:

  1. A personal voice (as opposed to the neutrality that is supposed to characterise journalism)
  2. Interactivity, most often in the comments section.

But many popular blogs don’t allow comments (such as Amit Verma’s India Uncut) and some, like Jezebel, seem like an aggregation of voices, though with a common mission. I am confused about The Huffington Post, which I often heard referred to as a blog, but looked more like an online newspaper to me. Turns out HuffPost has a blog and that might be the cause of confusion but it also turns out that it evolved from Arianna Huffington’s personal website which sounds suspiciously blog-like. Which brings me to…when does a blog stop being a blog and become a personal website? When it has other sections too? But if all those are generally personal, blogs have sections as well. Somehow, I suspect, it has something to do with “website” sounding more respectable. Confusion abounds.

Finally, I googled. This is what came up:

A Web site on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis.

That was simple, ha! And seems about right.

Then, of course, I checked Wiki. Which threw up more detailed characteristics and some interesting landmarks in blogging history (were you a follower of The Misanthropic Bitch?).

  1. Blogging started out as online personal diaries. So I wasn’t so far off the mark, nor was I so late to the game. (I was surprised to once be identified as an “early blogger”.) Moreover, it makes the general condescension of people who are quick to clarify that they read only “serious” blogs sound kind of silly. We were the pioneers, you guys. Your “serious blogs” wouldn’t have existed if droves of us hadn’t taken the online world by storm with the petty updates on our humdrum lives you abhor. *
  1. [Now where was I? I kind of got caught up in the asterisks down there – they are so much fun, you should try them. But first, read them. Hint.] Wiki says: “Although not a must, most good quality blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments…” Which speaks to the part about blog etiquette because if blogs are a social forum, there might be a set of mostly unsaid dos and don’t and how do they mirror and differ from our “real life” interactions?
  2. Wiki foregrounds chronology and I’m not sure why that’s significant. Maybe that’s what makes it journal-like, and also indicates frequency of updates.

Heh. So it turns out I was not that far off the mark at all.

Having defined blogs, we can move onto the original subject, which is/was blog etiquette. Except that I think I’ve said enough already, so I’m going to split it off into another post. I know, boo!

PS: On the subject of defining a blog, Darren Rowse has this to say. And Blogger (I feel slightly nostalgic for you now, strictly in the way I feel nostalgic for India without any deep desire to return, let it be noted) has this endearing introduction.

*And on the subject of “the personal is boring”, let me say, once and for all:

1. The personal is not boring, it’s political. Simone de Beauvoir said so and she was French and feminist and a friend/lover/co-philosopher of Jean-Paul Sartre (if you can’t a woman seriously on her very ownsome) , so there! Many of the personal blogs I read are actually very political but possibly in too subtle ways for the likes of obtuse people to grasp.

2. The (also coincidentally) French philosopher Foucault theorised about the concept of genealogy which is something like a History with a small h, told by individuals and as significant as any grand narrative. So naysayers, if it pleases you, we are partaking of some great counter-ideological project with philosophical underpinnings. Suck on that.

3. Women’s Web, which is a website I like, had this post sometime ago categorising the topics women tended to blog about and pointing out that while blogs written by men more often than not tended to be related to interests like film, politics, sports etc., women tended to favour “personal” blogging. While Women’s Web did not specifically do so, I often hear such statistics cited in a derogatory way. In my view, the statistics presented are interesting – and not interesting-in-a-negative-ways –and that is all. Does it mean that women have no other interests than the always-for-some-reason derided narrow sphere of their personal lives? Could be, and so what? But many of the “personal” bloggers I know do have wide-ranging interests. Why then do they not blog about these respectable subjects, instead of huddling under the disreputable umbrella of the personal or, even worse, mommyblogging?** Maybe because the world offers them plenty of options to talk about these interests in polite society but not to talk about what they talk about on their blogs or to talk about it in that particular way. Which should be a comment on the world and its power to silence more than on women bloggers. And why is the question almost never asked – why do men talk so little about the personal on their blogs, or frankly, anywhere?  What is wrong with them?

4. Personally, I find blogs, including many mommyblogs, as a good way into news. There is so much news out there, and in the case of the Indian press – presented so poorly, how do I choose what to read? Blogs, Facebook and Twitter highlight certain news to me and give me a sense of what people are talking about. Thus, ironically, I enter the allegedly objective news space through the openly personal lens of someone else, who has not only framed the news in a personal way (through some sort of introductory comment or rant) but whose very selection of that news is personal. And the obviousness and declaration of bias in these cases is probably more objective and neutral than the covert and insidious ideologies that are rife and unnoticed in the mainstream media. In using social media as the proverbial ‘finger in the air to sense which way the wind is blowing’, I am paradoxically doing something not new, but very very old. I am joining the gaggle of gossips under the banyan tree, which is what news has always ever been before we decided to adorn it with a suit and tie (or a jhola).

**I have begun to be referred to as a mommyblogger. I was initially disconcerted and then embraced it. I see mommyblogging as quite similar to feminism. It is a perfectly respectable thing to be.***

***I am also embracing asterisks as my new thing.  I think they confer a certain amount of intellectualism on my writing. Like, not only do I have things to say, but I have things to say about the things I say. Hurray!