What makes a good blog?

It’s probably impossible to answer this question. It’s a bit like asking, “what makes a good book?”

Blogs are so many things to so many people – they are forms of journalism, pedagogical tools for university courses, personal diaries, social hangout spaces, places for writing fan fiction, locations for software to be released and discussed… The list is as long as the uses to which blogs have been put, which is to say, more diverse than I can mention.

Although “early” blog theories (that is, those from about 5 years ago!) emphasised the keeping of journals and diaries as the main function of blogs (Viviane Serfaty’s book is a good example of this notion), the explosion of different uses for blogs has led some more recent definitions to reduce what-blogging-is to bare technological terms – that is, blogging is a medium. This way of defining blogs reduces them to something like this: “Blogs are an online publishing tool; blogs consist of a series of individual “entries”; these entries are usually displayed in reverse chronological order.” (Wikipedia’s definition is along these lines.)

As Jill Walker Rettberg explains in her great little book called, simply, Blogging, within this bare-bones techno-definition of blogging as a medium, various genres can be sifted out: political blogging, filter blogging, diary-style blogging, and so on. Each of these genres (and its attendant sub and sub-sub genres) comes with its own set of conventions, and within the genre, those conventions make sense – they can be used to determine a “good” from a “bad” blog.

In general, though, Walker Rettberg presents three basic criteria which define – not what a blog is, but how it is (p.21). Those criteria are “frequency, brevity, and personality” (she borrows these terms from Evan Williams, the fella who invented Blogger). She then goes on to explain that the first two of these criteria (frequency and brevity) are formal qualities associated with blogs. The third criteria, however, points to a further feature of blogs which is very important, and pertinant, I think, to the question of what makes a good blog – personality. Blogs, she writes are “generally written in the first person”. They are subjective. They are social.

How does this help us think about what makes a good blog? Well, if Rettberg Walker’s last point is true (and I believe it is, wholeheartedly) then the question becomes something like – “what makes a good friend?”

My friends are people that I trust. I trust them, not because they come with some kind of accreditation or references (as I would require if hiring someone for a job). I trust them because of some action they have performed, in relation to me, which makes me believe they are trustworthy.

Perhaps they helped me solve a problem I had. Maybe they told a story about themselves which made me think differently about my own relationship to the world. Or they made me laugh. Or they listened to me when I had something to get off my chest. Whatever the case, hanging out with them was a rewarding experience, regularly enough, for me to say, “I like him/her”. The effort expended in passing time with them was worth it. So I kept coming back, and a relationship between us – friendship – was formed.

And it’s the same for “good” blogs, I would say.

6 thoughts on “What makes a good blog?

  1. Jo Law

    Hi Lucas,

    Like you (? I think), I came to blogging via a residency project. Prior to that I never really gave blogs much thought besides their utilitarian functions (e.g. getting students to set up blogs for their project development etc.). I never read any blog theory either. But recently seem to getting much more information via blogs (e.g. when googling ‘great wontons in Hong Kong’).

    I suppose the blog’s at once personal and public qualities is what gives it a personality. People ususally have blogs to write about something they care about (although I did come across a blog that is pure whinge – it was amazingly depressing and really repulsive). One chooses what to write and how to protray events through writing. The time delay in writing (as opposed to the real-time demands of speaking) also allows one to construct a persaonlity with more ease.

    I take my cues from 10th century Japanese authors such as Sei Shonagon and Mursaki Shikubu. The Pillow Book is Sei Shonagon’s journal or diary but she wrote it completely with an audience in mind. Her personality permeates the book. This is equally so in Mursaki’s diary.

    To me, I enjoy the diaristic and observational elements of blogs the most and the temporal component helps bring out the poetic qualities of everyday.

  2. Lucas Post author

    Thanks Jo

    yes, having an audience in mind is important, although, I don’t know about you, but I cannot always envisage who my audience might be before posting on the blog. Sometimes, I think, the audience which gets attracted to the blog feeds back into it, and they then become the envisaged audience. The process is a bit circular.

    Given your fascination with cabinets of curiosity, you might be interested in the book “We’ve Got Blog” edited by John Rodzvilla. It’s a bit old-fashioned now (came out in 2002) but there is an essay by Julian Dibbell which proposes that blogs are like Wunderkammers (page 73).

    I’m interested in this remark at the end of your comment:

    “the temporal component helps bring out the poetic qualities of everyday.”

    Can you say more about this? When you say “temporal” do you mean the fact that blogging seems to slow things down somehow? That it makes for an “observational” tone, not only of writing, but of living one’s life “in between the blog posts”?

  3. Jo Law

    I was thinking about how blogs mark time. Because I see and refer to my blog as an almanac – immediately there is a temporal aspect. When I was doing the Autuman Almanac of Tokyo, the seasonal aspect was central. The daily observations help me see how Autumn is really season of transition. You can’t write about Autumn in a day.

    I was also thinking about how we don’t seem to ever have enought time anymore. Lizzie’s recent comment on my Seasonal Almanac talks about how catching up with blogs is a weekly ritual for her. I really like that. It is a decisive action to set aside time.

    Keeping a blog or a journal is a ritual as well. Often we just look for what is significant. It’s easy when you are travelling, but when you are at home, it is hard to find something to write about everyday. Sometimes there is nothing obvious so we look deeper. We turn over rocks, look to the sky, observe the plants, to see what is different. So to an extent, we do slow down, look and contemplate, if we are lucky we find the poetry in everyday things.

  4. Claire

    Hi Lucas,

    This is really relevant to a lot of thinking I’ve been doing recently about blogs, the purpose of blogs, the reason for keeping one…

    The Inter Collective set up a blog last year to accompany a residency project we did in Northbridge, Perth, for 3 weeks. For the project, we would execute a new installation or performance each night, the documentation or description of this we would post regularly on the blog. For us the blog was a forum for communication and discussion with our audience, a point of reference for them to come to. Due to lack of public liability they could only view our work from the street. This posed a big hurdle for us, as our work has always involved conversation and direct interaction. Blog, therefore, as a reciprocal medium: for us to further access the public, and for them in turn to reach us, and solidify/clarify/reflect on their experience with something they happened upon in the street which wasn’t immediately obvious as ‘art’.

    Since then I’ve started my own personal blog, which I began as a motivational tool. I figured that in the knowledge that the blog is public, and there might be an audience reading it, I would have reason to regularly update it. Like Jo Laws mentioned, suddenly looking for things to write about, thinking about things differently. But then at the same time, I’ve found I go through patches where I get disheartened at the thought of no-one reading it (if commenting is the only way to know of readers), in which case, why should I carry on. But then I come out of that with the realisation of what personal satisfaction I get out of writing a blog, the ‘thrill’ of one person potentially reading it, the feeling of REALISING something, putting it into words, ‘publishing’ my thoughts if you like, which clarifies things in my own head, and gives me reason to continue researching different things.

    Not sure how relevant this is to the question of what makes a ‘good’ blog, but just my experience with blogs. I think the fact of it being ONLINE – a public forum – in fact, probably the broadest, largest public forum in the world, probably has something to do with their special quality in my mind, and worthy of discussion and definition. At least for oneself..

  5. the weed one

    i’m reading tim ingold, an athropologist becoming famous for his revolutionary take on what anthropology should look at and, more importantly in what terms and which bench-top marks to use.
    He’ bringing forward the argument that we should stop defining scientific investigations into two realms, the human (psicology, cultural studies, history, medicine, economy etc) and the rest of the world (zoology, geography, geology, botany, etc).
    He talks of humans as organism living in simbiosis and therefore affecting all other organisms and ‘non-living’ entities as much as getting affected by them.
    He’s got to say about art too (see “evolution and social life” or an Italian study of his writings in “Dall’oggetto estetico all’oggetto artistico” > http://www.google.it/books?id=600f9nG6NTMC&pg=PA172&dq=tim+ingold < )

    Summing up what i’m understanding, he says that if we acknowledge human’s activity as the result of specific environmental dynamics (culture) then we acknowledge that what we do is the result of what is (in its wholeness).

    Writing a blog as an artistic endeavor is therefore the result of the specific bio-social environment we live in.

    Ingold is very critical of the understood modus operandi of todays (western world influenced) accademia, saying that it cannot exist the scientist (researcher) as a detached entity which from outta space look down to earth and without affecting it (or getting affected) relates objectively on what the topic of his studies is.

    Writing an essay about art without making art is an illusion (to the point of arrogance).

    i’m still looking, still searching…living.
    affecting and getting affected

  6. tim

    HI Lucas – I sent u a file “Blogging Thoughts” which is all about using a blog as research tool. It’s very good reading indeed! If it doesn’t work just google “blogging thoughts”


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