Monday, July 25, 2005

A Question of Distinction

One more PinoyTopBlogs post. The following arrived in my inbox earlier today:

Hello Pinoy Bloggers!

Just sending out some more info and tips about the Pinoy Top Blogs as well as some pretty important reminders.


Not all Pinoy sites are pinoy blogs. Please do help me in combing the listing for entries that may not qualify as a blog. This could also be an opportunity for everyone to check out other blogs in the list as well. I always start at the bottom of the list everytime I visit.

Now that's an interesting point: Some of the sites on PinoyTopBlogs aren't blogs to begin with? That would be dirty pool, seeing that they would be using a blog-only system in order to advertise themselves. Especially when the rest of us bloggers work blood, toil, tears and sweat in order to make our thoughts available to a public that may not necessarily appreciate them to begin with.

That brings to mind a good question, though: What makes a weblog?

No, seriously -- what distinguishes a blog from all the other web sites out there? How do you know whether that nice site you're visiting is a blog or not? What makes us qualified to determine which sites should be rejected by PinoyTopBlogs, and which should remain?

Abe Olandres noted a number of characteristics of blogs back during his presentation at the iBlog Summit, and they're currently available on his recent post regarding this same subject. I feel that his listing of characteristics is a little too fundamental, though, and it's altogether possible to find more than a few loopholes in there.

Let's get some of the more technical concerns out of the way first: All blogs are obviously web sites. All blogs have a collection of chronological posts arranged by date. All blogs are run by some form of content management (automated or otherwise).

The above three factors may still describe any number of non-blog sites. Online newspapers and other publications fulfill the above requirements, after all. For that matter, so does any corporate site with a legible "News and Updates" section. Heck, so does that little Events calendar we get under Yahoo! Groups, too.

I would like to argue, then, that there are at least two other considerations that uniquely identify weblogs: Intent and Opinion.

Every true blogger out there should know about Intent; It's what drove most of us to put our stuff online to begin with. Blogs are an outlet by which one or more people can communicate with an open audience made up of just about everybody else on the Net. In that very sense, I believe that owning and maintaining a blog is tantamount to holding up a placard that says "I'm over here! Look at me!".

Much of this sentiment owes itself to writing, I think. We don't write to read our own pretty words; We write for other people. Blogs appeal to that part of ourselves that pleads for attention. We want to be one voice in an endless sea of faces.

I must point out here that there is a distinct difference between blogging for ourselves and blogging for an external entity. Corporate blogs, for example, are all well and good... but I feel that exactly whether or not they should be considered blogs in the first place depends on just who's writing them, and how.

A corporate blog that only releases statements approved by the Marketing department, for instance, is clearly not a blog. Its entries are copied, written, edited, proofread, and approved by a succession of workers, all for the sake of the company itself. I say that such a "blog" is not a blog at all because its voice has been diluted to the point of soullessness. The words belong to the company alone; It might as well be a corporate or marketing web site for all intents and purposes.

A blog needs to preserve a writer's voice. It needs to at least give the impression that the writer is expressing whatever he wishes to express online. Saying what one honestly thinks of certain aspects of the business is one thing; Regurgitating company taglines, promotional announcements or mission statements is another thing altogether.

In contrast, I find Opinion to be one of the least understood areas of blogging. Opinion should clearly cover the fact that, as long as we're the ones doing the talking, we're liable to say anything that we darn well want.

For that matter, it's obvious that most bloggers execute this approach with a great deal of creative license: We write political commentaries. We note what we like and what we dislike about certain people. We pick through our thoughts, and later proceed to wonder just why we think like we do. Heck, some of us write short stories or put up artistic masterpieces. Some of us even include home recipes in our online journals.

But do these diverse means of expression constitute Opinion by themselves? Heck, no. Anyone can write politcal commentaries, after all. Hey, just about anyone can write or draw, too. And each one of us obviously has recipes that we can potentially put up.

I say that the key to understanding Opinion lies in understanding that, while multiple people can write about the same thing, they will all have completely different takes on the subject. Some people will confess their unwavering support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, while others will bash her to bits. Some people will write childrens' stories, and some people will draw images of monsters and demons. Some people will include milk in a recipe for cheese omelette, and some won't.

An online newspaper, for that matter, does not constitute a blog in this regard. Journalism takes pride in its neutrality, after all: All parties involved in a story must be covered with the same amount of professional attention.

As much as the advocates may say otherwise, I figure that blogging is not journalism. Bloggers write to express their opinions, which will always lean in one direction or another. Blogs, by their very nature, are biased. Once we realize this fact, we should also realize that this is exactly why journalistic codes of ethics simply cannot apply to weblogs to begin with.

Interestingly enough, I've found similar questions to be present in other areas of writing. Literary critics, for example, have long debated the exact distinctions between prose and poetry. Comics creators themselves should be perfectly familiar with the age-old question of what separates an anti-hero from a villain. In both of these cases, we have to admit that there is a line that we cannot see clearly enough to pinpoint.

I will not pretend that I've located such a line with regards to the difference between weblogs and other non-blog sites, and this issue is likely to be hotly contested in the future. I figure, however, that the important thing to realize is that the line is blurred. It's perfectly blurred, and our perceptions of what makes a weblog can just as easily change once we get a hold of some of the more radical examples.

Then again, I'm just one writer in a sea of endless faces. One writer, with both a voice and an opinion that obviously leans in certain directions.

The truth will need all of us to chime in on the matter. That, I believe, will be regardless of whether we choose to express our opinions in weblogs, or otherwise.


Anonymous said...

"As much as the advocates may say otherwise, I figure that blogging is not journalism. "

--> PCIJ has a blog.

"Bloggers write to express their opinions, which will always lean in one direction or another. Blogs, by their very nature, are biased."

--> Ehem. Cough. Cough. :)

"Comics creators themselves should be perfectly familiar with the age-old question of what separates an anti-hero from a villain."

--> Anti-hero is both protagonist and antagonist in one. I think.

Sean said...

Reiji: Yes, PCIJ has a blog. But I must point out that its blog does not deal purely with news reports that we can just as easily see in the local newspapers. The articles in the PCIJ blog, as it looks, are written by journalists as "side journals" that accompany their official pieces. In a sense, these people are describing their personal impressions and their experiences as opposed to reporting the news from an entirely neutral point of view - and for me, that makes it more of a weblog than an online newspaper.

With regards to the anti-hero/villain argument, I am aware of a debate in the comics field that asks how far an anti-hero can go before being rightfully considered a villain. Can he kill a man who is suspected but not convicted of murder, for instance? Can he enforce oppressive rule upon a society in order to eradicate crime? Questions like these serve to show that the line between anti-hero and villain is just as blurred as the line between blogs and non-blogs, I think.