April 25, 2004

Aesthetics of Blogging

Back in the beginning of Media Aesthetics class, we were given a small definition of aesthetics, roughly summarized as this, according to my notes: "Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that examines beauty via form, technique, media, etc." Janet Murray then went on to describe the aesthetic of electronic narrative as immersion, agency and transformation. But, where does this leave the aesthetics of weblogging?

Weblogs can be designed beautifully as a piece of art if you have that skill, but that wouldn't answer the question of the aesthetics of keeping a weblog. However, one could examine the "beauty" of the weblog if they looked at its form, the technique that the writer used, and the media it is in.

Weblog Form and Technique
The form of the weblog is a frequently updated website with date and timestamps, recorded in reverse chronological order. The weblog has three basic varients: a record of links, a journal or both. Often, weblogs have themes or a topic for discussion. Some blogging tools cost next to nothing, so it's a quick and easy way for anyone to post anything to the Internet. Because weblogs are rather user-friendly, it's a good way to share information.

The Weblogging Medium
Since any reader can comment on anyone else's weblog, via actual comments or on their own blog, a community can form. This community of readers and commenters can discuss events, argue about something, or simply react to posts. By forming a group of people to critique the "art" of weblogging, weblogs can grow according to the audience and the writer.

Aesthetic of Electronic Narrative
Murray outlines immersion, agency and transformation as the aesthetic of electronic narrative. This can also be applied to weblogs. Weblogs can be an immersive media, for both the reader and the writer. I used to post every day because I liked keeping my weblog that much. Even though I don't post as often now, I still think that in an ideal world that I would. When you write on your weblog a lot, you also read other people's weblogs just as much, whether you use an RSS feed or your blogroll to keep track of your subscriptions. Thus, it's entirely possible to get immersed in blogging, just as it is to get hooked on a video game.

Agency is also a little different than what Murray described, so I'll rewrite it to fit keeping a weblog. Most of the time, the author has agency over what is on the weblog (unless, of course, you're trying to get rid of the banner ad on Blogger). She can write whatever she wants, and delete whatever comment personally annoys her. She can create a theme for the weblog, and then change it. Readers of the blog also have agency, as they can comment, and if the blog you comment on deletes you, you can post it to your own blog. Because you've formed a little community with your weblog, you help change the community in subtle ways.

A weblog is also transformative. The blogger could have a pseudonym, and so can the commenters. It's a place where personas can be cultivated. The weblog is also a product in transformation. A few years ago, they didn't exist. People had personal websites where they might tell stories, journal, or have a link page. This evolved into the weblog, which is in a constant state of evolution. Comments only became widespread a little over a year ago, and I wonder what new feature will be next.

The aesthetics of keeping a weblog often change, but overall, weblogs have an aesthetic of being able to transform the common website into a place where communities can form and people can spread their news, no matter how important or how trivial it is.

Posted by Julie Young at April 25, 2004 09:16 PM
Comments

Hmmmmmm.

HMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I think there's a trap here that you may be falling in to, which is confusing the medium and the message. Weblogs don't do anything by themselves that the computer bulletin boards that have been around since the early 80s did, or that magazines have done since time immemorial. There is, of course, the aspect that _you_ are now able to easily publish, which is significant, but that's incidental to the form of the weblog itself.

One of the things I dislike about the blogosphere is that you can get wrapped up in metaconversations about the form (like this one!) rather than using the form for substantive communication. On my weblog, I have an ironclad rule: no blogging about blogging (with the exception of the article where I codified that principle: http://www.tgr.com/weblog/archives/000020.html)

Looking at your comments above, you claim that weblogs are transformative, but I don't see anything to back up that claim. What is transformative about it? How does a weblog differ from, say, Kim Rollins' online journal? Is it really true that comments are a new innovation? Slashdot has had them for years; likewise, media like Usenet are nothing -but- comments. If "transformative" means "changing," then there really isn't any medium that isn't transformative. Therefore, to be meaningful it must mean something else. What does it mean?

For example, the telephone was transformative because it destroyed the need for people to write letters to one another to keep in touch at a distance; it encouraged more, smaller conversations (call once a day!) rather than the longer, more detailed ones that letter writing encourages because of the latency of the post. As a result, we're leaving far less information of a certain type for future generations (you won't see "Collected Letters of George W. Bush", the way you see "Collected Letters of Abraham Lincoln," for example.

Placed next to that example, how transformative, really, are weblogs?

Posted by: peterb at April 28, 2004 05:21 PM

Good point. I still think that keeping a weblog has the potential to be transformative, but I can see that I need more support for my argument. Thus, here's some more support. :)

As for letter writing... When one of my friends studied abroad, we kept a weblog where she recorded her trip, and I recorded what she was missing here, all as one continuous dialogue. It could've been done by a massive chain of letters, email or even IM, but we chose to use a weblog so that we could both burn it to a disk and save it in full. Each of us would have everyone's part of the discussion. Although that is not dramatically transformative like the phone was, I believe it is a slight shift in the way that average people are using the web to trade information.

As for comments, they aren't new. I'm in agreement with that. There has been ways to comment for quite a while, right down to hitting the reply button. However, in my experience of having an "amateur" weblog on Blogger or LiveJournal, comments are a recent addition. Now, rather than just Slashdot techies having the capability to comment, twelve-year-olds whining about school can add a comment link to their site too and have at it with all their classmates.

Perhaps comments have just been democratized, but even at that, they've transformed the weblog into a more collaborative writing place for anyone who knows how to copy-paste code into their template. Same with keeping a weblog with a friend. Although these are little transformations, they are changing the way the web is used.

Posted by: Julie at April 29, 2004 02:07 PM
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