Defying definition

The Online Journalism Review tries to define “blog.” They asked me for mine and I got snippy (always handy when you’re looking for a foil for the lead). I’ll be obnoxious — not for the first time, eh? — and quote my reply:

To blog or not to blog is no longer the question.

The question now: What is a blog …

“I don’t care,” e-mails Jeff Jarvis, the veteran print journalist and prominent blogger behind BuzzMachine. “There is no need to define ‘blog.’ I doubt there ever was such a call to define ‘newspaper’ or ‘television’ or ‘radio’ or ‘book’ — or, for that matter, ‘telephone’ or ‘instant messenger.’ A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list. People will use it however they wish. And it is way too soon in the invention of uses for this tool to limit it with a set definition. That’s why I resist even calling it a medium; it is a means of sharing information and also of interacting: It’s more about conversation than content … so far. I think it is equally tiresome and useless to argue about whether blogs are journalism, for journalism is not limited by the tool or medium or person used in the act. Blogs are whatever they want to be. Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘blog’ is a fool’s errand.”

  • anon

    This post is deeply silly, and borders on self-parody. A “blog” is apparently so revolutionary that, unlike every other word in the English language, it completely defies definition. Anyone who even tries is on a “fool’s errand.” Blogging is a wonderful new form of communication. But many new and wonderful forms of communications have come along in the past, and we have managed to come up with perfectly good defnitions for “scroll,” “tablet,” “printing press,” “telephone,” “television,” “radio,” etc. To argue that blogs are different goes well beyond “triumphalism” — I’d call it grandiosity, or narcissism.

    Um, well here’s a try at a definition by one “fool”: “Blog. Noun. Shortened form of ‘web log.’ A form of Internet site comprised of short entries arranged vertically in reverse chronological order. Entries typically consist of personal observations, opinions, and commentary on news articles and entries on other blogs (along with links to the original), updated frequently but irregularly.”

    I’m sure that this definition is imperfect. But if someone had spent the past, say, 7 years in a cave, wandered out, and asked, “What’s this ‘blog’ thing I keep hearing about?” I’m confident my definition would give him a pretty good idea. Let the “conversation” begin.

  • EverKarl

    And when will there be a museum for the undefinable?

    Can you resist calling blogging a medium and then wonder whether there will be a museum for it like museums for… media?

  • Modernism requires pigeonholes in order to function. The blogosphere is more like postmodernism’s ultimate institution, A.A. If you say you’re a blogger, then you are one, and nobody can say that you’re not. Defining blogging isn’t so much the issue as who does what with the definition.

  • RR Safety

    I’ve just read the OJR story and it is terrible. If the first poster thinks that the story was a useful exercise in defination, then apparently this is just his type of “errand”

  • OK, I’ll take a shot at it:

    Blogs represent Web Page 2.0, the evolution of the personal Web page. You can even transpose every instance of the word Blog with “Web Page” and feel as if you’ve stepped back to the birth of the Web.

    Blogs exploded (primarily) by reducing the “friction” to publishing online. Just type your thoughts into a form, and the software builds the code automatically. No coding. No Webmaster bottleneck. That brought forth a second wave of networked minds and ideas.

    The Millions of HTMLess can now have their say. And the sheer number of Bloggers means the brilliant, funny and fabulous poke through the slime.

    They’re here to stay like anything else that works better. I just hope we pitch the name soon. Can’t stand saying it.

  • tonynoboloney

    I’ll tell you how I define blogs, it is a wonderous portal to unimaginable knowledge and information, opinion, editorial and education. A source of great solace in times of trouble and a sorce of great irratation when I don’t agree with the posters. blogging has lead me on an incredible journey from the streets of Baghdad, to the WTC in New York, from wild fires in California to Huiricanes in the Gulf Coast. Nothing absolutely nothing is off limits for discussion, politics, religion, sex, family, high tech, low tech you name it I can find it and blog it. Blogs have opened up a world to me that heretofore I had no idea even existed, a new language within a language. Good ideas, bad ideas, no ideas, anger, wit, humor, sarcasm, hatred, love, numbness, breathlessness, the entire gamut of human emotions can be experienced on blogs. Lies, truths, facts, and fiction all share equally and in real time together. Blogs are awesome.

    I was first introduced to Blogs one Suday morning, about a year ago while reading an editorial in my local newspaper that mentioned a guy named Jeff Jarvis, and a site called Buzzmachine. I am infinitely grateful to have been introduced to this medium.

  • I disagree with much of what you say, but I love the way you said it. Your rant about defining blogs motivated me to rant myself at Beltway Blogroll ( As I said there, you are “the king of curmudgeons, the role model of grumpy men [like me] everywhere, young or old.”

  • You’re right about defining things – blogs, journalism, etc. Those who believe you are copping out or erroneously giving blogs more credit than they deserve should note that perhaps by “define” you meant “limit.” We can all relate to the restrictions created by labels, and that cause and effect is no different for inanimate objects and phenomena.

  • EB

    blogs are print CB radios.

    (What’s a CB radio?)

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