Today’s class will begin with a discussion of the worksheets I made up for this week. I’m interested in what the students think of them. We’ll also be looking at their blogs and we’ll talk about the assignments.

The main topic for today, however, is to introduce blogs as a cultural phenomenon, and to begin talking about what they are. I’ll use the following summary to spin off into the web and show the students examples on the projector.

Handcrafted blogs/diaries (though not always using those names) have been around since the web (Justin Hall is a wellknown early diarist; Jorn Barger is often cited as the first blogger, and he coined the word “weblog” in 1997; Huldra is probably the first Norwegian online diarist (her site now/before) In 1999 various sites started providing simple publishing tools for blogs and diaries (see Livejournal (here’s a piece about its history) and 1999 was also the year the short form of weblog, “blog”, was coined by Peter Merholz (see his recollection and the irony of the OED wanting a print source to include the word in the dictionary).

A general hint when you’re researching web history: the Wayback Machine is an archive of old websites where you type in a URL and get to see what a site USED to look like.

Blogs continued to grow, and by 2004, most people still didn’t know what a blog was but they’d heard the word. That made blog the “word of the year” – Merriam-Webster reported that “blog” was the word most frequently looked up in their online dictionary. The same year, Time Magazine suggested that “the golden age of the blog” may be dated from 2004.

Talking more specifically about Serfaty, I want to discuss her discussion of ethics and her research design (specifically the three perspectives on blogs, as literary, social and personal spaces, and her point that if you view blogs as literary, then “no matter how ‘truthful’ diarists purport themselves to be, their version of truth, of character, or of protagonist is a fictional construction.” (p 10) (Note that the question of whether blogs are or should be “truthful” comes up again and again in the blogosphere and is a matter of real controversy. See for instance Jonathan Delacour, me, Lonelygirl15.)

And how much do the students know about the postmodernism Serfaty takes for granted? We might have to talk about this.

Serfaty identifies four structural features of weblogs (discuss: what does she mean by structural?):

  1. Accumulation (multimodal (p24), prolific linking, exhaustiveness, attempt at all-inclusiveness (p 26), )
  2. Open-endedness (some diaries are set up for a limited time, others open-ended – likewise autobiographies are selfcontained while diaries are open-ended. (29) Working out an idea of “I” or self as one writes, and retroactively (30-31).)
  3. Self-reflexivity (commentaries about internet and about diarying/blogging abound, awareness of previous diaries (34), self-justification of journalling, quest for truth)
  4. Co-production (public documents, relish reader responses, no implicit ideal reader as in trad. diaries but an explicit search for an audience, collaborative effort

How else could we define weblogs? (Google “weblog definition”)

After talking a bit about what a genre is, I’ll split the students into groups of three who’ll each be assigned a sample of three blogs that presumably belong to the same genre.

Group discussion questions:
Each group member briefly presents their blog. Then discuss them as a group.
Note similarities between the blogs in your sample in
– content
– layout
– writing style
– kinds of accessories (blogrolls, link to facebook profile, comments, etc?)
Based on this, would you say these blogs are in the same genre?
How does this genre connect to earlier genres in art, film, television or literature?
Plan to present your genre to the class on the projector.

The last twenty minutes or so we’ll do the presentations.

4 thoughts on “Class notes: where blogs came from and what they are

  1. Writing Online » jill/txt on blogs

    […] It’s worthwhile to read jill/txt, a blog maintained by Jill Walker, an associate professor at the University of Bergen who researches online story telling. A recent post on an assignment for her students asks them to look at their own blogs individually and as a group using the criteria of – content – layout – writing style – kinds of accessories (blogrolls, link to facebook profile, comments, etc?). […]

  2. Niels Olson

    Hello, I’m struggling with something: is it appropriate for a medical student to blog class notes? I would like to do it, but here are my concerns, real or imagined:

    – Being mistaken for or used as medical authority, especially if my notes are in error, which is a rather fundamental part of the learning process!
    – Drawing the ire of any professors who may have an expansive notion of intellectual property.
    – Is a conspicuous (and almost certainly tacky) disclaimer necessary?

    Your thoughts on this would be most welcome.

  3. Anne Helmond

    I recently read two interesting articles on where blogs came from. In an e-mail conversation someone had already pointed me to principle of .plan files which are explained quite well by the two articles on C|Net :
    Blogs turn 10–who’s the father?

    Blogging’s roots reach to the ’70s

  4. Ogi Djuraskovic

    Hi Jill,

    My name is Ogi from FirstSiteGuide and while I was browsing trough your site I found this page: where you are linking to Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom website which is no longer active.

    We both know that Jorn Barger was the one who invented blogging trough his site. Since my site is all about blogging, I had to write a blog post about Rise and Death of Robot Wisdom. You can see it here:

    I hope you will find it useful enough and offer it to your readers instead of the broken link you currently have there?

    Lets be in touch!

    p.s. you broken link is behind this text: Jorn Barger

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