“So, what’s so different about a blog?” my colleague asks. “It’s no different than a home page and they’ve been around for a long time now. What’s the big deal?” When framing my response, I wish I’d had Into the Blogosphere around. Quoted by Torill Elvira Mortensen in Personal Publication and Public Attention, Jill Walker’s definition of a blog gives the blend of the simple and the sublime that I needed at that moment:
The frequency of updating combined with ease of use was the pivotal difference, and millions of words later from the broadest spectrum of people imaginable, blogging has more than earned a closer look from rhetoric and writing theorists. Into the Blogosphere does just that, with a variety of articles that strive to “view the blog through the lens of their social, cultural, and rhetorical features and functions” and promises a “wide-ranging look at the rhetorical implications of blogging” (Introduction). This is the best collection so far in print or web form about the blog, especially for those interested in a collection with loftier goals than mere definition.
The Blog and Genre
Unlike earlier collections, Into the Blogosphere keeps “What is a blog” arguments down to a minimum. Much discourse about the blog in the blogosphere itself centers on definition. Clearly, so-called A-List bloggers have a vested interest in keeping a narrow definition of what a blog is based on the principle, “us” and “not-us.” As Susan C. Herring, Inna Kouper, Lois Ann Scheidt, and Elijah L. Wright point out in Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs, in the A-List mostly upper-middle class white-male view, non-journalistic blogs are seen as less important or not as blogs at all because of a different focus in content. Gerrymandering definitions makes it possible to see journalism-style blogs as the norm while sheer numbers prove that the real norm for blogging is most likely a personal weblog by a teenage girl rather that a warblog by a middle-aged white man. Promiscuous Fictions by Tyler Curtain sidesteps the value judgments nicely by considering blogs as a media in the same way a book is a media, rendering the “my book is a real book and yours is not because of its content” argument as meaningless as it truly is. In this view, personal weblogs, warblogs, edublogs, and others are seen as the genres, making analysis rather than accusations or gamesmanship the goal. Genre is a continuing theme in the collection, with The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature by Steve Himmer; the previously mentioned Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs; and Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog by Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd constructing insights into the developing landscape of blogland.
At the same time, politics, journalism, and the idea of an electronic polis are not neglected. Brian Carroll in his article, Culture Clash: Journalism and the Communal Ethos of the Blogosphere, roots the resistance to blogs by the traditional print and broadcast media in their traditional ethos “based on values such as accuracy, fairness, timeliness, precision, clarity, and comprehensiveness,” noble values that need a massive staff to achieve. Carroll’s concept of a communal ethos better fits the remediation from print to screen that blogging exemplifies. Other articles focused on the political or discursive include Christine Boese‘s The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution, Jason Gallo’s Weblog Journalism: Between Infiltration and Integration, and Weblogs and the Public Sphere by Andrew Ó Baoill.
Yet another area of intensive interest for blogs is classroom use. From individual blogs using free services such as Blogger or LiveJournal to much more ambitious constructs intended for groups using open source CMS software such as Drupal, blogs are a hot topic in education. Into the Blogosphere shares that interest, including articles such as Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom by Charles Lowe and Terra Williams, and Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs by Kevin Brooks, Cindy Nichols, and Sybil Priebe. Lowe and Williams in particular make some nice connections to Kenneth Bruffee’s work on collaboration when they write, “From a Bruffean perspective, then, weblogs can facilitate a collaborative, social process of meaning making, leading us to believe that weblogs as an instance of “publicy” enable a comfort zone, a social environment where anxiety about the teacher and of school writing is reduced, while also drawing on other benefits of writing publicly.” Rather than a how-to, this article and others expand the why-to of theory that is often neglected in the rush to promote the latest techy rage
Finally, any budding scholar in computers and writing can describe the altered state one enters when attempting to read about subjects such as hypertext theory in traditional book form. A strange, lightheadedness occurs, only partially mediated by the occasionally apologetic, “in the web-version…” or “in the presentation this chapter was based on….” Into the Blogosphere avoids this back-mediation by its venue choice. Because it exists on the web, it is able to incorporate the interactivity typical of a blog. Each article has comments, allowing the conversation to extend beyond what would have been typeset. For example, in Lowe and Williams’ article a particularly rich thread developed about public vs. private writing and whether it was ethical to “force” students to blog. Another article that sparked comments was Herring et al’s Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs. In this case, the comments feature was used to clarify the original piece, a useful idea and a new application of the phrase “entering the conversation” in reference to academic writing. More than any other reason, including that of accessibility, the interactive nature of this collection justifies the web venue choice.
With twenty-two articles (including the foreword by Kathleen Ethel Welch and the editors’ introduction) and their respective comments to draw from, Into the Blogosphere is a full-bodied look at weblogs from a multitude of angles. The editors’ goal of creating a space where articles “[build] on each other by offering both in-depth descriptions and broader pictures” is admirable, and in this case, achieved. I know it will be my first choice as a resource, both to recommend and to use when diving into the blogosphere.