Is it a “real blog”? Wrong question

by Mathew on January 1, 2007 · 17 comments

Zoli Erdos has touched off the latest round in the omnipresent “what is a blog” wars, with a recent post looking at Google’s official “blog” and noting that it isn’t really a blog because it doesn’t allow readers to comment. Mike Arrington at TechCrunch — who to his credit has not only kept comments open but has participated in them, despite some flame wars with him as the target — posted on the topic as well as opening a poll on the whole issue of comments.

At last count, about 40 per cent of the 2,200 people who have responded think that the ability to comment isn’t a requirement, but enhances a blog’s content “dramatically,” and about 34 per cent say that commenting isn’t a requirement. The remainder think that a blog without comments isn’t a real blog — a case that I tried to make with this post back in February. After much debate, I modified that position to effectively agree with the largest group in Mike’s poll.

conversation.jpg

I know everyone likes to say that it’s about “the conversation” and so on, which is getting a touch overused as a metaphor (but is still essentially true, I think). The bottom line for me is simply that the comments on a post are often at least as interesting as the post itself, and in some cases much more so. In that sense, the post is like a magnet that attracts different viewpoints — some of which are bound to be moronic “you’re an idiot” kind of comments, but some of which are occasionally going to add huge value.

For example, I found the back-and-forth between Blake Ross and his critics on the Google issue (see my recent post) of even more value than the original post. Yes, I know that other bloggers are free to respond on their own blogs, but that’s hard to follow unless you work at it — having comments on a post is like a mini-aggregator of differing opinion. And if you are lucky, the signal-to-noise ratio makes it worth your while. In fact, that’s a good sign of a valuable blog.

So is a blog really a blog without comments? Sure it is, if only because the term “blog” is so viscous and malleable that it can mean just about anything. But I don’t think of BoingBoing or Google’s blog or other prominent examples as being “blogs” in my definition. Are they valuable? Sure. Interesting? Often. But – at least as far as I’m concerned — still missing something.

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  • http://www.blogkits.com Jim Kukral

    In my opinion, the single most defining thing about a “blog” is that it allows interaction. So disabling comments as a policy makes it simply a website using a cms.

    Yeah, these big sites aren’t blog anyway, yet people still keep calling them that. Your blog is a blog. Techcrunch is a business. Etc… Big difference.

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  • http://liako/biz Elias

    I totally agree with your comment that “the post is like a magnet that attracts different viewpoints”. I realised this when I had a travel blog in 2005, and I wrote about the Baltics. What resulted, was an argument between Estonians, Lithuanians, and Russians about Russia’s abuse in the region – these comments are far more valuable than my actual blog posting (see what I mean)

    As for the definition of a blog – I believe it is multi-dimensional. We should be separating the technology from the medium of communication from these discussions. Having said that though, comments turn a blog from a one-to-many one way “mass medium” to a many-to-many two-way “new medium”.

    The Google blog – it is blog technology, it is blog language, but it is not new media. It is still old school mass media press releases, but done in an informal way. “Is Google a blog”? Well yeah – but that doesn’t mean anything.

  • http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd John Dowdell

    Maybe people are really looking at the author’s acceptance and use of feedback, rather than a formal “comments” feature in itself… they’re seeking interactivity, rather than just static presentation.

    (I don’t feel that the official Google groupblog can be readily affected by external conversation, myself.)

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, John — and for yours too, Elias.

    That reminds me of something I meant to mention in the original post, which is that responding in the comments section of your blog and trying to continue the “conversation” — the way that Blake Ross did in that debate over Google’s tips, for example — is to me almost as important as having comments in the first place.

  • http://3i.wildfirestrategy.com Tamera Kremer

    I still stick to the original meaning of the term “blog” to define what it is. A blog is a weblog. No comments, or even text required. Just a place you log stuff online.

    We may need new definitions though to be more precise as to what each type of “log” represents.

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  • http://www.sfgary.com SFGary

    I fully agree with you. A blog becomes more interesting if the comments are not only turned on but the author responds to the comments. I think people like to connect with others online like they do in the “real world.”

    So sites like Boingboing and others that don’t have comments enabled are more like online newsletters or ‘zines. So it is now interesting that “old media” outlets like Washpost and others now have blogs where the authors sometimes have a lively discussion with their readers. I think this is a big step forward and in my opinion will make these properties more valuable.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work Mathew Ingram

    I agree, Gary. Thanks for the comment.

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