The Nature of Blogging

Today, a reader asked me if the thoughts that I had expressed in a post from this past May, More Thoughts on Blogging, had changed any. In the post, I expressed some doubts and confusion about what is appropriate upon which to comment given that blogs seem to me to be inherently personal and informal in nature. Blogs have become powerful tools that people can use to get their opinions, thoughts and ideas out to the public at large. There is little to stop people from complaining about various things in life they don’t like. They can make up stories, lie about themselves or others and/or try to publicly malign people they do not like. While I do not think that the majority of the population will do this, there are several instances where people started blogs in order to tell the world about perceived injustices perpetuated by companies. Despite the fact that companies have felt that the bloggers posts were blatant truths or misrepresentations, they paid money or offered incentives to the blogger in order to have the blogs or posts deleted. In addition, there have been recent cases where companies have asked bloggers to remove posts in which bloggers expressed an opinion that companies have found threatening to their businesses. What is offensive? What types of comments can harm a companies business? Where is the line between free speech and libel?

What does all of this mean to me? I’m still not sure. I’m still not overly comfortable with the format. I censor myself far more often than I would like. I think that people need to be careful about what they publicly publish – in whatever format whether officially or personally. Can a blog be an official avenue for an institution or library? Definitely. I think that the overall character of official blogs might be different – there might not be as many comments or conversations. I do think that institutions or libraries should have a policy in place regarding blogging. Many institutions control web branding and content – and blogs should fall under this category. I would like to use blogs in the library where I work for library news, recent acquisitions and some other things. However, the place where I work does not have any policies regarding blogging nor does it have any blogging software. I doubt that our marketing/web people would approve the use of web-based, outsourced blogs that do not have the institutions domain name nor have the appropriate branding.

In direct response to Ross’s comment, I do still believe that blogs are much more informal in nature than official web sites, publications, etc. Having thought about it, I think this could actually be an advantage for an organization that could lead to wider participation from constituents. Informal communications often put people more at ease than formal venues. Properly done, the use of blogs might actually be able to help an organization get input from all levels. Overall, I think that blogs will have a dramatic impact on the way in which we communicate information. Good luck with the blog project Ross! I would be interested to hear how it goes. I am angling to get people at my institution moving to get policies in place and make a decision about blog software.

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3 Responses to The Nature of Blogging

  1. I think a safe rule to have in blogging or any other on-line communication is to not say anything to anyone in witting that I would not back up or defend to that same person face-to-face. If I make an argument, or even a complaint, I think I have the ability to deliver it in the same tone as I would in polite company, as in front of colleagues or general acquaintances.

    What I think any good write should do is consider his or her audience. I don’t think there is really one type of blog, or blogs are inherently “informal” (refering as well to your other post). Sometimes they are personal and friendly, when directed to friends, loved ones. Sometimes they can be hip and funny, when directed to one’s peer group. Sometimes they are erudite and scholarly, when directed to one’s academic colleagues. However, even when more-formal, it is refreshing to have a level of informality onces and a while, in the best traditions of essayists from Montaigne to Emerson to E.B. White.

    For institutions, look at Google’s various blogs: all are highly personal, or better stated, the personality of their individual writers come through in the posts. My partner studied PR/Corporate Communications, where they try to train them to remove any personal voice from their writing when representing the company. I think this is an outdated notion, and people trust companies like Google for the very reason that we have this implied familiarity with them.

  2. Ross Day says:

    Interesting to learn you’re still mulling this thorny problem, Jennifer. In thinking of blogs, one person’s discomfort can be another’s edginess. The cautions you and Steven mention apply to the entire blogging medium. It’s just that the stakes are higher when you have an institution ‘behind’ you.

    There’s definitely a call for some sort of policies on blogs emanating from in-house or written independently under the cover of an institution. I spoke with the (former RLG) ‘Hanging Together’ blog authors this week and recently took note of a blog written by five OCLC employees. It seems that their institutions are okay with it, so there’s hope for the rest of us. We’re still struggling with the host-server & software issues — although truth told, we’re quite happy with off-the-shelf blogware hosted off-site. It’s simply not our call.

    As an institutional author what attracted us to the blog format was having struggled previously with web design and revision. While we’d been ceded creative independence on the Intranet site from our Web people, it was just not nimble enough to allow for time-sensitive information. What’s more, the Intranet was by conception never going to reach the same audience we wanted to grab. And we were never going to be able to navigate the hurdles posted around the institution’s web site.

    The blog seemed (and still seems) one of the best information dissemination tools available, especially as you note, when comment/feedback isn’t always critical (but it certainly could prove to be a great advantage). And as Steven notes, cultivating that informal voice and coupling it with institutional integrity could be a boffo combination and draw (readers? users? patrons?) to the library’s resources if not the library itself. After all, staff are resources too. Historically we’ve been gulled into buying the we’re-just-cogs-in-the-machine argument from our employers — the notion that every library reference staffer would provide the same level of service and content. I hope that Steven’s observation on the datedness of this thinking isn’t wishful thinking; I can’t imagine putting up with it in my shop.

    As a small specialized library we had to come to the recognition that walk-ins might not be as important as they used to be. We had to operate beyond the walls to stay alive and competitive.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for the comments. I’m really enjoying the conversation about this topic – and now even have more angles to ponder. However, I’m taking the weekend off from any heavy thinking!!!

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