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Medium or Genre, Diary or Not

Page history last edited by Sasha 12 years, 1 month ago

Can Blogs be understood in terms of diaries?


In her essay "A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium" Danah Boyd argues that blogs should not be defined in terms of other genres such as diaries, not only because doing this "obscures the differences between the practices," but also because she considers Blogs to be a medium and not a genre like diaries.


Key Issues:


-The purpose of a definition

-The relationship between blogs and diaries

-The difference beteen medium and genre


The Eficacy of Definitions


Dana Boyd thinks that arguing for a "definitive definition" of Blogs restricts our ability to fully and robustly conceptualize Blogs. She "invites scholars to conceptualize Blogging as a diverse set of practices that result in the Production of diverse content on top of a medium that we call blogs." It is not clear what counts as a definitive definition and in turn what her description of a Blog is if not a definition.


What is the function of a defintion?

At its most basic level a definition should explain two things to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept. First a definition should explain how a word is used in a language, and second, what it is that the word refers to. If I have no clue what a Blog or Blogging is, then telling me that "blogging is a diverse set of practices that result in the production of diverse content on top of a medium that we call blogs" (Boyd) will not bring me very close to understanding what Blogging or a Blog is. Explaining a Blog in term of an online journal or diary goes a lot further in informing a person about the concept. This is the only extent to which definitions are useful. They help a language user incorporate a new concept into his/her vocabulary. To think that a definition would constrict our ability to conceptualize blogs is to ignore the purpose of definitions.


What is a Diary?


According to Wikipedia: a diary is a record (originally in written book format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. These could include Government records, Business ledgers, Military records, School journals, etc.


Various Forms of Diaries as listed in Wikipedia:


-Travel journals

-Workout journals

-Sleep diaries

-Audio journals


-Unusual diaries


Of special interest is the assertion in Wikipedia that "in recent years . . . there is internal evidence in some diaries that they are written with eventual publication in mind."


According to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary: a diary is a record of events, transactions, or observations kept daily or at frequent intervals.


What can be concluded?

Both of the above definitions of diaries are quite general and place no restrictions on the type of medium through which the practice of diary writing should take place. Although in Wikipedia it is mentioned that diaries were originally in book format, it is clear that the practice can occur on top of any medium. The range of diaries is quite diverse includng things from business ledgers to travel or audio journals. Paper, audio, video, computers are all media upon which a diary can be written.


Evidence that suggests that some diaries are written with eventual publication in mind provides further connections between diaries and Blogs. The notion that Blogs are meant for public reading and diaries are not no longer poses a serious difference between the two practices. The Internet and web log software have made the goal of publication easily achievable.


What distinguishes a Blog?


The root of the word Blog is itself illuminating. A web log is a log kept on the web. A log fits comfortably under the definition of Diary, as a record of events. What distinguishes a Blog is that it is web based.


What does the web add?


Blogs sometimes have sidebars with advertisement or links to other sites. However, advertisement can also be incorporated into paper, TV, radio, etc. Advertisement cannot be said to be unique to Blogs alone. Hyperlinks are obviously only possilbe via the Internet. Diaries outside of the Blog realm can reference sources but cannot provide immediate links to these sources. It is clear however that hyperlinks are made possible by the Internet in general and not symply by Blogs. They are an added feature that Internet technology provides and the Blogger is able to incorporate.




There is one particular feature of blogs that sets them apart from diaries more than any other feature, namely, the ability of the reader to post comments. Reader's comments can have a great deal of influence on subsequent entries of the blogger as well as the direction in which the blogger takes his/her Blog. It has become common practice for many news networks to maintain Blogs focused on current events and reporters often invite viewers to go online and post their comments on the network's Blog. This interactive feature of Blogs does not exist in other forms of diaries. However, this interactivity is limited. The reader cannot change or add to the actual Blog and the Blogger is able to filter or completely restrict comments all together. While this adds a unique feature to Blogs, it is difficult to conclude from this that Blogs are not a type of diary.


Genre or Medium?


Genre, according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, is a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.


Medium, according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, is a means of effecting or conveying something.


Model A


Medium                                                            Genre

Paper                                                                Books, Grocery List, etc.

TV                                                                     News, Drama, etc.

Radio                                                                News, Sports, etc.

Internet                                                            Blogs, E-mail, IM, etc.


Model B


Medium                                                            Genre

Paper                                                                Books, Grocery List, etc.

TV                                                                    News, Drama, etc.

Radio                                                               News, Sports, etc.

Blog                                                                 Diary, News, Grocery List, etc.


"By conceptalizing the blog as a medium instead of a genre, it is possible to see how blogs are more akin to paper than to diaries . . ." Danah Boyd


Boyd wants us to move beyond the analysis of Blogs as simply content. "While the content produced by blogging can logically be categorized in terms of genre, defining the blog itself as a genre obscures its role in distributing and representing expression" (Danah Boyd). A Blog, according to Boyd, is a tool of content distribution. Model B represents this view of Blogs. Boyd thinks that evaluating Blogs in terms of genre doesn't explain the wide variance in Blogging practices. But as we have already seen, the variance in diary practices is quite diverse as well and this has not lead to the diary being categorized as a medium. If we understand a Medium as the means of conveying  something, then we must ask whether the Internet or the Blog is this means. The Internet is the more likely candidate because while a diverse range of Blogs exist, there are key features of Blogs that limit their range. The diversity of Blogs can alternatively be explained in terms of sub-genres.




Considered as a human practice both Blogs and diaries share a great deal of key features. The intent with which someone produces content of this type would be similar whether the person takes pen to paper or talks into an audio recorder or types on a computer. The final product is a record of things or events. It seems that if Blogs are categorized as a Medium then diaries would also have to count as a type of Medium, given the variance in different types of diaries. Diaries are not limited to just words; pictures and other elements can be incorporated into them. Danah Boyd accurately describes the variance and uniqueness of blogs, but her assertion that Blogs are a Medium is not strongly supported. As a means of conveying content, it seems much more logical to claim that the Internet is the Medium through which various genres of expression are conveyed. Boyd's analogy of Blogs and Paper is not very convincing. A Blog has many more limitations than paper, such as its chronology. It  has the form of a journal or daily log. Things like Novels are not commonly written using Blogs. Blogs have a definite form, while paper is much more open to various genres of writing. The connection between Blogs and Diaries is a strong one. The diary or journal analogy goes further than any other description in explaining the concept of a Blog to someone who has never seen one, and therefore its use by scholars seems justified.


This is not meant as a definitive answer to the question of whether Blogs are a Medium or a Genre, but simply that there exist good arguments for both sides of the issue. Scholars continue to debate the question and perhaps ultimately we have to question the value of the categorization in and of itself.





Boyd, Danah. 2006. "A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium." Reconstruction 6(4). http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. "diary." 12 August. http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diary


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. "genre." 27 August. http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genre


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. "medium." 27 August. http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/medium


Wikipedia. 2008. "diary." 12 August. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary

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