So…what’s a blog?

August 12, 2006

Topics: Blogging, Usability.

There’s an interesting tendency amongst both the techno-literate and the less technologically savvy to look at the "blog" as a separate creature from a website. I’ve heard a wide variety of perspectives; ranging from clients trying to decide whether they wanted a blog or a website to experts discussing blogs in a separate quantification than so-called normal websites.

Just look at the titles of articles – Programming your Blog or Website, Collect Data on your Blog or Website, or How readable is your blog or website?. All of these articles convey valuable information, but they also all suggest that a blog and a website are separate entities. I’ve always been frustrated with this perspective.

In my mind, blogging is an activity you perform on your website. It is in no way separate; it is simply a different way of maintaining a site. A blog is a website which is (usually) updated fairly regularly, which allows some form of communication with it’s readership, and which is normally organized in a chronological fashion.

If you are operating a blog, you do have some unique considerations to take into account – concerns which a website without a blog doesn’t require. However, the very first consideration you need to contemplate is the fact that your blog should include every critical piece of information included on any other website.

I started thinking along these lines after reading a post by Kim Krause Berg on her usability blog. The title of her post is Blog Usability for the Considerate Blogger. Her advice is great. It does distinguish between blogs and websites, but primarily on points which actually are differences between blogging activity and non-blogging web activities.

So what types of information are COMMON between blogs and non-blogs? What is UNIQUE to a blog?

Common Information Between Blogs and Non-Blogs:

  1. Information about your company or your business. Every site needs to inform the visitor about who is behind it. The way you go about it may be different, as blogs commonly have a more personal, intimate approach than a company website. However, the presence of this information is critical.

  2. Contact information. You need to enable visitors to communicate with you. The article comments inherent to blogging are not sufficient; since visitors may not wish their business proposals to be made public. Provide an e-mail address or a contact form (both is good), and a physical address if that’s important in your line of business. Provide a phone number as well – talking to somebody can be the best way to firm up a business relationship.

  3. Original content. Yeah, this may seem obvious – but believe me, there are enough sites (blogs and non-blogs) which are just scraping content or changing names that it’s not always clear this is important. Regardless of the type of site you run, you need to supply your own unique perspectives and your own thoughts to your pages. Even in a basic product catalog, if you’re using identical product descriptions to every body else in the industry, you’re losing out. Write your own material!

  4. Good navigation. Great navigation in a five page brochure site is pretty easy to accomplish. The challenges presented by a three-year-old blog or a large corporate site are much greater – but equally important. Like large corporations have numerous branches, departments, and functions, a blog has a wide variety of topics, types of content, and is spread out over many months of content. Providing access to your valuable information is equally important for both.

What’s unique to a blog?

Is anything really unique to a blog? Perhaps the chronological organization of information; but this is part of how I’ve chosen to define a blog. I’m not sure I believe there is anything completely unique to a blog – instead, I’m looking at features which are, in my opinion, critical to providing unique value to your blog.

  1. User contribution. Most websites (wikis excluded) don’t require a great deal of audience participation. This is gradually changing, with the advent of social networking tools, but you could argue that sites such as Digg or MySpace are more web-based applications than they are websites. They don’t serve the same fundamental purpose. Blogs, however, are greatly enriched by the presence of a good commenting system. If you build a good user base, the conversations spawned in comments can be more valuable than the original articles.

  2. Personality. A non-blogging website doesn’t necessarily require a unique personality (although it’s helpful). A blog, however, can’t really function without a unique voice and personality behind it. This goes beyond merely informing your audience who you are. It means revealing yourself – a blog is somewhat an exhibitionist activity. Let your readers know something about you. This doesn’t mean talking about why your wife just left you – but your humorous anecdote about your cat could become your most popular article.

I don’t perceive a great difference between blogs and non-blogs. When you come right down to it, a blog is a means to make a personal connection with your site visitors. As such, public communication with those visitors combined with a willingness to expose some piece of your personality to the public are the critical differences between blogging and other website formats.

Thanks to Kim for spawning these thoughts!

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4 Comments to “So…what’s a blog?”

  1. Hey, Kim! I read your new blog post – it’s very interesting. Also read the two referenced articles, and it’s making me think a bit…

    I think, to a degree, that both these authors have missed the point a bit – they’re not talking about usability or the value or a blog – they’re just talking about visual appearances. To me, a fairly superficial aspect of blogging.

    I may write on this later…

  2. Thanks for the thanks, Joe!
    I sorta continued onward with another post about blog usability today. I think what separates a blog from a traditional web site is in the requirements process. They’re starting to gel together, so that the difference between the two entities is that the blog is more social. I hope we keep them because I think they contribute to the brilliance of the Internet.

  3. Thanks, Barry! Definitely one of my big points is trying to get away from the concept that you can have a website OR a blog – since it can be a valuable asset for any website to include a blog. Getting that dialogue moving forward is invaluable.

  4. Spot on, Joe. I thoroughly endorse what you’re saying here. The Internet is the best possible way of getting dialogue among individuals and the blog is a perfect vehicle for that.