Blog Versus Web Log: Back to Origins

Blog Versus Web Log: Back to OriginsI was talking to a colleague today about blogs. He said he’s starting a blog and wants to use it as a professional journal, to write about what he’s learning.

Our discussion made me reflect on my blog. I’ve used this blog for a lot of different purposes, it seems. Somewhere in this shuffle, I seemed to have forgotten its original purpose: “web log,” or journal.

Blogs today are too often focused on specific “brands.” They “target” specific niche audiences. The bloggers often end up thinking more about what their audience wants to read rather than what the writer wants to write. While this focus on audience is key for many types of writing, journals aren’t like that. Journals are much more internally focused, reflecting on the writer’s daily thoughts and events, with musings on what the writer feels is important or relevant.

One of my favorite posts by Alistair Christie addresses this issue. In It’s Got to Be Fun, Alistair explains that he hasn’t posted for months. The reason? He started writing for his audience rather than himself. He explains,

So what changed? Well, the problem stems from vain ambition. For some bizarre reason I started to get interested in page views. I also think I had some notion of building up a reputation for myself as a documentation expert within the tech writing community. What was I thinking?

The result of this was that I started to restrict myself to writing about technical writing, and when I was thinking about what to blog about I began to think along the lines of: “What can I write about that technical writers might be interested in, so that I can improve ITauthor.com’s Google page ranking?” But it worked. Steadily more people were visiting the site.

While it worked, his shift to from personal journal to audience-based articles took the fun out of blogging. It demotivated his writing.

I want to return my blog more to an ongoing journal of what I’m learning, even if that learning strays outside of my tech writing brand. I think web logs are better this way. They’re more honest and relevant. I don’t like posts that serve as mini magazine or newsletter articles — 5 ways to make money …, Tips for Working with X…, How to Increase… and so on.

The appeal of blogs has always been how close they are to truth and real experience. It’s the transparency and authenticity of journal-like entries that are more appealing to readers anyway.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for a gamification company called Badgeville in the Silicon Valley area in California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), content development (DITA, testing), API documentation (code examples, programming), web publishing (web platforms, Web design) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS or by email. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

8 thoughts on “Blog Versus Web Log: Back to Origins

  1. Raj

    You could have a personal blog for that, and start writing journal entries there. Actually, the reverse happened to me – One of my personal blogs (that was there for 2 years) would have died if I hadn’t migrated it from WP.com to Self Hosted WP. Now, I am updating it twice a week. Its a challenge to please both the search engines, readers and myself but I am trying to do that!

    1. Tom Johnson

      I do have a personal blog outside of this blog. You’re right — that’s a good venue for “off-topic” things. I think many professional journal entries I’m leaning towards, though, will still be on topic, but they will have more of a journalesque feel to them.

  2. Earl Morton

    Most of the blogs I read are focused on a subject domain, such as yours on technical writing. I’m also a tech writer, and I appreciate your viewpoint, which is quite different from my company’s. At the same time, I enjoy your occasional diversions into other aspects of your life. It keeps your blog friendly, and helps me understand where you’re coming from. For my tastes, I wouldn’t change a thing; I think you’re right on target!

    1. Tom Johnson

      Thanks, Earl. I appreciate your comment and feedback. I’m glad that you enjoy the occasional diversions. I don’t plan to break out of my established topic — just to write in a more journalesque style what I’m learning each day.

  3. Mark

    I’ve wrestled with this conundrum many times and find myself always creating a new blog to suit what I want to write about. In the end I just decided to cram random things into one blog, art stuff into another and my technical comms blog….. Has sat empty apart from two entries (there are people saying much better things than me on the subject).

    You can build reputations from the work and on email discussion lists though, so blogs should remain loose and free if that suits your needs as a writer.

    1. Tom Johnson

      “blogs should remain loose and free if that suits your needs as a writer.” I definitely agree with this, Mark. I’ve started other blogs only to find that I don’t have abiding interests in these other categories. The blogs go dormant after a short while. I think we ultimately fall back to writing about what we know, based on our experiences. That knowledge base and repository of experiences doesn’t tend to shift radically from week to week.

  4. Daniel Maddux

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    Though it’s interesting that you point out that what people are more interested in reading are blog posts that teach them something distinct (like 5 Ways to …). So if you’re blogging for yourself, write how you want. If you’re writing for others, write how they want.

    One type of blog isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

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