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Blog Versus Web Log: Back to Origins

by Tom Johnson on Oct 31, 2011 •
categories: bloggingtechnical-writing

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'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.


photo from Flickr

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.