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Blogging Archaeology and the Archaeology of Blogging January 17, 2008
by William R. Caraher

Part 1. The Weblog. History and Taxonomy

Like many aspects of the New Media movement, weblog or blog defies easy definition. Some scholars, particularly New Media and literary critics like Danah Boyd (whose long running weblog is called apophenia) have argued that a weblog is, in fact, a technology or a medium of communications that is so highly malleable that it is distinctly capable of supporting a wide range of communicative strategies (Reconstruction 6 [2006]). Other scholar bloggers, like Jill Walker Rettberg at the well-known blog Jill/txt, see in weblogs sufficient structural regularity to enable the technique of presentation to frame her definition of the medium (her definition is here). From the perspective of a newcomer to blogging, I find the formal definition can better accommodate my impressions of the medium. Consequently, my working definition owes much to Walker Rettberg's efforts and summarizes the most common or canonical type of weblog which owes its form increasingly to the standard setups provided by various weblog applications and services available on the web (Blogger, TypePad, Wordpress, etc.).

Weblogs are regularly updated webpages. The updates are organized as individual posts. A typical post is short (under 1,500 words) and largely textual--although with more powerful computers and software and more robust internet connections, weblogs have come more frequently to include photographs and even video. Posts are organized in several ways. Most commonly, posts appear in reverse chronological order with the most recent post appearing at the top of the weblog's main page. In addition (and somewhat at odds with) the chronological element, weblogs typically have ancillary organizational strategies; the most typical are lists of categories or, in more sophisticated blogs, "tags" that enable the reader to read together all the posts on a particular topic. The primary organization, then, of a weblog is chronological, but the secondary cataloguing scheme allows a reader to engage a topic or a narrative through a topical arrangement. The primacy of chronological organization distinguishes a weblog from, say, a wiki, which is another form of easily updated webpage. While most wikis record changes to the page, they are not usually set up to allow a reader to follow a narrative or theme in the modifications.

The blogroll, along with similarities in structure and format among weblogs, forms a basic structuring element for weblogs creating what some have termed "the blogosphere."

In most cases, the text of a weblog, like most web pages, uses hyperlinks to link the text of the blog to other pages either in other posts within the weblog or to elsewhere on the web. The hyperlinks internal to the individual posts are typically complemented by lists of links to other weblogs and web pages in a sidebar. The links within the post form a kind of citation style establishing the basis for claims within the weblog and making explicit at least some part of the post's larger intellectual context. The peripheral "blogrolls" establish a particular weblog within a community of bloggers. The blogroll, along with similarities in structure and format among weblogs, forms a basic structuring element for weblogs creating what some have termed "the blogosphere."

Many of the characteristics of a weblog today are, as one might expect, historical or archaeological in that they preserve older practices among weblog authors. The earliest weblogs appeared on the internet in the mid 1990s (a brief history is here). Traditionally the honor of being the first "blogger" goes to Justin Hall whose page Justin's Home Page and later Links from the Underground began in 1994. By the late 1990s a few dozen serious webloggers had appeared on the internet. The term weblog is most commonly traced to Jorn Barger who referred to his iconic site Robot Wisdom as a weblog in 1997. Barger's and Halls' weblogs, and many of their early counterparts, shared only few features with the weblogs today. They consisted primarily of links to other sites on the internet interspersed with short commentary. Robot Wisdom still preserves the feel of an early weblog. The limitation of bandwidth, server space, and necessity of coding each web page in HTML (hypertext markup language) rather than through a wysiwyg (what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface like many web pages today) encouraged concise and pithy posts and copious links.

As the interface between the author and the HTML code of the website became easier, weblogs began to include more commentary and, in general, fewer links, but the practice of linking is still more common in weblogs than on the web in general. The gradual expansion of the number of weblogs corresponded to an increasingly diverse interpretation of the medium. As the medium of the weblog developed, webloggers developed more personalized styles and their weblogs increasingly reflected the personality of their author. By the later 1990s, the growing number and diversity of weblogs supported a small but dedicated weblogging community. Authors frequently linked to each other's weblogs and this formed the predecessors to the "blogrolls" that run along the margins of most blogs today. Thus from the start, weblogging was seen as a communal and collective enterprise.

As blogs can increasingly accommodate a wide range of textual and visual media, they allow for particularly dynamic interfaces between author and reader.

The revolution in the medium came when a company called Pyra Labs created the Blogger interface in August of 1999. This easy-to-use interface inspired a massive expansion of the medium. (At around the same time, Peter Merholz shortened term "weblog" to "blog" giving rise to derivatives including blogger and blogosphere). The resulting blogs ranged widely from the intensely personal to the political and commercial. Subsequently numerous other blogging interfaces became available allowing greater customization with more robust and enhance capabilities. Most blogs now have a comments area that transforms them from a passive list of links and commentary to an active area for exchange between the reader and the author. As blogs can increasingly accommodate a wide range of textual and visual media, they allow for particularly dynamic interfaces between author and reader. As one would expect the total number of blogs expanded rapidly and today number in the tens of millions!

The technology provided by blogging software and dedicated, often free, hosting enabled a whole range of blogging genres to emerge ranging from personal internet journals to short, but formal academic notes, to restaurant, movie, book, and software reviews. At the top of the blogging food chain, of course, are the political blogs, like the famous Daily Kos, which have shown their ability to keep issues in the public eye, raise money, and even cut the mighty down to size. The diversity of types of blogs has reinforced a view of the weblog as a medium rather than a distinct genre and made exploring the blogosphere both more challenging and more enriching as result.

Introduction & Conclusions Part 2

Blogging and
Academia


The tentative first steps of the academic community into blogging have gradually quickened.
Part 3

Blogging
Archaeology


Blogs are used by archaeologists to create a more transparent approach to fieldwork.
Part 4

The Archaeology
of Blogging


How do we know what blogs to trust as sources of information or informed opinions?
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© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America
archive.archaeology.org/online/features/blogs/part1.html
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