Matt Gemmell

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A collection of personal essays, with exclusive content and author's notes.

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On blogs

Blog 3 min read

If you had to categorise this site, in terms of what it is, you’d almost certainly call it a blog. That’s what I usually call it, too, for ease more than anything else.

The thing is, that’s sort of an ugly word.

“Blog” is a vestigial term; an abbreviation of the wonderfully archaic-sounding weblog (which belongs in the same cabinet of historical quaintness as putting a hyphen after the ‘e’ in email, or using a capital ‘i’ in internet).

Blogs were chronological lists of posts; online diaries. The term was descriptive, but it’s long since passed its sell-by date. Just say it to yourself. Really think about, after years of barely even noticing.

My blog. The phrase has an immediate sense of… well, amateurishness. The teenager’s written-from-the-bedroom outlet for angst and budding reflection. It’s a term that’s embraced by the thirty-plus-somethings who are just catching up, or by companies to sound folksy and approachable. It’s so democratic, it hurts.

Blogs have self-esteem issues.

And no wonder: play a word association game with the language attached to them, and a trend quickly becomes apparent. All of the terms associated with blogs are minimising, and belittling.

We’ve got a few words here, with two basic nouns: blog, and post. Blog means the entire site (it’s not an individual entry), and post means an entry. Let’s think about the terms surrounding these two entities. They’re all used in dual senses; nouns and verbs.

  • Blog. It’s an unattractive word. It’s a little bit like ‘blob’, or maybe the sound you make when you vomit. It’s guttural, and when you say it, your mouth forms the same shape as when you think about eating something unpalatable. It’s also narrow, limiting, and trivial. It can be used in its verb form, blogging, which sounds like you’re resolving a nasty issue with the plumbing in your house. You can even be a blogger, there but for the grace of whatever.

  • Post. Another noun that’s also a verb, and it’s used here in both contexts. It’s a thing you pin to a noticeboard, hastily-scrawled, and dog-eared by the end of the first afternoon. Something you just sort of chucked up there. Bam; posted, without a second thought. It does not make you think of considered words, carefully assembled and edited. It’s just a post.

  • Update. A post can be “an update”, and blogging can also be “updating your blog”. Like you’re tweaking the CSS, or just checking in once in a while. Keeping tabs. Making sure the thing is still running. It’s a minimal-diligence sort of term, update. It’s a bit back-end, and behind the scenes, as if you’ve just patched a security hole on the server, or fixed some broken links. Again, it doesn’t exactly reek of artistry, right?

There are other words we could use.

Instead of a blog, let your site be a site. Or a journal. An online anthology. Your collected works. Your essays, to date. Your body of writing. A blog is a non-thing; it’s the refusal to categorise what you produce, and an implicit opt-in to the disappointing default.

Instead of posts, you have articles. Pieces. Essays. Stories. Poems. Briefs. Tutorials. White papers. Analyses. Even thoughts, if you like. Actual works, crafted and presented for the reader, instead of just being punctured by a push-pin, and affixed to a bulletin board, beside lost dog, and roommate wanted.

Instead of posting, you’re publishing. If you were a blogger, maybe you’re a journalist.

Instead of blogging, you’re writing.

Try those words on for size. See how they feel.

Whatever your blog is, and the term is so fluid as to be unhelpful at best and trivialising at worst, it’s something. The first thing you ought to do is give yourself the respect you deserve. Publishing your words online can be a daunting, exposing, soul-baring experience - I know. I’m still haunted by self-doubt before sharing certain pieces with the world. But I do believe that those pieces have value.

I wrote recently about getting rid of dates in your URLs, and that’s a small step you can take that’s emblematic of the shift in attitude I’m talking about. A blog doesn’t have to be a diary. There doesn’t have to be an explicit or implied chronology, with the attendant ephemerality and fading relevance that date-focused organisation brings. If you want it, great - it’s there. But opt in.

I think that a lot of people are hamstrung by our collective preconceptions of what a blog is. It’s a junior step: a first foray. Testing the water, with the tips of your toes. And it can be those things - maybe in the majority of cases - but we need to know when to draw the line. Ultimately, you have to take yourself seriously. It’s the first step towards others doing so, but that’s optional: above all, for your own creative output, your opinion matters most.

So what is a blog, exactly? I have no idea - and I think the question is irrelevant. The deeper issue is what your own work means to you.

Your site (your body of writing, say) isn’t trivial because you’ve only published one piece. It’s not amateurish because you haven’t been sharing your work for very long. It’s not unimportant because your pageviews aren’t into the thousands every day.

It’s not unprofessional by nature. But you can make it that way with the wrong framing; with the wrong words.

Your stuff is whatever you want it to be, but above all, it’s yours. It’s what you make it. Teenage diary, or journal of thoughts? Snippets, or tutorials? Angst-train fit for a Facebook wall, or your essays about your life?

Language is a surgical tool in the right hands, and a blunt instrument otherwise. You get to set the standard - mainly for yourself. You get to choose.

If you don’t, someone else will.