The personal weblog is a continuously evolving genre of online communication in which bloggers and readers create diverse social spaces for conversation and self–expression. This article addresses a conceptual gap in the literature, namely how to distinguish the personal weblog from other types of weblogs. The author develops a typological framework for classification of weblogs in three dimensions: content, directionality, and style, and uses the typological space to propose a working definition of the personal weblog and discuss it as a distinct sub–genre.
A general definition of the weblog
Classification of weblogs into sub–genres
A typological framework for classification of weblogs
Personal weblogs – A working definition
A glimpse into the blogosphere anno 2008 reveals that blogging has become a mainstream genre of computer–mediated communication. While yielding different results, studies estimating the size of the blogosphere agree that the number of weblogs is well beyond one hundred million, and readership is even higher (see Technorati, 2008). Technorati’s annual survey of the blogosphere further shows that the blogosphere is highly diversified, e.g., in terms of weblog content and user motivations for engaging with weblogs.
This article is a theoretical contribution that identifies and addresses a current conceptual gap in the weblog literature by developing a typological framework of the weblog as a complex communicative genre, based on discussions and elaborations of existing literature on weblogs. The typological framework is a tool for classification of weblogs into sub–genres based on central communicative and social characteristics: content, directionality and style. The typology is then used to develop a working definition of the personal weblog and discuss it as a distinct sub–genre.
According to the 2008 Technorati international weblog survey, 79 percent of the bloggers self–identify as personal bloggers, indicating an enormous popularity of this particular type of weblog (Technorati, 2008). Scholarly research on personal weblogs is currently blossoming, resulting in a growing body of literature building theory about the personal weblog. While a majority of the research has dealt with the personal weblog understood as a rather private diary or lifelog (e.g., Serfaty 2004; van Dijck, 2004; Scheidt, 2006; Rak, 2005; McNeill, 2005; Morrison, 2008), some studies have also analysed and discussed personal weblogs as online communities (e.g., Wei, 2004; Baym, 2007), and blogging as performativity and self–narration (e.g., Sorensen, 2008). These latter studies, which evidently concern something very personal, point to the need to challenge the often assumed idea that the personal weblog is necessarily a kind of diary, since it blinds us from seeing other types of weblogs as personal.
Further, in–depth studies of personal weblogs tend to be rather inexplicit about the criteria used to conceptualise the personal weblog. Due to this lack of clear and systematic definitions, it is at best uncertain whether there is consensus as to what the personal weblog is and what social uses it might have. As a consequence, this casts doubt on the significance of the studies of personal weblogs for theory building, since it is unclear to what extent the theoretical and analytical points can be generalised to different kinds of personal weblogs.
The typological framework of the weblog as a communicative genre addresses the lack of clarity and consistency in the definitions of the personal weblog by providing a conceptual tool for delimiting the personal weblog as a sub–genre. Accordingly, the typological framework offered in this article can serve as a reference point both for discussions about the generality of theory and findings in studies of personal weblogs, and for reflections about the various forms a personal weblog may take.
The weblog is conceptualised as a genre determined by communicative functionalities  and social uses, drawing upon socio–pragmatic genre theory (Paltridge, 1995; Miller, 1984; Yates and Orlikowski, 1992, 2002). This entails viewing genre as a conventional relation between the communicating parties that ensures a mutual understanding in the communication process. Accordingly, genre is not only something manifested in texts, but also a knowledge which users must have to be able to interpret and act in accordance within a given communicative context. By applying this notion of genre, the specific communicative qualities that characterise the social practices and uses of the weblog are highlighted in the definition. This genre–based conceptualisation is useful for exploring the weblog as (inter)personal communication and is pertinent for understanding the dynamics and complexities of the blogosphere.
The first part of the article establishes a general definition of the weblog as a communicative genre that is dynamic and sensitive to the ever–changing field of computer–mediated communication (CMC) and to the sometimes quite innovative practices of bloggers and their readers. Next, the article provides a literature review and discussion of possible categorisations of weblogs. On this basis, a typological framework of the weblog as a communicative genre is developed and discussed, using three classificatory dimensions, namely content, directionality and style. Finally, the typological framework is applied to develop a working definition of the personal weblog as a distinct sub–genre.
A general definition of the weblog
The weblog is a type of online communication that enables self–expression and peer–to–peer interaction, thereby supporting social relations between media users. It entails a highly complex set of mediated processes blurring for instance professional and private practices and purposes of media users. Further, the weblog is a moving object of study, emerging in a continuous produsage  of text. It can change character over time, e.g., by taking up new types of content and experimenting with new writing styles, following current interests and motives of the author(s) and those who comment and read. As a consequence, navigating the blogosphere in a research context is a quite complicated challenge. A first step must be to look at general characteristics of the weblog.
Weblogs are often defined as “frequently modified Web pages in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence” . This definition is fairly simple but not exhaustive, since it does not contain any specification about the social and communicative functions of the weblog that are constitutive of the genre and make it distinct from other genres. To conceptualise the weblog as a social and interpersonal phenomenon, it is necessary to expand this simple definition to include reflections on the communicative functionalities of the weblog, and on how the weblog can be distinguished from other genres of CMC on the basis of these communicative functionalities. The communicative features of weblogs are, of course, not entirely new and unique to weblogs but are to some extent common features in all genres of CMC, though in various combinations. What makes the weblog a distinct genre of CMC is the specific combination of communicative functionalities that constitutes the weblog and is the result of the social practices emerging around the weblog. To unfold the extended definition, other types of CMC — personal webpages, e–mail, newsgroups, debate forums, instant messaging and chat — will be used as points of reference.
Weblogs are typically published by one individual author (although sometimes there are more than one), and have an informal style. Some ascribe this informal style to a blurring of textuality and orality characteristic of a number of genres of computer–mediated communication (e.g., chat, newsgroups and instant messaging) (see, for instance, boyd, 2006; Taekke, 2005). Although the written text is the predominant mode of communication in weblogs, other modalities are also increasingly used to communicate. Audioblogs, videoblogs and photoblogs are all examples of types of weblogs that draw upon other modalities in the communicative expression (Miller and Shepherd, 2004).
Weblog communication is asynchronous, meaning that author and reader are not required to be online simultaneously to interact, because weblogs are persistent, as they are written and stored directly on the Internet (typically organised in archives) and can be accessed at any time by anyone . In this sense, the weblog resembles the personal webpage and the debate forum. Chat sessions, on the contrary, are deleted when the programme used for chatting (e.g., Messenger, ICQ) is closed.
Another central feature of the weblog is that it is easy to operate because it does not require any technical or coding skills. Anyone — even computer newbies — can make a weblog building on existing templates provided by the weblog host (Efimova, et al., 2005). This low barrier to entry is reflected in the variety of users and purposes of weblogs.
Finally, most weblogs have some interactive features establishing relations between the author and the readers (through comments, RSS feeds, etc.), and creating direct links to the sources of information or opinion that inspire the blogger (through blogrolls, trackbacks, permalinks, tags, etc.) (see for instance Efimova, et al., 2005; Taekke, 2005). However, these interactive features are not actualised in all weblogs, but depend on the purpose of the weblog and the author (who can chose to disable commentary functions, blogrolls, etc. in the weblog). Accordingly, the weblog does not necessarily facilitate user–to–user interactivity, but can be used as a unidirectional channel for self–expression (Taekke, 2005; Herring, 2007). Regarding interactivity, Taekke (2005) and Herring, et al., (2005) argue that the weblog combines features from the personal webpage with more interactive forms of CMC such as chat, newsgroups and debate forums.
To recapitulate, in a socio–pragmatic perspective, the weblog can be defined as an author–driven, asynchronous and informal genre of CMC that uses various modalities and entails some interactivity. This definition is rather broad and suggests a high degree of complexity in the configuration of communicative features actualised in the various social uses of the weblog. A socio–pragmatic definition of the weblog as genre must further take into account that the weblogs, which constitute the blogosphere, are quite diverse and that the genre is dynamic and constantly negotiated in the practices of users. Accordingly, the weblog is an evolving genre with several subgenres (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992).
Figure 1: The dynamics of the weblog genre.
As Figure 1 illustrates, the unique weblog is at once a) an instance of the weblog genre that is inscribed into the general dynamics of the blogosphere and thus adheres to socially defined norms and practices about blogging; and, b) a subjective interpretation of the weblog genre, produced by the blogger and his or her readers and contributing to the continuous development of the genre. In addition, there is a constant mutual influence between the weblog genre and other genres of CMC that also contributes to negotiating and constituting the genre.
Classification of weblogs into sub–genres
To identify and characterise specific sub–genres of weblogs, it is necessary to draw more detailed distinctions between types of weblogs by classifying weblogs in terms of content, relationship between author and readers and stylistic elements. The categories used for classification are of course interdependent and intertwined, but they must be separated to highlight and unravel the sometimes–subtle differences between types of weblogs. It should however be noted that any classification of weblog tends to simplify the reality of the blogosphere and the unique weblog, which can fit different categories at different points in time.
Weblogs can be classified into sub–categories based on their content and purpose (Blood, 2002; Miller and Shepherd, 2004; Herring, et al., 2005; Bille, 2006). Blood (2002) suggests three basic types of weblogs: 1) personal journals or diaries; 2) notebooks — weblogs containing longer, focused essays of a more or less personal character; and, 3) filters — weblogs that collect links to interesting content elsewhere on the Internet. However, the distinction between the notebook and the journal seems somewhat unclear and perhaps as a consequence, the notebook has disappeared in Herring, et al.’s (2005) empirical investigation of weblog types that is inspired by Blood’s typology. Instead of the notebook, Herring, et al. add two other categories to the content typology: the K–log, which is a weblog that collects the author’s notes about a specific topic, and the mixed weblog which is a hybrid form of the filter, K–log and personal journal. While the idea of content being mixed is a rather important point for the discussion to be unfolded below, the classifications suggested by Blood (2002) and Herring, et al. (2005) provide no qualitative descriptions of the weblog content.
Bille (2006) offers such a classification of weblogs. She distinguishes between weblogs as 1) notebooks logging the everyday life of the blogger; 2) weblogs about a specific interest; and, 3) opinion–based weblogs. Notebooks include diary–like weblogs used for reflections on rather personal or intimate issues (Serfaty, 2004), weblogs communicating quick and very frequent updates on what the weblog–author is doing right now (e.g., moblogging and micro–blogging on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and descriptive accounts of the author‘s experiences (e.g., travel weblogs) . Weblogs about specific interests have a consistent theme at the centre of the blogging activity. Science weblogs discussing a specific scientific subject, project related weblogs (e.g. PhD weblogs or K–logs), and weblogs about a leisure activity or hobby (for instance the knitting community of weblogs studied by Wei (2004) and the weblogs about indie bands studied by Baym (2007)) are specific interest weblogs. Metablogs about blogging would also be included in this category. The category of opinion–based weblogs covers political or campaign weblogs, columns (e.g., journalistic weblogs), commercial and corporate weblogs (Bille, 2006; Miller and Shepherd, 2004) .
While content is a good indicator of the nature of the specific weblog and its uses, content classification cannot stand alone. Initially, the weblog might fit one content category, but as it develops over time, other types of content (e.g., references to the author’s personal life in an opinion–based weblog or vice versa) can emerge in specific posts thereby blurring the distinctions between the content types or even initiating a permanent shift in the focus of the weblog. As a consequence, further distinctions are necessary to precisely classify the various types of weblogs.
Directionality: Actors and relations
Several scholars suggest categorising weblogs by the role or position of the author, e.g., whether the author runs the weblog as a professional or a private person (Ó Baoill, 2004; Bille, 2006; boyd, 2006). Private weblogs are written and maintained by a private individual as is most often the case with notebook weblogs and weblogs about a hobby. Professional weblogs represent a company or a person in his or her capacity as professional. The author is often paid to write the weblog (Ó Baoill, 2004) and the weblog is typically used — more or less directly — to market and brand a company. Examples of this type of weblog are corporate weblogs, journalistic columns, and campaign weblogs (e.g., run by politicians or NGOs). What makes the distinction between professionals and private individuals in weblogs challenging is that professionals can maintain weblogs in their capacity as private individuals. Does the scientist write as a scientist or as a private person interested in the specific scientific subject? What about the journalist maintaining a private, non–sponsored weblog about being a journalist? These represent borderline cases and whether they should be classified as professional or private weblogs would depend on the distance to the professional field expressed in the weblog — is the professional authority important in the weblog or is it downplayed?
Lüders (2007) suggests to distinguish types of weblogs and CMC in general by determining whether the relations between the communication partners are symmetrical and resemble dialogue or asymmetrical and resemble mass communication or broadcasting. Weblogs are naturally asymmetrical because they are author–driven, but professional weblogs might be more asymmetrical, whereas the dialogue and more symmetrical relations is perhaps the dominant form in personal weblogs. While this classification is oversimplified, it points to another way of categorising the actor dimension of the weblog: by looking at the position of the weblog author in relation to the audience.
Brake (2007) suggests four categories concerning the relation between author and audience of a weblog. Weblog communication can be 1) one–to–one; 2) one–to–many; 3) many–to–many; and, 4) a–communicative (weblogs used for self–therapy with no intended audience). However, it is unlikely that a weblog can function as one–to–one communication, so I propose extending this category to ‘one–to–few’, implying that there are a limited number of readers but more than one. A similar distinction can be made based on network theoretical approaches to weblogs that emphasise the connectedness of weblogs through links, blogrolls, comments, etc. (see, for instance, Chin and Chignell, 2006; Efimova, et al., 2005; Bille, 2006). In network terms weblogs can be considered parts of 1) distributed networks (many–to–many); 2) centralised networks where the weblog is a hub (one–to–many, one–to–few) for instance manifested in many incoming links and few outgoing links; and, 3) weblogs connecting offline networks (one–to–few) (Bille, 2006). Further, according to network theory, network connections can be either strong (ties reflecting personal relations) or weak (ties reflecting informational, instrumental relations) (see for instance Wellman and Gulia, 1999). Thus, the quality of the ties is important to distinguish the personal weblog.
If the weblog is embedded in a distributed network, this entails that the author is actively engaged in conversations in the blogosphere as such (through frequent commenting on other people’s weblogs, many comments from others, many links, etc.) (Brake, 2007). This engagement sometimes even goes beyond the blogosphere into other online spaces (e.g., private people’s weblogs feeding into the Web sites of news media). Because of the conversational character of the weblog embedded in distributed networks, there is a symmetrical relationship between the author and the audience (Lüders, 2007; McMillan, 2002). This type of author–reader–relation is found in various types of weblogs facilitating communication between friends (strong ties), colleagues and like–minded strangers (weak ties), including the notebook weblog, the K–log, the hobby weblog, and some opinion–based weblogs . Accordingly, in network terms, this type of weblog can be highly personal or informational, supporting both strong and weak ties.
If the weblog has many incoming links and many readers, but the author is not active in other weblogs than his or her own, it indicates that the blogger uses the weblog to communicate to others — to express him or herself. Thus, there is a more asymmetrical relation between the author and the audience (resembling mass communication), of course varying to the extent the author allows for commenting and replies to comments. A–list weblogs, most journalistic columns, and agitating political weblogs are included in this category (Herring, 2007; Taekke, 2005). This type of weblog seems primarily to support weak ties, because there is no evident personal relationship between the author and the audience.
Weblogs connecting to offline networks are typically used to facilitate the maintenance of personal relations. This type of weblog is dialogical in the sense that it provides a space for personal communication between the author and the readers in posts and comments, but the weblog is not densely networked in the blogosphere through links to other weblogs. Included in this category are for instance travel weblogs and personal notebooks written specifically to family and friends, suggesting that this type of weblog facilitates primarily strong ties and is therefore highly personal.
The three types of network–embeddedness are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but it is likely that one network is more important for the weblog author and his or her motives for blogging. To be precise on this matter, stylistic elements must be taken into account, as the style and tone of the weblog indicates how the actors of the actual weblog experience the relationship between author and audience.
As stated in the general definition, an informal style is characteristic of the weblog, but more fine–grained distinctions can be made concerning the writing style and tone of the weblog. The style of the weblog is of course related to the content, directionality and actor–relations previously discussed, but it needs separate attention. A classification relying on how content and conversations are presented in the weblog provides important complementary insights that can make subtle differences between types of weblogs more visible. However, the style dimension has remained largely unexplored in the weblog literature.
One main distinction concerns whether the weblog author writes in an autobiographical, participative manner (e.g., by being visible in the text through the use of “I”) or from a supposedly neutral observational position (e.g., giving rather objective descriptions of events, opinions, etc.). Following this, weblogs can be categorised according to tone and narrative style: does the weblog share (sometimes rather intimate) stories in a confessional and self–therapeutical fashion, or is the weblog written in a manner that makes the author’s private reflections, experiences and feelings unclear?
Relating this to content, Herring, et al. (2005) argue that the notebook weblog is likely to have a rather intimate and introspective narrative style and character, because the author writes about internal and personal matters, whereas weblogs about specific interests and opinion–based weblogs may be more impersonal in their style and tone, because the content relates to something external to the author (e.g., the political commentary or the filter weblog presenting seemingly objective reflections).
Related to directionality and actor–relations, Lüders’  research shows that writing in a confessional and introvert manner can support community between bloggers and their readers. A confessional style implies that the author uses the weblog to tell private stories to the readers, and this supports the development of stronger — in some sense personal — relations between the parties. Thus, the introvert and confessional style can help bringing the author and the readers closer together — it creates symmetrical relations between them. Conversely, it might be expected that weblogs with an impersonal and factual style and tone produce distance and asymmetrical relations between author and reader, because the person behind the writings is not as visible as in a confessional weblog.
A skim through the blogosphere might often support these ideas about correlation between style and content or actor–relations, respectively, but it is not always so. For instance, a research weblogs can be introspective and intimate, as the authors uses it to put into words the intellectual struggles and shortcomings he or she experiences. Conversely, in weblogs dealing with extremely private and intimate themes such as sex and relationships, the author might write with a great narrative distance to the subject by using e.g. irony or third person narration. Further, research on gender and language use suggests that rather than being linked to specific contents or interactional situations, style differences may be attributed to gender differences (for in–depth discussions, see for instance Coates, 1993).
While it is necessary to be cautious about conclusions concerning social uses of weblogs based on style and tone alone, this must be taken into consideration as a separate dimension in order to capture the nuances of the blogosphere.
A typological framework for classification of weblogs
As stated in the introduction, the application of a socio–pragmatic genre perspective on weblogs implies a commitment to incorporating and exploring the communicative qualities and social uses that continuously define and develop the genre. Communicative qualities and social practices within weblogs are not products of content alone; they are constituted in the interplay between content, directionality and style. As the previous discussions show, classification of weblogs is a complicated matter and should be done with caution and sensitivity to nuances. By incorporating content, directionality and style in the description of the weblog as a communicative genre, the diversity and sometimes subtle differences within the weblog genre become more evident. Accordingly, the weblog genre can be described as a typological space in three dimensions with the axes representing content, directionality and style, respectively. The typological framework is grounded in the reviewed literature and in general empirical observations of the diversity within the blogosphere.
Figure 2: Typological dimensions for the description of weblogs.
The typological framework can be used as a tool to conceptualise and draw distinctions between specific weblogs and sub–genres and to position them in relation to each other. It might be useful to think of the dimensions as continuums rather than discrete categories, since this allows for further specifications of sub–genres.
a) Content axis: Internal — topical. Does the weblog deal with highly personal themes, experiences and emotions of the author or does it primarily communicate information about a specific topic of general interest, thus dealing with a world external to the author? Accordingly, the focus in this continuum ranges from personal details and experiences to topic–oriented communication.
Corresponding to these reflections, different types of content can be plotted onto the internal–topical continuum. Online diaries concern the author’s internal matters and typically reveal personal details and experiences, while notebook weblogs like travel weblogs are personal but less oriented toward internal matters and more focused on describing the author’s experiences. Hobby weblogs are even less personal, focusing on description and reflection of the hobby. Opinion weblogs are positioned closer to the topical pole, because they focus on arguing for or against specific viewpoints in relation to a given topic. Closest to the topical pole of the continuum are research weblogs, corporate weblogs, journalistic weblogs and the like, which are mostly oriented to topics of general interest.
b) Directionality axis: Monological — dialogical. Is the weblog primarily used for self–expression to an audience or is the weblog highly conversational and densely networked? Does the weblog facilitate asymmetrical communication and informational exchanges through weak ties to the audience, or is the dialogue between author and audience symmetrical and supporting cohesion through strong ties?
With these reflections as reference points, weblogs can be plotted into the monologue–dialogue continuum ranging from weblogs that have very limited audiences and allow for only a minimum of author–reader interaction, over weblogs that have many incoming and outgoing links and comments but whose author does not interact with the readers, and to weblogs that are highly conversational and densely networked.
c) Style axis: Intimate — objective. Is the weblog introspective and confessional or less personal and written in a rather objective tone? Self–reflection through confessions, emotionality and introspection are indicators of intimacy, while a humorous and ironic style provides distance to the intimate but retains a personal touch to the style. Argumentative writing, factual descriptions and expert statements are closer to the objective style.
The typological framework of the weblog as a communicative genre is conceptual and reveals a fairly complex genre. To classify a weblog or define a sub–genre according to the framework, it must be described through a combination of all three dimensions.
Empirical data from Technorati’s 2008 State of the Blogosphere underpins the suggestion that navigating the weblog genre is quite a complex matter by revealing a high degree of diversity in the blogosphere. According to Technorati (2008), weblogs are widely distributed across the content continuum. The most prevalent topics are personal/lifestyle (54 percent), technology (46 percent), news (42 percent), politics (35 percent), and computers (34 percent). The report further indicates that both ends of the directionality continuum are well represented, as survey participants consider self–expression (79 percent), sharing of expertise and experiences (73 percent), and connecting with likeminded people (62 percent) the main reasons for blogging (Technorati, 2008). Finally, the report underlines the diversity in blogging styles. Participants in the survey mainly describe their blogging styles as sincere, conversational, humorous and expert. These four style categories all have self–report scores above 50 percent (Technorati, 2008) . Technorati’s survey seems to provide empirical evidence for a diversified blogosphere and communicative genre. However, it should be noted that contrary to the typological framework, Technorati’s survey separates the dimensions and does not show how they are related and overlapping, even though this is evident as the high scores on several categories within the parameters — content, reasons for blogging, and blogging styles — imply that the categories are not mutually exclusive. Thus, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity to complexity.
The typological framework can help draw attention to nuances. From the socio–pragmatic perspective it advocates, even minor stylistic differences are assumed to have impact upon the social uses and communicative qualities of the weblog. Such nuances and subtle differences between weblogs should be taken seriously. Further, the interplay between content, style and directionality that is suggested in the typological framework implies that hybrid types combining highly personal elements with very impersonal ones can be created. Weblogs are a moving object of study, and in a sense, the typological framework captures the space in which the genre evolves.
With conceptual clarity and a closer attention to the complexities and dynamics in the blogosphere, it becomes possible to develop more general theory about blogging as a contemporary phenomenon.
Personal weblogs – A working definition
As stated in the introduction, the 2008 Technorati international weblog survey shows that 79 percent of the bloggers self–identify as personal bloggers (Technorati, 2008). The prevalence of personal blogging suggests a need to explore and clarify what personal blogging may be. In the last part of the article, the typological framework is applied as a tool to define the personal weblog as a sub–genre within the typological space and thereby determine relevant objects of study in an empirical investigation of personal weblogs.
The personal weblog must necessarily facilitate communication that entails a personal element for instance reflected in self–disclosure, self–reference or cohesion and a cordial relationship between the parties communicating.
Regarding content, weblogs of the diary and notebook categories would be considered personal weblogs. But many weblogs based on specific interests and on expressions of opinion are difficult to place in relation to the personal weblog because they represent a mixture of self–referential, highly personal elements and more impersonal issues. Opinion–based weblogs and specific interest weblogs are to some extent self–referential like the notebook, albeit in an indirect sense. The content reflects the author’s interests and values thereby indicating the author’s personality. Thus, these types of content do not per se disqualify a weblog from being personal.
The author of the personal weblog writes in his or her capacity as a private individual and does not receive money for maintaining the weblog. Apart from that, directionality and actor classifications can only be used for tentative distinctions between personal weblogs and other types of weblogs. Whereas the position of the weblog in the network structure may indicate symmetrical or asymmetrical relations to the audience, it is not reasonable to infer that weblogs positioned as central hubs facilitate impersonal or mass communication, whereas weblogs in distributed networks and weblogs connecting to offline networks facilitate interpersonal communication. But we might consider the two latter types more likely candidates for the label ‘personal weblog’, simply because they cater for and support interaction with a smaller and more familiar audience. Regarding this, the stylistic dimension can help to determine whether the weblog should be characterised as a personal weblog. A confessional and intimate style is a strong indicator of a personal weblog.
Concluding from these discussions, the personal weblog is not just a private diary. It can take a variety of characteristics — both content, directionality, and style–wise. Using the typological framework, the personal weblog can be located in a specific area of the typological space. The more the content relates to internal matters of the blogger, and the more autobiographical and intimate the writing style is, the more likely it is a personal weblog. Regarding directionality, the personal weblog can be anything from pure monologue to highly engaged dialogue, so on this axis, the personal weblog cannot be delimited. The location of the personal weblog in the typological space leads to the following working definition of the personal weblog.
The personal weblog is a weblog that typically deals with the everyday life and personal matters of the author. It can also be about a specific hobby or dedicated to expressing the author’s opinion, if this entails an element of self–reference and/or self–disclosure. Further, the personal weblog has an intimate, sometimes confessional, style where the author provides the readers with subjective representations and reflections on the topic discussed. Finally, the personal weblog can be more or less densely networked with other weblogs, and through the author’s self–disclosure and intimate style, it facilitates rather symmetrical communication with the readers and commentators. It is particularly supportive of strong ties in the sense that the relations between the author and the readers are more than just informational.
This working definition of the personal weblog is not clear–cut, since there are borderline cases of personal weblogs not fitting the criteria. As the discussion above has shown, the classification of weblogs has to rely on specific analysis of the weblog(s) under study. However, the characterisation provides some guiding qualitative distinctions concerning content, directionality and stylistic elements. The proposed working definition of the personal weblog implies an exclusion of several subtypes of weblogs from the personal weblog category. It excludes weblogs written by professionals (corporate weblogs, campaign weblogs), and weblogs that have an impersonal style and where the author’s subjective reflections and stories are presented as more or less objective facts. This latter category encompasses many opinion–based weblogs, journalistic weblogs and science weblogs, although there are cases where these are rather private in character. These borderline cases would be relevant objects for study in depth as this might help make the distinctions between personal weblogs and other types of weblogs clearer.
The main contribution of this article is the development of a typological framework that describes the weblog as a communicative genre. The typological framework offers a conceptual basis for weblog research, and research into ‘personal weblogs’ in particular, stressing communicative functionalities and social uses of the genre as necessary reference points for conceptualising the weblog.
The typological framework of the weblog genre is useful for two reasons. First, it provides a starting point for identifying core characteristics in order to distinguish the personal weblog from other types of weblogs. Second, it offers a foundation and set of reflections for positioning different types of weblogs in relation to each other. Positioning personal weblogs in the framework enables a clearer understanding of the sometimes rather subtle differences between types of personal weblogs (e.g., the differences between the confessional personal diary weblog and the notebook logging everyday life). A central argument is that ‘the personal weblog’ is not a clear–cut sub–genre — it can take many shapes and possibly be used for a variety of social purposes. Due to this, conceptual clarity and explicitness is pivotal to assessing the generality of research findings in the growing number of studies of personal weblogs. Further research is needed to establish firmer boundaries between personal weblogs and other types of weblogs and to fully develop the potential of the proposed working definition.
The conceptual clarification and the typological framework can also be of methodological value. If used as a map or instrument for selecting cases for empirical case studies on weblogs, the framework allows for a smooth and focused navigation of the blogosphere in search for weblogs to study.
In connection to this, it is important to broaden the scope in future research into personal weblogs. While online diaries and notebooks logging the daily life of the blogger seem to be quite popular and perhaps the most common types of weblogs (see, for instance, Herring, et al., 2005), other types of weblogs should not be neglected as relevant objects of study, since inquiry into the social uses of for instance hobby weblogs, travel weblogs and opinion–based weblog might contribute inspiration and perspectives to the research field in general. In this respect, both synchronous and diachronic analysis of the personal weblog could yield important insights. Comparative studies of different types of personal weblogs and their uses could for instance be valuable in order to produce knowledge on the relations between social uses and genre conventions and different forms of sociality and self–expression in personal weblogs. This focus could be expanded to comparisons between the practices and uses of different CMC genres used for interpersonal communication. A diachronic analysis would contribute to a deepened knowledge on the evolution of the personal weblog over time, including how certain practices and uses become conventionalised; the relations between reading and commenting patterns, and the content and style of the weblog and the conversations it facilitates.
About the author
Stine Lomborg is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Information and Media Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark.
E–mail: imv [at] au [dot] dk
1. Finnemann, 2005, pp. 160–165; Miller and Shepherd, 2004.
2. Produsage, coined by Bruns (2008), is the collaborative and continuous building and extension of existing content in pursuit of further improvement. Produsage entails a convergence of processes of production and usage, and of the roles of producers and users.
3. Herring, et al., 2005, p. 142, see also boyd, 2006; Herring, 2007; Walker, 2005.
4. Taekke, 2005, p. 8. Most weblogs are accessible to the public, although some weblogs have restricted access, thus resembling e–mail and instant messaging.
5. This type would be equivalent to what Herring, et al. (2005) label the ‘personal journal’.
6. Corporate and commercial weblogs could also be a distinct category, but I categorise them as opinion–based weblogs because their essential goal is to market the opinions, interests and corporate spirit of a company.
7. Although Hargittai, et al. (2008) has found that dialogue is mostly limited to including people who share opinion and ideology.
8. Lüders, 2007, p. 139.
9. The categories that Technorati uses are different categories from those of the typological framework. For instance, “conversational” is a stylistic quality in Technorati’s survey, while it is a directionality quality in the typology. In addition, since the Technorati report does not explore directionality as such, the measure, “reasons for blogging”, is used as a proxy to indicate what the distributions of types of directionality might look like in the current blogosphere.
Nancy K. Baym, 2007. “The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom,” First Monday, volume 12, number 8, at http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1978/1853, accessed 25 February 2008
Stinne Bille, 2006. “På jagt efter sociale netværk mellem danske weblogs,” Unpublished thesis, Department of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Rebecca Blood, 2002. The weblog handbook: Practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus.
danah boyd, 2006. “A blogger’s blog: Exploring the definition of a medium,” Reconstruction, volume 6, number 4, at http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml, accessed 2 October 2007.
David Brake, 2007. “Personal Webloggers and their audiences: Who do they think they are talking to?” In: Marika Lüders, Lin Prøitz, and Terje Rasmussen (editors). Personlige medier: Livet mellom skjermene. Oslo: Gyldendal akademisk.
Axel Bruns, 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and beyond: From production to produsage. New York: Peter Lang.
Alvin Chin and Mark Chignell, 2006. “A social hypertext model for finding community in blogs,” Proceedings of the seventeenth conference on hypertext and hypermedia (HT’06), Odense, Denmark, pp. 11–22.
Jennifer Coates, 1993. Women, men, and language: A sociolinguistic account of sex differences in language. London: Longman.
Lilia Efimova, Stephanie Hendrick and Anjo Anjewierden, 2005. “Finding ‘the life between buildings’: An approach for defining a weblog community,” at https://doc.telin.nl/dsweb/Get/Document-55092/, accessed 1 February 2008.
Niels Ole Finnemann, 2005. Internettet i mediehistorisk perspektiv. Frederiksberg: Forlaget Samfundslitteratur.
Eszter Hargittai, Jason Gallo and Matthew Kane, 2008. “Mapping the political blogosphere: Cross–ideological discussions among conservative and liberal bloggers,” Public Choice, volume 134, numbers 1–2, pp. 67–86.
Susan C. Herring, 2007. “A faceted classification scheme for computer–mediated discourse,” Language@Internet 1/2007, at http://www.languageatinternet.de/articles/761, accessed 1 February 2008.
Susan C. Herring, Lois Ann Scheidt, Elijah Wright and Sabrina Bonus, 2005. “Weblogs as a bridging genre,” Information Technology & People, volume 18, number 2, pp. 142–171.http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09593840510601513
Marika Lüders, 2007. “Being in mediated spaces. An enquiry into personal media practices,” Unpublished dissertation, University of Oslo.
Sally J. McMillan, 2002. “Exploring models of interactivity from multiple research traditions: Users, documents, and systems,” In: Leah A. Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone (editors). Handbook of new media: Social shaping and consequences of ICTs. London: Sage, pp. 163–182.
Laurie McNeill, 2005. “Genre under construction: The diary on the Internet,” Language@Internet, volume 2, at http://www.languageatinternet.de/articles/2005/120/index_html, accessed 1 December 2008.
Carolyn R. Miller, 1984. “Genre as social action,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, volume 70, pp. 151–167.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00335638409383686
Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd, 2004. “Blogging as social action: A genre analysis of the Weblog,” In: Laura J. Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff and Jessica Reyman (editors). Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community and culture of Weblogs, at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere, accessed 20 September 2007.
Aimee Hope Morrison, 2008. “Make yourself at home: Private life and public community in blog diaries,” paper presented at Internet Research 9.0, Copenhagen, Denmark, available at http://aoir.org/?page_id=118, accessed 20 April 2009.
Andrew Ó Baoill, 2004. “Conceptualizing the weblog: Understanding what it is in order to imagine what it can be,” Interfacings: A Journal of Contemporary Media Studies (no longer available).
Brian Paltridge, 1995. “Working with genre: A pragmatic perspective,” Journal of Pragmatics, volume 24, pp. 393–406.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(94)00058-M
Julie Rak, 2005. “The digital queer: Weblogs and Internet identity,” Biography, volume 28, number 1, pp. 166–182.http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/bio.2005.0037
Viviane Serfaty, 2004. “Online diaries: Towards a structural approach,” Journal of American Studies, volume 38, number 3, pp. 457–471.http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875804008746
Lois Ann Scheidt, 2006. “Adolescent diary Weblogs and the unseen audience,” In: David Buckingham and Rebekah Willett (editors). Digital generations: Children, young people and new media. London: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 193–210.
Anne Scott Sorensen, 2008. “Den intime blog: Autenticitet, affekt og etik,” unpublished working paper, at http://www.high-tension-aesthetics.com/Files/workingpaper5.pdf, accessed 12 April 2008.
Jesper Taekke, 2005. “Media sociography on Weblogs,” at http://home16.inet.tele.dk/jesper_t/weblogs.pdf, accessed 13 September 2007.
Technorati, 2008. “State of the Blogosphere 2008,” at http://technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/, accessed 1 March 2009.
Jose van Dijck, 2004. “Composing the self: Of diaries and lifelogs,” Fibreculture, issue 3, at http://journal.fibreculture.org/issue3/issue3_vandijck.html, accessed 20 September 2007.
Jill Walker, 2005. “Weblog,” In: David Herman, Manfred Jahn and Marie–Laure Ryan (editors). The Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory. London: Routledge.
Carolyn Wei, 2004. “Formation of norms in a blog community,” In: Laura J. Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff and Jessica Reyman (editors). Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community and culture of Weblogs, at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere, accessed 20 September 2007.
Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia, 1999. “Virtual communities as communities: Net surfers don’t ride alone,” In: Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock (editors). Communities in cyberspace. London: Routledge, pp. 167–194.
JoAnne Yates and Wanda J. Orlikowski, 2002. “Genre systems: Structuring interaction through communicative norms,” Journal of Business Communication, volume 39, number 1, pp. 13–35.http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/002194360203900102
JoAnne Yates and Wanda J. Orlikowski, 1992. “Genres of organizational communication: A structurational approach to studying communication and media,” Academy of Management Review, volume 17, number 2, pp. 299–326.
Paper received 16 December 2008; revised 27 March 2009; accepted 14 April 2009.
Copyright © 2009, First Monday.
Copyright © 2009, Stine Lomborg.
Navigating the blogosphere: Towards a genre–based typology of weblogs
by Stine Lomborg
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 5 - 4 May 2009