Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Changes as We Go From Diaries to Blogs?

I've kept journals fairly regularly since I was about 11.  Often the posts are disappointingly general, sometimes there is great detail.  I was able to pinpoint when I saw Harold and Maude in a recent post, by looking up the lists of movies and books I tracked in the back of the journals.  But I've noticed that the blog has pretty much taken over my journaling.  I have don't really have a current journal, though I have a couple of notebooks that I do write things in now and then in chronological order. 

So this cartoon caught my attention today. 

What's different from writing in a diary and writing online - whether tweets, Facebook, or a blog? 

Here are some of my thoughts (focused on blogs since that's my medium of choice):

  • Content
    • What I write about.  For some people writing online hasn't stopped them from revealing highly personal details of their life.  My blog means I'm doing less writing about my personal life or my family.
    • It's easy to include cut-and-pasted content from elsewhere.
    • I explain more about things that I know and understand, but that my readers might not.
    • I can include links to sources or additional information.
    • A blog allows me to go multi-media - words, pictures, audio, video.  (I'm waiting for smell!)
    • I include more details and learn about things because I can start googling and fill in information I didn't use to be able to get when I wrote with a pen on paper.  
  • Frequency
    • The journal was a spotty activity.  Sometimes I wrote every day.  Sometimes once a week.  There are gaps of a month or more at times.  The blog gets updated at least daily with just a few exceptions and with much longer entries.
  • Audience
    • The journal was for me.  Once in while I might read something to someone, or copy something into a letter.  Sometimes old journal entries are used to to document when something happened - and this might be shared.  Occasionally I've shared some of my journal here on the blog.
      The blog is available to to anyone with uncensored internet access, with an assist from google and a few other sites that link here. (One can set up restrictions to access to the blog.)
  • Medium 
    • This seems obvious but the implications aren't.  Pen and a blank notebook of various sorts over the years for the journal.  The blog uses a laptop - a keyboard.  That means a lot of things, some already mentioned:  I can write more because I can type much faster, and I can add photos (I sometimes drew pictures in my journals), audio, and video, and I can write drafts that can sit around before I actually post them.  I can make after the fact changes. My policy is to clean up typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors that don't change the content without having to say, but things that change the content need to be marked so readers know.  But not everyone else does - and that worries me about archives and the ability to change online documentation of history.  Perhaps there will be a new profession of people checking Google archived material to current material.  Will Google be able to automatically detect surreptitious changes?
  • Permanence
    • I touched on this under Medium right above.  
      • Changing content after the fact - We can go back and change the entries/posts online without leaving a trace (except, perhaps in a Google cache).  Or we can document the changes.
      • Durability - A journal depends on the ink and paper quality and not being lost.  I'm responsible for protecting it.  But it can be picked up and read without using any special technology.  One needs to know English (and some German and Thai) to understand it. 
        A blog depends on 
        • The host staying in business
        • People continue to have technology that has access the internet as it is currently configured.  (How many can still watch their parents' 8mm movies?)
        • The servers and sites that host the links and embeds and photos and audio don't disappear.  (Jamglue, where I kept my audio files went out of business without notifying members about the fate of all the files.  So audio I created for the blog, can no longer be heard.)

          So it pays to back up one's blog. (That's a note to myself!)
  • Communication 
    • Just as one can open one's blog to the world, one can let the audience leave comments.  Blogging thus allows one to connect to other bloggers and non-bloggers around the world.  I've met a few people because of my blog, and some people I know - my mother, for example - know much more about what I'm doing and thinking about than they did before I blogged.  Depending on what one writes, this can be good or bad.  
I'm sure there are more differences, but this is what I can think of for now.  


  1. When I started my blog I thought of the possibility of contacting other people in the wide world, but never the opportunity of enjoy a unforgettable brunch in the other side of the real world with an unknown blogger. A diary will never get something like that. Just for this meeting my blog worths (for me)...

  2. The biggest difference is that journals are private, while blogs or whatever are published and thus public. Most sentient beings say different things in public than they say to themselves.

    What I think we've lost in moving from private to public writing is the old-fashioned idea that before you publish your work, somebody else reads it, to correct your typos, to challenge your strange pronunciamentos and to suggest that maybe you might want to rethink or rephrase something that's heading off the edge. Writing on the internet, unedited, is doing trapeze tricks without a safety net. As somebody who made a living at public writing for three decades, and who was extremely grateful for the good editors who provided my safety net, I can tell you that it's damn scary working this way.

  3. Thomás, getting to meet you is one of the delights of blogging. Which does make Kathy's public/private point too.


    Over the years I've learned to be less anal about typos. I've accepted that super-strictness on spelling and the finer points of grammar might be good for getting something polished for publication, but it can cause many students to hate writing and give it up. It's like obsessing on the tennis balls going into the net rather than focusing on the how the others got over the net.

    When you fall off a trapeze without a net, you can die. But when you post a typo, at most your ego gets bruised. And I'm willing to risk a bruised ego in exchange for talking to people. Mostly they accept a typo here and there in a blog anyway.

    Typos that affect the meaning or make it hard for the reader to understand are problematic - but you get feedback on a blog from your readers that you normally wouldn't get for published pieces. And if you're libelously wrong, you can delete it, which you can't do in print. Besides people can write in perfect English and still be hard to understand. But an editor should help there. Should.


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