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Weblogs: form or medium?

Xian approvingly quotes this lucid comment by Peterme, regarding this week’s Berkeley J-school panel on weblogs:

“In these kinds of discussions, the question, “Are weblogs journalism?” inevitably comes up, demonstrating how people confuse form and content. Weblogs are a form (not a medium… the Web is a medium), and journalism is a practice. Journalism can be practiced in many media and forms. The two are, at best orthogonal. One definitely doesn’t replace the other.”

Xian goes on to add some well-considered comments about how journos and bloggers aren’t necessarily at odds — in fact, bloggers add to the media “soup” or “compost” from which journos draw their stories, a fact that’s not often acknowledged by journalists.

But, the notion of form vs. medium got me thinking. Just to clarify the terms: A practice is something you do, probably requiring some training, a standard of professionalism, and code of ethics (journalism, medicine, or construction). A medium is a vehicle through which information is transmitted and displayed (broadcast television, HTTP/HTML, newspapers). And a form is a stylistic genre, a way of organizing and presenting information or stories (haiku, sonnets, novels, magazine stories, weblogs).

So far, there’s not really a “practice” of blogging in any coherent sense, though I suppose one could emerge eventually. Peterme is right on that blogging is primarily a form.

But there is a sense in which the weblog is also a medium, and that’s syndication. XML syndication, it seems to me, fundamentally changes the way in which weblog stories are transmitted and read. When people start using aggregators, they can scan a much larger quantity of stories — and with integrated aggregator/weblog tools, such as Radio, they can post their own responses much more quickly. That creates a kind of “virtuous circle” of converation, as Udell has noted. Like Udell, I suspect we’re at the very beginning of the syndication adoption curve, and its effects will become much clearer as we move further along that curve.

Is RSS/RDF syndication a medium? I think so. And this syndication is a big part of what makes weblogs so interesting and so powerful.

1 Comment

  1. Scot Hacker

    I’d agree that RSS is a medium in the same way that the web is a medium, although it’s technically a bit whack since both use http as the transport mechanism, so you could argue that the RSS feed is actually a web page – just another way of marking up content and links.

    What is more interesting to me is that news feeds have always been push. The individual can’t afford to “push”, to run a traditional newsfeed. But the individual can afford to plop a page (an RSS page) on a web server — to offer a pull-based feed. It’s a newswire pull, so it’s the collision of two old categories into a newly fused category.

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