Monday, January 23, 2006

Blog Theory

Sean's Note: The results of the 2005 Philippine Blog Awards have produced a bit of a controversy in the blogosphere. Some quarters have pointed out a number of needs for improvement in its process, particularly with regards to mechanics, marketing and general judging. Others have openly questioned the credibility of the awards, and have denounced the fact that no concrete criteria was established prior to the contest in the first place.

Despite the fact that I have no direct involvement in the organization that gives out the Philippine Blog Awards, and despite the fact that I'm more of a shifty-eyed weasel than I am a proper blogger, I feel as though I have to react to these recent developments. My words here do not intend to defend any honors I have received from such authoritarian entities, nor do I expect a greater audience to stop, listen, and take them to heart. I write what I write here because I feel that it should be said. I write what I write here because I think it makes sense, and frankly, that's all that matters to me.

So what makes a good blog?

Let's be serious, now: There's got to be a number of worthwhile blogs on the Internet. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading them regularly, now wouldn't you?

Of course there are a bunch of worthwhile blogs out there. Any Internet reader will probably be able to show you his or her collection of bookmarks and favorite links. The chances are good that there will be at least one or two regularly-visited online journals, or news feeds, or recipe books, or event handlers, or whatever in there.

Heck, most bloggers themselves have this handy little thing called a "blogroll" that tells you exactly what places the writer tends to visit. In a way, it's like a suggested reading list: If you liked this work, then you can try reading other works by authors of similar mind or interest.

But then, I shouldn't be explaining this to you, right? If you're reading this, then you're most likely aware of weblogs as a whole, what they're like, and how they work. I can probably take it in good faith that you either have a weblog yourself, or had one before, or are planning to establish one in the future.

Seeing that you're obviously qualified for rational discussion on the matter, I can sit back and ask you my question without any trace of discomfort: What makes a good blog?

...uh huh.

...yes, quite so.

...good point.

...uh huh.

All right, then. But we have to remember that you're not the only one reading this article. There's a whole multitude of people reading this as well; some, perhaps, at this very moment. We can't assume that you're the only one who answered my first question, after all.

So, I give you my second question: Do you think that your answer perfectly agrees with that of every other person reading this article?




Unequivocally, no.

Every person out there looks for different qualities in what he or she reads. Some look for friendship and fellowship. Some look for enlightening experiences. Some look for laughter and entertainment. Each and every one of us has his or her own preferences. There is no single specific group of characteristics that defines what a good piece of writing is. There is no single specific group of characteristics that defines what a good blog is like.

You can probably make such a case for every positive quality that we see in a blog. After all, while certain aspects may be important to some readers, these same aspects may mean little more than chicken scratches to others. It's obvious that each such quality does not have the same level of significance to each and every person out there!

Let's take popularity, for example. Popularity, you say? Hah! What does it mean, really, if a blog is popular? A site may draw a significant audience, but we must really ask ourselves how it's drawing them in. I could theoretically create a brand, spanking-new blog that shows nothing but pictures of naked women in hardcore sex positions, and it would obviously draw a large segment of the international male population. But would you nominate me for the Blog Awards simply because of my blog's popularity?

How about writing? Some people would make the argument that any blog with good writing deserves an award. But in truth, writing doesn't mean anything by itself. I mean, I could spin stories that make children laugh. I could write words that make men weep. I could read rhymes that espouse the beauty of life and bring fulfillment to the human soul. But what if I somehow manage to write all this, and yet decide to keep it all to myself? Do I deserve to be nominated for the Blog Awards despite the fact that I have no devout readers who can testify to my strengths?

So is it a question of influence, then? Is it a question of audience and regular readership? To that, I ask this: What's the difference between audience influence and popularity? You could make the argument that there must be something that the audience sees, something in the blogger's style, technique and presentation that allows him to exert influence over such a wide stable of readers -- but then you'd fall back to the questions of how and why. Could I then create a blog that caters to an existing audience (Philatelists? Musicians? Reality TV fans?) and cruise to a Blog Awards nomination on my newfound influence? Or what if I create a blog that just happens to promote blogs themselves, generating an audience through the many writers and RSS feeds with whom I come into contact? Should that automatically qualify me for a nomination?

Okay, then what about linkage? Can I theoretically whore out my blog's address to every single aggregator, place it on every journal collection I can think of, produce thousands and thousands of hits on Google, and expect myself to be nominated on the sheer number of links alone?

Hard-hitting commentary, perhaps? I mean, it draws readers, right? Sure, but does that mean that I can write a blog that insults every entity in existence and expect a nomination just for my plucky, balls-to-the-wall attitude?

Prolific writing, perhaps? Does that mean that I deserve to get nominated just because I happen to post something three times a day on a regular basis, regardless of the quality of my resulting work?

Layout and design? Please. Do you mean to tell me that I can have the prettiest-looking blog on the face of the earth and score a nomination for the Blog Awards regardless of whatever I've written inside?

I don't think that much more needs to be said at this point. The answer to each and every one of these questions is obvious. Can we -- should we -- do we even deserve to qualify for a set of Blog Awards nominations on the strength of a single one of the above qualities alone?




Hell, yes.

What makes a good blog, we wonder? What makes a good blog stand out from the rest? After all, we've already named more than a few positive qualities that can evidently not stand on their own.

That, however, does not automatically mean that we can discard them, either.

Good blogs do not depend on the weight of a single one of the above qualities, but are a consensus of all of them. That's what it is, really: a Consensus. It's all of the given factors taken together and judged with an equally significant weight for each.

A blog can be nominated for popularity, for example, and it can be acknowledged for such -- even if the blog in question is merely a glorified porn site.

A blog can be nominated for good writing, and be acknowledged for that. A blog can be nominated for its influence across a wide audience, and it will be acknowledged for that. A blog can be nominated for its sheer number of referring links, its spotlight on relevant issues, its prolificacy in updates, its awesome graphic design, and millions of other aspects... and it will be acknowledged for those.

But a blog will be judged on the sum of its combined qualities. Each of the factors will be given an equally significant weighing with regards to the whole.

That is what a consensus is, ladies and gentlemen. It is an agreement between multiple entities who each have different ideas as to what makes a good blog in the first place.

That, I believe, is the essence of a true Blog Awards. We may or may not agree with any final decision that comes forth, but we must never let it be said that we do not try to accomplish this despite the differences. We should not judge a blog on the basis of a single quality that we just happen to hold higher than the rest of the reader population, if only because of the presence of a reader population in the first place.

There are aspects of quality out there other than the ones we hold close to our hearts. We can rant and rave all we want about whether or not certain things fulfill what we like to see in a weblog, but when it comes right down to it, we have to look at the big picture. We have to take things in as a whole. We need to reach a consensus with those around us.

The question is not what you think makes a good weblog, but what we all think makes a good weblog.

In the end, I believe that that's what matters.



joni said...

hey there! clicked on ur site's link from philippine blog awards.. congrats for winning the award! i think u deserve it. you're good. ;)

Sean said...

Joni: Thank you. At the moment, I'd actually prefer to figure out why I got it in the first place, though. Blogging is a young enough endeavor around here, I think, that we still need to define exactly what makes a good blog and what doesn't.

jeff-reiji said...

As my favorite band goes,
In the end, it doesn't even matter...

- Your blog is simply a blog. It's not as showy as Bryan Boy's or as corky as Jessica Zafra's... but you lay down your words here for your own preference. And I think that makes a good blog. That makes a blog... a blog...

I know I'm not really the person to say this... but for those who questions the credibility of your blog... to hell with them... :)

Sean said...

Reiji: I don't mind anyone who questions the credibility of this blog, actually. Considering the extremely varied nature of the articles here, I figure that I constantly question its credibility, myself.

I am, however, against any accusations of bad method, sloppy judgement or baseless rigging of contests -- especially if those accusations are based on a winner who just doesn't happen to fit certain personal standards. While I don't discount the possibility of unfair practices, I think that our time is better served analyzing the final decisions instead of questioning them.

When one tells you that they choose to buy a specific brand of sardines over all others, for example, you don't immediately call them a slave of the brand name. You're more likely, for that matter, to ask them why. In that way, there's a certain attitude that I believe we must adopt in order to move forward on this.

Dominique said...

A good blog is whatever makes the author happy. End of story.

Sean said...

Dominique: That's interesting. It makes me wonder exactly how many bloggers out there are happy with their stuff to begin with... :)

Dominique said...

Quite a few, I suppose, otherwise they wouldn't be blogging. Perfectly happy with it? Probably not. Then again, a blog, like other stuff on the web, is work in progress and should therefore be subject to change (unless it's been abandoned by the author, in which case it's just a dead blog.)

Sean said...

Dominique: The irony, of course, is that the blogger is the only one who can truly appreciate the value of his work... much like writers in general, I believe.

That second point, however, would be nice to paraphrase: "The only bad blog is a dead blog." :)

vonjobi said...

congrats on winning! i have no doubt that you deserve it, but i'd like to comment on this:

"The question is not what you think makes a good weblog, but what we all think makes a good weblog."

this may be true for blogging in general, but not when it comes to the PBA. after all, we--meaning all bloggers--do not vote for the awards. actually, we don't even know who the voters are. and so in the end, it's not about what i think, or "what we all think," but what they--whoever they are--think.

and until they tell us who they are, what they think makes a good blog, or how they choose the awardees, i don't think there's going to be much point in paying attention to the PBA.

Sean said...

Vonjobi: There's the rub. I don't presume to make excuses for the PBA, and in fact, I'd rather not. I only want to raise the point that judgement is a consensus of multiple factors, and not just one's own opinion.

I believe that the PBA needs to provide a great deal more transparency in order to convince people of its authenticity. However, I'm also willing to understand that it's still a work in progress. The Philippine blogosphere, for that matter, is a work in progress. We're all looking to get ourselves taken more seriously.

The irony with the PBA is that people can complain all they want, and people can ignore it all they want, but it will still remain the only Philippine-based awards-giving body for bloggers. Complaints only imply acknowledgement, and ignorance only furthers the status quo. As long as nobody does anything substantial (like starting their own Blog Awards, for example), we'll still only have the PBA to look up to.

The positive side to all this, however, is that the PBA should be perfectly aware of the comments and criticism it has received. They know where they have to improve, and I'm certain that they're taking steps in that direction. Before long, we might not even need to consider such arguments... or for that matter, read essays like mine.