Bloglishing? Part 1

Apologies for another dubious neologism (ok, one usage already indexed by Google). We've had so many, why stop now? Aside from being a slightly, er, clunky name "bloglishing" captures a concept that I've recently been interested in; namely the different ways a blog is actually published. Blogs are popularly thought of as quintessential self publishing, the implication being that there is no, or very little, intermediary between the content creation and consumption. Of course even within traditional self publishing there is a huge amount of intermediation of one kind or another, ranging from a simple model like Lulu to more complex schemes of vanity publishing that come with certain services.

However this very obviously fails to describe the intricacy and diversity within blogging, fails to account for differing platforms and differing scales of audience, as well as different models of collaboration on or syndicating the content itself. I would suggest that all blogs are to some extent published, with differing layers of "publication" that apply to different blogs. These layers are by no means mutually exclusive and many blogs could be included in more than one layer.

What might these layers of blog publishing look like?

1) The Technological Layer

Most fundamentally all blogs have a grounding in the structure of the internet e.g. are enabled and run through the protocols, code and network that form the basis of the web. In this way blogs might be said to be "afforded" by the internet, in the same way that novels were afforded by the printing of books, and that the production of paper. Above this though most blogs are not built from scratch, rather they will rely on a platform like WordPress (upon which this blog is based). Hence at we might say that services like Blogger, Live Journal, Typepad and WordPress are the publishers of blogs. They provide the tools by which the words, pictures etc are communicated from ready made back end CMS's to familiar CSS templates for the easy reception of the content. A print analogy would position Blogger, say, as somewhere between a self publisher and a printers; Blogger does not associate itself with the content in the same way that most publishers would be. However in that these technologies- from http to WordPress plug ins- have enabled the existence of blogs, they can be considered to publish them.

2) The Blogging Brand Layer

Returning to the example of Blogger most blogs found there will not have a large audience and will not have anything that approaches the blogging brand of someone like Gawker Media or Boing Boing. Gawker has a host of blogs so that we would see it as a holding brand in the same way Channel 4 is now the overarching brand for a number of channels and other media services. Looking at the Technorati Top 100 blogs one sees a litany of brand names that transcend the content itself: The Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Ars Technica etc. Just as a magazine is split between the editor, who manages the content, and a publisher, who is responsible for the business aspects of the magazine, so these blogs can be viewed as having editors and publishers. Even if these are the same person, the functions are distinct. What I am arguing then is that the Gawker blogs (Lifehacker, Valleywag, IO9 etc) are published by Gawker as much as any newspaper is published by the media organisation it forms part of. The blog native brand forms an intermediary layer- a layer akin to publishing.

3) The Publishing Brand Layer

Take Comment is Free on Guardian Unlimited. Take this blog or the Picador blog. Both are examples of where a traditional publishing operation extends that operation into blogging, using the reputation, the brand, to "publish" the blog and hence imbue it with the ethos and (one hopes) the authority of the original publisher. It's not just publishers who can do this though- other brands can use blogs and become publishers. The point really is that the blog is underwritten by an existing institution in the sense that the content is validated by that institution. When we or another publisher publishes a book we giving it our stamp of approval- the publisher or record company logo on a work says we think this is good, worthwhile, we are associated with this product and are backing it. The same applies for blogs when they are an extension of an organisation's usual activity.

Demarcating these different modes of blog publication is useful for a traditional publisher as it highlights what kind of role blogging could have within that institution. By looking at the ways in which other companies or institutions have interpolated themselves in the blogging chain, we can begin to see the ways an existing capacity for publishing could be harnessed to greatly extend that capacity into the blogosphere. So- how can publishers bloglish? (And yes, I am cringing even as I write it.)

To be continued...