Time to retire the term “blogger”?

Has the word “blogger” become meaningless?

Consider this item (from Mediabistro’s Fishbowl LA):

We asked [Jay] Rosen what he thought of the term “blogger” and how there is not a word to distinguish a journalist who blogs and a numbnut who blogs.

“Blogger will become such a broad term it will lose all meaning,” he told FBLA.

Rosen later elaborated on Twitter:

We don’t say “Emailer James Fallows,” even though he uses email. Eventually, it will be the same with the term “blogger.”

Let’s unpack this.

“Blogger” confuses us today because we’ve conflated two different meanings of “blogging.” There is the formal definition: personal website, reverse chronological order, lots of links. Then there is what I would call the ideological definition: a bundle of associations many observers made with blogs in their formative years, having to do with DIY authenticity, amateur self-expression, defiant “disintermediation” (cutting out the media middleman), and so on.

Today professional journalism has embraced the blog form, since it is a versatile and effective Web-native format for posting news. But once you have dozens of bloggers at the New York Times, or entire media companies built around blogs, the ideological trappings of blogging are only going to cause confusion.

Still — wary as I am of taking issue with Rosen, whose prescience is formidable — I don’t think we will see the term “blogger” fade away any time soon. There’s a difference between a term that’s so broad it’s lost all meaning and a term that has a couple of useful meanings that may conflict with each other.

After all, we still use the word “journalist,” even though it has cracked in two (“journalist” as professional label vs. “journalist” as descriptor of an activity). This is where human language (what programmers call “natural language”) differs from computer languages: our usage of individual words changes as it records our experience with their evolving meanings.

In other words, the multiple meanings of the word “blogger” may bedevil us, but they also tell a story.

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  1. The differences between “emailer” and “blogger” are not insignificant:

    1. To a good first approximation, everybody emails. To a reeeasonably good first guess, people don’t blog. Scott would know better than me, but I’d guess that less than 10% of the North American population has a blog that they post to more than once a year. Maybe less than 5%.

    It makes sense to talk about “knitters” because not everybody knits. It doesn’t make sense to talk about “eaters” because everybody eats*.

    2. Emailing is a means to one of many different ends, while the term blogging reflects the end product. The word “talker” is meaningless* because “talk” is usually not the end product. However, we do talk about “lecturers”, which implies the end product.

    *”Eaters” and “talkers” do make sense in the discussions of people who don’t do the activities, such as people whose get nourishment intravenously, people with speech impediments or extreme youth.

  2. I don’t know. “blogger” seems like a handy word to use to connote “someone who writes stuff on the web” with an implication that the person may have an overly-high opinion of the importance of their hobby.

    This is a non-story.

  3. Anonymous

    The term has always been meaningless to some of us. In 2002, my colleague asked me, “What’s the diff between blogging and what I do?” “Nothing” was the answer. In 2006, my then 74-yr-old mother asked me, “Should I start a blog, what’s a blog?” I asked her when was the last time she wrote in her diary. She said 1950. I told her to forget it.

    The “bloggers” who can write are, for the most part, columnists. The one’s who can’t are also columnists. I reckon only about 200 of out the thousands have something meaningful to say maybe 20% of the time.

    Analyzing the meaning of blogging is an act of desperation. Blogging doesn’t mean anything. It has no more value than the ad revenue it generates, just like my mother’s diary.

  4. “Unpacking” the meaning of the term “blogger” is only mildly interesting. There are bloggers and there are bloggers and there are bloggers. A few good, the others stultifyingly boring. Just as there are people who analyse bloggers and there are people who analyse bloggers. This analysis borders on boring. And there are people who have been “journalists” for decades who now blog. Such as me. Notice I wrote “such as me”? That’s because I am a former journalist who blogs. Another blogger might have written “like me”. Is that pompous? Probably. But at least I make no pretence. I write a woefully boring blog which requires shameless marketing. http://www.fredhatman.co.za. There. Fill your boots. And please try to lead more interesting lives. Pip pip!

  5. The shock value of the term “emailer” is splendid. But of course the presumptiousness of writing for the public is very different from entering into a personal correspondence.

    Mahir Cagri’s “I kiss you!!!!” back in 1999 certainly illustrated the potential for comedy when a personal site receives worldwide prominence, and could be innocently enjoyed in a way that the breach of privacy implicit in the Claire Swire email could not.

    Of course, most writing for the web sinks into deserved obscurity, but those of us who enjoy the form have a different monkey on our backs when we compose for publication, be that an archived mailing list, a weblog, or for traditional media, than when writing personal email.

  6. frankie

    Your fear is justified. He is good at observing an emerging phenomenon, analyzing it and projecting its path through society. He is obviously qualifying the time frame as sometime in the future.

    It is not just about unpacking the term blogger.

    It is a shame that the person discouraged his mother from writing a blog. YouTube(different venue, same point) has an older English man who posts his thoughts and memories. I have read the heartfelt responses of young people and it is amazing how much they have gained from his sharing of history and his life. He produces a very personal video blog. Even if no one read her postings it would be a good mental experience and develop her interest in the Internet.

    The use of email has grown exponentially not just in number of persons using it but in its applications. I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as expression/communication via the web. I will ride Rosen’s coattails!

  7. Hi Scott, don’t you think that “discerning” – rather than “discriminating” – would be a more appropriate word to use in the blurb at the top of your site? Best, Fred


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