EDA Confidential

Blogging Blurs Boundaries ...
Even at ICCAD

by Peggy Aycinena

November 18, 2008  

Raise your hand if you’re absolutely sure you know the difference between a blogger and a journalist, a journalist and a columnist, a columnist and an editor, and an editor and a blogger. Yes? You do know the difference? Absolutely?

Okay, then – you should have been at the EDA Bloggers Birds of a Feather session on November 12th at ICCAD last week in San Jose. Because after attending the session and listening for two hours to candid conversation amidst and between some really smart people – people committed to understanding and/or contributing to blogging as a form of communication – I’m not sure the definitions are as clear as we all might hope. That’s not to say it won’t get sorted out over the next several years, but for now it’s my impression – and you may disagree completely – the definitions are still somewhat blurred.

What I do know for sure is that this thing you’re reading right now is not a blog. That’s because there’s no way for you to post a response at the bottom. But even if there was some sort of interactive form you could use to post a comment, I’m not sure that it would be a blog even then.

I’ve got my articles here in EDA Confidential formatted in a way that makes them look like, well, articles. And that means this is more like a magazine – an online magazine – than a blogging site. But, what if I didn’t make them look like articles? What if they looked more like rapidly composed and rapidly deployed journal entries? Would that make this thing you’re reading a blog? Is it the speed with which it’s written and uploaded that makes it a blog?

Not really. From what I heard last week, not all bloggers are rushing to push Go just as soon as they’ve composed their next blog. Some people are running their blogs past legal and marketing first, particularly if they’re blogging on their company’s website at the request of, or with the permission of, their management.

Okay, then how about if this thing you’re reading were part of a threaded conversation – not just an initial commentary followed by responses, but a completely organic, threaded conversation? Would that be a blog? No, probably not. I’m thinking that would be a message board, something that used to be known as a chat room. The thing about message boards, however, is that from what I can tell pretty much everybody who’s posting comments on a message board is doing it anonymously. Folks are using names like EDAGent, or abc54321, or nastyNovember, or something like that.

Folks who post commentary on message boards rarely use real names, but bloggers usually do use real names, so maybe that means threaded commentaries on message boards are not blogs, but a posting that starts with somebody’s real name and is followed by commentary – whether it’s anonymous or not – is actually a blog. Plus a blog probably lives on a site that you know will be there when you go back and check. It’s not random like a message board.

Also, is it a blog if it’s not connected to an RSS feed? And is it a blog if the author of the text goes in and changes something that’s in error, but doesn’t note that the change has been entered? What if the blogger is embarrassed that he’s mis-identified somebody in a photo he's posted on his blog, and doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so he just goes in and changes the caption on the photo without noting the edit. Is that still a blog, or has that suddenly become an article or a column?

Not sure, then how about this? It is the tone of the piece that makes it a blog? What’s tone? Snippy is tone. Rude is tone. Funny is tone. Pedantic is tone. Irreverent is tone. And, of course, anything that starts with “I think …” is tone, because it’s not impartial. And, therefore, if it’s written in the third person and the author is “distant” from the story (whatever “distant” means), is it no longer a blog? Is that right? Even if there’s a place for feedback at the bottom from anon and/or non-anon readers? It's not a blog, it’s an article – or maybe a column?

How about when an editor has an opinion, openly expressed in an article? If the editor is no longer “distant” from the story and no longer impartial, is the editor now a blogger? Do you think this spate of questions is confusing? Well, there’s actually more.

What about motivation? What if the person posting the commentary is getting paid to write that posting – not as an extension of their day job – but actually earning dollars for writing the thing? Is that person blogging, or have they become a journalist? Does a blogger have to be composing their content simply to enhance their community, or can they be doing it to meet their patron’s agenda? For instance, I get paid to write EDA Weekly. Is it, therefore, not a blog – even though it's possible to post commentary at the bottom? And even though I often write in the first person, frequently have tone, and write things from an overt point of view – nonetheless, does getting paid to write EDA Weekly make it journalism, and not blogging?

How about EDA Confidential? I don’t get paid to write the content I post here, and neither does anybody else who contributes content to this site. Are we all, therefore, bloggers? Even if there’s no room for commentary at the bottom?

But wait, the questions are not over. What if I'm able to garner a Press Pass for a conference, get in for free, have access to the Press Room, and am invited to fancy lunches or dinners. But what if my badge says EDA Confidential at that conference? If I’ve got tone, don’t get paid, and keep my postings short and spontaneous here on EDA Confidential, am I really just a blogger passing myself off as a member of the Press? Should I still get the free lunches and the cozy retreat?

What if the bloggers say that’s not fair? What if they say they want to come into the Press Room, too, and get those free lunches and dinners? Does that mean bloggers want to become members of the Press – to be journalists and editors? Or, does it mean that now members of the Press are all bloggers? Does that mean the Press Room should go away, or alternatively, that everybody who writes anything at a conference should have access to the Press Room?

And in a whole other quadrant of the conversation, what if the person is over 30 and is actually a columnist, but wants to call themselves a blogger just so they’ll sound hip and cool? Or, what if the person is under 30 – or over 30, for that matter – but just posts thoughts regularly on a Facebook page. Does that make them a blogger, or just somebody who’s out there on Facebook? Even more complex – what if the person is posting comments on a blog (or even Facebook), but doesn’t want just anybody to have access to that text? Is it a blog if not everybody can listen in?

Finally, what about PR? If a person is beginning to receive Press Releases from PR consuls promoting the agenda of their clients, is that person still a blogger – if they’re being pitched to cover news and developments? Is a blogger who gets Press Releases – and reads them – is that person no longer a blogger, but a member of the Press? What if the blogger gets the Press Releases, but never does anything with them. Are they just a blogger again?

And, speaking of revenue – if a blog has ads on it, hopes to generate revenue by click-throughs, or is helping to promote the marketing agenda of the blogger's employer, is that a blog. Or is it advertorial? Not sure? Really, neither am I.

All I am sure of at this point is that the boundaries between all of this blogging stuff is still really blurred. Sean Murphy, who hosted last week’s ICCAD Birds of a Feather session for EDA bloggers, had it just about right when he said to the assembled group – and I’m paraphrasing here:

    Right now this blogging thing is like the weeds that sprout up after a forest fire. Publishing has gone through a tremendous forest fire, nothing’s been left untouched, and there’s a kind of devastation all around us. Bloggers are the weeds that are sprouting up amidst the devastation. Five years from now, it won’t look like this, but for now, we’re all doing the best we can to understand and develop the ecosystem.

I like that. It feels accurate, amusing, has tone, attitude, first-person voice, plus there was room for lots of feedback from the people in attendance at the session. I think that makes Sean Murphy's comments a blog.

By the way, Ed Lee (Lee PR) and Juan-Antonio Carballo (IBM) were also involved in organizing the session at ICCAD, but I don’t think they qualify as bloggers. However, they do qualify as interested parties who are tracking and trying to understand the evolving nature of the blogging community. I think I do, too.

Thanks for listening.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Peggy Aycinena. All rights reserved.