What is a blog anyway?

Personal vs. Professional.The etiquette of blogs has intrigued me for some time. So much so that I didn’t dare keep one myself for fear of contravening some unwritten rule obvious to a veteran of the Blogosphere but completely alien to a newbie like me (some bloggers may not have any morals but the group I read do). I watched for some time and found that really it’s not all that difficult, in many web-design-related blogs, the author has a general point to make but may well flesh that information out by throwing in anecdotes from everyday life as they see fit. I suppose it’s designed to give a sense of the foibles of the person behind the keyboard, although for me, reading from a screen is still no substitute for making face to face contact (or even a phone call, you can tell so much just from the tone of voice). Meeting the web bigwigs (authors of blogs I often read) at conference gave me a sense of what they mean when they write.

Two surprising and potentially destructive (although I hope not) issues have flared up recently within the blogging community both of which involve some respected names in web design, accessibility and user interaction. I was in two minds whether to post this entry. I wanted to make this comment as it’s been brewing for sometime, but I didn’t want to further exaggerate the grief of those concerned. I’m not going to link to the sites concerned, if you don’t know what I’m talking about you’ll have to dig around. Suffice to say both issues were incredibly personal and are posted in public space. These events have reminded me of my own emerging understanding of blogs and the questions that cropped up – where do you draw the line between personal and private? Is this distinction relevant? Can an instinctively private individual ever hope to use their blog effectively as part of their professional life? These questions relate to my own sensibilities, but surely other people have been through similar thought processes when contemplating joining this throng of mostly amateur publishing.

Personally I keep business and personal matters as separate as possible. Writing my thoughts here, I don’t know who’s reading, it’s probably a little paranoid but that unsettles me. I find it difficult to create and keep friendships online, I’ve met all of of my close friends in the flesh first, then kept in touch through email (yes, it’s online but it’s private), phone, weekends at theirs etc. In the physical world I can keep professional and personal separate. However living life on the web presents different challenges. If I were to publicly document my personal life on the web, suddenly this could have an impact (potentially both positive and negative) on my work as a web designer.

Blogs offer false security. Right now I’m sitting in my bedroom, a familiar and very personal environment. If I were so inclined, I could quite easily pour my heart out to you in the belief that you’d understand and possibly even empathise. But the truth is, I have no idea how you’re interpreting my words. Similarly, aggressive and threatening comments may take no time to write but can never be retracted. Any writing provoked by overwhelming feelings can be quickly transferred to the web and may well persistently exist. It’s like writing in a newspaper, but without all the editorial checks *. That’s the double edged sword of a blog. It lets the author get their opinion out very quickly which is great for democracy, but what if they’re e.g. drunk or emotional as they write? Not that I’m widely read, but I could quite easily damage my reputation with only a couple of offensive words.

Listening to the radio on Thursday morning, the presenter mentioned this very issue. He described employers using the tactic of searching for personal information posted online about potential employees. Although I question the ethics of this, it’s fine if all you do is upload pictures of your family holiday for your friends, but what about photos from drunken nights out or other indiscreet moments?

Personally I feel for those concerned in the current ugliness. They are all inspirational to me and I hope they’re not deterred from working together in the future (and in one case, blogging at all). Really I just want to get my thoughts out there about blogs and the new social landscape they’re presenting us. I’m not trying to poke fun at anyone (I hope I haven’t broken my first blogging rule!?!). I write this because I feel the need to get it out and make a record (in my often inaccurate way). If you’re interested please comment, I find that usually helps in refining the point.

* Speaking of newspapers, the more serious (threatening) of these cases made it into The Indepedent newspaper on Thursday. Joan Smith saw fit to write a piece about online abuse. I only mention this because it proves how far blogs are affecting the mainstream media.

Posted on Monday 2 April 2007.

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