Jason Godesky has an interesting post up about why blogs are in a category all their own when it comes to publishing content online. It's a question I've thought about on occasion, given that I've had a personal website in some form or another since, um, 1994, and that I get indignant once in a while when people jump and scream that the blogging phenomenon is the shiny new thing that levels the playing field. It was the whole frickin Internet thing that was supposed to do that in the first place, people! But Jason has put his finger on some of the specifics about why blogging is different, though I have a few more to add.
One is that the mechanisms in place that allow one to publish a blog have become so easy to use that it really does bring the bar down in new and exciting ways. Okay, and sometimes in sad and disgusting ways. But generally, I'm glad that my friends and neighbors who wouldn't otherwise bother to take the time to learn HTML or how FTP works or how to lay out a chunk of text on a page, can now - with services like Blogger and LiveJournal - just fill out a web form and click a button and be published. And with new variations like Audioblogger popping up, other barriers go away too.
Second, I think the kind of tone one finds in the average blog is worth noting. The good blogs that I read and that I think of as "real weblogs" tend to have a special voice specific to this form of publishing. It doesn't adhere to strict journalistic conventions (though there are many that do) or take on a very formal tone. On the other hand, it's not just a link farm or random blather that just happens to occur to the author (there are lots of these too - see most LiveJournal blogs) as they procrastinate their homework. It's somewhere in between - a fairly high standard of quality because of the constant sense of "writing for the world", but plenty of room for silliness, tangents, self-deprecation, and other forms of levity.
Last, I think "real blogs" are telling a story. They're not just isolated bursts of information - while most posts are self-contained, they are also a manifestation of what the author(s) were thinking about, doing in their lives, or otherwise pursuing at the time. One post might reference an earlier one, which might reference a friend's different account of the same subject or event, and so on. Even very technical blogs can show an evolution of the technology and the people driving that process. The blogs I enjoy most show me something about the journey that the people writing in them are traveling, no matter what slice of life is being revealed.
And that's certainly a hope I have for my blog - to express what's happening in my life through this series of interconnected writings. Whereas the personal websites I've maintained in the past might have attempted to be a polished final product of "Chris Hardie, As Seen Online" (which would quickly get old and incomplete), blogs allow us to more closely mimic real experiences - through nuanced and dynamic snapshots of ongoing growth, change and refinement as life takes us in many different directions - and share those experiences in a more authentic way.