From Text to Multimedia: Blogging Grows Up
Traditionally, blogging has been a medium characterized by being reflective, intensely personal, immediate, linear, and primarily – nay, most importantly, text based. For much of its relatively short history the phenomenon of blogging differed from traditional print media most markedly in delivery format. (That is, of course, notwithstanding standard editorial practices.) Essentially, blog followers consumed their chosen editorial content by reading text from a digital screen while print consumers held a tangible paper good to consume theirs. As blogging had its roots in text based content it is not surprising that most descriptions of the medium define it in terms relating to text. For about half of the last decade this association worked very well…then came 2005, the year of YouTube.
The advent of consumer marketed video recording devices, the ubiquitous bundling of webcams with computer hardware, the introduction of affordable and easy to use video editing software, and an intuitive push button publishing platform - one very similar to traditional text based blogging platforms, in fact – all converged to usher in a new era in blogging. Add to this the increasing popularity of photo blogging and image blogging and a pattern begins to emerge. Contemporary blogging is most often discursive, hyper mediated, non-linear and increasingly, visual. So is the definition of blogging as text based medium an outdated one that requires revision, or are these new visual online serial publications something different altogether? I believe the former is correct.
Let’s take a virtual step back and revisit the question of what, exactly, is a blog. According to Rebecca Blood, one of the pioneers of the medium:
The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays…Their editors present links both to little-known corners of the web and to current news articles they feel are worthy of note. Such links are nearly always accompanied by the editor's commentary…Typically this commentary is characterized by an irreverent, sometimes sarcastic tone. More skillful editors manage to convey all of these things in the sentence or two with which they introduce the link (making them, as Halcyon pointed out to me, pioneers in the art and craft of microcontent). Indeed, the format of the typical weblog, providing only a very short space in which to write an entry, encourages pithiness on the part of the writer; longer commentary is often given its own space as a separate essay. (Blood, rebeccablood.net)
As indicated in Blood’s passage to blog in the year 2000 was invariably to write. Contrast that with Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere survey of 2,828 influential bloggers in 2009. In this landmark survey 49% of all bloggers polled across three primary disciplines - Self Employed, Corporate, and Part Timers – regularly used video in their blogs. 82% of all surveyed regularly used photos. In 2010 the statistics increase to 50% and 87% respectively.
The numbers are also very telling in respect to text only blogs. In the same survey only 13% of bloggers polled used only text in their publications in 2009. That number fell to 10% in 2010. Additionally, of those bloggers surveyed who didn’t already regularly rely on multimedia content 40% said that planned to in 2009. No corresponding statistic is given for 2010.
Hence online serial self publishers who define themselves as bloggers are overwhelmingly producing digital content that is visual rather than textual. So, if these publishers aren’t bloggers what are they? To answer that let’s briefly examine some of the commonly acknowledged characteristics of a blog. Per Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic, another blogging pioneer, blogs are:
To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth….Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete.
The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
On my blog, my readers and I experienced 9/11 together, in real time. I can look back and see not just how I responded to the event, but how I responded to it at 3:47 that afternoon. And at 9:46 that night. There is vividness to this immediacy that cannot be rivaled by print. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
Of course Sullivan is referring to blogging exclusively as a written form. However, the traits he detailed are in no way exclusive to textual content. In fact, the introduction of visual multimedia technology to serially published content serves to greatly amplify these characteristics in contemporary online publications. Hence not only are non text based publications actually blogs, indeed they are more blog like than their text based predecessors.
When Time magazine named “YOU” the 2006 person of the year it marked a watershed moment in publishing – both digital and traditional. The social web, Web 2.0, had reached mainstream status and the darling of all this public adoration was YouTube. Launched in 2005, YouTube put personal video broadcasting literally at the fingertips of anyone with a webcam and an internet connection. The ability to publish video content simply without any advanced knowledge of A/V production led to an explosion in the production of multimedia user generated content. Suddenly the bloggers we had been reading for years had faces, and voices…and we could see and hear them. User generated video content presented a more personal and immediate link between publisher and viewer because of a phenomenon that Sullivan himself describes as the “human brand.” Says Sullivan:
The pioneers of online journalism—Slate and Salon—are still very popular, and successful. But the more memorable stars of the Internet—even within those two sites—are all personally branded. Daily Kos, for example, is written by hundreds of bloggers, and amended by thousands of commenters. But it is named after Markos Moulitsas, who started it, and his own prose still provides a backbone to the front-page blog. The biggest news-aggregator site in the world, the Drudge Report, is named after its founder, Matt Drudge, who somehow conveys a unified sensibility through his selection of links, images, and stories. The vast, expanding universe of The Huffington Post still finds some semblance of coherence in the Cambridge-Greek twang of Arianna; the entire world of online celebrity gossip circles the drain of Perez Hilton; and the investigative journalism, reviewing, and commentary of Talking Points Memo is still tied together by the tone of Josh Marshall. Even Slate is unimaginable without Mickey Kaus’s voice.
What endures is a human brand… People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For blogging, they have a sensibility. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
If this is true then video bloggers have a voice, a face and a sensibility. All of which are always on display, and all of which are critical components in making that all important connection between blogger and audience. But what of the first criterion that a blog be participatory in nature?
In video blogging, much like traditional blogging, the comments section endures as a publisher’s primary engagement tool with his or her audience. Even from blogging’s earliest days commenters have always had the ability to include links in their comments. Increasingly video blogging platforms are being designed to include multimedia commenting capabilities. The ability to embed images and video as responses to images and video will only increase as the popularity of multimedia content continues to grow.
Also, there is the ever popular phenomenon of the remix or mashup. Appropriating and remixing the digital content of a fellow content producer is perhaps the purist form of participatory media. It requires a not only a familiarity with the content being appropriated but also a familiarity with the context of the content being appropriated. This evolution of publication from a one way broadcast to a two way conversation is one of the very cornerstones of blogging as a medium. This conversation is amplified many times over when the content in question is multimedia.
Blogging as a cultural phenomenon is still in its relative infancy in comparison to other media forms. In fact the term “infancy” rather denotes significant future development that has yet to occur. The existing definition of blogging that precludes multimedia content is one that at best no longer fits the medium. Indeed blogging has its roots in text based content. However it is the nature of all media, indeed of all life, to grow.
Blood, Rebecca. "Rebecca Blood : Weblogs: A History And Perspective." What's in Rebecca's Pocket? N.p., 7 Sept. 2000. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html>.
Grossman, Lev. "Time's Person of the Year: You - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. N.p., 13 Dec. 2006. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html>.
Sobel, Jon. "HOW: Technology, Traffic and Revenue - Day 3 State of the Blogosphere 2010 - Technorati Blogging." Technorati. N.p., 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://technorati.com/blogging/article/how-technology-traffic-and-revenue-day/>.
Sullivan, Andrew. "Why I Blog - Magazine - The Atlantic." The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Life – TheAtlantic.com. N.p., Nov. 2008. Web. 4 Apr. 2011. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/why-i-blog/7060/1/>.
Sussman, Matt. "Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2009: Day 3: The How of Blogging." Technorati.com. N.p., 21 Oct. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://technorati.com/blogging/article/day-3-the-how-of-blogging1/>.
Part II: Remediation
Part III: Meta-Reflection
The subject of my original essay, the evolution of blogging from a textual medium to a visual one, necessitated a visual remediation. When tasked with remediating the essay it was incumbent upon me to live up to its visual promise. I felt that remediating the essay in any other form would not only have negated my thesis, but really fallen short of its potential.
In rethinking the original essay I repeatedly came back to our assigned reading by Marshall McLuhan. Interestingly at the time the class did the readings I remember drawing a distinct and contradictory conclusion from McLuhan regarding the significance of the medium in the medium/message equation. Per McLuhan, “…it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale of and form of human association and action” (203). This remediation has caused me to rethink my earlier position and indeed gain an entirely new and radical perspective. McLuhan was correct. The medium that I chose reinforced my original argument in a myriad of ways that a text based remediation never could have. However its limitations often got in the way. The medium didn’t change the message per se but it did significantly shape the telling of it. Overcoming the built in limitations of my chosen medium challenged me to reinterpret both my own vision and indeed the manner in which I attempted to digitize my essay.
For example viewers may be startled to see that I chose a Caucasian male narrator, one with a British accent who bears a striking resemblance to Larry King in fact, to represent myself in the film. This choice was as much a representation my “tongue-in-cheek” aesthetic as it was a limitation of the Xtranormal platform. There weren’t many female avatars to choose from. Of those available several were dressed in provocative and rather suggestive attire. Racial ethnic minorities were in even less represented in the available choices. This dearth of diversity may be a telling indication of the true state of gender and minority representation in contemporary media, however I will leave that subject for another reflection. Hence lacking the ability to employ a narrator that resembled my real life self, I opted to chose a narrator that was as far as possible from reality. In doing so my argument regarding how visual content increased the personal nature of blogging was simultaneously reinforced and challenged. It was strengthened in the fact that I was able to express the playful side of my personality, but weakened in that I was unable to inject a literal representation of myself into the film.
As the paper deals extensively with the subject of remix I felt it highly necessary to incorporate that genre into the remediation. I brainstormed for weeks attempting to devise a way to visually remix an essay on visual blogging that didn’t exceed my technical abilities. During this time Gibson’s take on affordance gained particular resonance:
An affordance according to Gibson exists relative to the action capabilities of particular actors. Therefore, to a thief an open window can have an affordance of "climbing through" (and subsequently stealing something), but not so to a child who is not tall enough to reach the window and therefore does not have the action possibility…the information that specifies the affordance is indeed dependant on the actor's experience and culture. (Soegaard 2010)
I found myself stymied by my personal affordances with digital media. Until this project animated characters were commodities to be consumed by me, not created. However to be “digital” requires a set of read/write capabilities that being analog does not. One doesn’t need to know how to animate a character in order to “write” a blog. In the creation of my digital remediation I was forced into the role of consumer once more, this time because I didn’t know how to animate. Hence my digital animation affordance or lack thereof, challenged me to produce my vision without compromising it too significantly. However, it could also be argued that my own technical limitations forced me to be more creative in the execution of my remediation. Ultimately I believe my goal of digitally and visually remediating my original thesis was achieved but not without a reluctant sacrifice of some creative control.
McLuhan, Marshall, and W T. Gordon. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2003. Print.
Soegaard, Mads. "Affordances". Interaction-Design.org 22 March 2010. 10 May 2011 <http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/affordances.html>