To help answer this beguilingly difficult question I asked Nick Holmes, Managing Director of Infolaw, host of the Binary Law blog and the co-editor with Delia Venables of the excellent Internet Newsletter for Lawyers to write a blog post on that very topic. Nick takes a look at the history of blogging and what a blawg should and shouldn’t be.
Thanks to Mike for the opportunity to contribute to this blog of blawgs. Before it gets too well established I think it’s necessary to raise the vexed question, what is a blawg? Easy, you might say, it’s a blog about law or legal practice. Correct, but the bigger question is then, what is a blog? That’s more difficult to answer than you might think.
I was an early adopter of blogging and one thing early adopters are keen on is navel gazing; that was certainly the case amongst UK blawgers in the heady days of 2005/2006.
Let’s go Wayback to December 2006 to investigate. (The Wayback machine, run by the Internet Archive, provides a snapshot of websites as they were at past points in time. Many of the links and references to other pages and sites work as they did at that time.)
The leading case of the day was The Blawgosphere v Watson Farley Williams’ Trainee Law Blog which established the principle that for a blog to be a blog it must both walk like a blog and talk like a blog. Do read this and follow up the links. It’s a hoot!
Throughout the proceedings the plaintiffs were ably represented by Charon QC who deployed the firm Muttley Dastardly LLP to illustrate how things should not be done.
But back to our requirements …
A blog should walk like a blog
Blogs are first a publishing format with a certain base standard of compliance. The bar has been raised over the years, now standing at approximately this level: a blog is a website or sub-site consisting of latest first collections of articles or excerpts of articles, linking to the full articles, accessible by some or all of date, category or tag, allowing (with some exceptions) user comments and producing RSS feeds of latest articles.
You get this all out of the box with standard blog software like WordPress or Blogger so there’s no excuse for non-compliance. You can of course produce a blog with a custom CMS but why would you? With very few exceptions the custom blogs I’ve encountered fail to meet the standard.
A blog should talk like a blog
Just because you publish something that functions like a blog, doesn’t make it a blog.
In dismissing what he called the “Blog People”, Michael Gorman in Library Journal, February 2005, wrote that:
A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web.
Now, he was being a grumpy old man and dismissing bloggers as some sort of sub-species of author, like so many at the time, but at least he knew a blogger when he saw one: someone who communicates thoughts – usually by words, but often also through pictures, video, music … (you name it, people have blogged it one way or another).
Blogs express the personal voices of their authors, whether in a personal or a business context; blogs establish conversations with other bloggers and with readers via links and comments; blogs engage.
Most law blogs cover new developments, with comment and analysis of the issues and other passing thoughts and asides. There are some that offer more straightforward current awareness or updates. But blawgs are as varied as the individuals that write them, ranging from the focused and serious to the eclectic and irreverent.
As blogs have become more common we find many law firms producing news blogs for client consumption and, particularly in areas of high competition, full-on “marketing” blogs especially designed to attract custom via SEO. That’s a perfectly valid use of blog software but it does not make what they produce blogs; they are marketing pap.
We blawgers should stand firm: a blawg must be a blog! Nothing less will do.