My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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journals, blogs and a perspective

Jesse wrote me the other day, inquiring about starting a blog. He told me that he’s been a journaler for many years and wasn’t sure of this blog thing. Since this has been on my mind, i asked him to tell me what he thought the differences were. I think that this is good food for fodder for those curious (since most of what i read on the diff comes from self-described bloggers):

I will use the terms “journal” and “blog” to refer to two different things. I might call a journal a “diary” at some point, but I still mean journal, and journal as something separate from a blog. Also, I hate the term blog, just so you know.

Traditionally (ie, before there were blogs) the only sort of regularly-updated personal website out there was the journal. The journal was a personal account of the writer’s life, generally very personal, generally refering to daily/weekly events (though not always). Each entry tended to be long, a “page” or so, and it tended to have at least some amount of thought put into it.

When the blog first came on the scene, it was a daily pile of links, generally with a bit of commentary. The links were generally to interesting news bits — articles, photos, whatever — and one blog would generally link to something that was seen on another blog, either another news item or the actual blog entry linking to the interesting thing. You could stumble into a pile of interconnected web sites and just keep going around in circles, stumbling on the same links over and over again.

Soon enough, some of these “bloggers” started writing more and more interesting commentary, writing more and linking less. Other “bloggers,” liking what they saw, would link to that interesting piece of commentary, and all of a sudden, what were traditionally (I use that term incredibly liberally) linkers were actually becoming the content providers themselves. The format remained the same, however — generally a long page of content, listed by date, and mostly shorter, bite-sized pieces of content — the web given the MTV treatment.

Soon, the content became the primary focus and the links slipped away, though the feel is still distinct from the journal, in my mind. The journal has been, and always will be, a personal account of the journaler’s life. The blog can be written personally as well, and from a very personal point-of-view, but it will definitely be written about a particular item of public consciousness (even if that population that is actively interested in a particular story is very small).

Which isn’t to say that, these days, there isn’t an incredible amount of overlap. There is, and the two are almost interchangable. But only almost. Even the format makes a huge difference. The journal is still primarily listed as a page-at-a-time construct. Each day, or each entry, is a complete thought, a complete slice of life, constructed by the writer to stand alone. The blog still tends to be a-piece-in-a-whole, with each entry, regardless of length, presented within the context of the other entries posted that day, week, or month (though I do realize that the “permalinks” to most blog entries link to one particular blog entry, rather than a whole group).

For me, the desire to do a blog comes from wanting to write more globally. To write about the world, rather than my world. To be able to dash off thoguhts and let the world comment on my ideas. Comments are also much more of a blogging thing. The journal may have comments, but it is more of a one-way communication, from journaler to reader. Blogs are much more community-centric. “I write for you, and you write back” kind of feeling.

I feel like journalers write for themselves, with the audience as a byproduct (even if the journaler is writing with the clear understanding that there is an audience), and the blogger writes for the audience, with the understanding that there is a real person writing an entry.

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6 comments to journals, blogs and a perspective

  • Jeff P

    I see the difference as this: Journals are written for the author; blogs are written for an audience.

  • debbie

    Right now, journals seem more like personal soap operas and blogs like a fusion of CNN Headline News and viral talk radio. You previously linked to an interesting concept that personal sites are becoming their own social network and I think one effect will be that more and more journalers will adopt the blog and blurb format.

  • Robin

    I think the difference between a blog and a journal is a password-protected directory.

  • The difference between journaling and blogging

    I frequently get asked what the difference is between a blog and an online journal or diary. Jesse Chan-Norris, via danah boyd, provides an excellent summary of the history of online journals and blogs and the differences between them. In summary:Journ…

  • That is a very interesting pair of definitions. My feeling is that there are more shades of grey to the whole blog v. journal. For instance, there are still sites which have lists of links and there main content is not commentary but news feeds. Is that a blog? You could say it is a news wire, but often the stories are chosen at a purely personal level (IT, politics, strange-but-true). Also there are sites which are personal records of day to day life some of the time but which comment on the wider world and its issues at other times. I feel like that would describe my site. I would say that it is a journal for other reasons – it doesn’t yet have comment facilities like this, for example – yet it has a blog address. Perhaps blog should describe it all and the sub-definition is made in the mind of the visitor.

  • As an extra, there is some analysis of sub-genres at a blog written by Crawford Kiliari http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/ckbetas/2003/07/metablogging.html