David WeinbergerBlogs live writes David Weinberger (@dweinberger), whose work at Harvard and as an a author focuses on how the Internet is changing human relationships, communication, and society.

Weinberger had the opportunity to share his reflections on blogging at a recent Fellows Hour at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where the topic was “Whatever happened to blogging?” Having begun blogging in 1999 and co-authoring the Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger is as qualified as anyone to answer that question.

His thoughts provide a wonderful sense of where we’ve been in blogging, the impact blogging’s had, it’s current role, and what blogging really is, versus how some people, including lawyers, use blogs.

Read Weinberger’s post. I am liberally sharing highlights from Weinberger along with my thoughts – to continue to learn from a true leader in the area and as a reminder of what blogging is.

Weinberger points to three reasons why blogging mattered to early bloggers, more than other people could probably appreciate.

  1. Presence. Web presence was no longer a website when blogs came along. Blogs became the way we could have a Web presence that enabled us to react, respond, and provoke. A home page was a painting, a statue. Our blog was our presence. Our blog was the Web equivalent of  our body. Being on the Web was turning out to be even more important and more fun than we’d thought it would be.
  2. Community. The Web is more of a social space than a publishing, informational, or commercial space. We connected to each other socially via blogging by sending people from our blogs via links in our posts and had blogrolls listing bloggers we engaged with. Our posts linking to other’s content added to the discussion which begun elsewhere. This form of discussion and blogrolls were the precursor to social networks. We made friendships through blogging, some with people we never met in person.
  3. Disruption. Blogging upset many assumptions about who gets to speak, how we speak, and who is an authority. Although blogging is now taken for granted at best and can seem quaint at worst, we thought we were participating in a revolution. And we were somewhat right. The invisibility of the effects of blogging — what we take for granted — is a sign of the revolution’s success.

Weinberger’s so right. More than just static, a website had no life. My blog allowed me to go from conversation to conversation, to conference to conference, and to networking event to networking event.

Not only did I participate in the discussion with people I could only have dreamed of meeting, I often drove the conversation. Sometimes influencing public perception of major companies who could not respond because they had no presence in the net – they had no bloggers.

Community is what the Net is all about, always has been. The Internet was created as a communication tool, not as a broadcasting or publishing medium. Blogging, unlike publishing, is a conversation or a means of networking. We enter a conversation by engaging what another blogger has said. We pick up the conversation.

To share further perspective, Weinberger shared a number of ways blogging was being contrasted in the early days. Here’s some that lawyers should make note of when blogging today, not literally such as to frequency, but to have an understanding of this new medium of blogging as compared to where you may have been.

  • Newsletters vs. Posts. Newsletters and ‘zines (remember when that was a word?) lowered the barrier to individuals posting their ideas in a way that built a form of Web presence. Blogs intersected uncomfortably with many online newsletters (including mine). Because it was assumed that a successful blog needed new posts every day or so, content for blogs tended to be shorter and more tentative than content in newsletters.
  • Good vs. Fast. If you’re writing a couple of posts a day, you don’t have time to do a lot of revising. On the other hand, this made blogging more conversational and more human (where “human” = fallible, imperfect, in need of a spelpchecker).
  • One-way vs. Engaged. Writers rarely got to see the reaction of their readers, and even more rarely were able to engage with readers. But blogs were designed to mix it up with readers and other bloggers: permalinks were invented for this very purpose, as were comment sections, RSS feeds, etc.
  • Owned vs. Shared. You got to see just how little ownership writers have ever had over their ideas. If seeing your work get appropriated by your readers made you uncomfortable, you either didn’t blog or you stopped up your ears and covered your eyes so you could simulate the experience of a mainstream columnist.
  • Reputation vs. Presence. Old-style writing could make your reputation. Blogging gave you an actual presence. It was you on the Web.  (emphasis added)
  • Writing vs. Conversation. Some bloggers posted without engaging, but the prototypical blogger treated a post as one statement in a continuing conversation. That often made the tone more conversational and lowered the demand that one present the final word on some topic.
  • Objectivity vs.Transparency. Journalists were quite concerned about the fact that bloggers wrote in their own voice and made their personal points of view known. Many journalists — probably most of them — still believe that letting readers know about their own political stances, etc., would damage their credibility. Weinberger disagrees and lawyers needs to have a voice and share a point of view.

Blogging has brought us the new normal. From Weinberger:

The expectations around engagement, transparency, and immediacy for mainstream writing have changed in part because of blogs. We have changed where we turn for analysis, if not for news. We expect the Web to be easy to post to. We expect conversation. We are more comfortable with informal, personal writing. We get more pissed off when people write in corporate or safely political voices. We want everyone to be human and to be willing to talk with us in public.

Blogs live.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Nancy White.