Linking and Citations

In the various discussions of whether or not bloggers are journalists, or the distinctions between war bloggers and tech bloggers, or what we do when we blog, perhaps we’ve taken for granted one of the most distinctive qualities of blogs and blogging: linking.

The emphasis on linking in blogs appealed to me immediately; linking is, after all, a way of creating footnotes and citations, something that as a medievalist, I must do all the time. But because of the emphasis on linking in blogs—the ease of creating citations, of providing source text and gloss side by side, bloggers make it easy for their readers to verify their data . As bloggers we present our sources with our conclusions, allowing us, as Ken Layne put it, to “fact check your ass.”

Updated 11/20/2005:Thanks to Ken Smith’s heads up I’ve updated the links in this post.

The Rhetoric of Web Logs

Meg Hourihan, one of the creators of Blogger, and the author of Megnut, wrote on essay for O’Reilly Network on “What We’re Doing When We Blog.” Meg makes a number of intelligent, accurate observations about the nature of web logs, including emphasizing their “commonality.” She writes:

If we look beneath the content of web logs, we can observe the common ground all bloggers share—the format. The web log format provides a framework for our universal blog experiences, enabling the social interactions we associate with blogging. Without it, there is no differentiation between the myriad content produced for the Web.

Go read her excellent essay, then come back for my piffle, if you must.

Ms. Hourihan has begun to document the beginnings of a rhetoric of web logs. Now, lest you begin foaming at the mouth, at the use of “rhetoric” in reference to blogs, I would like to remind you that the true meaning of rhetoric is the art of persuasion using language, and that a rhetorician is a master of communication, using specific tools, techniques and methods.

Classical rhetorical theory divides the art of rhetoric into five parts (I’m cribbing wildly from Richard Lanham’s excellent A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). The five parts of rhetoric are:

  •  Invention
  •  Arrangement
  •  Style
  •  Memory
  •  Delivery

Though Classical rhetoricians were largely interested in the spoken word, as any writer will tell you, these divisions, or “steps” if you will, work quite well for modern writing, or even blogging.

Ms. Hourihan, in her anatomy, has neatly presented us with the various attributes of the second part of the blogging ars rhetorica, the arrangement.

  •  The basic unit is the “post” rather than the paragraph or page.
  •  Posts are listed in reverse chronological order, with the newest at the top of the page.
  •  Posts are date-and-time stamped.
  •  Posts contain links, often to primary sources.
  •  Posts are archived, at regular intervals, often by virtue of the software used to create the formatted post and mount/upload it to a web server.
  •  Posts are associated with a permalink, allowing them to be linked to directly, specifically, and retrieved in isolation, from the archive.
  •  Writers’ email addresses are prominently featured, allowing immediate contact, and encouraging incorporation of emails into a post.

Much of the arrangment of a blog is taken care of by the wonderful tools, Radio, Blogger, MoveableType, that allow us to separate content, our words, from presentation. But the other parts of rhetoric are also slightly changed in blogs as well. Invention, for instance, relies in part on the role of the blogging and Internet community, since blogs depend on linking. Memory is moved largely outside the human cerebellum to silicon, as we utilize Google and other search engines, and bookmarks. Style is perhaps the least changed, since we are still using words and text, albeit presented on the flat-panel pixellated LCD. Delivery is entirely changed from the format used by Cicero; we upload and the ‘net disseminates for us. I’ll probably post more about the rhetoric of blogging as I come to grips with blogging rhetorical strategies, but Ms. Hourihan has already laid the groundwork.

Blogs in the Mist

What’s up with Salon.com? First there are two articles on the value of bloggging—” Use the Blog, Luke” and “Much Ado About Blogging“. Then there’s this from SiT about Blogs.Salon.Com. Well, it’s kinda there. Something’s up. The numbering scheme at blogs.salon.com reminds me of Radio’s. Which makes me think of this post of Dave Winer’s where he refers to ” hosting thousands of weblogs under a new brand quite soon. “

The growth of blogging as an ordinary and a professional pursuit, and the development of easy to use tools has got me thinking about teaching composition again (literature classes are much much easier to teach) and maybe proposing a new course.