[This is a response to Prof. Macek’s first blog prompt.]
Hey y’all. My apologies for the delay in posting this. I meant to get it online over the weekend, but I’ve been fighting off a sinus infection since Sunday morning, and today is the first day since then that I really feel up to writing coherently.
I recently read Rebecca Blood’s interview with security researcher Bruce Schneier. His blog, appropriately titled Schneier on Security, features posts on cryptography and computer security (Bruce’s primary areas of research), as well as what he calls “real-world security” issues such as electronic voting, national ID programs, and counter-terrorism. While I don’t follow Bruce’s blog regularly, I often find myself reading one of his posts after being linked there from another blog, or from Digg or reddit or another tech news site. I was not, however, very familiar with the history of Bruce’s online writing. Reading Rebecca’s interview, one thing jumped out at me that I had not previously considered: blogging radically alters the writing style of blog authors.
I suppose this seems, to some extent, like common sense, but I think the underlying point warrants greater attention than it tends to receive. Bruce started writing about security-related matters for a wide audience in 1998, when he first published a monthly newsletter called Crypto-Gram. This meant that his articles suffered from a lag of up to one month between writing and publication. He started blogging in order to reduce that lag time by creating “a way to pre-publish Crypto-Gram essays”. His blog, Bruce thought, would be nothing more than a vehicle for delivering the same content as before, but in a quicker and more relevant fashion.
That, at least, was his intent. In practice, he found that his old, essay-style content didn’t fit a blog nearly as well as it did a newsletter. He soon found himself writing less essays and more posts. His writings grew shorter and more frequent. He quoted more, and he paraphrased less. (“Blogging means thinking in terms of hypertext: quoting and linking,” Bruce says.) “And slowly,” he explains, “instead of Schneier on Security being a blog version of Crypto-Gram, Crypto-Gram became a monthly e-mail version of my blog.”
The natural question, of course, is why any of this matters. I think it provides an excellent example of how new media, or even new forms of existing media, can totally transform the way people relate to content. Not only is content consumed differently when the format changes (from a newsletter to a blog, say); content must be produced differently as well. People who read blogs often have very specific expectations for blog posts. They want short summaries rather than long essays. They don’t just want passing references to original sources; they want direct links to the material being quoted. Attempting to shoehorn old content into a new medium will almost never succeed, as the mainstream media is beginning to discover with its ill-fated forays into the electronic age. The best bloggers are the ones who tacitly acknowledge both the strengths and the limitations of blogs, and who tailor their content to best suit the unique characteristics of the blog medium.