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April 27, 2005

Now, don't take this the wrong way, because this is a totally honest question, and I think the answer may prove interesting: Why do you suppose people keep referring to my Ajax essay as a "blog post"?

<=> | April 27, 2005


You know it's inevitable: anything written online by a single person will someday soon just be considered a "blog" or "blog post" regardless of the form or format. I'm seeing it more often now, especially in the press, where any form of online publishing is called a blog, even when it clearly isn't (bulletin boards and discussion forums are often called blogs).

Posted by: Matt Haughey | Apr 27, 2005 10:30:23 AM

Because Jeff leaked over beers that you guys are using a modded version of MT to post the essays? ;)

Posted by: Jason Shellen | Apr 27, 2005 11:21:00 AM

But people don't think of everything on the web as a blog, right? They know John Dvorak's column isn't a blog, and they know that Homestar Runner isn't a blog. So how do they tell?

I'd give you the MT thing except that our fork of the MT code doesn't produce MT-style URLs, and there's really no evidence on the page that MT is the backend.

Posted by: jjg | Apr 27, 2005 11:24:09 AM

I would venture to guess that most people who have visited the essay have done so via a link from somewhere else that plops them right onto the essay page, a 2-column plus header with a title and a date. They read the article without paying any attention to its surrounding context and then off to the next link on the site they came from. If you don't look closely at the header and sidebar, you won't think "article" from the format.

Dvorak is generally known as a journalist and his column has the PC Mag masthead, is in a single column with byline picture just under the headline ads right and bottom. It looks more like the paper version of an article. Take a look at an O'Reilly article and contrast it to the more blog-style Presentation makes the distinction.

If your article appeared on a site that is usually associated with articles, such as O'Reilly or IBM DeveloperWorks or Apple's developer site, folks would be more ready to assume that as a guest speaker it is an article rather than a blog entry. Perhaps people associate Adaptive Path more with your interactive services business than as a static information source and therefore see your articles more as invitations to begin conversations than broadcasts.

Posted by: Brent Ashley | Apr 27, 2005 12:11:42 PM

Hi Brent. Your comment suggests there are several varieties of context at work here:

  • Page context, where you suggest that the page design does not strongly communicate "I am an article". I'm not sure I agree with you here; I don't see the semiotic cues of the Dvorak and Udell examples diverging from the Ajax piece significantly enough that readers would put it in a different category.
  • Session context, where the reader assumes that anything linked from a blog that is not obviously something else is probably also a blog. I think this is a reasonable assumption, and I think session context is probably what the reader would fall back on to categorize the content in the absence of strong page context cues.
  • Reputation context, where the reader's associations with the publisher lead them to draw conclusions about the type of content the publisher is likely to provide. Here, again, I'm not sure I agree with you; the article has reached many people who had never heard of AP before, and they think it's a blog entry too. So again, the conclusion we come to is that "blog post" is the default category people apply to content they can't identify as anything else.

I can't help thinking, though, that people are more likely to categorize content by what it is than by what it's not. In that case, there must be something about the page (or the content) that feels "bloggy" to people.

Posted by: jjg | Apr 27, 2005 12:49:20 PM

I wouldn't be surprised if the article/blog perception segments itself according to the reader's level of participation and experience in the online community. The higher level of participation would possibly mean a reader who is a bit more discerning of the nuances of web publishing. Here are some boxes, not necessarily exhaustive:

  • general Web Reader
  • occasional Blog Reader
  • Blog Poster
  • Article Poster
  • Newsreader User

Of course, as we all know, there are exactly 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't.

Posted by: brent ashley | Apr 27, 2005 1:24:48 PM

Perhaps it's the "standards based look and feel"? It does look somewhat like a blog.

Then there is that big smiling mug. It makes the site look personal, like a personal web log.

I suppose then I can agree with Brent's notion that someone hitting your essay as an entry page to the site might assume it's a blog.

Or, it could be the "Powered by Movable Type 2.661" badge?

Whatever the case, the lines are blurred now. We have full fledged news portals being marketed as "blogs". I'm not sure I could seperate most of todays blogs from most of todays columns, papers, or portals other than via the design alone.

Posted by: Adam Michela | Apr 27, 2005 1:27:38 PM

Check out Fast Company. They're a magazine, with real old fashioned articles (most similar to how you view your essays I presume), but they also integrate their blog pretty tightly into the overall IA of their site.

What differentiates their blog from their articles? The obvious first... their blog allows comments. More minutely, their blog posts are far less formal than their articles. Also, their blog posts are the only that contain a timestamp. Whereas articles are typically classified by day or even month.

All things considered, is there really a difference?

Posted by: Adam Michela | Apr 27, 2005 1:51:11 PM

I'm not so much interested in whether there is a real difference as I am interested in, to the extent that people perceive differences (and I think they do), how they arrive at the distinctions they draw. Nobody is analyzing the page design or content -- they're making snap categorizations. The fact that they're reaching the wrong conclusion means, to me, they're following cues I wouldn't expect.

Posted by: jjg | Apr 27, 2005 1:57:36 PM

maybe it looks non-commercial to so many people because there are no graphical ads. if it's not commercial, they think, it must be a blog.

people often refer to my book excerpt as a blog post, even though there's not a permalink or a date stamp or any of the things I associate with weblog entries. they get confused because there is a weblog somewhere else on the site, I guess.

if my "no ads" hypothesis is correct, and matt's "anything not commercial is a blog" thesis is also correct, you might want to take a look at the articles and essays published by forrester and others to identify the semiotics of those pages and see how your design fits in. perhaps those kinds of publications form a third category, "business reports" - one that AP might want to try for.

you know, it might also be the conversational tone - as opposed to the authoritative tone of the traditional business report.

Posted by: rebecca blood | Apr 27, 2005 2:02:25 PM

Like Rebecca suggests, the lack of ads was indeed the first thing I noted when trying to figure out why I would look at AP as a blog.

I don't think anyone is analyzing the design, I think it just looks very non-commercial.

It looks like a blog. It reads like a blog. It could be a blog?

The site is very clean, friendly, and relatively informal... like a good blog.

Having said all that, I never thought of it as a blog ;)

Posted by: Adam Michela | Apr 27, 2005 2:19:16 PM

Going back to Brent's first hypothesis I would revise...

"It looks like a blog. It reads like a blog. It could be a blog?"


"It looks like a blog. It reads like a blog. I came from blog. It's probably a blog."

Posted by: Adam Michela | Apr 27, 2005 2:20:58 PM

"Good thing we didn't step in it, huh!"

Posted by: brent ashley | Apr 27, 2005 2:48:33 PM

Well Jeese... for starters, much of the Adaptive Path website runs on Movable Type. Heh.

True, AP does not look like a blog, thanks to the design smarts of Doug Bowman - but there's a certain "blog" feeling to the article pages that cannot be easily explained - may the page structure have to do with this perception?

If your article were published on CNET instead of AP's site, then no one would be calling it a "blog post". For instance, CNET (and most web portals) has these big, bold Flash ads all over the place; your site (and most blogs) do not.

Matters of perception, I'd say.

Posted by: beto | Apr 27, 2005 3:34:53 PM

Because process constrains people's perceptions, so something created using the tools you used must fit into a certain genre. This is why record stores separate the albums produced on ProTools from those made on analog recording systems.

Posted by: Anil | Apr 27, 2005 4:56:39 PM

To reiterate Jesse's point, these are snap judgements that happen at a subconscious level. The user experience is somehow triggering them and it's interesting to try to determine how.

I think if you use your 5 user experience planes model, it could be said that influence is strongest at the concrete surface plane and that skeleton and structure on down through scope and strategy would tend to lend increasingly subconscious effect.

If one were to try to steer the perception, I would guess that you would get the most leverage starting at the top of the model, with the content - as Rebecca suggests, making it more direct and authoritative. Beyond that, modifying the layout and structure contexts could have further effect, albeit reduced in line with their increased level of abstraction.

Posted by: brent ashley | Apr 28, 2005 8:51:55 AM

Funny that I never thought of it as a blog post, even though I can see the telltale signs of MT.

I think Rebecca got it, though: no ads and straightforward tone make it seem more bloggy than a news article, and the fact that there's no subscriber wall means it's not a business report.

Posted by: Gene | Apr 28, 2005 8:53:04 AM

I'll preface this by saying that I didn't see it as a blog post.

I think it has a lot to do with the fairly obvious standards-complaint look that the AP site has. I'm not knocking it at all--in fact, I think it looks great. However, that "look" is pretty unmistakable and, for most users, is associated with blogs.

Other than that, I agree with the "I came from a blog, it looks similar to a blog, must be a blog" ideas thrown out.

Posted by: Justin Bregar | Apr 29, 2005 3:08:24 PM

essentially I think it's this: if the site reminds me of a blog, and there is an article I'm reading -> then it must be a blog entry.

Sorta reminds me of how all the IT people in my office constantly confuse the terms BLOG and CMS...

imho - in general - portal, blog, and CMS are used so interchangeably it's ridiculous...

Posted by: Free Beachler | Apr 29, 2005 5:05:28 PM

For me, the URL clearly said blog post. The number at the end did it. An essay would typically have a named, not numbered identity.

The /publications/essays/ bit did confuse me, but I figured that to be a blog dedicated to essays, and hence still a blog post.

Posted by: Kiran Jonnalagadda | May 1, 2005 10:59:38 AM

I keep looking at the article, and I'm not sure how it gets tagged as a blog post. It looks like mindshare marketing: an essay, white paper, or authoritative rambling meant to demonstrate AP's authority so people will think you know enough about what you do to hire you.

It says "essays" everywhere, and it's in "publications".

I liked the idea of "session context" but it may be most users can't discern essays from blogs from columns from articles. Rebecca mentioned semiotics, but in truth, the 30,000 semiotic foot view of blogs, columns, essays, tales, and journals looks the same: stories.

People tell stories. They share experience.

Semiotic similarities among types of stories plays out in IA. Any good, "story" heavy site has archives by month and year, as well as categories, author, most popular, recent stories...

The numbered URL idea sounds interesting. Even though most CMSs generate numbered URLs, perhaps the cleanliness, lack of bizarre, abbreviated name-value pairs, and simple six-digit format suggests the essay was written by the type of unprofessional, non-corporate organization that can't afford more sophisticated URLs?

Add some ampersands and percent signs.

Posted by: Austin Govella | May 3, 2005 3:40:06 PM

Many small things together may have labeled your article a "blogpost".

1. The URL structure shows you're using Moveable Type, which is a weblog software.

2. When you add comments, there's a trackback link, making it look like a blogpost.

3. The visual structure of the page has all the blog elements: large mugshot, links to other essays, "powered by Moveable Type", and syndicate this site link.

4. Conditioning. Like others have posted, if a blog links to the article it will assume it's another blog post on another site.

5. Repetition: enough people called it a blog post that everyone will call it a blog post.

So how do you reduce the look?

Make this page a final-destination page. By making it tie into the other essays, it seems like another post. Keep it focused to just the article, downplay the mugshot, and add an "executive summary".

We may need to prioritize the expectations of our users even when those expectations are inaccurate.

Posted by: ..ak | May 4, 2005 9:43:23 AM

Hallo... Re: Essay or Blog

I'm a coding illiterate Creative from Tasmania, Australia (the Triangular Blob of Land on the South Eastern Tip {-:), and I wondered why this issue rancours you so much. The essay is quite clearly that, an essay. Given any number of definitions, it meets the 'criteria' of an essay.

If you take the definition "a short literary composition on a particular subject" (Macquarie Dictionary) as a legitimate description, then many blogs also fall into the same category.

I wondered whether or not your ire is raised because you feel that your essay is more a 'scholarly' work, given that you are an expert in your field, and feel that your contribution to the information that is helping shape a new future for the web has been 'swept under the carpet'?

Dialectically speaking, an essay and blog are identical in that they are both 'literary compositions', albeit the former is generally an imformed, studied, focussed work, where the latter is generally a rant or musing, characterised by a tendency toward the flippant.

Now was that an essay, or a blog...?

Posted by: tigdh | May 4, 2005 8:54:04 PM

I am neither rancoured nor ireful at the misperception, and I am not, as some of the commenters here seem to think, eager to correct it.

I don't care what category people put the piece in; rather, I saw this as a good example case of how people categorize the things they find on the web, a topic that I am quite interested in.

Posted by: jjg | May 4, 2005 9:36:24 PM

I realize I'm coming to the party late, but I wanted to add my voice to the vote and perhaps provide a little feedback.

My impressions were shaped by the fact that I came to it from this 'blog, and that it seemed more like light musings on interconnected applications rather than a content-free whitepaper or a deep HOWTO.

In that way, it comes off more as you trying to make sense of the division of work in such an application than as something written expressly for an external audience. Were it any less rigorous I would have dismissed it as "trying to sell my own consultancy to the pointy haired ones", much more technical and I'd be combing through it looking for hints. But it walked that middle ground in the almost introspective way that 'blog posts do.

Posted by: Dan Lyke | May 9, 2005 12:52:09 PM

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