What’s actually a blog?


The general formula of a blog involves three key components – an extract, embedded links and personal commentary. The common denominator is the embedded links. Many of today's blogs, especially the personal journal or diary types, do not contain embedded links.

ON THE surface, it might seem obvious what a blog is but these days that term is bandied about so much that almost anything published online is referred to as a blog. But it wasn't always the case. There used to be a precise definition of what a blog is or should be.

The word "blog" itself is actually a shortened version of the word "weblog", which itself is not a very intuitive term. By looking at its component parts, one would be forgiven for mistaking a weblog for an online diary.

But blogs weren't originally meant to detail activities of a person's daily life or musings. They were originally used by geeks to share with other geeks the various interesting articles, postings and tools that they found on the web.

The general formula used involved three key components: i) an extract ii) embedded links iii) personal commentary.

So, if a blogger were to come across an interesting article about some new gadget for example, he would then take an extract from the article, embed a link to a keyword in the extract and then add in his two cents' worth. Voila, you have a blog posting!

Of course that formula is not set in stone and even the early bloggers would occasionally deviate from it. But they generally had at least two of the three components.

The common denominator it would seem is the embedded link. And that's a crucial point that distinguishes the original form of blogging with what blogs have grown to become today. Many of today's blogs – especially the personal journal or diary types – do not contain embedded links.

To see an example of "classical blogging" at work, visit blogs by Jeff Ooi, Rocky's Bru and Tony Pua. Whether by design or just by natural inclination, these bloggers typically have at least two of the three components found in the classical blogging formula. Embedded links are always there.

Contrast that to the diary type bloggers such as Kenny Sia and Nicole Tan. You'll find that their blogs contain a lot of pictures, lots of personal comments, observations and stories but no extracts or embedded links.

What that tells you is that the ethos of classical blogging is very different from that of online diary blogging.

The former is designed for the reader to come in, read what the blogger has to say about a particular topic and then move on to the original source of the story (which can be found by clicking on the embedded links). Such blogs are not meant to be sticky but to inform you about something the blogger discovered and wants to share.

The latter is designed for you to come in and hang around for a while. To read the witty or irreverent stories and to enjoy the pretty or funny pictures that accompanies them. In other words, they are meant to be sticky, not to send you away to some other site.

The online diary type of blogs, in contrast, are standalone and rarely refer to or derive their content from external sources.

Earlier this week, I moderated a forum on blogging where the panellists included Jeff and Rocky. At one point both of them remarked that although they are part of the alternative media movement, they still appreciated mainstream media because without mainstream media, they'd lose an important source of stories to link to and to comment on.

Interestingly, The Star's Group-Chief-Editor, Wong Chun Wai, who was also a panellist also regularly, makes use of embedded links in his blog.

Although many of his postings consist of breaking news rather than commentary on a published topic, the fact that he includes embedded links makes him more of a classical blogger, in the mould of Jeff and Rocky

Many socio-political bloggers tend to adopt the embedded link approach to blogging. One very popular online presence who generally does not embed any links is Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who is often mistakenly referred to as a blogger.

He's definitely an online pundit or commentator. Even the term online columnist would be a fairly accurate description. But in very few respects is his a blogger, be it in the embedded link or the online diary sense of the term.

In fact, his website, Malaysia Today, is very much an online news portal that aggregates content (often without permission) from all over the place. I have been amused in the past to suddenly find myself being a "Guest Columnist" on Malaysia Today without my knowledge!

In a sense, the ethos of blogging is there in that it's about sharing information that Raja Petra (or his team) find interesting. But the form that they use – cutting and pasting whole articles rather than referring people to those articles through embedded links – is not that of blogging.

Some would say a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. And perhaps they are right in a sense. But if we are to use the terms "blog" and "anything published online" interchangeably, why even have the word "blog" in the first place? Surely, a phrase must have some specific characteristics in order for it to have any meaning.

Oon Yeoh began blogging – the classical way, with embedded links – in 2003. He can be reached at www. (which is an archive of his articles, not a blog).

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