August 22, 2001
10:07 PM   Subscribe

I enjoy introducing my friends to the web and weblogging and I am quite fond of watching them play with the medium without prior knowledge of the weblog community and it's "rules". It's fascinating to see what they produce when they are not told to "Write everyday about what happens in your life and then link to things you found while surfing". One such friend is Karen Wright who has taken to her website with a style that is very much her own. Somehow it feels more literary, more story-centric, less about links and more about life. What do you all think? How have "the rules" effected your writing?
posted by shmuel (30 comments total)
I know I've spent a lot of time thinking about my "rules". I set boundaries for myself to help me focus. At one point I called my site "true stories" and made sure that all of the things I posted were just that. I have sense changed the focus a little but I still have things I adhere to. Things like length and depth of posts, recently I try to keep them longer and less life-update'ish. I suppose every site has it's reason I use "rules" to help me understand and explore my reason.
posted by shmuel at 10:11 PM on August 22, 2001

My rule is, only post things I'd want to read.
posted by kindall at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2001

I started off doing a fictional journal with plenty of implicit rules, and that became frustrating. So I started a "real" blog as well, and found having no rules just as frustrating. I'd agree with kindall – Please Thyself, that's ultimately the Big Rule. But I'm sure we all have our smaller ones as well. I try to ask myself, am I saying something new? I don't want to just recycle links I found on other weblogs all the time – although I find myself doing just that surprisingly often.
posted by D at 10:30 PM on August 22, 2001

i'm a little unclear, i suppose, as to what the weblog community's "rules" are. i'm not trying to be picky, or anything, but what are the rules? to me, the weblog community is more about influence than it is rules. and, viewed in that way, breaking the rules is good -- it implies that you've grown from your initial influences.

so i guess the question i would like to ask anyone reading this thread is, what sites influence you? what do you like about a weblog, and what don't you like?

i'll pony up and say that i dislike most multi-user weblogs. a lot of weblogs in that format that i've visited seem to end up as discussions between the posters. i feel as though i'm an uninvited intruder on a private party. the only multi-user weblog that i like, off the top of my head, is boing boing.

i will say that i do like weblogs which point out the interesting to the reader. i like kottke's weblog, because he points out weird shit that he sees in his life, such as people making animal noises into their cell phones. if i have a strong influence, it's probably kottke and webloggers like him.

so what do you like in a weblog?
posted by moz at 10:47 PM on August 22, 2001

Rule number one: don't talk about swiss cheese after midnight.

posted by jessie at 10:50 PM on August 22, 2001

Sometimes when I'm feeling blah about the weblog game, I like to go back and read this article.
posted by timothompson at 11:04 PM on August 22, 2001

I tend to agree with D. But I am trying to say something new that I haven't said, not necessarily what other people haven't said or done before. I am trying to chronicle my time and experience (however little time I have to jot a note), sometimes fictionally (there were notes for a novel in there somewhere), and sometimes not. I like it when other people see it and tell me they like it, but it's mostly for me.... And maybe a few dozen of your closest friends.
posted by bison at 11:29 PM on August 22, 2001

It is a "me" thing as far as I am concerned.
posted by bjgeiger at 11:36 PM on August 22, 2001

Moz, I do think there are some unwritten "rules" we are bound by at times or try not to be bound by as the case may be. Or, maybe I should call them "trends" as opposed to "rules":

- Linking to friend's weblogs
- Including links to random web stuff
- Talking about "random" things
- Talk about your life
- Sequential posts from top to bottom

I'm sure there are more. I think Jason Kottke's site is an excellent example of some of the "rules" not because he's a tool but because he created something intriguing that as you point out inspired people. I guess what I am reflecting on is an experiment in introducing someone to the web without indoctrinating them to the world of inspiring websites sites.

I really like Kottke's site, I visit it weekly (or so) but the rules I set for my creative expression would prevent me from creating that site. Not because he doesn't do a good job at it but because it's not me. It's not what I am trying to be.
posted by shmuel at 11:38 PM on August 22, 2001

Rules? What rules? We don't need no stinking rules!
posted by fujikosmurf at 11:43 PM on August 22, 2001

I used to go with the standard link + comment, but in the past week or so - I've switched more to a longform/column commentary style which I 'm liking because I get to spout off.
posted by owillis at 11:43 PM on August 22, 2001

fujikosmurf, how about personal rules? Do you give yourself boundaries when writing? I find that rules or limitations increase my creativity more than they hurt me.
posted by shmuel at 11:52 PM on August 22, 2001


i try not to link to other's websites in the text of my weblog, even if they link to mine. the only point of that, in my mind, is increased traffic, which by itself isn't a worthy goal. i suppose i'm a rule breaker, i don't know. i have a link page, which isn't so much of a kiss-ass section as it is simply a convenient way to get to the sites that i find interesting. (for if it were a kiss-ass part of my website, it fails miserably.)

i think that the rules you enumerate beyond that, though, are fairly disparate. the point of some weblogs is largely to point out random web stuff; the point of others is to talk about random things; and the point of still others is to talk about matters of a personal nature. doing all three is possible, but it doesn't happen often in my experience.

as far as sequential posts -- i used to structure my weblog such that you would only see one day's postings. i didn't like it. i felt like the content of the site was limited by that, because if you strike out in one day's postings -- which is quite possible -- people will be less inclined to follow links on your site to try other days. whereas, if the other days are already on the site and a simple scroll away, people might find something that they like amongst the weeds that they do not.

i suppose people break the rules for many distinct reasons. or, at least, i do. i feel so rebellious.
posted by moz at 12:40 AM on August 23, 2001

I haven't been Web logging for long. I figure it's a fairly personal thing, so I don't have many rules. The one I (hardly ever) break is: getting too personal on my Web log. What I mean is, my Web log isn't my best friend, I don't have to tell it (and whoever's reading) everything.
posted by jetgrrl at 1:43 AM on August 23, 2001

I started in 1996, before there were any "rules", though I had been inspired by another person who had started online journalling. I guess that doesn't count in that all my entries were plaintext files, but bloggers don't all link to other places. Still, it started as a standard journal, and is now a repository of philosophical rants. That's probably standard evolution of a blogger. It just took me 5 years to get there.
posted by meep at 3:55 AM on August 23, 2001

look at me for the newbies' disregard for rules...I applaude her and the blog.
posted by clavdivs at 6:09 AM on August 23, 2001

My only rule is to try to always remember why I do the weblog in the first place. The reason is, there are a lot of seriously arbitrary thoughts that run through my head, and most of the people unfortunate enough to know me in the physical world are subjected to them to the point where they will typically yell at me to stop dumping so many random thoughts on them. But with the site I can pretend that no one is listening (not much of a stretch) and get it all out there. Pretending that no one is looking is my other rule, because I can't really express myself well in front of other people and I am trying to learn to do that better. When I get lazy I devolve into just posting links.

by the way moz, I find randomWalks to be a good multi-user weblog with no cross-talk.
posted by donkeymon at 6:29 AM on August 23, 2001

Rules? Whose rules?

I suspect that I started weblogging before a lot of those rules were promulgated.

My rule, if that's the word for it, is in the subtitle of my Weblog: "A clipping service without portfolio." I point to things I find interesting or important--and that I don't believe everyone will have seen already--often with short quotes from the articles in question.

It's not a journal. I have one of those, too, but I don't assume that people who want pointers to science, politics, or miscellaneous weirdness are the same as the people who are interested in what's going on in my life.

I dive cheerfully into discussions on other people's Web pages, logs, and such (as you can see), but have no desire to set up my own discussion board, either.

My Weblog is at for anyone who wants to check it out.
posted by rosvicl at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2001

I just ramble. :)

I've had a(n offline) journal since I was 10 or 11 - I was one of those dangerous teenage girls babbling about her emotions to her notebook.

The last five or six years, I've played around with more formats...I had a journal in Word on my Mac in college, which got lost when my computer was stolen...which sort of turned me off of using the computer as a journal for a long time.

I kept 2 different paper journals for a while - one was emotional, the other creative (design sketches, code ideas).

Now I've got 3 journals - still keep a paper journal, which is the most personal. No-one reads it, not my friends, my partner, not nobody. I do a lot of early story drafts in it.

Then I have a diary on my Handspring, which is better for short jottings & poetry drafts. (Haiku is a good form for the PDA!)

And then there's my weblog (started earlier this year). I'm not (usually) as personal. I try not to ever talk about work. Sometimes I rant about politics or the world. Sometimes I link to stories I've read - both for my own faulty memory, and for the 2 1/2 friends who read my weblog. Sometimes I do just go on about useless or personal s***.

I find that writing down my thought processes helps me. It clarifies things.

My rules? In the paper journal, none at all. If it's in my brain, I can write about it. I like to think about it as a written memory, since mine can be pretty goofy, but I'm just erratic enough that it doesn't always work out. In the handspring, I don't write fiction. It is primarily for observation and daydreaming. On the weblog - if I couldn't say it to the person I'm writing about, I won't write it. I do break this one once in a while, and usually regret it! If it can be linked to, I link it. For no better reason than because I can.

In other words, I ramble, sort of like this post.
posted by epersonae at 8:07 AM on August 23, 2001

I don't have a blog dammit, I have an online journal.
posted by Foosnark at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2001

Excuse me....I thought the whole basis of the internet is that there are no rules.

To censor one's weblog to fit arbitrary guidelines is to stifle the very reason why we have them in the first place, to voice our comments and opinions, now matter how inspired or mundane they may be.
posted by lola at 9:54 AM on August 23, 2001

To censor one's weblog to fit arbitrary guidelines is to stifle the very reason why we have them in the first place, to voice our comments and opinions, now matter how inspired or mundane they may be.

Signal without structure is indistinguishable from noise. Structure is inherently constraining. The advantage of the Web is that you may choose or create your own structure -- not that no structure is needed.
posted by kindall at 10:00 AM on August 23, 2001

"My rule is, only post things I'd want to read."

That's the perfect rule! Sometimes it's difficult to keep in mind (which is partially why I just took a month-long hiatus from my weblog).. the balance between making yourself happy and making your readers happy can be a fine one, and I find it pretty easy to slip into the "Must.. be... amusing..!" mindset. I just try to keep in mind that I'm writing for two people: myself, and my mom. Everything else is gravy.
posted by jess at 10:02 AM on August 23, 2001

The advantage of the Web is that you may choose or create your own structure -- not that no structure is needed.

Kendall, exactly my point, don't be a sheep, create your own structure/rules, and honor them. Baaa....
posted by lola at 10:17 AM on August 23, 2001

As I say on the about.html page of my own weblog - "I do write for an audience, though not necessarily the exact one that I attract." Admittedly, my awareness of my audience often leads me to focus too much on the numbers - hits, quantity of comments, etc - but for the most part, knowing that anyone can read what I've written (and that some people even care about what I've written!) keeps me from becoming lazy about my writing.

On occasion, I write for myself alone - those writings are stored variously on my harddrive and in paper notebooks, not on the world wide web. My own blog is a mix of politics, math (incidentally, my traffic surged this past July, when I was at Mathcamp and wrote almost exclusively about my experiences teaching mathematics - I'm still puzzled about that!), and my own life. Regarding that last one, I do have a strict rule: whenever I'm feeling particularly strongly about anything, I wait 24 hours before posting it. That rule has saved me more than once from embarrassing myself.

I don't have many rules; I do have a lot of things that I keep in mind when I write. One - anyone can read this weblog; anyone is entitled to read this weblog. (Which all sounds jolly obvious, but judging from what I've seen, it seems that my social demographic - female, 18-23 - is dominated by people who put their personal, private, secret journals on the world wide web and get horribly offended when anyone outside their circle of friends reads their page.) Two - I am consenting to have my life online, but my friends and relatives aren't. (When I have anything even remotely personal to tell about other people, I identify them only by their initials - and I often change details. I like epersonae's rule - if I couldn't say it to the person I'm writing about, I won't write it - by and large, I follow that one.) Three - a lot of things have been said before; I won't address a popular news story unless I have something new to add.
posted by isomorphisms at 10:38 AM on August 23, 2001

"...the connoisseur of good graphic design coupled with a longing for riveting content will find a way to surf the 'net herself looking for the tidbits of glory."
" - Carolyn L Burke Fri Feb 17 1995

1995. We look at that statement today and say "well, duh" but 6 years ago that wasn't at all obvious.

Your link prompted me to explore Carolyn's Diary again. This is also a site of a person who wasn't exposed to the "rules" of the weblog community, because the weblog community wasn't around yet. Started in 1995, it's a diary of a truth-functional woman's personal and professional life in Toronto.

"I find that solipsism cannot survive email. Neither can sadness, anger and hurt. " - Carolyn L Burke Thu Feb 8, 1996

She got a Writeup and a photo in the This 24 hours in Cyberspace web/print event. That's a cool time capsule to explore as well.
posted by otherchaz at 11:02 AM on August 23, 2001

otherchaz - thanks! I hadn't known about this one before. and that is part of what I like about the phenomenon of weblogging - getting little glimpses of the great sea of (alas, mostly youngmiddleupperclassfirstworld) humanity.

that everybody has slightly different rules, and different takes on what a weblog is/should be, is what makes it interesting.
posted by epersonae at 11:24 AM on August 23, 2001

Hmmm. After reading this, I'm not entirely sure that what I do is actually a weblog. More of a news filter plus commentary, I guess.

It has quite a lot of strict rules: there is an acceptable range of topics, a minimum and maximum length for each entry, a certain number of optimal entries per day, a particular way to follow up on previous entries. The structure helps a lot, and I believe it makes life easier on visitors.

I had an online journal for about six months, and never quite got it down to a formula. I was never sure what was worth writing about.

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:04 PM on August 23, 2001

Thanks for reminding me of Carolyn, otherchaz. I'm astonished that she's still writing. But so is Justin, too. And seeing his style evolve into and out of beatnik poetising is a good guide for anyone doing personal stuff online.
posted by holgate at 12:20 PM on August 23, 2001

i write a lot about hong kong life and things that happen here, but i also write whatever happens to pop into my weather-vane mind.

being eclectic keeps it from becoming boring.
posted by bwg at 12:22 PM on August 23, 2001

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