Miles, Adrian. “Blogs: Distributed Documentaries of the Everyday.” Metro.143 (2005): 66-70.
Blogs: Distributed Documentaries of the Everyday
What the average citizen needs is not a steady stream of facts, passed on by organizations fearful of going out on a limb, but interpretation, which might in other arguments be called editorialising, persuasion, orientation, ideology, propaganda, or, as here, representation.
What is a blog?
A blog is an Internet based, personal publishing system. It is different to writing traditional homepages, or managing personal web sites because these activities generally require pages to be written individually using specific software, the individual management of links, individual design across all pages, and the development of relatively sophisticated understandings of information architecture, style sheets (and style sheets have only become a recent option), and so on. However, even with these simple procedures, site maintenance of home pages and personal web sites was time consuming and ‘good’ sites required a lot of technical knowledge. Then blogs came along.
Blogs use what is called a Content Management Systems (CMS) to author, build and maintain content. A CMS is not used to produce single web pages, but as its name implies, allows the management of content across an entire site. Blogs generally store content within a database, which exits separately from its Web pages and republishes the entire site into new Web pages each time a change is made. This makes it simple to redesign your entire site, because everything is now template driven: change your templates, republish, and every single page in your site now expresses your new design and includes new content. No more changing by hand ten, 100, or even a 1000 pages.
Furthermore, blog systems have automated most of the simple ‘information architecture’, access, and design problems that we face when wanting to maintain content online. This has been achieved through the development of various conventions within blogs, and any standard blog engine will adopt these features. For example, blogs recognize that online content is generically volatile and dynamic. The front page of a blog is therefore expected to routinely change as new posts are made. However, blog architecture also understands that all material needs to be permanently available so that it can be linked to and found in the future. This ‘linking to’ is after all what binds the Web together (it isn’t called the Web for nothing). Blogs have developed the convention of a permalink, which is attached to each post on the front page, and indicates the permanent URL for each entry. This permalink is automatically generated for each blog post, and allows others to locate the permanent address of individual entries, facilitating future reading.
In addition blogs, much like the diary that is one of its antecedents, automatically archives each entry according to date and time of publication. It may also include individual posts within themed archives as well. Blogs usually have an option allowing public comments on individual posts, provide a search engine to find specific content, and let you modify and customize each of these features. Finally, most modern blogs support a function called ‘trackback’. Trackback ensures that if someone else writes a blog post specifically mentioning your blog post, then your blog will know about it. Trackback is achieved by all sorts of ‘invisible’ communications going on behind the scenes between various blogs. This ‘back end’ communication is one of the key aspects that have allowed blogs to grow as a genre, as it helps provide the glue that binds all these pieces into loose affiliations. Unlike a diary, a blog is not thought of as an individual site, but as a discursive event that participates in a collection of relations to other sites, and other people. It is a writing that binds parts into wholes as blogs are not only a collection of fragments within one site but also participate in network ecologies. The relations established between blogs (as evidenced in individual blogrolls) and between posts (evidenced via commentary across blogs), is fundamental to the genre. It is a distributed, networked writing and reading practice.
This adds up to a lot of sophisticated technology, something that most of us simply wouldn’t have the skills, time or resources to make. Blogs are not in themselves particularly complicated, but rather, a very good implementation of a very good idea. As a result, blogs have blossomed into a significant genre. They have recognized that content online should consist of small idea based chunks. This content can be written in a variety of styles and voices, should be readily accessible using existing technology, and is about weaving connections, pathways, and commentary between distributed parts.
While the technical infrastructure of blogging is crucial to the genre, and has materially informed and defined many of the key aspects of blogging praxis, the blogs’ over riding governing discursive quality is the manner in which it is embodied within the life world of its author. This is what brings blogs into the orbit of documentary, a connection which to date has probably been most strongly expressed in the recognized affinity between blogs and journalism. However, while quite a few journalists maintain blogs, and there have been several prominent news ‘effects’ attributed to blogs, this relationship is determined more particularly by the manner in which blogs utilize indexical markers and verisimilitude to participate in the economics of representation that is common to documentary.
Blogs As Documentary
Published in 1991, Bill Nichols’ Representing Reality remains a canonical work in relation to documentary. It provides a strong definition of documentary practice that pays particular attention to the implications of structuralist and poststructuralist theory. Nichols’ argues that documentary utilizes an indexical medium to make claims about the world that are subject to verisimilitude, and that the form exhibits a groundedness in ‘the’ world that is subject to numerous discursive contexts that are not only an attribute of film’s indexicality. These relations of context, indexicality, and verisimilitude will also be made for the documentary economy of blogs.
My interest in exploring the relation of documentary to blogs is twofold. On the one hand, literary and cultural theory, while sophisticated, does not provide a very good heuristic for considering non-fiction work. In fact, the contrary is probably generally the case, since much of this theoretical work has tended to concentrate on demonstrating the fictional tropes present in non-fiction, and therefore the illegitimacy of general claims for ‘truth’ or ‘objectivity’ in traditional non-fiction forms. In cinema studies, documentary theory provides ways through such theoretical impasses, and it is hoped that similar methodologies will be useful to engage with blogs as non–fiction practice.
On the other hand, it is clear that as blogs become increasingly media rich they will offer new forms of web based documentary practice. Having a theoretical methodology that recognizes the affinities between what has been generally understand as a literary genre, and an existing audiovisual documentary practice, may assist in the critical and creative development of these emerging genres.
Modes of Documentary
It would be relatively easy to demonstrate an affinity between documentary and blogs via the modes of documentary that Nichols defines. For example, the four dominant representational modes of documentary: expository, observational, interactive and reflexive, and the characteristics of each, are clearly attributable to blogs in general. However, blogs depart from this typology in typically combining all of these modes within a single ‘text’. While some blogs could be seen to tend towards a specific mode (for example political opinion blogs are probably more expository than reflexive), as a hypertextual and networked genre, a blog will routinely entertain all four modes. This is not a zero sum game of theory where blogs become a catch-all theoretical category, but is rather the expression of the polyvocality that network cultures and literacies afford discursive praxis.
Blogs emphasize this plurality and it forms a basic condition of the genre. This is as much a product of the formal material qualities of blogging — a ‘document’ made up of irregular fragments — as of its historical location at the end of the ‘late age of print’. Modes, in Nichols’ definition, are no longer that which separates works, but are now accommodated within genres that anticipate, recognize, and authorize the continual mixing and recombination of these modes. Not only does this describe blogs, but it would also be a reasonable description of contemporary post–whatever documentary practice.
Index, quotidian, verisimilitude
Documentary arose with the advent of appropriate technologies of record. Today, we are considerably more sophisticated in our understanding of the relations between images (analog or digital), what they purport to represent, and what they may mean. However, what appears untroubled by this discursive complexity is the continuing desire to engage with the world in meaningful and significant ways through the agency of non-fiction. The world is increasingly recorded and replayed, in numerous and volatile contexts. While the ‘objectivity’ of this indexical record is no longer assured, or even particularly relevant, the ability and desire to engage with the world and to then author identity experientially in such contexts, appears as the benchmark for ‘prosumer’ technologies. It is also their potential.
The distinction between consumption and production in this context traces a line between each of these points. At one end is the consuming individual, satisfied with the minor spectacle of their own media production. At the other end is the authoring individual, allowing these tools to be interrogated by, and to interrogate these technologies, via the shift from analog consumption to the pluralities of digital authoring and reproduction. Blogs are located in the threshold between these two points. It is the difference between situating the self as participant in and of the simulacra, versus the possibility of experiential and individuated modes of engagement. It is a writing in, versus a written by.
What is apparent in these new constellations of recording–as–writing, or recording–as–rewriting, is that a groundedness in the world remains. For example, in their everyday use, outside of the realm of the professional media industries, these technologies are used primarily as apparatuses of the everyday. They are used to document the quotidian of the consumer, but in this digital moment, also become amenable to appropriation for uses along or outside of existing media institutions. In other words, these reproductive technologies support the rise of alternative media practices and genres, where their common feature is a change from reproduction to configuration; that is a writing with.
These practices are qualitatively different to pre–digital media use, where authoring was largely constrained to methods of record (photographing being the major form), and the writing of more complex media forms was the preserve of media industries. Blogs are clearly a participant within this change, where the most popular of media, that is writing, has mutated into a discursive practice that exists in an indifferent relation to existing media forms. Hence blogs, like contemporary digital technologies in general, herald and facilitate a return to broader technologies of writing. Such practices, while amenable to fictional genres, also orientate themselves towards the world in a desire to make claims of, or to document this world. An indexical intent is expressed within these new technologies of writing.
This is a key intersection between documentary and blogs. Documentary appropriates the agency granted by the indexical to facilitate the claims it desires to make. Likewise, blogs have embedded within their generic methodology, networked specific indexical ‘markers’. Blogs emphasize an indexical relation between author and world, between what is written and the world. This is not to ignore or discount the regular appearance of subjective writing within blogs. Rather, it is a recognition that blogs ordinarily regard such subjective writing as a consequence of their groundedness in the world of the individual author, which is what separates such entries and the larger genre in general from fiction.
Just as there are subjective and essayist documentaries, which in no way lessens their status as documentaries, blogs not only accommodate but privilege the subjective engagement of individuals with or in the world. Indexicality in this context appears not as a literal condition of a recording medium but via the elements that surround and are included in blogs. Blogs generically include a viable email address, a descriptive paragraph (or link to a biographical homepage), links to other blogs that constitute a discursive community, and the use of textual markers such as proper names, geographical locations, and date and time stamps. As with the supplement of the signature, these ‘collateral’ indexical markers operate as a naïve authenticity, but they also provide that verisimilitude which is an engagement with the world.
This ‘everydayness’ of blogging grounds practice in the lifeworld of the writer, and tends to assist in legitimating the blog in terms of its purchase upon the world. The claim that blogs are documentary-like because they express authentic voices could be viewed as idealistic, but that would be to misread the argument. More simply, blogs routinely contain linguistic, extra–diegetic markers which have the effect of locating the blog, and blogs in general, in the world. The notion of authenticity here is related to the indexical markers described, so that these textual markers operate much like the analog indexical relations evident in film. This is not to overstate the point, but is to insist that when a blogger mentions a place, time, or person, such places, events and people do exist. What is of interest here is not the possibility or impossibility of textual markers grounding such authenticity, but the desire within this environment for such rhetorical and material practices to develop.
Again, this brings blogs close to documentary in their mutual desire to demonstrate connectedness to the world. This is not the same as saying they are objective statements about the world, nor that they are true in the factual sense. But they are making truth claims, and like documentary, blogs have developed an argot that assists in grounding and legitimating these claims. The point is not how secure such actions may be, but simply that both expend considerable semiotic or discursive energy in the obligation to do this.
These textual markers are a form of verisimilitude. This is the economy of documentary argument where, as Nichols’ demonstrates, the documentary ‘effect’ is less a product of the indexicality of the image than a series of contexts that are employed, and read, granting purchase within the world. This purchase is not factual in the quaint sense of being objective, but is understood to be a view about the world that is evidentiary, representational and argumentative. They are claims made about the world and as such are subject to contestation, but they do nevertheless remain claims about the known, or a knowable world.
It would appear then that documentary and blogs share similar representational economies in their engagement with the world. While blogs appear to be more personal than documentary, this does not discount the connection between them. However, the affinity is perhaps more significant not merely because we can demonstrate that both make arguments about the world (all non- fiction does this after all), but that the manner in which this is conducted bears specific and shared formal qualities. In other words, it is productive to consider blogs not so much as a form of non-fiction writing but as a networked documentary practice. What documentary and blogs have in common is the development of specific rhetorical and representational strategies to legitimate themselves as non-fiction. These strategies involve more than the propositional phrases common to non-fiction writing, and extend into specific ways of indicating and grounding themselves within the world. In documentary film, this might be as simple as relying upon the indexicality that is the excess of analog recording media. In blogs, these strategies include proper names and network specific markers (such as email addresses) that attempt to secure the blog in its verisimilitude.
This is why blogs have so rapidly adopted, or been co–opted by, existing recording media, including photos (photoblogs), audio (audioblogs), and video (videoblogs). The accelerating movement of blogs into mixed media is not because blogs facilitate the distribution of these expressive forms, but because they are an immanent medium of record, argument, and representation.
Blogs propose a non-fiction, media rich practice that provides a viable model for network specific documentary practice. In this model it is apparent that existing work flows of preproduction, production, exhibition and distribution are irrelevant. In networked writing and production, the distance between creating or doing the work and its dissemination is radically diminished. Additionally, the problem of distribution and exhibition shifts from one of where to exhibit, to ensuring sufficient bandwidth to support possible audiences. The idea of audience now changes. These documentary blogs would now be constituted by small parts that can be interconnected, generally by other practitioners.
The documentary ‘work’ now emerges from the relations established internally and externally by this broader documentary community. Similarly, the use of syndication, now a significant feature of blogs, might allow individual documentary authors to produce subscription ‘feeds’ about specific content. This can be done across a range of different documentary blogs, and individual feeds are then aggregated in a single web page. In other words, there could be multiple documentaries, made up of multiple parts, with multiple author–producers, each syndicated and then collected within a different networked location. These feeds can contain text, image, sound and video. Imagine a documentary that consisted of such video fragments, with descriptive metadata that could be reconnected in multiple contexts.
An example is provided by podcasting, a blog technology that has developed recently. Podcasting is where audio content (for example interviews) is self-produced and published via a blog. Where it departs from being the usual audioblog is that a specific RSS feed is generated from the blog that includes pointers to the audio entries. Client software, similar to an email client, is used to subscribe to these syndicated feeds. Relevant audio files are automatically downloaded to your computer, and in some cases synchronized to your iPod for listening on demand. In the case of podcasting, a grass roots audio documentary and music practice is developing that allows work to be easily distributed and consumed using existing portable audio devices. This is already suggesting interesting possibilities for alternative radiographic and audio–documentaries, particularly in terms of production and distribution. Similar systems are currently under development for video distribution and aggregation.
Another example is offered by the recent development of flickr.com , a networked photo sharing and cataloguing CMS. In this system, each subscriber is able to post photographs, include metadata, and it produces individual RSS feeds. This allows you to place your photo album within an existing blog, to search for photos according to tags and to aggregate content. Using flickr and RSS, it is possible to view on a daily basis, all new photos for any given tag. At the time of writing, a search for ‘Melbourne’ indicates that there are 434 photos. I can view this online as a slide show or subscribe to this via RSS. By subscribing, I could then embed this visual content into other web pages, or simply view the material via a RSS client.
The work in each of these examples is produced by individuals and distributed globally. The content is unedited, in all senses of the term, and it should be apparent how communities of interest and new connectivities may emerge from these processes. These developments pose exciting futures for documentary practice because the same activities can be accomplished using video content. Imagine shooting brief video sequences, editing and publishing them electronically, and then distributing and aggregating this content. What kinds of documentary could be made if content is separated by place, produced by individuals distributed in time, and able to be aggregated according to specific themes in varying combination? Is it still documentary? Of course. Does it have a director? Not really.
This imagined, micro documentary practice, where the medium of production, distribution and publication allows these micro documentaries to be collected and presented more or less ‘together’, would express significant differences in tone, content, style, manner and engagement within the individual works. Such a project would be blog-like, and would be a combination of individual works that may be primarily expository, observational, interactive or reflexive (to borrow Nichols’ terms). But the experience of the work, as the collection of these separate parts, would clearly be of a plural, mixed mode genre and discourse.
At such a moment, documentary has shifted from being mediacentric (video or film for example) and fixed (in length, format, location and so on), towards being networked, open, pluralist, polyvalent and dialogic. This is the threshold we face today. While existing media forms will continue and even thrive, it should be obvious that these technologies afford new genres, styles, and methodologies. This future needs to be created. It offers an alternative documentary practice that is, to borrow some rather fashionable intellectual argot, nomadic, deterritorialised, and smooth. It awaits invention.
Adrian Miles teaches in Media at RMIT University and is involved in practice based video blog research.
‘Apple – ilife.’ Apple, 2004. http://www.apple.com/ilife/. Accessed October 17 2004.
Biemann, Ursula, ed. Stuff It: The Video Essay in the Digital Age, Edition Voldemeer, Zurich, 2003.
Geitgey, Adam, ‘The Kaycee Nicole (Swenson) Faq,’ Rootnode.org: Music Magazine and Community, http:// www.rootnode.org/article.php~sid=26, Accessed October 17
Hoem, Jon, ‘Videoblogs As Collective Documentary,’ Diablog, http://infodesign.no/diablog/index.php?p=190&more=1, Accessed October 21, 2004, Kinberg, Joshua, ‘Vipodder.Org’, http://www.vipodder.org, Accessed October 26, 2004
Landow, George, Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1997
Miles, Adrian, ‘Podcasting and Vogcasting’ Vlog 2.1, http:// hypertext.rmit.edu.au/vog/vlog/vlog_archive/000488.html, Accessed October 21, 2004
Moulthrop, Stuart. ‘From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games.’ First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2004. pp. 56-69.
Nichols, Bill, Introduction to Documentary, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.
Nichols, Bill, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1991.
Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, Ed. Terence Hawkes, Methuen, London, 1982.
Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. Perseus Books, New York, 2002.
Miles, Adrian. “A Vision for Genuine Rich Media Blogging.” Uses of Blogs. Eds. Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs. New York: Peter Lang. 213-22.
A Vision for Genuine Rich Media Blogging
Blogs are a rich, diverse and quintessentially disparate medium expressing the internet as a network of noise, connection, communication and difference. Latterly these qualities have been evident with the appearance of traditional time based media, principally audio and video, in blogs and their more recent corollaries pod and video ‘casting’. The incorporation of audiovisual media within blogs has seen the development of substantial new blogging genres and also has the potential to generate new genres of audiovisual content and associated technologies. The key problem confronting the successful incorporation of audio and video into blogging practice revolves around how those qualities that make a blog a blog can become part of time based media, versus the appropriation of blogs as merely distribution or publishing ‘engines’ for audio and video files.
There are, as this anthology indicates, many ways in which blogs can be defined and theorised. The contribution I wish to make to this discussion is to identify blogs with those formal features of blog Content Management Systems (CMS) that can be seen as a material response to the ‘affordances’ of networked writing. Affordance is a term popularised by the industrial designer Donald Norman and refers to a user’s perception of what can be done with an object. In the case of blogs the generic (and hegemonic) form in which blog software has developed ‘affords’ such things as the writing of individual posts that have a heading, date and time stamp, the automatic attribution of authorship, optional provision of comments, category and date archiving, and the automatic provision of a permanent URL at the level of individual entries. As such blogs have also accepted much of the affordances of hypertext, evidenced in the manner in which their basic unit of construction is the post, which is essentially a small chunked hypertextual node. This node is able to be read and understood on its own — you generally do not to read an entire blog to understand a single entry — and by virtue of its permalink can be interwoven hypertextually with other nodes, whether in the same or other blogs hardly matters. Another series of affordances are realised as a consequence of the networked nature of blogging (though of course the hypertextual and networked nature of blogging means that these two key attributes are deeply intertwingled) and this is evident in how blogs generically contain blogrolls, trackback, RSS, permalinks, and also the increasingly common provision of links to third party blogosphere, folksonomy or social software sites such as technorati, blogstreet, flickr, del.icio.us and blogshares.
In general, these generic attributes can be understood as a consequence of blogs as a networked hypertextual writing activity, where such a practice has been instantiated in the material technological affordances of specific CMS’s. These tools make certain sorts of writing, particularly a writing that is beyond or outside of writing narrowly conceived as my words on my screen, possible and form the foundation of blogging as a medium. In addition blogging also expresses many of those qualities that were originally attributed to hypertext more generally. For example they are multivocal, multilinear and have moved past print to produce complex intertwingled docuverses of interconnecting fragments.
Many of these qualities are also utilised in audio and video blogging, however, it is also apparent that much of what can be characterised as the basic affordances of blogs are lost, or ignored, in audio and video blogging practice. To illustrate this we can perhaps use the recent and explosive development of audio blogging. The ability to embed audio in a web page (as opposed to making an audio file available for download and playing in a separate player) has been available since 1996 when Apple first released a browser plugin that supported QuickTime. However, it was the development of podcasting clients in 2004 that seeded the rapid and exponential rise of audio enabled blogs. These clients, in exactly the same way that RSS aggregators facilitated the rise of RSS as a major distribution form (in fact pod and video cast clients are essentially RSS aggregators that support media enclosures) enabled users to subscribe to RSS feeds that contained audio enclosures. These enclosures are pointers within a RSS feed that locate media objects, for example an audio file, and download this in the background. In the case of podcasting, as the eponymous title indicates, the best clients automatically synchronise these audio files into Apple’s iTunes library and automatically place them onto the users portable mp3 player to listen to at their leisure. With the rise of the video iPod, exactly the same can now be done for video files.
RSS feeds, which have driven the success of pod and videocasting, are generally automatically produced by blog CMS’s, and where they are not several third party services are available to produce appropriate RSS feeds. It is these feeds that users subscribe to, and in this manner audio and video files are distributed to clients. This aspect of pod and videocasting clearly takes advantages of blogs as distributed personal publication and distribution technologies, and has successfully appropriated a lightweight protocol (RSS) to provide the infrastructure to develop an alternative distribution regime. This is impressive, and has lead to a rise of ‘prosumer’ commentary, particularly in podcasting, where the best content is, as with blogging more generally, on a par with any commentary heard on public radio, with of course the corresponding observation that the worst content is, frankly, deplorable — this is after all the up and down side of any distributed and accessible networked technology that allows individuals to become media producers and distributors. This content, and here I include audio and video blogging, is as diverse in style, content, presentation and technical excellence as writing is in text based blogging. It includes pieces produced to professional or near broadcast standards, through to what can be generously described as naive media works. However, while this diversity of content and style is a feature that audio and video blogging shares with traditional blogging, this is by and large all that the majority of content being produced and distributed in this manner achieves. In other words most of the qualities that makes a blog a blog have been translated into content but the specific networked and hypertextual affordances of blogging, have been elided. This is, of course, why the suffix casting has been so successful and intuitive for those undertaking these activities as it is, by and large, a practice that looks more to old media models than the affordances and possibilities already realised and provided in what is now the canonical model of text blogging.
I would like to critique in more detail aspects of existing practice, before proceeding to a discussion of other possibilities and futures. As a video blogger I certainly don’t believe that the revolution has yet happened, in spite of the runaway success of podcasting and the rapidly pursuing videocasting. To date, the major achievements of both these media rich forms of blogging is best celebrated and understood in the light of existing media institutions and traditional mass media. As with traditional text based blogging, it was not that long ago that to have a publication with an international audience would require very substantial capital outlays. Even if self publishing the cost of printing, distribution, advertising, and of course any editorial and writing costs, are potentially enormous and so have always effectively been a barrier to entry. This is, of course, one of the reasons why in capitalist economies mass media developed — audience must be maximised to generate a return on this capital outlay. The Web has of course changed this dramatically, so that anyone could write and distribute their work for negligible costs internationally. Blogs have taken this a step further than the traditional (and former) web homepage by allowing any individual to become a site publisher, rather than merely the author of individual pages. Exactly the same constraints, though with even greater capital costs, confronted those wishing to broadcast video (television) and audio (radio). In virtually every country access to spectrum is state controlled and licences for access are extraordinarily expensive, and this is before you have paid for a studio, on–air talent, the necessary audiovisual equipment, and so on. Audio and video blogging are a minor revolution from this point of view as, just as with text blogging, the cost of entry is minimal, to the point of being trivial for those in first world nations with disposable income. This includes the technologies required, where the majority of these author–producer–directors use domestic audiovisual technologies and commonly free audio and video editing software that comes included with their PC operating systems.
It is this ease of access to publishing, combined with the ease of distribution via a blog CMS, particularly with the rise of enclosures in RSS, that offers the first major contribution of audio and video blogging to media culture. This has seen the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ and alternative media, for example. However, alternative in this context needs to be strongly recognised as alternative to mainstream mass media, and certainly does not extend to alternative or other conceptions of audio and televisual media per se — the material forms of audio and video distributed and published via blogs remains resolutely conservative in its conception of what audio and video actually is as a material practice and object. Furthermore, it is possible to critique much of the recent commentary around these alternative media practices (much of it appearing within blogs) in terms of a particular North American (more specifically United States) experience of mass media which is marked by its homogeneity and commercial imperatives — most of the rest of the world has the experience of state run media institutions which generally support significantly more cultural and aesthetic diversity than mainstream US media, and do not rely (and regularly don’t even include) any form of advertising. In addition, the long tail notwithstanding, most of the rhetoric about alternative media practices, remembering that alternative means alternative to mass media, participates in an economy of audience maximisation that is very similar to that which occupies mass media — after all, if you are attempting or claiming to offer other voices to that of the dominant media institutions the effectiveness of this alternative does appear to be premised on confusing influence with audience scale.
This does mean that audio and video blogging is a media practice that sits in an interesting and potentially productive tension with existing audiovisual media institutions. It currently favours individual production versus existing capital and time intensive industrial production models, supports a diversity of voices, and is comfortable with a range of genres and production standards. However, as those familiar with the histories of film, video, and sound will appreciate, such a list offers little, if anything, that distinguishes audio and video blogging from existing practice — there is a strong and established tradition in each of these media that recognises and supports an extremely diverse range of genres, production standards and the legitimacy of self defined creative constraints. What remains novel in the audio and video blogging model is only the range and ease of distribution.
This is not the case with text blogging, and this difference must be made clear to see how constrained existing audio and video blogging is as a blog based practice. Blogs do considerably more than provide ease of publication and distribution for a diversity of voices. For example, as indicated, they support and have lead to the development of emergent communities of practice through the provision of blogrolls, trackbacks and similar services. These products of good blogging should not be thought of as adjuncts or supplements to blogging, but are integral to blogging as a different writing practice, a writing that has recognised the network as an immanent site of intensive connections. Blogs are about these relations between parts, it is absurd to think of there being a single blog (whereas it is trivial to conceive of their being one book, in fact many religions are premised on such an assumption) precisely because a blog is determined by its relation to other blogs, whether individual posts or entire blogs. If you publish your blog in print, i.e. make it a book, then it is no longer a blog, its ‘blogness’ is broken. In the case of audio and video blogging it is the presence of audio and video files that defines it as an audio or video blog. However, it is possible to remove the audio and video from the context of the blog and to publish it in other media and for there to be no intrinsic change, or loss, to the material. Currently you can place the video content of your videoblog onto DVD and project it in a gallery or cinema, and it is for all intents and purposes the same content as appears in the videoblog. Exactly the same applies to audio content. This is why podcasting can be successful — there is nothing intrinsic in the media file that necessarily relates it to its ‘blogness’ and so it survives this translation with ease. In fact, it is conceivable and trivial to imagine a television show for broadcast along the lines of “Australia’s best videoblogs”, and similarly a radio show based on “Australia’s funniest podcasts”. It is possible to conceive of an alternative audio and video blogging practice in the same way that text blogging is an alternative media form to the book and print. This alternative steps past the reductive consideration of content as that which constitutes and defines audio and video blogging and recognises that it is the formal material properties and affordances of the network as distributed and interlinked that have been fundamental to the development and construction of blogging as a different writing practice. The problem for audio and video blogging then becomes one of how these media artefacts may weave amongst and interlink this network.
We have seen that pod and video blogging share some of the qualities of text blogging through its multiple genres, voices and, for want of a better term, production standards. The work ranges from the genuinely naïve, passing through wannabe broadcast quality through to a deliberately low bit networked aesthetic. However, lets consider some of the elements missing from audio and video blogging in relation to blogging more generally to see how it could be different — after all it is supposed to be audio and video blogging and not merely audio and video on demand or via syndication!
Currently audio and video content in blogs is unable to be used in the ways that we take for granted with text, and more specifically is unable to manage most of the now ordinary tasks of posts in a blog. For example, within any contemporary web browser or RSS reader I can click and drag over text in any blog entry, from any blog, and then copy this text using the software’s generic edit–copy command. This text can then be pasted elsewhere and so it is technically trivial for me to quote and so comment upon or otherwise engage with, someone else’s writing. If I listen to audio or view video in my browser or RSS client, there is no similarly trivial manner in which I can select some audio or video to then paste into my audio or video entry. If I open the audio or video file in a specific player application, for example QuickTime Player Pro, I can copy and paste someone else’s content into my own, as I have always been able to do with text, however to do this I need to know considerably more about HTML, the web, and file formats than is required for any other user simply wishing to copy and paste what they find in a text blog. Why is this the case? Why, for example, does the QuickTime plugin not allow the user to nominate a passage of audio or video and copy and paste it directly from the browser’s Edit menu — this is exactly what you can do using QuickTime Player Pro outside of the browser, and presumably would be trivial to implement.
In addition, the simple ability to edit and paste audio and video from within your browser or RSS client (after all this is where we do our blog reading) points out a further anomaly in relation to audio and video in blogs. If I do quote your text in my blog post, and follow the usual citational protocols of linking to the source of the quote in its individual entry, then your blog will know that I have written about that entry via the use of trackback. This is not the case with audio and video, so even if I were to open your audio file in QuickTime Player, make a selection, copy and paste this into my blog audio post and publish this there is no equivalent to trackback supported so your audio file will never know that it has been quoted. This is not merely a technical question, after all an architecture as sophisticated as QuickTime (which can read XML, supports the dynamic editing of text tracks and largely has all the functionality required to allow the types of intermovie communication to support some time based equivalent to trackback) can already do this, and so its lack is more appropriately a theoretical, critical or ideological question where the absence of these functions, indeed the largely complete disregard of these as possibilities within the audio and video blogging communities, demonstrates the extent to which audio and video blogging as a practice looks backwards to existing media for its methods rather than towards the possibilities of blogging.
This simple example of quoting is useful to foreground the manner in which the key aspects of audio and video blogging is only the presence of audio and video and these are in fact ignorant of the network and its affordances. This is evidenced not only in the simple problem of quotation, but is also evident in the rise of syndication as a major component of audio and video blogging so that the media files are routinely viewed or used with a dramatic loss of their networked and blogged contexts. In other words title of the entry, date of the entry, the presence of comments or trackbacks, descriptive or associated text in the blog entry that accompanies the audio or video, links within that text, and so on, are gone. The media file remains utterly mute in relation to the network, and so remains firmly embedded within the paradigms of audio and video traditionally conceived. It is possible using existing technologies to include links within audio and video where these links can be time based and so only present during relevant periods of the entry, and in the case of video, or audio with a simple image track (for example a still image) they can also be located on parts of the image just like a traditional imagemap. Once again the problem is not technical, QuickTime has these affordances, but the tools to easily link from and to parts of time based media in the manner established by text blogs falls outside of the paradigms by which time based media is understood. In this manner the existing uses of audio and video in blogs is much closer to print and the book than the hypertextual fluidity of text within any common garden variety blog. Once you have published your audio or video blog entry (regardless of the efforts to produce it) it becomes a closed and whole object that is deaf to the network that it ostensibly participates within.
What it might mean for audio and video media to be porous to the network? To allow quotation, interlinking and to develop a media which is as permeable and granular as networked text? These questions cannot be answered until we have tools that enable this to happen as easily as it can be for text. The narratives that could then be sung remain to be discovered. Blogs are the first online popular media to have recognised that relations between parts are an immanent quality to a properly networked practice, and while audio and video remains closed to the network audio and video blogging can be little more than audio and video in a blog, rather than audio and video blogging. Until this event occurs, the moment which in retrospect makes it obvious why audio and video ought to be plastic and permeable, the culture of the media star remains uncontested and central to audio and video blogging which accounts for why much of this content mimetically mirrors the direct address forms popularised by mass popular media. This paucity of invention mistakes style for new paradigms and with the rise of mobile non–networked devices there is every opportunity for TV and radio to kill the yet to be born video blogging star.
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale (N.J.): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Miles, Adrian. “Media Rich Versus Rich Media (or Why Video in a Blog Is Not the Same as a Video Blog).” Blogtalk Downunder. http://incsub.org/blogtalk/?page_id=74 Sydney, 2005. Accessed November 4, 2005.
Miles, Adrian. “BlogTalk Prototype 1.” Vlog 3.0. http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/vlog/archives/2005/04/22/blogtalk-prototype-;1/ April 22, 2005. Accessed November 4, 2005.
Miles, Adrian. “BlogTalk Prototype 3 (Small).” Vlog 3.0. http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/vlog/archives/2005/05/04/blogtalk-prototype-3-small/ May 4, 2005. Accessed November 4, 2005.
Nelson, Theodor Holm. Literary Machines 91.1: The Report on, and of, Project Xanadu Concerning Word Processing, Electronic Publishing, Hypertext, Thinkertoys, Tomorrow’s Intellectual Revolution, and Certain Other Topics Including Knowledge, Education and Freedom. Sausalito: Mindful Press, 1992.
Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. London: MIT Press, 1988.
Simmons, Jen. “Citizen Journalism.” Multimedia.05. http://teaching.jensimmons.com/multimedia/2005/10/citizen-journalism.htm October 14, 2005. Accessed November 4, 2005.Tags: Network Literacy, research outcomes, Vogging, Vogging Practice, Vogging Theory
Have realised that my video practice is so doggedly observational and, well, quotidian might do as a word, that I rarely film anything that actually does anything. Nothing happens. I’ve also realised this is one of the reasons why I often use text in my movies in the way that I do. While I’m drawn to video I think I am a writer first, and where I use images they are propositions, ideas, thoughts, they are not used to describe or narrate. As a consequence as I’ve been experimenting through the first stage of the new K-film project I’ve realised that nearly all the material could just be still images, that really interesting things happen when you see, say, 12 images as thumbnails, but if you choose one to view the video not much more happens. You don’t learn much more. So as a user you then tend to keep ‘surfing’ to see the visual patterns (that are meaningful relations within the work) rather than spending time with the video. Harsh realisation that one. So in response I am now adding some commentary come text to each video, they are not to be as atomistic as in the Reveries project, though neither is it to be a linear narrative. I’ll finish writing these for the current 30 video clips that I’m using and see what it’s like. At the moment my method is to view each clip and to write, with the previous clips text visible (as the first clip returned in About a Year is always the next clip in oldest to newest temporal order), something that sort of could flow from the previous clip, but also survives by itself. Non committal, riffs. I think a better model would be to simply write, one short line for each node, and then copy and paste in. Anyway’s current draft from today is available – About a Year Version 0.2.Tags: Vogging, Vogging Practice
Pity about their website but old school DIY is alive and well. The Australian International Experimental Film Festival is up and running. Pretty clear set of regulations to enter (but since they use frames I can’t actually provide you with the url, “hello 1997 my old friend”) so there’s experimental film, video and expanded cinema. Interestingly all will be converted to QuickTime for presentation. So, where’s the international festival, heck, the local festival, for video that doesn’t treat the audience as mere viewers?Tags: practice, Vogging