Do Blog Provide Self-Contained Posts or a Narrative Thread?

Does a blog used to support professional activities act as a diary in which in order to fully appreciate the content readers will need to have an understanding of the context provided by other posts? Or, alternatively, are blog posts self-containe, so they make sense if viewed in isolation?

Tony Hirst’s recent post on For My One Thousandth Blogpost: The Un-Academic caused me to reflect on this question. Tony had commented that whereas “Formal academic publications are a matter of record, and as such need to be self-standing, as well as embedded in a particular tradition blog posts are deliberately conversational: the grounding often coming from the current conversational context – recent previous posts, linked to sources, comments – as well as discussions ongoing in the community that the blog author inhabits and is known to contribute to“.

But although the writing style of blogs is often conversational in tone, I don’t agree that blog posts cannot also be self-standing. I realised this recently after a conversation with Amber Thomas who was preparing a talk on use of Wikipedia in a higher education context, which she gave last week at the Eduwiki conference. In the discussion I gave Amber some examples of use of Wikipedia in a research context, based on posts I’d written on How Can We Assess the Impact and ROI of Contributions to Wikipedia? (published on 27 September 2010) and How Well-Read Are Technical Wikipedia Articles? (published in 8 July 2010). Since I realised that I might have a need to be able to find such articles again in the future, I created a page on this blog on the Importance of Wikipedia which contained links to posts on this subject. I subsequently created a number of other pages providing links to posts which should be self-standing, in areas including Web Accessibility, standards and blog practices.

I then realised that my style is always to try to make post self-standing, with the relationships with related posts being made explicit by links to such posts.

It strikes me that writing self-contained blog posts is more relevant than it used to be when blogs took off as a way of keeping one’s peers informed. Back then readers of blogs would typically keep up-to-date through their RSS reader. But now it seems pharmacy online with no prescriptions (and the Web analytics provided in a blog’s dashboard will confirm this) visitors will arrive at a post by following a link from Twitter or a service such as

Since there seems to be a decrease in the numbers of people who regularly follow individual blogs (and I know that although I still use an RSS reader I do not always read all posts, even from the blogs I am most interested in) it will be more important to provide the context for visitors who arrive at a particular post. This may cause regular readers to encounter repetition if they are following a stream of posts, but I think this needs to be accepted in light of the changing patterns of blog reading.

Tony Hirst’s follow-up post on How OUseful.Info Posts Link to Each Other… provides a graphic which depicts how posts published on Tony’s blog (which now number over 1,000) link to each other. This made me wonder whether Tony’s blog could also be described as self-contained, with the links providing the context.


As a postscript I should add that over the past 3 or 4 years I have provided links to blog posts from slides when I give presentations in order to be able to provide easy access to supplementary materials related to the contents of a particular slide.

An example of this approach is illustrated. For a forthcoming talk on “Open Practices for the Connected Researcher” to be given during Open Access Week if, during the talk, I am asked for the context or the evidence I can click on the blue arrow to go to the relevant post. Initially I used this approach when I embedded an image so that I could easily find the original source. I later realised that this approach has become more useful following developments to Slideshare which meant the that HTML5 replacement for the Flash interface enable the links to be followed from Slideshare. I don’t think the blog post should be regarded primarily as an item in a narrative for a regular audience. Rather I feel that there will be a significant proportion of the audience who will view posts in isolation.

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