Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cat Blogging

Doug Johnson quotes Kathy Sierra and says, "Don't blog the cat. It's not about you."


Cat in Madrid

I don't think I agree with the "don't blog the cat" point. I have run posts about my cats in the past, and I will in the future. There's a reason for that.

Sierra writes, "It's not about you." In this, she is at least partially wrong. It is about you. Not completely, of course. But the personal point of view is important.

What distinguishes the blog media from the traditional media is the idea that each expression has a point of view. Our knowledge of a concept or an event is obtained from combining these points of view.

Knowing about the blog author helps us understand that point of view. When I say "I saw a cat on the streets of Madrid" the meaning is different when you know that I am a cat person and love cats.

Suppose you knew that I was one of those people who hates cats and calls then "house rats" (yeah, I've actually heard the phrase). Then my observation of a cat on the streets of Madrid conveys very different information about the city.

The blog is an expression of a relation between myself and whatever I am talking about. As such, the personal part of a blog is essential. You'll find in her archives that even Kathy Sierra includes a lot about the personal. Her experience of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example.

Writers who do not reveal something of themselves (and their pets, if their pets are important to them) are giving us only half the equation. They are presenting statements and asking us to accept them as objective fact. There is no reason why we should do this, and indeed, even some reason to be suspicious of such an approach.

9 comments:

  1. Kathy also has blogged about her horses (a lot) and her dog, amongst many other posts about herself. Just an observation. I like you cat in Madrid example..

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  2. But doesn't this contradict what you said a few blog entries ago about the topic, not the person, being the important piece?

    Where is that entry anyways? I have been unable to locate it and wanted to re-read it.

    With appreciation,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net

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  3. Not sure which entry you mean. All the entries I have posted are right where they were; I haven't deleted anything. Are you sure it was something I wrote?

    Best I can guess is that it may be an item from the Logical Fallacies which argues that arguments must address the topic, not the person. This is true - when you are criticizing someone. But that is different from being clear abour your perspective, your point of view.

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  4. Perhaps Miguel means this: Competing For Attention on OLDaily? My opinion is somewhere in between, as Mathemagenic discussed it.

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  5. You're right, of course and you made me think. (I hate it when that happens.) Blogging more than perhaps any other medium is about the individual perspective and experience that the blog writer brings to the page (screen?) that gives a blog its value.

    But for me anyway, it is really more complex than that. The reason Sierra's post struck me perhaps, was because the morning I re-read her post one of my cats upchucked all over the bathroom floor and I thought about publicly asking if anyone else noticed that cats seem to regurgitate twice the volume of food they've eaten - a Seinfeldian sort of observation.

    But what I could not do was figure out any way that this observation made a point about technology, education or even life - other perhaps than it's just one damn thing after another. Amusing in a gross sort way, perhaps, but there was no way I could stretch this into a story that made much of a point.

    This might be the distinction between purely personal writing (blogging about the cat), and using personal experience as a source for writing for an audience. There needs to be a point. If my cat's actions can teach, inform, enlighten, inspire or even simply raise meaningful questions, the cat becomes a proper subject for the blog. If not, why am I wasting my reader's time and attention?

    This is the same way I feel about jokes in presentations - if they don't make some sort of point, they're just a cheap way of entertaining rather than informing.

    So thanks, Stephen, and in way of apology, I put a picture of MY cat on my blog.

    http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2007/4/29/dont-blog-the-cat-unless.html

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  6. Ah. Could be.

    But of course, in that post, I am saying that people should select which post to read according to the topic (thereby ensuring a wide variety of perspectives) and not from individual people (offering only one perspective).

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  7. cat is one of the most misused UNIX commands. It was only ever intended to concatinate (and print) files. Far more often, however, users treat it as the "giant echo!" command that lets them display or pipe entire files. It was the 'pr' command that was intended to do the former, and I suspect that poor documentation has resulted in the shift of usage: only a casual mention at the very end of the man page gives the novice user any clue that it "prints files", by default, to the terminal device. The latter usage (as the head of a pipe) is almost always due to an ignorance of redirects. Surpringly, no-one seems to use 'pr' where a generator is necessary, which may reflect some failings of the command with which I am not familiar.

    Thus, yes, while there is a cat amongst the echoes of Madrid, flexing it's tail od[ly] near the walls, nice columns and tidy heaps of dirt of that locale, we must read more than we expect into the awkward look of the last strings tacked to the arch, and compress our base[ ]name, each man of us, into an alias; we must apply ourselves with vim to the jottings of our false jobs, lest others prove we are clearly on the lam, and finger us with the patches we have enscripted, linking this to less units of uptime on the calendar - if they are more the type to look to umask us, and less the type to read our talk and join our groups.

    Hash, grog, refer, and perphaps head from bridget, who grops to unzip and mate. Life used to be such a bash. When did everything get so gui?

    If you must or desire, blog about the cat. But I implore you! do not cat the blog.

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  8. Stephen, you're right, it's just a question of balance. I try to keep 'cat' blogs down on my own blog (in my case cat = kids, soccer, politics), because other people's cats are like other people's dreams - mostly, they just aren't that interesting.

    On the other hand, as you say, every reader needs a little perspective on the writer, so he or she just has to find the right cat count.

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  9. Hi! Probably somebody told you this when you were in Madrid, but here it is anyway: people in Madrid used to be called "gatos" (cats). As a cat myself--although living right now in Arizona--I am glad you enjoyed your time in Spain.

    Greetings,

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