Unlike forum software, which grew out of an existing technical and social model, blog software is decidedly a child of the Web. The rise of independent publishing in the late 90s drove the interest, and a crop of software began to emerge to fill a distinct need: assist independent publishers to quickly and easily update particular pages on their sites. This is the heart of blogging: updated content. Community has occurred on blogs as a side effect of sorts. Unlike forums, blogs were not created on the premise of a broader community; rather they came about as a means to represent an individual or a small group of individuals.
The history of blogging and blog software has definitely shaped the technical aspects of how blogs are delivered. The first and foremost required feature is a means of publishing content directly to the Web with as little mucking about with code as possible.
After that primary feature, blog software differs in what it can and can't do, but major technical features associated with blogs include the following:
- Trackback/Pingback. Trackback and Pingback are technologies that allow you to send a notification from your blog to other blogs upon publication of a new entry. This allows for outreach and links conversations on similar topics from one blog to another. They are de facto technologies for blogging software; forums rarely offer this feature.
- RSS and Atom generation. RSS and Atom are technologies that are often referred to as aggregation or syndication languages. They are a means for the blog author to excerpt or publish the entire entry in a format that newsreaders and newsfeeds can pick up and interpret. These technologies alert subscribers to a blog's feed when a new entry has been published. Forum software developers are beginning to implement aggregation technologies into their software (Slashdot has RSS feeds, for example).
- Complex templating languages. Robust blog software typically uses either a proprietary tag language (such as Movable Type) or an existing language such as PHP (as in the case of WordPress). These languages allow extensive modification to the various pages within a blog, allowing the blog to drive multiple pages or blogs within a given site. Forum software can often be skinned to match the design of a parent site, but blog software specifically supports this kind of customization. Both blog and forum software in recent times have paid attention to the implementation of Web standards, which is very good news because they generate better and more useful HTML, XHTML, and CSS, allowing both types of systems to be easily modified and maintained.
- Archiving systems, filtering, and search features. Because the primary use of blog technology is to regularly update content, some means of archiving that content and making it searchable are regularly offered via blogging software. Categories and subcategories for topic organization are easily defined in today's blogging software.
- Comment systems. Only one feature from a list of many, a comment system is what turns a blog from a publishing system into a community. Comment systems, which are typically built into the blog software, allow broad and granular control to authors. If I want to never allow comments or always allow comments, or decide entry by entry whether I want comments to be open, I can control that behavior from within the software. If I want to close an open comment group, I can do so at any time. On the other hand, users have precious little control—maybe being able to use some HTML in their comments, preview their comment, and edit it are the extent of user controls in most blogging environments.
Social Aspects of Blogging
As you are likely beginning to notice as a result of the technical differences between forums and blogs, blogs tend to be more concerned with connecting content and aggregating content. Blogs become communities only when comments are turned on and some discourse begins on that site.
In the case of blogs, the conversations can be very diverse because post entries tend to be diverse. I might publish a poem to my blog one day; then a detailed article on Web standards the next. Clearly, the comments and ensuing discussion for each will be radically different.
Unlike forum discussions, blog discussions are far more decentralized. Also unlike forums, blog commentary is focused on the individual (or individuals, in the case of group blogs) doing the writing. So blogs are more personality-oriented and as a result, the conversations can be more bidirectional than the group discussions that occur on forums. What's more, comment systems are not always appropriate for certain blogs (high risk of offensive spam, don't have moderation resources, and so on), and then the comparison becomes pretty moot because the community activity on the blog simply doesn't exist.
With Trackback and Pingback, another kind of social discussion occurs via blogs. Let's say I see an entry on someone's blog that really interests me. Instead of using a comment system to publish my response, I can write an entry to my own blog and then send a notification to the other blog about it. If set up for it, the responding blog will then automatically publish an excerpt of the entry with a link, allowing visitors to come on over to my place and read my response.
So blogs have a determinedly aggressive social agenda: They are not contained environments as forums are. The goal with blogs is to push the content out to as many venues as are interested, making the entire "blogosphere" a conversation. Whereas forums tend to remain more interested in the internal social connections.