Rethinking the Blog as Database

Filed as Features on October 16, 2007 8:00 am

How do you look at your blog? Do you see it as a personal diary or maybe as a form of journalism? Do you ever think of your blogging as database form? This is the first post in a series of three on the blog as database on three different levels:

  1. The blog as database
  2. The blogosphere as database
  3. The web as database

New Media theorist Lev Manovich argues in “The Language of New Media” that the database has become the (new) dominant media form:

After the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate – database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don’t have beginning or end; in fact, they don’t have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other. (Manovich, The Language of New Media, p. 218)

We hardly ever think of our blog as a database because the WordPress interface renders the underlying MySQL database invisible. However, every time we blog we are filling our database with information such as the post title, post content and tags used. If you blog at a blog service such as WordPress.com or Blogger.com you won’t be confronted with the existence of the underlying database as it is “hidden” from you. Self hosting WordPress users on the other hand have to create a database on their server.

One of the few times we are actually confronted with the existence of the database is when things go wrong. With the recent release of WordPress 2.3 the naming of some database tables such as “categories” changed (categories are now “terms”). This means that all the themes and plugins that use the categories table suddenly don’t work anymore. This causes the plugin or theme to break and your blog visitor will be confronted with an error such as: WordPress database error: [Table 'wp_post2cat' doesn't exist]

We are indirectly confronted with the database when you use a WordPress theme. While the database itself poses no structure and hierarchy on the data blog software and blog themes do. Nowadays blogs have a very distinctive look and most blogs have the same structure. The dominant blog form is that posts are ordered in a hierarchical descending order with the most recent post on top. It is interesting that the database itself does not force this structure on the blog but the theme does. The chronological descending order is defined in “the Loop” which lies at the heart of almost all WordPress themes in the index.php.

More and more theme writers are writing themes that defy the current dominant form of the blog. A very interesting example of this is the Commodore theme written by Rod McFarland. The theme orders your blogs information so that it looks like the old Commodore64 interface. Other examples are the currently very popular magazine and photoblog themes.

Do you use a theme that defies the dominant blog form? Do you ever look at the backside of your blog? What is your relation to your blog’s database?

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  1. Anne Helmond » Rethinking the Blog as Database: My First Post on the Blog HeraldOctober 16, 2007 at 1:59 pm
  2. Masters of Media » Rethinking the Blog as Database: My First Post on the Blog HeraldOctober 16, 2007 at 2:01 pm
  3. By Anne Helmond posted on October 17, 2007 at 6:46 am
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    That’s the beauty of blog software such as WordPress, you hardly see what’s under the hood. This makes it very easy to blog but also restrictive. Once you dive under the hood there is a whole world of database fields, themes, plugins and widgets for you to use and customize your blog.

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  4. Can Google Handle the Maturing Blogosphere? : The Blog HeraldOctober 28, 2007 at 6:22 pm

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