(Cross-posted on my personal blog.)

What are blog posts? I think they can be many different things.

Essays

For Paul Graham, they are essays. He doesn't even call that part of his page "blog". The link in the left navigation area says "Essays". Essays are different from what I think of as a prototypical[1] blog post.

But the URL is /articles. And articles are different from essays. Hm.

To Paul Graham, an essay is something that is exploratory.

To understand what a real essay is, we have to reach back into history again, though this time not so far. To Michel de Montaigne, who in 1580 published a book of what he called "essais." He was doing something quite different from what lawyers do, and the difference is embodied in the name. Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

Figure out what? You don't know yet. And so you can't begin with a thesis, because you don't have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn't begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside.

An essay, according to him, also doesn't take a stance on an issue. And it doesn't aim to persuade.

The other big difference between a real essay and the things they make you write in school is that a real essay doesn't take a position and then defend it.

...

The sort of writing that attempts to persuade may be a valid (or at least inevitable) form, but it's historically inaccurate to call it an essay. An essay is something else.

Opinion pieces

Ok then. An essay isn't meant to persuade, just explore. But some blog posts are meant to persuade. I guess we can call those opinion pieces.

To me, a prototypical opinion piece is pretty well researched and thought out. It isn't something the author garbled together at 3am in 20 minutes in a steaming vent of frustration. I guess the latter is a third type of blog post, but I'm not going to talk about that category here.

Educational

Some of my favorite blog posts are educational. Most recently I came across Josh W Comeau's post An Interactive Guide to Flexbox. It was pretty awesome.

It was also long. A deep dive. Not all educational blog posts are that long or deep. Some are just a three minute description of a concept or technique.

I suppose you could come up with subcategories of educational blog posts then. Some are long enough to be competing with books. Others are more like a series of tweets.[2] Even more informal is a blog post that is just a cheat sheet.

Announcements

Companies often utilize blog posts to make announcements. For example, Deno announced version 1.28 in a blog post. The important thing in version 1.28 is the ability to use NPM packages.

Less commonly, individuals will write blog posts making personal announcements. This often is about things in their professional lives. For example, Jeff Kaufman announced in a blog post that he was leaving Google and joining the Nucleic Acid Observatory.

Updates

Similar to announcements but not quite the same thing are updates. Indie Hackers is a good example of this. When you list your business, you are encouraged to publish blog posts documenting your journey and updating people with where you're at. See this page for EmailEngine. I also wrote some posts of this type when I was working on Premium Poker Tools.

I'm not sure if this fits snuggly into the "Updates" category, but sometimes people write blog posts that are personal updates. AK Monthly Recap: October 2022 is an example that I just came across. The author talks about her recovery from covid and her beautiful trip to New Hampshire.

Reviews

Book reviews are probably the most popular. For example, I wrote A Brief Review of The Scout Mindset. People also write reviews of things like movies, podcasts, cities, technologies, and their time as an employee at a given company.

Humor

Some blog posts are either purely or primarily humorous. The Trump-Biden Debate is a great example.

Meaning the blog post on Wait But Why. The actual Trump-Biden debate I found to be more sad than humorous.

Every Bay Area House Party is also pretty funny.

Journalism

"Real" journalism is available to consume on the web. Ie. by visiting the website of the Associated Press or Washington Post. I wouldn't really call these blog posts though. It's more just actual journalism being made available via the internet.

Some people write blog posts that I'd consider to be journalism though. Ie. people who aren't employed as journalists. I can't think of or find any good examples right now, but I recall coming across it in the past.

Stories

Russia: What You Didn’t Know You Don’t Know on Wait But Why is basically a store about the author Tim Urban's visit to Russia. Part 1 of the post probably fits better in the education category, but the rest of the post is moreso him telling the readers a story about his travels plus some additional commentary.

Journaling

This is an interesting one. So far, every category we've come across has something in common: it is written for the benefit of the readers. Maybe not 100%, but to a large extent the goal is to publish something that readers would enjoy or otherwise benefit from. Journaling is different.

With journaling, you are, well, journaling. You are writing for yourself, and then you are publishing it for others to read. Well, to some extent at least.

My first year without social media and Meditations on riding through the desert are both posts that feel to me like they are in this journaling category.

Combinations

Often times blog posts don't cleanly fit in to just one of these categories. Instead, they might fit two or more categories. For example, Traveling To The Third World Is Great And Also It Sucks is partly a collection of stories about someone's travel experiences, partly educational, partly humorous, and partly an opinion piece.

Things I haven't thought of

I don't want to imply that the list I came up with here is authoritative or exhaustive in any way. It's just what I was able to come up with after an hour or two of brainstorming and research.

Parting thoughts

It is interesting to me how varied blog posts can be. It is also confusing.

Words are supposed to be pointers. Symbols that point to a referent, or an underlying substance. For example, "apple" is supposed to point to 🍎. "apple" → 🍎. But what does "blog post" point to? "blog post" → ?.

I think it can point to many different things. And I guess that means that writers should be creative and open to writing different types of posts.


  1. I'm thinking about The Cluster Structure of Thingspace here. ↩︎

  2. To those of you who are reading this in the future, a tweet is a post made on the social media platform Twitter. Twitter was active from 2006 to 2023. Tweets tended to be short compared to other social media posts. Originally tweets had to be 140 characters or less but in 2017 they increased the limit to 280 characters. ↩︎

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Some people write blog posts that I'd consider to be journalism though. Ie. people who aren't employed as journalists. I can't think of or find any good examples right now, but I recall coming across it in the past.

Maybe Zvi's posts here? Or Scott's much more than you wanted to know posts?

Hm yeah maybe Zvi's posts. Scotts Much More Than You Wanted To Know feel more like research to me whereas journalism is a bit more storytelling and opinion.