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Microblogging is the utilization of an Internet web space to post brief thoughts and opinions. An emphasis is placed on short posts rather than lengthy entries and can consist of pictures, text, or video.
Definition and History
A formal definition of microblogging is "blogging done with severe space or size constraints typically by posting frequent brief messages about personal activities". It can also be broken down into "micro", meaning very small, and "blog", a journal posted online. In this way, microblogging is the process of recording short entries into a public diary of sorts1. While microblogging is most often associated with online writing, its origin can be traced back to the 18th century when men and women wrote in small pocket journals. Four similarities exist between microblogging and these journals: limited sharing, short length, content, and an informal narrative style2.
These journals were often shared with family and friends to share what was going on in their life and maintain relationships with those they did not see everyday. The contents were not shared publicly with everyone, it was up to the owner to choose who could see the contents, similarly to how Twitter has privacy settings that give the owner control over who sees their tweets. 18th century journals were small and compact giving only a few inches of space to write on each page. While this small size allowed men and women to easily carry the journals with them, current microblogging sites can support thousands of users and their posts on few servers because of the limited word space they allow. The content in this group of journals generally consisted of daily activities such as how much fabric was spun and who visited. The writing style was informal and distant, most logs consisted of the main event without many details or emotional ties due to the limited time and space they had to write. Most current-day microblogs contain many grammatical errors and few details because they are limited in space and posted quickly. However, they are commonly filled with emotional content through the use of emoticons and punctuation2.
By the late 20th century, journals began to be shared electronically in the form of e-mails. Instead of sending letters, electronic mail was being used to share news and personal updates in a matter of minutes rather than days. E-mailing quickly gained popularity and eventually led to the first blogging websites where individuals could post as many updates as they wanted and quickly share them within their own social network. While blogging is still popular, the recent development of mobile applications that instantly updates posts spawned microblogs. Dan Barnhardt attributes people's "need to be connected to others" as the driving force behind the replacement of forwarding emails with microblogs. The benefits of microblogging include faster communication and lower time requirements to think about the content and then write about it. Most microblog posts are instantaneous and spur of the moment, they can consist of original thoughts and opinions or just simply share someone else's post. The main differences between traditional blogs and microblogs are that the user generally spends much more time filling out the content in a blog post and they only update them about once a day, if that frequently. These contain more details and context for the reader, which generally makes it more impactful and memorable while microblogs are quickly updated to provide daily information on a person's life that may or may not emotionally affect every reader3.
One of the most recognizable microblogging platforms is Twitter. This social media site limits posts to 140 characters, 30 seconds of video, or pictures up to 5MB. Hashtagging is also very popular to group tweets based on a common subject. Because of the character limit, posts are generally very short but more frequently updated compared to blogs or Facebook posts. Used by businesses, celebrities, and everyday folk, Twitter allows anyone to "follow" strangers and see their posts, but there are privacy settings that can prevent this. Each tweet can tag other Twitter users, record the number of retweets, show the time each tweet was made, and more.
Here the country artist Blake Shelton shared a tweet tagging another famous singer, Adam Levine. This tweet is public to anyone on the Internet, a Twitter account is not necessary. In this case the tweet was making a joke about a presumed friend. Other tweets can be more inspirational and hold deeper meaning, but Tweets in general are spontaneous to reflect thoughts and events as they come up throughout the day.
Instagram is another popular microblogging platform that focuses on sharing pictures. Rather than posting entire albums showcasing an event, each Instagram post only contains one picture with a short description, usually including several hashtags to categorize it.
This Instagram post is an example of how businesses can use microblogs for advertising. The picture is the focal point with a very short description. Attention is brought to the hashtags sine they are highlighted in blue but they also use key phrases that avid Starbucks customers will recognize (i.e. MugMonday).
A third example of microblogs is Google+. This platform differs from Twitter and Instagram in that it was not made specifically for smartphones. Although there are several other features within Google+, like Hangouts for video chatting, the microblog portion allows you to organize your posts in collections about a common subject or in communities you create. Posts can also be linked to other social media accounts such as YouTube to spread into other social networks and gain popularity. This is useful when wanting to draw attention to a certain subject and then getting people to read the entire article or watch a full-length video on a different multimedia platform. Microblogging in this way is used simply for grabbing a viewer's attention by giving them a sneak peak at something bigger.
Resources and Further Reading
- Microblogging vs. Blogging: 5 Ways to Create an Open Twitter Alternative  - this article compares traditional blogging capabilities to those of microblogs and Twitter.
- 5 Microblogging Sites that aren't Twitter  - this article describes the strengths and weaknesses of different microblogging platforms.
- Microblogs  - this page describes characteristics of microblogs that are useful for teaching and learning applications, as well as how to start a microblog.
- Generating event storylines from microblogs  - this paper describes a research study on constructing storylines from Twitter posts.
- Micro-blogging content analysis via emotionally-driven clustering  - this research article studies how well emotions can be captured from microblog posts such as those on Twitter.
- "Microblogging." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
- Humphreys, L. (2010). Historicizing microblogging. http://www.cs.unc.edu/~julia/accepted-papers/Humphreys_HistoricizingTwitter.pdf
- Corbeil, J. R., & Corbeil, M. E. (2011). The birth of a social networking phenomenon. Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, 1, 13-32. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=TiBxjMnh5e4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA13&dq=history+of+microblogging&ots=A_h88HMXIm&sig=sTyeQy0l86N49y6Pmsu9w5WLRQ0#v=onepage&q=history%20of%20microblogging&f=false