We all know what a blog is, or at least we pretend to know. Since their heyday in the early 2000s, nearly everyone has stumbled over or even written one. According to this blog, 6.7 million people publish their own blog. And if you count “microblogging” such as Twitter and Tumblr, too, there are almost as many bloggers as there are readers.

But what is a blog really? And what are its functions in the age of quick status updates and image sharing a la Pinterest?

1. Blogging as Diary

This is how blogging first appeared to many (including me) back in 2001, and many derogatory references in movies and TV series still treat it like that, inserting the punch line “I’ll blog about it” to highlight the ridicule of self centered inanities. This goes along with the MySpace “mirror shot” and instagramming one’s food. It’s all blogging as in documenting (mostly boring) personal lives, but once a person actually experiences something unique, funny or revealing this can go a long way!

2. Blogging as Edge Journalism

There are those like the guy who live-tweeted Osama’s capture, and then there are the professional journalists on the payroll of BBC, CNN and Co. holed up in some dark war torn country, collecting their field notes publicly on their blogs, often anonymously, not to upset their employers. The blog post in these cases is a less polished but also potentially more interesting (because edited) stage of journalistic writing. And it doesn’t always have to be political. There are great investigative bloggers in many fields from education to IT.

3. Blogging as Curation

Another important approach is the process of collecting, categorizing, tagging, reblogging and reposting of interesting content all over the web. Some of the most popular blogs like Neatorama or BoingBoing do exactly that. These blogs are usually rich in images and video and not so rich in words per post, but their content gets shared a lot! More personal or investigative bloggers might look down on this approach for their lack of original content. “They’re just recycling stuff!” they might say, and it’s true, they mostly are, but through this process the endless flow of daily fresh content is sorted and redistributed, so that by following the right blogs one can discover content one would have missed otherwise.

4. Blogging As Newsletter

This form of blogging is often seen when clicking on the “blog” menu button of big corporate websites. Instead of personal diary writing or investigative field notes, these blogs will simply post updates on new products, promotions, etc. in the hope of creating brand awareness and … sales. In other words, it’s all in the name of business, which is not necessarily bad, but this approach is obviously limited and won’t go viral like “funny pictures” and “shocking videos”.

5. Blogging as Content Marketing

Another approach closely linked to the one above is blogging as content-marketing. Well known players in this field are the guys at copyblogger.com, but there are many more. Here, blogging happens in the name of business, too, but instead of just directly talking about new products and promotions (this gets boring very quickly), content marketing blogs will wrap their business intention in entertaining and informative articles, often talking about problems and solutions in the field where the content marketer also offers premium products or services. The writing in these cases is like a free sample showcasing the expertise of the people behind the blog and products or services. The writing is free, can (and should) stand on its own legs, but is also tied in with paid-for products and services.

6. Blogging as a Mixture of All The Above

Personally, the route that I have taken in my own blogging experiments is a mixture of all the above approaches. I’ve tried to neatly separate the personal stuff from the business stuff from the occasional rant or critique but it always felt artificial. Each and every person contains so many different aspects, and a blog is a great way to reflect this. In other words, When you had an interesting personal experience that is at least tangentially related, blog about it! When you’ve released a new product or service or promotion, tell your readers! When you stumble over dirt in your industry, expose it! Found a great video or image? Reblog it! And all along the way, keep sharing your experience and help people to solve problems you’ve already dealt with, or are in the process of dealing with.

What about you? Do you blog? In which of the above categories (if any) fits your blog? In short: why do you blog?

illustration: gapingvoid.com, thumbnail: CC by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com