This document is written for ISSN registrars. It will explain the compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN registration.
People who publish and maintain Weblogs have applied for ISSNs. Some registrars have immediately registered the Weblogs; others have categorically refused to register Weblogs at all; and still others have reluctantly or selectively registered them.
The evidence, however, indicates there are no justifiable reasons not to register Weblogs for ISSN providing they meet the regular criteria.
A Weblog is defined by Blood (2002) as “a format: a Web page with new entries placed at the top, updated frequently.”
In practice, we find two broad categories:
Many Weblogs combine the two forms. Note that it is exceedingly difficult to find Weblogs that merely link and do not also comment. The vast preponderance of Weblogs are set up specifically to give voice to open-ended quantities of original content, usually writing.
We need to recap the definition of a serial:
A publication, in any medium, issued in successive parts, usually having numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued with no predetermined end. Note: This definition excludes works intended to be published in a finite number of parts.... The ISSN is applicable to the entire population of serials, whether past, present or to be published in the foreseeable future. Serials include periodicals, newspapers, annuals (reports, yearbooks, directories, etc.), the journals, series, memoirs, proceedings, transactions, etc. of societies.
I have become aware of the objections of registrars to the allocation of ISSN for Weblogs. Let us consider typical objections below.
The statement cannot be categorically made. Many print publications are not “serious”; every modern nation has its satirical or humour publications, most of which have ISSNs. Moreover, seriousness is not listed as a criterion in determining the nature of a serial. Imposing a value judgement of that sort would amount to a dangerous precedent; it’s a few steps away from censorship, since it permits librarians to treat some serials differently from others merely because the librarians themselves don’t like the content.
In principle, that is true, because many hundreds of thousands of Weblogs are currently published. However, the reality is that only the most serious and dedicated publishers will attempt to register Weblogs. Registrars have no reason to fear that, for example, all 500,000 users of the LiveJournal system or all 800,000 Blogger users will simultaneously decide to register. Only a fraction will make the attempt.
In any event, rejecting registration for Weblogs because there are too many of them is undemocratic. For the first time in history, A.J. Liebling’s maxim that freedom of the press belongs to whoever owns one has actually come true. In the past, only corporations and institutions could afford to publish. Now it is possible for individuals and groups to publish. Their intentions and the form of their work are comparable to established publishers’; the difference is they now have access to a medium they can afford.
If ISSN registrars choose to deny registration to Weblog authors merely because too many are attempting to register, authors will view that decision as indistinguishable from the belief that it was OK to register “real” publications before the Web came along, but the little people aren’t what ISSN registrars had in mind.
On the practical issue of how to manage an increase in applications, I am aware of no published calls for ISSN registrars to process an application in any specific period of time. Weblog authors are aware that registrars use a bureaucratic process and are perfectly willing to wait their turn. However, that must not be interpreted as a license to process Weblog applications after all the “real” publications have been handled. Weblogs are real publications.
The concept is a misnomer and irrelevant in Web publishing. It is possible to collect Web publications, through several methods:
But Web publications are seldom, if ever, subject to deposit regulations in libraries. The entire concept of “collecting” a serial presupposes formats that existed prior to the Web – that is, physical formats.
Weblog authors are not asking librarians to collect their sites. Collection is not relevant to Weblogs, and its use as a pretext to refuse registration is not justified. Libraries who use collection criteria as a way of limiting ISSN allocations need to rethink their criteria.
A weak case could be made for that argument, but only by registrars who do not actually read Weblogs. The original content on Weblogs is as varied as the authors themselves. The criticism here seems to assume that the only Weblogs in existence are those that do nothing but provide lists of links to other sites. Such Weblogs are exceedingly rare; the only one I know of is Robot Wisdom, itself one of the earliest (and least-evolved) Weblogs.
Even in that unrepresentative example, the definition of serial encompasses “directories” and “proceedings.” Due to poor grammar, the intent of the definition is not clear (do the words “the journals, series, memoirs, proceedings, transactions, etc.” really only apply to “societies”?), but the broad definition of serial must prevail. Registrars must be discouraged from fishing for criteria that would disallow Weblogs.
In reality, links-and-commentary Weblogs contain substantial original content. Weblogs are not like a parts catalogue or even a library card catalogue. The selection of material to which to link constitutes an original editorial component. In any event, allocation of ISSN based on content is a slippery slope that I presume registrars will hesitate to follow.
In extremely rare cases, yes, a Weblog pops up for a limited time and then expires. If the author knows in advance that the lifespan of the Weblog is short, then it is categorically disqualified from ISSN. But serials of all types may be published “irregularly,” and most serials eventually cease publication. Registrars may be misled by how easy it is to check if a site is still up and running. If you drew a comparison between Weblogs and print periodicals, for example, it might take a registrar years to learn that a print publication had shut down completely. Do not be misled by the capacity to instantly verify a Weblog’s period of publication; further, do not assume that a long absence of updates indicates a Weblog that has ceased publication.
If the objection here is related to the fact that Web sites might cease to be available because of technical factors (your host shuts down, your computer hard drive died, you ran out of money to pay for hosting), note that such barriers are actually lower online than in other media. Free hosting is widely available; at the very least, Google may have archives of your postings. Authors are already commonly required to reregister for ISSN if the title or address changes. That is sufficient to guard against the changeable nature of Web publication, which is different from other media only in degree, not kind.
I would like to record some of the fears of Weblog authors in regard to ISSN registrars. I am summarizing some authors’ perceptions in my own words.
Apart from learning about Weblogs by reading the Web, registrars can do their own searches of print periodicals on the topic of Weblogs. A number of books are also available.
Toronto journalist, author, and accessibility consultant Joe Clark has been online since 1991. His more than 390 published articles and his book (Building Accessible Websites) are joined by more than 1,000 Web pages, including numerous Weblogs. He contributed the article “Deconstructing ‘You’ve Got Blog’ ” to the compilation We’ve Got Blog.
He maintains the ISSN for Weblogs information page.