Perhaps it's hubris to propose a uniform blog citation standard. Perhaps the point of blogs is their freedom from conforming to the constraints of other media. But the blogosphere is still early in its development as an information medium, and I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't time for those of us who write seriously online to begin to professionalize what we're doing just a bit.
Bruce Schneier in Wired Magazine gives a name to a concept about which I've given a lot of thought: "Link rot," or when the links in your blog or website get old and no longer link to the original, relevant, material. His point is that when Third Parties control your information, it might disappear at their whimsy. It's an excellent essay that I recommend, but here's a snippet of the problem he describes ("Third parties controlling information," Feb. 27):
I find this to be a particular problem with political, legal, and other nonfiction weblogs. If your blog is about your family life, your links and sources don't matter much. But if you're writing about the issues of the day, as this blog attempts to do, part of the credibility of any argument is inevitably one's sourcing. That's why you put the link there in the first place, so anyone who wanted to read the backup to your argument could go do so for themselves.
Bits and pieces of the web disappear all the time. It's called "link rot," and we're all used to it. A friend saved 65 links in 1999 when he planned a trip to Tuscany; only half of them still work today. In my own blog, essays and news articles and websites that I link to regularly disappear -- sometimes within a few days of my linking to them.
It may be because of a site's policies -- some newspapers only have a couple of weeks on their website -- or it may be more random: Position papers disappear off a politician's website after he changes his mind on an issue, corporate literature disappears from the company's website after an embarrassment, etc. The ultimate link rot is "site death," where entire websites disappear: Olympic and World Cup events after the games are over, political candidates' websites after the elections are over, corporate websites after the funding runs out and so on.
In the 3-1/2 years I've been writing on Grits I've developed my own protocols to combat this troublesome "link rot," using an abbreviated citation whenever I pull quotations I want to preserve for future use (in future arguments, public testimony, policy reports, or other information products). It's the same citation formula used with Schneier's quote above. You might have noticed before if you're a regular Grits reader, see here, here, and here. Essentially I put in parentheses the headline of the article, the date, and make sure somewhere in the post is the name of the publication from which I pulled the data.
Most bloggers, by contrast, simply link within a sentence to the point they're referencing, or even just say "Go here." Kuff is a good example of that blogging style, as is Schneier himself.
Putting enough data for a footnotable citation for the "money quotes" used in blog posts saves me a lot of time and legwork, and is one of the main reasons I blog in the first place. You use your judgment, of course, and I don't put a citation for every quote used on Grits - just those bits of datum from transitory media websites and other spots that I fear might be subject to "link rot," to use Schneier's term.
For example, I don't use citations when linking to other blogs (though some of them ultimately go offline), or in a passing reference when I don't pull any specific "money quote" or statistic. But when I use a significant quote from a source, I try to record at least enough information so that later I could footnote the argument without finding the original item, something I've done MANY times. That way, blog arguments and sourcing posted here remain valid even if, over time, the post suffers from "link rot," and I (or others) don't have to go back through old newspaper archives looking to pull one quote you didn't source properly.
Schneier's main point is that if a third party controls your web access (i.e., if you don't own your own server), you aren't fundamentally in control of your own data, citing a wine lovers user group that lost years worth of hosted discussions. My own inadequate solution to that is to back up my blog posts once a month in a text file on my hard drive. That doesn't preserve discussions in the comments, though, if Google's blog architecture ever went down.
That said, third party hosting can also work positively against link rot. For me, continuing to use a Blogspot blog after all this time is partially a long-term homage to the reality of link rot. If I quit writing on Grits tomorrow, there's a lot of useful information here from years past that people access all the time via search engine, etc.. If I were paying for a blog host, when the contract ran out that information would go off the web. On Blogger, presumably old blogs stay online ad infinitum, at least until Google changes its policy (which seems unlikely in the near-term).
Link rot is an annoyance, not a big problem, but adding footnotable citation data to the "money quotes" on blogs adds value and staying power to the medium, and adds tremendous long-term use-value for the writer, as well, I can tell you from first-hand experience.