The form is highly dramatized, frequently focusing on one central family, and then branching out from there. With new episodes daily almost every weekday of the year, the rule of thumb is generally quantity over quality, and dialogue is sometimes paraphrased (both due to the difficulty of memorizing so much in a limited time span, and that the writing generally isn't high quality--the actors know their characters better than some writers and can change words to fit respective speech patterns). Soaps frequently feature musical underscoring, which can heighten the tension or shape a specific mood.
The genre is losing popularity, largely thanks to the rise of Tivo and the DVR. As soaps are on daytime TV, much of the viewership stemmed from housewives or other women who were at home during the day. When it became easier to view the previous night's shows the next day, ratings dropped. Even though the VCR had been around decades prior, it never had as much of an impact as the digital revolution.
Also worth noting is that some people (especially Southern women) refer to soap operas as "stories." As in: "not now--my stories are on!"
I'd like to point out the similarities between conventions of traditional soaps and the more recent scripted reality for the MTV generation (i.e. Laguna Beach and The Hills, as mentioned in the FLOWTV article), as there are definite overlaps between the two. When Lauren Conrad is deemed a celebrity for doing very little more than allowing the public to view her life (or a fictionalized version of it), that speaks to the strength of the "feminine popular culture" described in the reading by Rogers. In both forms, music is a crucial element, and dictates the emotional impact of the scene. The main difference is that the "reality" shows frequently feature contemporary or distinguishable soundtracks, some of which have lyrics that comment on the action. Soaps just feature instrumentals, and the music is rarely if ever heard out of context of the show.
A major difference between the two genres is the power of women--for the most part, the various jobs and internships being offered to the characters on The Hills are from female employers or authority figures. As far as I know, and based on a quick internet search, (straight) men are only really featured as boyfriends or pieces of the puzzle that is the interactions between the principal female cast, a similar dynamic to that seen in "Sex and the City," as discussed in Arthurs' chapter. This is supposed to be empowering for women, however, the lack of mental prowess of many main characters sets them back even further. Rogers said that men treat soap women like children, as do the women in these scripted reality shows. However, in the case of the latter, it's appropriate...but for the ability to drink legally, engage in adult-level relationships, and worry about employment, these women essentially are children anyway, and it's fair for them to be treated as such.
It's great that girls and young women are being exposed to stories featuring powerful women and giving them something to emulate, but that raises the question--are these the kind of people that the next generation should really be emulating?