Tag Archives: Rebecca Blood

Blogs. What Is The Big Deal, Exactly?

I just received an email from a reader of the column who asked:

Ever since the term “Weblog” or “Blog” got coined I have been trying to understand why all the buzz exists.  From what I can tell it is simply a web page, made up of one or more authors, discussing a topic in a manner similar to what I find in Usenet discussions.

What is the big deal?  Why is this so revolutionary?

Any insight would be appreciated because I just don’t get it.

It’s not the first time someone’s asked this, but as ever it’s a fair question. I guess my answer would be this, but I’d be very interested in other contributions and corrections:

Blogs took off for a couple of reasons. Firstly, blogs are a little different to Usenet discussions. Blogs are ‘owned’ by an individual (or occasionally a company, or a group of people, or an institution) which gives them a stake in maintaining, designing and promoting the website. Comments are welcome but secondary to this process of keeping a ‘log’. Although there’s nothing revolutionary about this, it does involve a slight shift in what people thought of as a website — more of a bricks and mortar thing, a static flag in the turf of the Web landscape — and discussion sites, which were more like ad hoc discussions that grew up spontaneously and lasted for a while before expiring. Blogs updated themselves more than ordinary websites or homepages — indeed a definition of a blog would include the stipulation, I suppose, that entries are dated, and are the main feature of a website.

These kind of ‘logs’ or online diaries had existed before, but what gave them critical mass was probably the fact that, in the late 1990s, a bunch of people who kept them started sharing lists of them, and began calling them the same thing: Weblogs, then wee-blogs, and then blogs. A movement is never a movement until it has a name. By the beginning of 1999, according to Rebecca Blood’s history of blogging, there were 23.

What tipped blogging into the mainstream was the arrival of free software, in mid 1999, which made it easy for non-techies to build and maintain them. Suddenly it became very easy to make a nice looking blog. An adjunct to this has been the development of websites dedicated to listing, categorizing and sorting blogs, although this, I think, has been less important to the spread of blogging than the inclusion of lists of other blogs in blogs themselves. Such lists give a fan of one blog immediate access to similar blogs.

What used to be a defining feature of blogs is no longer: The focus on linking to other websites and commentary about those websites. In the early days postings would largely be about other items, and include some analysis, context or comment on the linked material. That’s still true of hundreds of sites (indeed, the most popular, I guess) but, as Rebecca points out, there is also another genre of blog that is pure diary or journal. While I don’t know of any figures for this, my guess is that these form the bulk of those millions of blogs that don’t last very long. Possibly part of the reason for this is the very absence of linking: Links provide the traffic, both in and out, that is the lifeblood of a blog. If you don’t link to anyone else, then it follows that few if anyone is linking to you, and the blog will end up unread and isolated. But then again, perhaps some blogs are just so darn well-written and interesting, this does not always apply.

That’s a long answer to a valid question. And probably I’ve left important stuff out. Anyone else want a stab?

Loose Wire: Here’s Where The

Loose Wire: Here’s Where The Party Is

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 7 February 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

The Internet is like a teenage party: lots of groping around in the dark hoping to bump into something worth telling your friends about later. And like a teenage party, chances are you’ll be hanging around sipping warm Coke with the complexion-challenged in the kitchen, unaware that all the action is taking place in the basement.

Weblogs may be the answer to this finding-the-action problem. Weblogs are Web pages built by real people, blessedly free of corporate-speak and ubiquitous images of tall, shiny skyscrapers, smiley people gazing intelligently into laptops, or besuited business types shaking hands.

Weblogs are where the real action is. They are the creation of individuals, usually musings on national, local or personal events, links to interesting articles, a few lines of comment or discussion collected and presented by one person. Weblogs are a milestone in the short history of the Internet.

They first appeared in 1997, according to Rebecca Blood in her excellent history of the Weblog form’s development (www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html). By early 1999 it was shortened to “blog.” Blogs took off with the advent of Web-based programs to set up and maintain sites without fiddling around with lots of formatting. The most popular of these is Blogger (www.blogger.com) which maintains 350,000 blogs, according to Evan Williams, chief executive of Blogger and something of a legend in the blogging community.

Although the media hype has faded, blogs show no sign of going away. Of those 350,000 blogs, 20% were published in the last month. Williams says new users are signing up at an average of 1,300 a day.

For The People, By The People

It’s not hard to see why. Blogs are probably unique in that they allow ordinary people to put things on the Net easily, and yet to feel that the space in some way reflects and belongs to them. “There are other things that can work on the Web — it’s a highly flexible medium, obviously — but the blog format is one of the ‘natural’ formats for Web publishing, and this is a big reason it’s taking off,” says Williams. Given that the original promise of the Web as a levelling medium — as open to ordinary folk as to big press barons — has faded in recent years, this is good news.

I won’t recommend any specific blogs, since it’s a personal thing, but here are some places to start: Linkwatcher (www.linkwatcher.com), a kind of real-time monitor of selected blogs; Weblog Review, where blogs are reviewed by other bloggers (www.theweblogreview.com); or the more earthy BlogHop (www.bloghop.com) which stores some 8,779 blogs, most of them deeply opinionated.

Part of a blog’s charm is simplicity. In most cases it’s just text, simply but elegantly laid out. Pages are quick to load. The content is concise and measured. The more you read a blog you like, the more inclined you are to trust the author’s choice and follow the links offered. And, of course, it’s free.

There are, of course, downsides. The sheer plethora of blogs makes finding one you like difficult. Indexes of blogs are few and far between and most don’t give much idea of what lies therein, beyond a usually short and obscure title. And there’s a lot of rubbish out there — overly introspective bleatings of the terminally unhappy, irrational whingings — as well as blogs that don’t get updated and just take up Web space.

So where is it going? I’d like to think that blogs do what the much vaunted portal of the dotcom boom failed to do: collate, filter and present information from other sources, alongside comment. Bloggers — those that blog — will be respected as folk who aren’t journalists, or experts in their field, but have sufficient knowledge and experience to serve as informal guides to the rest of us hunting for stuff on the World Wide Web.

There’s not much money in this, though doubtless they’re likely to upset the media barons who realize that their carefully presented, graphics-strewn home pages are being bypassed by blog-surfers stopping by only long enough to grab one article. But that may be the future: The editor that determines the content of our daily read may not be a salaried Webmaster or a war-weathered newspaper editor, but a bleary-eyed blogger in his undershirt willing to put in the surfing time on our behalf.

Who knows? We may even be willing to pay to read their blogs. As long as there are no grinning, laptop-carrying hand-shakers in sight.