By Diane J. Squire
SLIS Network, Alumni Magazine
"More and more I sense that the tools of self-publishing are reaching the kind of critical mass, and quality, that will soon enable regular folks to turn the Web into the read-write place it always should have been." — Dan Gillmor, technology journalist and blogger, San Jose Mercury News, SiliconValley.com
"A publishing revolution more profound than anything since the printing press." — Andrew Sullivan, Wired.com
A quiet revolution has been building for years on the Internet. Behind the digital screen, personal publishing journals—Web logs, popularly known as "blogs"—are coming of age.
Now a worldwide phenomenon, blogging has the potential to change the publishing industry. Why? Because blogs represent democracy in action.
Though pervasive, national news is a one-way street—media delivers, we read, watch or listen. Blogs, however, are interactive and allow people to pontificate on a variety of subjects. Blogging's appeal is the ever changing, sometimes hour-by-hour, commentary. If you're good at blogging you get cited and followed.
Early technology adopters hail from the geek community. Originally, blogging developed as an underground way for computer enthusiasts to connect. One example of perhaps the oldest continuing blog is Dave Winer's (an early blog software pioneer now at Harvard) www.scriptingnews.com, which has been around since 1997. Slashdot.com, another popular blog, is targeted to serious nerds, programmers, and information scientists. Popular blogs are often managed by professional journalists who welcome the freedom to write in an unedited environment. Journalist Andrew Sullivan's www.andrewsullivan.com is a thought-provoking resource that has developed a loyal following.
University professors capitalize on the medium and are expanding their regional messages to an international following. Check out Glenn Reynold's www.instapundit.com or Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig's blog at http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/blog.
Numerous popular blogs were started by just "plain folks" from around the world, who have created niche markets with their online diaries. For low-profile posters, blogging has become a simple means of storytelling and keeping friends and family up-to-date.
Librarians and Blogging
Since librarians are the information navigators of all things print and Web, it's no wonder that they are embracing blogs as a way to communicate with their peers in a timely way.
Jenny Levine, (www.theshiftedlibrarian.com), said, "I am far more informed about our profession now because of the vast number of blogs I read. Bloggers are able to publish a myriad of information, vignettes, educational articles, and pointers that never would have made it into print."
"There are two sides to blogging, both of which can help librarians," Levine said. "The first reason is that it helps with information overload and staying current. Fellow librarian (and non-librarian) bloggers can help filter the overwhelming mass of data blindsiding us day in and day out. The second reason is that blogging can help librarians disseminate their own ideas, thoughts, and information, at a personal level and at the institutional level."
Levine emphasized, "Blogging is also a great way to make a library's Web site dynamic and current, as well as providing more content. In fact, blogging lets you concentrate on the content, not the process, so you tend to add more in short bursts. When you need to add a quick announcement to your site it's too much of a bother to find the Web person, have them add one or two sentences, upload it, and then take it down in a few days. With blogging, you can distribute that workload because anyone can post any time from any computer. That means more people adding content, which makes your site more interesting—reasons to keep coming back."
Another advantage comes with creating community. Levine said, "I've also met tons of people—in real life and virtually—that I never would have met except through my blog. Now I have this wonderful network of folks to call on when I have questions or ideas."
Influence of Blogs
Blogs could well be the "killer app" for personal publishing. According to one report on the PBS Newshour (www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/media/jan-june03/blog_04-28.html) there are 500,000 active Web logs in the virtual universe, popularly known as the blogosphere. New ones are created about every 40 seconds and Web log readers are estimated to be about five million daily. Some studies claim there are actually more than three million active online blogs.
Whatever the actual number, it's a sign of the times that blog-configured Web sites—and the people behind them—have already changed the face of political activism. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott experienced this firsthand. Inappropriate remarks about racial segregation that Lott reportedly made at a party might have died an early death except for the persistence of bloggers. They kept the story alive, linking and commenting about his speech from blog to blog to blog. It eventually caught the attention of the mainstream media and cost Lott his Senate leadership role.
Aside from inherent media checks and balances provided by bloggers, they also serve as grass-roots connectors when the unexpected occurs. On Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers were downed by terrorists in New York, the blogging community became a comforting source of shared information that helped people world wide cope with grief in diverse and meaningful personal ways.
SLIS Research Spotlights the "Why" of Blogging
The Blog Research Group on Genre (BROG) project at SLIS is conducting a large-scale content analysis of random Web logs to identify the characteristics of this emergent genre of computer-mediated communication. They believe that an accurate characterization of blogging is needed before its social impact can be assessed.
Preliminary findings provide a counterbalance to media hype about blogs. BROG indicates that an overwhelming majority of blogs are written by a single author, who is an adult male and resides in the United States. Web site developer or designer is the most represented occupation and personal diaries, rather than political filters are the most common type of blog. These patterns point to people using blogs primarily to express themselves rather than serving as a forum to influence political opinion on a large scale.
The Future of Blogging?
Blogging is here to stay, according to Dr. Herring, but she doesn't see it as a new technology. "I see blogging as a continuation of existing trends towards the facilitation of interactive Web content, making it easier and faster for people to update Web pages."
As for the impact on society, she said "Blogs give a voice to the literate masses, encouraging individuals to express their views publicly online. In this sense, blogs are like online discussion groups, and the quality is similarly mixed. It is likely that blogging will have its abuses and antisocial behaviors just as e-mail has, necessitating means of filtering and evaluating content. It is also likely that blogging will prove to be as useful a tool as e-mail has been."
"The future of the book is the blurb." — Marshall McLuhan
Acting as connecting super linkers, most bloggers list their favorite blog spots right up front. Locate the top bloggers and chances are they will lead you to more!
Several of the links listed below were recommended by people featured in this article. Thanks to all for their suggestions.
Blogging Meta Resources:
Blogging Software (Get started with free or low-cost software programs/hosts):
Posted June 25, 2003