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.
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