By Dan Farber
February 22, 2004
What's all the fuss about blogging? It looks and smells mostly like writing, self-expression conveyed in a chronological format that invites comments and the inclusion of a variety of media types and links, similar to a Web page or e-newsletter. In fact, blogs (weB LOG) provide a way for non-programmers or HTML jockeys to present their writings, ramblings, diaries, rants, marketing spiel, political advocacy, research or whatever online communication with simple, yet increasingly powerful tools.
Are blog tools and the art of blogging revolutionary? No, but they are clearly superior to antecedent tools for online expression. Radio Userland, TypePad, Moveable Type and Blogger, among others, continue to innovate with new features and presentation capabilities.
Many blogging advocates believe that blogs are the most significant democratizing force since the rise of the Internet itself. Who needs the New York Times if you have access to a mass of literate, informed bloggers. Combine blogs with social networks and presence services (such as instant messaging and global positioning), and you have a new person-to-person, information-sharing connection fabric.
Veteran blogger Glenn Reynolds, describes blogging as "universal publishing."
"Modern technology -- especially the combination of easy Web publishing, cheap Web hosting, and rapidly spreading access to broadband Internet -- means that a single individual can compete with Big Media organizations on a surprisingly equal footing, if he or she picks the area carefully," Reynolds wrote. "While there will be lots of attention given to warblogs and blogs focusing on national politics between now and the Presidential election in the fall, I think that over the long term it's blogs focused on other areas that have the most potential for growth, and for affecting the world on a day to day basis."
If individual blogs compete with established media outlets, so much the better. But, it's less about competition, and more about harnessing the content of blogs as a complement to established media and communications outlets. In fact, the more forward thinking media companies and corporations are integrating internal as well as external blogs into their mix as a way to leverage the immediacy and depth of the blogging world.
Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute says that blogging will bring media Web sites more personal, less institutional voices. "Strong new voices will emerge from the blogging world--they already are. Some will be coerced to take jobs with mainstream media companies; the 'blogosphere' is a great recruiting ground for journalistic talent."
Blogging concepts are also finding their way into enterprise-class, collaborative applications. SilkRoad Technology's Silkblogs combines content management and security features with blog templates for applications such as real-time crisis management. For example, if a company had a fire or security problem, rather than e-mails flying back and forth, all the relevant information could be posted and accessible via a Silkblogs information space. It takes good advantage of the simplicity and journaling framework of blogs as a part of a communications portal.
In the "classic" sense, however, blogging is more personality than application driven. Outing cites personality as the most important attribute of a blogs, followed by insight, humor, serendipity, a narrow focus and great writing. He suggests that local newspapers, for example, could improve their online city guides by cranking up "the trendiness meter" with more edgy, raw, opinionated blogger talk.
Edgy and subjective are in opposition to the more staid, objective leanings of traditional journalism or the needs of corporate communications. It's a culture clash that will require some compromises on both ends of the spectrum.
"If a media conglomerate hires a blogger, then it needs to adjust its culture to accommodate that style of journalism," Outing says. "I think that can be done. Look at Dan Gillmor's tech blog for the SJ Mercury/SiliconValley.com. He gets very opinionated on politics, even though it's a tech feature. However, the tendency for media companies is to have all their journalists adhere to high standards of objectivity, which is antithetical to blogging. I suspect the two will find a way to meet in the middle when it comes to conglomerate-funded blogging."
Similarly, some corporations are supporting the practice of blogging among employees to provide an outlet for creativity, opinion, dialog, as well as propaganda. Microsoft's most well known blogger, Robert Scoble, is a technical evangelist for Longhorn, the next version of Windows. His popular blog is not vetted by Microsoft's guardians of the faith, but he admits to consulting occasionally with public relations to make sure he isn't leaking non-disclosure information.
Importantly, the millions of voices in the blog wilderness are becoming more accessible via RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds, RSS aggregators> and RSS search engines like Feedster and Technorati. With RSS feeds and trackers, a company can keep track of what the influential, blog-enabled world is saying about its product and services or about a competitor.
Technorati, which is in beta, provides a pulse of the blogging universe by listing links into pages, and ranks pages by freshness and authority. RSS aggregators and search engines offer trackers, or watchlists, which are custom queries updated on a regular basis.
The combination of blogs, RSS and intelligent searching--and future generations of those technologies and concepts-may not be the 21st century equivalent of the Gutenburg printing press, but they will play an increasing important role in forming the opinions that lead to decisions big and small across personal and professional spheres.