term "weblog" (or "blog") is used for sites whose authors report
regularly on issues that interest them (generally with links) or sites
that interest them (usually with commentary). Some blogs are updated
several times a day, some less often. Almost all use a "most recent
item on top" reverse-chronological format, which is easy to do with blogging programs. Some blogs read like casual personal
diaries, others emphasize political commentary, technical subjects, or
creative writing. Many consist of short, telegraphic bursts. Many are
"cobwebs" whose creators got too busy or lost interest after they landed that big deal.
Personally, I'm most interested in blogs that keep an eye on the
sometimes-sleepy "watchdogs" of professional journalism, and in blogs that
support "community" by one definition or another.
"Classic" weblog examples: Jim Romenesko's MediaNews and his Obscure Store, Rebecca Blood's Rebecca's Pocket, Dan Bricklin's Log (see a CNet article about him), Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom (and faq), Matt Drudge's Drudge Report and Dave Winer's various projects, particularly Scripting News, his history of weblogging, and his advice to journalists who might be interested in creating weblogs. Grappling with the variety of blogging experiences, Mike Gunderloy created Weblog Madness,
sorting his hundreds of links about weblogging into 18 topics.
(Historically, I think the basic Weblog format of links and comments
goes back to Tim Berners-Lee's early
Usenet postings and info pages about the Web, the launch of NCSA Mosaic and things like the weekly bulletins from the Internet Scout Report. Dave Winer and Jakob Nielsen
both started writing "columns" online when the Web wasn't very old, and
today their archives look a lot like weblogs. The 1999 launch of the
easy-to-use tool Blogger, later bought by Google, helped give the form a name.)
By 2002 more and more professional journalists discovered the Weblog form, joining the San Jose Mercury's Dan Gillmor, who got there early. Try Monitorblog at the Christian Science Monitor, D.C. Dennison at the Boston Globe, a whole crowd at the Poynter Instiutute doing E-Media Tidbits, more at the Guardian Unlimited, the OJR Spike Report and a group weblog by journalism students
at USC. A UK journalism professionals' website, journalism.co.uk, has
carried articles about the pros and cons of students and others "working for free" on websites, and about the role of the "citizen blogger" in political life, including the US, UK and countries where free speech is not the norm. "People will die because of weblogs," according to a speaker quoted in that July 2003 story.
Watch for civic issue-oriented blogs like Chris Lydon's BopNews "Blogging of the President" 2004 election campaign site, Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs site (and book by the same name), the DailySummit from Johannesburg, InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds at the University of Tennessee, Cyberlaw expert Lawrence Lessig at Stamford, and a whole mob of webloggers at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society. Even political parties got involved in 2003, with weblog momentum from Howard Dean spreading to other Democrats and Republicans, launching plenty of "is it really a blog, or just PR?" debate, and perhaps echoing the partisan-press newspapers of the early 19th century.
Blogs also were early supporters of RSS or
"Really Simple Syndication," an alternative way to publish, subscribe
to, and read blog contents. See my "What are RSS and that orange XML thing" essay and my notes on writing and illustrating blogs.
Here are some other stories about weblogs, at least for historical purposes:
- Dennis Mahoney's writing tips
for bloggers emphasize detail, storytelling and quality material --
even correct grammar and punctuation. He doesn't come right out and
suggest taking journalism courses, but I think that's a fine
thing to do.
- Hypertext software publisher Mark Bernstein reviews one of the first how-to-blog books.
- Glenn Reynolds, the instapundit, reflected on the weblog form for the Guardian.
- Jody Raynsford at the pro site journalism.co.uk asks, "Blogging: the new journalism?"
- Andrew Grumet created this in-depth discussion of what weblogs are and can be.
- Two more in-depth introductions to weblogs and content-sharing (syndication) from Diego Doval.
- MIT's Henry Jenkins says "Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital revolution."
- "Content and marketing" consultant Debbie Weil on the business potential of weblogs.
- Egocentric diary-style blogs are easy to parody, in this case at the home of Get Your War On.
- Some bloggers are making money at it, one way or another (NY Times 2004).
- A Closer Look at Weblogs by Cindy Curling, a web committee member for the Law Librarian's Society of Washington, D.C. (October, 2001)
- Wired magazine overview of Weblogs. (January, 2001)
- A BBC feature from September, 2000.
- A weblog from a May, 2000, Chris Lydon program about weblogs on The Connection,
from WBUR/NPR, originally presented with more than 80 blog links.
(After Chris left the show, they put his successor's picture on all the
pages, including the Lydon archives.) Also see Lydon's post-NPR
column on Transom.org from fall 2001, his new-for-2003 Harvard weblog, and his new-for-2005 combination blog, radio show and podcast, RadioOpenSource.org.
Webloggers are still defining weblogs and their relationship to journalism. Back in 2000, I asked students to decide for themselves whether Slate magazine's Today's News was a weblog. How about Moreover, which points toward news stories in hundreds of categories? Could a political party
have a true weblog, or just a public-relations campaign site? Was the "latest news on top" format the main thing? Many
bloggers would argue that key ingredients include a "personal" voice,
not an anonymous "spokesman" or someone with a supervising editor; others would insist
on links to varied opinions for a continuing conversation.
A blog can be a simple Web page that you add to now and then using any
HTML editor or Web-page-building program. However, there has been a growth industry in blogging tools, such as these reviewed by CNet in 2002.
I encourage students to learn the basics of HTML
so they can fine-tune and troubleshoot pages they make, whether they
use the "save as HTML" option in a word processors, borrowed page
designs, templates, or weblog tools. Most blogging software allows you
to customize templates and incorporate your own HTML when creating your
site, as in my weblogs.com and manilasites.com blogs. Newer tools take away some of the need for simple HTML markup by putting a formatting toolbar in the browser's weblog-editing window.
Participatory sites: Going a step beyond the "comment" link offered by blog software, watch for collaborative sites that allow readers to contribute -- and to rate contributions by other writers. In theory the "best" or "most popular" news rises to the top at sites like slashdot.org, metafilter.com and kuro5hin.org/. (NewsForge.com is a source of staff and reader-contributed news about the open-source software movement, which includes the slashcode.com software pioneered by slashdot and used by newsforge and others.)
Blog-writing programs and blog-hosting services often list users'
"most-recently updated" or "most linked-to" sites, a feature that
has inspired more general blog-referral sites, and "blogrolls" of
kindred spirits posted in the margins of many blogs. Here are a few
of site lists: