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Minneapolis Star Tribune Mar 3, 2002


'Blogging' is latest development in Internet's evolution

Bob von Sternberg

Every day, untold thousands of people fire up their computers and log on. And then they blog on.

That's not a typo, even though "blog" is such a new word it hasn't made it into mainstream dictionaries.

People who blog are known as bloggers -- creators of online journals known as Web logs -- filling cyberspace with everything from nuanced analysis of the news to loopy rants about themselves.

Although the blogging community has grown enormously, it has only recently been discovered by the mainstream news media. It has been dismissed as yet another Internet fad and heralded as a force that could transform everything from journalism to the nature of the online community.

"It's taking the Internet to the next step," said Todd Holdman, who publishes a Web log out of his Minneapolis apartment. "I can post my opinions on anything and everything, from what breakfast cereal I ate today to Enron. There's new content all the time. And it's free."

Or, as Doc Searls, a well-known blogger from Santa Barbara, Calif., put it, "My blog is what I say at the virtual water cooler to others who share some of the same interests and work in the same place. For me, blogging is like talking."

Searls likened the phenomenon to a bunch of students "passing notes in class."

An explosion

At the risk of oversimplifying, blogs tend to be a stew of the daily ephemera of a blogger's life, Web links to news stories, opinion pieces and the odd Web site and commentary from the blogger. They're often updated throughout the day.

This kind of Web publishing has been going on for years, but until recently the task has required daunting code-writing skills.

Then, a couple of years ago, free, automated publishing systems began appearing on the Web, which caused blogging to explode in popularity. These services "have lowered the threshold of publication almost to zero," Searls said. "Now everybody can publish their own Poor Richard's Almanac."

The granddaddy of publishing services is, a Silicon Valley firm that developed the application for internal use and decided to release it to the wider Web world.

Here's how Blogger works: Someone who wants to blog goes to the company's Web site, logs in, chooses a password and picks one of several standard page designs. If the user is willing to display some ads, the service is free. An adless blog costs $12 a year.

When a blogger finds something interesting to post or wants to add commentary, it's a simple matter of typing it onto the Blogger Web site and clicking on a "publish" button: instant blog.

The precise number of bloggers is elusive. Estimates range from 500,000 to 1 million. In January alone, Blogger added more than 40,000 blogs.

Blogging culture can be insular, with many of the most prolific bloggers linking to one another's sites and citing each other's insights. The politics of blogging is all over the map, though a strain of libertarianism laces many blogs. And not all of the blogging is grounded in issues of the real world; many, many keystrokes are clicked on the niceties of blog etiquette and its norms. One blogger observed last week, "I realize the irony in using my blog to blog about blogging while seemingly criticizing blogs that talk about blogging."

There are celebrity bloggers who had established public personas before heading online, such as futurist Virginia Postrel, and writer and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan. There are institutional blogs, such as the one compiled daily by the Wall Street Journal. Then there are blogs that have blossomed by word of mouth, winning their authors celebrity status in the blogging world.

Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, is one of these, starting his Instapundit site last August and watching, astonished, as it has drawn thousands of visitors a day.

"For me, it's an enjoyable way to get thoughts out that don't merit a 20,000-word law review article but that I think are interesting," Reynolds said. "And it offers immediate feedback -- and I mean immediate. Sometimes e-mails come in within 30 seconds of a post going live."

On a typical day, Reynolds posts columns and news reports he finds interesting, along with items his e-mail correspondents have passed along. And he regularly provides his own running commentary, such as this regarding the news media's coverage of Enron: "A really competent biased media would have dribbled this out slowly until something really damaging appeared -- but this isn't a vast conspiracy, it's a thundering herd. The individual members of the herd may be biased (heck, there's not much doubt about that), but there's nobody in charge of the stampede."

Reynolds said he launched his blog because he "wanted to show that anyone reasonably bright could do the same stuff that famous pundits do."

A different take

Blog traffic soared in the days after Sept. 11, in many cases because bloggers were frustrated by the performance of the mainstream media and wanted to grab control of the information flow. It has come to be called warblogging, with amateur journalists going toe-to-toe with the pros. An often-stated blog manifesto is that it allows people to self-publish at little or no cost without relying on the media's self-appointed gatekeepers.

"Blogging fits in with the accelerating news cycle," Reynolds said. "Bloggers offer rapid response, which people have come to expect, and a variety of informed perspectives that aren't represented in traditional media."

A similar point was made by Mike Tronnes, a creator of, a Twin Cities-based media criticism site that has gradually expanded its mission to provide content more akin to a blog. "We felt that we could give people a take on the issues of the day that was as interesting and eclectic as they were getting from more traditional sources," Tronnes said.

"The Internet allows us to tap into the incredible resources of the mainstream media -- we probably lean on the New York Times even more heavily than the Star Tribune does -- while at the same time, countering mainstream coverage with a seemingly endless variety of alternative viewpoints on any given issue."

After Sept. 11, visits to jumped from 2,500 a day to 10,000 a day, Tronnes said. "For the first time, people aren't limited to reading their own city's daily newspaper," he said. "You can make your own newspaper each day, and we help people do that."

There are indications that blogs are finding their way into mainstream media operations. For example, last week the Fox News Channel began posting a different blog each day, rotating a handful of bloggers, on its Web site. "I've been reading many of these people's work for a few months, and it seemed like a pretty obvious place to go for new talent," said Scott Norvell, executive editor of "Some of them are kind of raw, but that's what makes them more interesting. We in mainstream journalism tend to be a rather insular lot, going to the same people -- or the same sort of people -- for opinion all the time, and it shows."

Norvel described his crew of bloggers as "a homemaker in the Pacific Northwest, a space geek from Washington, an educator from San Francisco, a curmudgeon from Australia, a trashy novelist from L.A. and a developer from D.C."

The reaction so far? "About three-fourths positive and one-fourth are-you-crazy-this-is-garbage, on par with most of the other op-ed stuff," Norvell said.

Notwithstanding bloggers' conviction that their pastime is the stuff of paradigm shifts, it's an open question whether it's yet another Internet passing fancy, said Amanda Lenhart, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "It's definitely marching away from geekdom," she said. "My sense is these Web pages offer a new functionality that wasn't too available to most people until recently, but the question is whether people will use them much in the future."

-- (, March 18, 2002


I only discovered blogs a few months ago but already scan several daily. Will they become a new Internet "paradigm"? Not obvious to me.

Much of it seems to be a vanity thing but I like the inherent democracy in enabling anyone to "publish". I see no money in it, at least not directly. Maybe the self-promotion might lead a few to book-writing and various salaried gigs. I wonder about the legality of indiscriminate linking---is anything on the Web in the public domain?

-- (, March 18, 2002.

Should have said "is everything on the Web in the public domain"?

-- (, March 18, 2002.

Despair not, Lefties, there are blogs for you too---


This Modern World

Let Slip the Blogs of War

Further determinations are left as an exercise for the reader.

-- (, March 18, 2002.

Last paragraph from the amusing "Let Slip the Blogs of War"--

Shine on, you crazy bloggers! Someday the rest of us will hold our manhoods cheap that we did not blog with you this day. But as long as courage lives and liberty endures, every American will be proud to have you out there, blogging for an audience of none.

"An audience of none"?

Well, as they say "time will tell", but for now Sullivan gets 800,000 hits/day and Instipundit is often too busy to connect.

I'm outta here.

-- (, March 18, 2002.

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