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The Blog

Jo Ind

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'I blog therefore I am.

I had a sneaky feeling as I wrote that line that it might have been said before. Sure enough, a Google search reveals that at least another 329,000 people have put that very thought into cyberspace before me.

No marks for originality for me then, but hopefully some for having proved a point. To be without a blog in a digital age is, for many, like being an author without a publisher, a tradesman without an entry in the Yellow Pages and the host of a party with no means of inviting the guests.

'For me, the blog is at the core of everything I do,' says BBC business editor Robert Peston. 'It is the bedrock of my output.'

There might be 200 million blogs out there, maybe 300 million. Who knows? One of the most comprehensive trackers, Technorati, was last year counting 112.8 million blogs, but that did not include the blogs in other language systems, like the 72.82 million reckoned to be written in Chinese. When the 'how many blogs?' question was raised on blogcatalog.com a respondent answered: '217,012,482 - but that was the count 40 seconds ago. So now...? Don't know. My speed counter is slow.'

'Blog'  is a contraction of 'web-log' a word first used by blogger Jorn Barger 12 years ago. Hard as it is to remember today, there was a time when Google was  nothing more than a twinkle in its founders' eyes and there was no easy way for users to find their way around the internet. In the late 1990s Barger and a handful of others had the helpful idea of listing or logging sites they found useful on their websites.

A blog is therefore a type of website around which certain conventions have arisen. It tends to be organised as series of dated articles, called posts, with the most recent one being on the homepage, and which includes links to recommended blogs as well as to earlier posts.

That really is all that a blog is - and therein lies the key to its popularity. The point about blogging is that it is so simple almost anyone can do it. They might not do it well, but web tools such as Wordpress and Dreamweaver mean folks with only a modicum of knowledge of the internet can create an online diary and publish their musings for potentially anyone to see.
One of the most successful bloggers is Heather Armstrong, a former web designer in Utah, who started Dooce.com eight years ago and which, by her own admission, is about poop, boobs, her dogs and her daughters. She gets more than 300,000 hits a day and has been voted the 26th most influential woman in the media by Forbes magazine. Furthermore, she supports her whole family from the advertisements she gets on her site. The online diary form is not to be mocked.

But the significance of the blog goes far beyond the diary. It is changing the nature of journalism and, some would say, bringing down democracy with it.
It is highly versatile and it is cheap. This makes it the perfect  vehicle for a niche. It doesn't matter what floats your boat, whether it be cremation urns or literally getting a boat to float, there will be somebody blogging on the subject and creating a community around it (another feature is that readers can type a reply).

The blog therefore penetrates areas that newspapers can not reach.
Prisonerben.blogspot.com is written by a serving British prisoner about his life in jail. In riverbendblog.blogspot.com an Iraqi woman writes of security forces abducting a young woman from her home and raping her. Blogs are being set up daily to communicate what is going on in a particular postcode, or even street.

Arguably this enhances democracy rather than challenges it. Imagine if they'd had blogging in first-century Palestine, we'd have been able to hear from the Marys or Bartimaeus rather than just Matthew, Mark and the rest. Perhaps at www.christianblog.com you might find a still, small voice to listen to.

The result is the penetration of an area - topical or geographical - that the mass media cannot achieve. Thanks to the humble blog, readers are getting the news they really want and getting it for free. The mass media is struggling to survive.

Some say the blog is already past its heyday and micro-blogging, in the form of Twitter, for example, is replacing it. I think the blog is here to stay and the revolution it is causing has only just begun. 

Jo Ind