The Internet's Blogosphere

June 2003

You can find a weblog for every taste, and my taste runs toward Dave Barry. The headlines he highlights today are about worms at Chernobyl now being able to enjoying more sex and a woman who claimed not to have realized she was throwing a knife into her son's backside.

Well, that's Dave for you. Everyday he adds some tidbits to his weblog--headlines, funny web sites, things that are happening to him. ("The woman sitting next to me on the plane from Charleston to Atlanta told me she had a 2-year-old son whose obsession is getting shoes--anybody's shoes--and taking them into the bathroom, and filling them with water. 'That's all he ever wants to do,' she said.")

On the opposite end of the spectrum, weblogs played are playing a major role in disseminating news about the events in Iraq. They include reports by troops on the ground (for example, LT Smash at www.lt-smash.us) and a weblog by an anonymous Iraqi that reported the events until posting abruptly ended on March 24.

Weblogs are all the rage these days. Actually they've been so for a couple years, at least. They are web sites that use simple software that allows you to easily post short diary-like updates, in chronological order, to a home page.

Originally called weblogs, they are now often simply called "blogs." A "blogger" is someone who maintains a weblog. And the blogosphere is the universe of blogs and bloggers. I'm not making this up.

And it's all free. "Blogger" also refers to the software that you can download to create your own weblog. You can find this software, and a lot more about weblogs, at Blogger. Their service automates the process and offers templates so that you don't need to know anything about creating web sites.

Of course, you'll then need someplace on the Internet to host your weblog if you don't already have your own web site. Many people turn to Blogspot.com, which is also free--and which is apparently now part of Blogger. Which itself was purchased by Google in February. Yahoo and AOL will also be offering blogging services soon.

If you're interested in creating your own, check out the useful intro to weblogs at About. It has a good explanation of what they are and how to get started, including a page that tells you how to do it in 15 steps.

Weblogs are starting to have real influence. Many people felt as if the weblogs told the real story of the war in Iraq and gave a better picture than traditional media. Some of the best weblogs offer social and political commentary, sometimes focusing on news stories that mainstream media have ignored.

For example, The Guardian in the UK reported that weblogs led to the resignation of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the major TV networks initially didn't cover the story of Lott's inappropriate comments on the occasion of the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond.

It was the bloggers who condemned the remarks and continued to hammer Lott. They also did their homework and uncovered a pattern of similar public remarks. The charge was led by Josh Marshall in his blog Talking Points Memo. It wasn't until five days of buzz in the blogosphere that the national media finally picked up on the story.

One leading blog pundit is Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. He began with a simple weblog intended to contain witty observations, InstaPundit.com. But in the wake of September 11 he did such an effective job at providing links to useful and fascinating information, that news of his site quickly spread. Soon he had tens of thousands of people visiting his site each day.

And this is one of the virtues of the Internet--it can give a voice to a single individual that can reach the whole world.

I haven't yet found an excellent directory of weblogs. For a snapshot of weblog action, try Dave Winer's Weblogs.com, which lists weblogs that have been updated in the last three hours. Blogger.com has lots of links to weblogs. The Guardian has a useful page of weblog information and links on their web site. (See the "Weblog Guide" link at left.) And Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit.com has quite an extensive list. Blog-City has a large directory, but many seem to be self-absorbed teen blogs abandoned after a few entries.

The only weblogs I visit regularly are technology related, this being a perfect format for news updates.

Like the Internet itself, the blogosphere is multifaceted, a bit chaotic, and filled with gems and dross. You decide.

© 2003 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen