The technology editor's assignment seemed easy for a veteran tech hack like me: explore the much-hyped world of the weblog, set up my own blog and report back the findings. Seemed easy - but wasn't.
The concept of personal publishing goes back to the very start of the internet, when everyone who wanted to be anyone had their own home pages. But using web graphics tools to set up a site that looked even half decent, had a fair amount of features and was easily updateable, you needed dollops of geek expertise and a willingness to spend long hours typing in HTML code.
Now, software packages from Radio Userland, Movable Type, Blogger.com and others have made web logging almost as easy as web browsing. With that confident thought in mind, I set out to create my own blog.
A quick Google search of the word "blog" was all I needed to get started. I found dozens of browser-based programs that promised to get me posting my pithy commentaries within a couple of minutes. I fiddled with several, but found that for sheer convenience of getting started it was hard to beat Blogger.com (bought by Google in February). All you do is sign up, choose a name and a template design and you're ready to go. Blogger recently upgraded its "free" service to match those of its paid-for service. Whichever blogging package you choose, it's worth paying the subscription fees to Blogger Pro, Moveable Type, Grey Matter, Livejournal or Userland - but only after you're sure you will keep it going.
But what is a weblog? What should you write?
There are weblogs (or blogs as they are fashionably known) popping up every day in virtually every corner of cyberspace. Blogs can be and often are about absolutely anything that interests the writer - from what happens when you hide a pile of meat and maggots in a neighbour's garden (http://www.thespark.com/science/ stinkymeat/ ) to blow-by-blow accounts of such little known geek fests as Gnomedex. (http://www.gnomedex. com/) or even the self-proclaimed dullest weblog in the world (http:// www.wibsite.com/wiblog/dull/) which is probably a parody of the entire genre,
but you just can't be sure.
A couple of good places to start reading are Daypop (www.daypop. com) which collates the "hottest" topics (based on which sites bloggers are linking to), and similarly blogdex (http:// blogdex.net), technorati (www.technorati.com) and popdex (www.popdex.com).
There you'll find thousands of different blogs where writers dig deep into the news, providing analysis and links to other material, functioning as an open-source media army weaving content from wherever they find it. There are politicians' blogs, celebrity blogs, fashion blogs and football blogs. All are online journals, instantly updateable personal postings that put the newest items on top of the page so that you read them in reverse chronological order.
They invariably include links to other sites and usually revolve around a theme, subject or person. They often contain a "blogroll" - a sidebar with links to other recommended sites. Some have a place to leave comments and chat. Some have photos; some even have MP3 audio blogs that can be posted by phone.
But most blogs are, it must be said, badly written and poorly presented - the kind of drivel that gets read only reluctantly even by the authors' closest friends and family. Even so there are an awfully lot of good blogs - interesting, provocative, and passionate; direct, opinionated and informative. The best ones all have a unique approach or view that sets them apart, and engineer a sense of community among readers. They can be a great way of finding information too often ignored by the …