Nine Million Blogs

Article excerpt

IT WAS INEVITABLE. Hoist up a planet-size screen and hand out keyboards to everyone, and what do you expect? Blogs, of course.

Humans have been creating graffiti ever since we moved indoors to live in caves, and as soon as someone split the end of a goose quill we became journal writers. The difference today, though, is that you can begin with a worldwide readership for your musings long before National Geographic discovers your digs or parchments.

The phenomenal popularity of blogs shouldn't come as a surprise. As Justice Stewart Dalzell explained a number of years ago, "[The Internet] is the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed." And a blog offers almost no-cost publishing for anyone who has anything to say about anything--no editing, no censorship.

Actually, it sounds like a recipe for disaster--precious bandwidth sucked up by the monumentally boring, babbling away in distant corridors of self-interest. Well, yes, that's part of it. But there's the opposite also--helpful, amusing, even brilliant content available at no cost.

Journal writers can produce amazing work. Think of Samuel Pepys's diaries. Who would study the Great Fire of London or the plague in the same city without referring to this work? Or what about the Diary of Anne Frank? Or the published letters of statesmen and artists, never meant for a wider audience than the recipient? Blogs provide a 21st Century platform for a genre once most comfortable in notebooks and letterboxes.

If you're the kind of person who prefers to watch the people in the train station rather than stare at the small print on your Blackberry, or you need a piece of HTML coding to fix a frame on your website, or you'd like to join a discussion group about knitting or pipefitting--check the blogs. The answers and the people are out there.

What Exactly Is a Blog?

The definition is a little amorphous. Wikipedia simply defines a blog (Web log) as "a website in which journal entries are posted on a regular basis and displayed in reverse chronological order." But if you go to www.blogger.com to get started creating your own, you'll find a more expansive definition along with many, varied examples. The Blogger definition includes all of the following: "A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Your blog is whatever you want it to be."

The second definition is closer to the reality on the ground--or, rather, in the air. Some blogs are very good, many are terrible, and others are very limited in their appeal. Juan Cole is a history professor at the University of Michigan who is probably best noted for his book Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture, and History of Shi'ite Islam. Professor Cole also writes a daily blog about politics in the Middle East, and you can read it every day without spending anything on tuition or university fees. On the other hand, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) also has a blog.

Ordinary people have blogs that often are full of photos and that read like the letter included in the holiday card (the whole year crammed single-space on a page). …