Individual expression has evolved into a new and useful form. Blogs have become an important form of emotional and informational release for a growing proportion of the population. Commencing with an overview of the development of the blog, this paper takes the reader through a journey of understanding, explaining why blogs are important, how they work, who writes, and who reads them. Ultimately, the paper explains how blogs can be used for research, the opportunities of using blogs as research input, as well as the problems this usage involves.
What is a Blog?
Blogs are commonly described as frequently modified web pages in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence (Bortree, 2005; Buckingham & Willett, 2006; Herring, Scheidt et al. 2005; Kelleher & Miller, 2006; Schmidt, 2007). Moreover, blogs are an amalgam between a diary, a web site, and an online community (Embrey 2002). Typically, they are personal journals which are published online, and are frequently updated with links to similar and related topics, often from other bloggers. This interconnection of blogs is known as 'the blogosphere'.
The term 'blog' comes from an early description of the medium as a log or diary which is published on the internet, hence the contracted term 'blog' from Web Log. The original term--Web Log--was coined by John Barger, editor of the Robot Wisdom blog in 1997 (Blood, 2000). The contracted term blog was first pronounced by Peter Merholz in 1999 (Merholz, 2002). Blogging began its incarnation in the late 1990s as a means for individuals to publish simple, online personal diaries (Williams & Jacobs, 2004) as an alternative to the personal home-page (or web-page)--a popular form of internet-based self expression at the time. It has since evolved into a "'killer app' that has the capacity to engage people in collaborative activity, knowledge sharing, reflection and debate" (Hiler, 2002, p. 4). Blogs have developed more through convenience than through design. As a result, blogs are akin to other forms of human communication: they are unstructured, organic and opportunistic (Williams & Jacobs, 2004).
Blogs enable, in their writers, a freedom of expression which may not be as readily available in other media (Hull, 2007). They cover a wide range of subject areas, both serious and fun, and attract an eclectic array of readers (Hull, 2007). One of the values of blogs lies in its versatility. Schmidt (2007) lists various types of blogs, including: political blogs, corporate blogs, expert blogs, and personal knowledge blogs. There are also educational blogs, creative writing blogs, journalism blogs, medical blogs, drug blogs, abortion blogs, car blogs, travel blogs, and the list continues. In fact, any subject which generates interest among a reasonably sized group of people has the potential to become a blog. In addition, a blog is not necessarily an individual enterprise (Williams & Jacobs, 2004), as shown by the existence of group blogs such as: "family blogs, community blogs, and corporate blogs". Other blogs are defined by their content: 'WarBlogs' (a product of the Iraq War), and 'LibLogs' (library bogs) (Williams & Jacobs, 2004). However, most blogs tend to be personal journals by single authors (Qian & Scott, 2007; Schmidt, 2007).
The proliferation of blogs over the internet is explosive. The actual count of the number of blogs present on the internet at any one time varies and is difficult to estimate. Rebecca Blood, who has published a comprehensive history of blogging, states that in 1999 only 23 blogs were known to exist (Blood, 2000). There has since been an exponential growth in blog development. 'Technorati', one of many blog search engines, measures this growth, and in March 2006 counted 30 million bloggers on the internet. In July, 2007 this number increased to 90 million (Pedersen & Macafee, 2007). …