The Blog Train is Leaving the Station

ABC News calls them the People of the Year and, according to the statistics, a new one appears every seven and a half seconds. Who are they? They are The Bloggers. 2004 was the year blogging went mainstream. You mean you don’t have a blog? How is that possible…? I will be the first to admit that I find the blogging phenomenon a bit hard to fathom. Face it: This is diary writing with a spin. It is electronic journal keeping with marketing hype. It seems I am not the only person curious about the concept. Last year, the word “blog” was the number one term looked up on Merriam-Webster.com website. People everywhere seem to be either trying their hand at blogging or trying to figure out why anyone would bother. Let’s start with the basics and define the term “Blog” courtesy of Merriam-Webster.com (who else?): The noun “blog” is short for Weblog. A Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer. In other words, a glorified electronic diary. I suspect that like most diaries, many blogs are not worth the time it takes to read them — at least for anyone other than the author. Congratulations, you may have access to a computer and an Internet connection, but that does not mean you have anything interesting to say. Even a brief search of the blogosphere (a word that undoubtedly will appear in Merriam-Webster’s 2005 Word of the Year list) will turn up a baffling array of fan sites, personal rants, pictures of pets, and a variety of other things of little interest to anyone other than the writer and perhaps a slim coterie of devotees. There are blogs for every niche, reflecting in their diversity the variety inherent in the Internet itself. Want to read about home appliance repair? There’s a blog (http://www.applianceblog.com). How about tapestry designs? There’s a blog (http://tapestrydesigns.typepad.com/design_niche/). Beekeeping? There’s a blog (http://s00r.van.wessem.net:81/mnist/blog/). Heck, even God has his own blog! (http://bigoldgod.blogspot.com/). Despite the presence of large amounts of trivia and drivel, there are some genuine gems to be found. Last year, blogging played a role in the presidential elections in America and bloggers even found a place beside mainstream journalists at the political conventions in America. From unexpected places, amateur journalists with passion and talent emerged. Why would people turn to amateurs for news? Well, as Time magazine recently noted, ”because they are fast, funny, and totally biased.” While Time’s comments may in part explain the fascination, I am not the first person to note how much that explanation also sounds like another way one might describe bad journalism. Still the cynics have been given pause by an unexpected by-product of the recent tragic Asian tsunami. Some of the most compelling coverage came from the amateur journalists who used their blogs as forums for presenting unedited photos, anecdotes, and video. The coverage has been spectacular for both its prodigious output and for its humanity. Personal testimonials and eyewitness accounts sparkle with a sincerity that no over-trained teary-eyed talking head tele-journo could ever touch. Blogging has struck a chord with the public for two very different reasons: First, people have become a bit jaded toward mainstream media and are more comfortable with the power the Internet give to find information independently and second, many people would prefer to get information from others they connect with in some manner. Blogs, by their very nature tend to be personal in their tone and their approach to topics. Readers tend to gravitate toward blogs where they feel a connection with the writers. In other words, people tend to find blogs that somehow resonate with their own style, and most likely, their own views. The media and marketing industries have now also jumped on the bandwagon and you can find a variety of blogs from PR companies, media figures and celebrities. I would be willing to bet any amount of money that blog ghostwriters are now in demand at many PR agencies. Indeed, a quick search of eLance.com for the term “blog” finds a number of copywriters who now list among their services ghostwriting for blogs. The emergence of the late adopters into the mainstream shows that blogging as a social phenomenon is reaching maturity – but does that mean it has peaked? There is no doubt that for some the novelty will wear thin as the next big thing appears. But for others, blogging is likely to remain vital and may provide a welcome note of counterpoint to the mainstream media. Some bloggers will no doubt become celebrities themselves and cross the great divide to join traditional media. And, if per chance blogging does maintain the momentum and the relevance, traditional media will undoubtedly find a way to absorb the blogosphere, subtly changing both media in the process.

Originally published in the South China Morning Post, 22 Feb 2005

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