About a blog: the what, who, how and why of blogs.

Before commencing Net11 I thought that “blogger” was a synonym for “wanker”. Since becoming one, a blogger that is, I realise how wrong I was to judge so quickly.  This post outlines some of my discoveries as I follow the yellow blog road to online enlightenment.

What?

Perhaps my disdain stemmed from the origins of the blog as the medium for publishing personal diaries online. The term “blog” derives from the abbreviation of “web log” (” Macquarie Dictionary Online,” 2009). Blogging has evolved and now includes many well-respected editorial vehicles. In addition, blogs, as opposed to mainstream media, possess the potential for discourse between bloggers, which can lead to the establishment of communities of interest (Educare, 2009).

Blogs increased in popularity with the advent of services or applications that made publication simpler by removing the need to learn complex html. Some of the most popularblog  applications are Blogger, Word Press and Moveable Type. These applications are to online publishing what the ballpoint pen was to writing. They removed many of the constraints imposed by the innate complexity of the internet and served to facilitate online publishing without recourse to costly website developers or html markup programs.

Who?

With the shackles removed, there was no holding back the proponents of the blogosphere.  Entertainment, commerce, news and politics are just a few areas that flourished in the blog world (Educare, 2009). Blogs can be the musings of one author or the collaborative wisdom of many (Educare, 2009). Some focus on a single issue, while others stage a “war on everything”.  Even old media has moved into this brave new world with many newspapers promoting blogs by there respected journalists as part of their print and online publications. One of my favourite old media blogs is the New York Times Laugh Lines. The education environment uses blogs as a means of exchanging views and promoting dialogue within and across faculties (Educare, 2009). In some instances, Net11 for example, students undertake their studies by regularly posting to blogs, which tutors check periodically to monitor a student’s progress.

How?

The ballpoint pen simplified writing on paper by removing the need for a constant supply of ink, blotting paper and the constraints imposed by ink nibs. Blog applications such as Blogger, Moveable Type and Word Press simplified writing online by removing the need to learn html, acquire costly html scripting programs or engage website designers. A blog is simply an online journal. Today anyone with rudimentary internet skills can maintain a blog.

Using their preferred blogging application, bloggers enter the information they wish to publish, known as “posts” generally by typing using a keyboard or by “cutting and pasting” from a word processing application. Formatting, images, multi-media content and hyper-links can be added to the post by using the various features in the application. The blogger saves the post and selects the “publish” function. The application updates the blog with the new post, makes the updated blog available online and notifies any users who have subscribed to the blog that changes have occurred (Educare, 2009).

Blog visitors may read the postings and submit comments. Blogs catalogue entries chronologically though some blogs also catalogue under topic. Many blogs have a keyword search function that allows a visitor to find particular information in the blog (Educare, 2009). Regular updates improve the effectiveness of blogs.

Many bloggers encourage two-way communication with their readers as well as interaction between their readers. Readers may add comments to a blog or post a response on their own blog, which they link back to the original post. This feature is called “track back” (Educare, 2009). The track back feature also notifies bloggers that one of their posts is referenced in another blog. The popularity of a post can be determined by monitoring the number of comments and incoming links.

These linking, commenting and track back features facilitate the dissemination of popular (presumably better) ideas while ignoring less popular ideas (Educare, 2009). Referencing by a popular blogger enhances the reputation of the referenced blogger. Reputation grows exponentially with the frequency of referencing. This peer based review process creates a de-facto filtering system effectively “sorting the wheat from the chaff”.

Why?

Bloggers have participated in liberating the World Wide Web, allowing it to become more like its founders intended. Blogs achieve this by facilitating people sharing their knowledge, reflecting on life and challenging and debating ideas (Educare, 2009). Bloggers are attracted by the opportunity to engage in unedited expression without the constraints of censorship or the restrictions imposed in mediated chat rooms or by old media forms.

Guido Fawkes, an alias for Paul Staines, a political activist blogger, recently orchestrated the downfall of one of the British Prime Minister’s most trusted advisers, Damien McBride (Totaro, 2009). McBride, whose nickname around Westminster was McPoison, had a reputation for bullying political journalists with excoriating emails and text messages, ensuring compliance by them in their political reporting (Totaro, 2009). This conduct was accepted and tolerated by the journalists in the old media. Fawkes would have none of that. He published some of these emails and texts on his blog, Order Order, exposing McBride’s history of bullying and vicious texting (Totaro, 2009). McBride resigned three days after the blog post went online (Totaro, 2009).

The evolution of blog applications strengthened the effectiveness of blogs by enabling ease of editing and timely, almost immediate, publishing. This timeliness promotes the blog as an ideal vehicle for meaningful and impassioned discussion. The system of feedback and track back resulting in “referrals” to reliable or popular blogs provides a new way to evaluate and validate useful and meaningful information.

Possible pitfalls

Blogs are often produced and maintained by individuals and may therefore contain biased or inaccurate information (Educare, 2009). One man’s soapbox might be another man’s font of knowledge. Although the natural filtering process, feedback and track backs, can often weed out less than useful blogs, users would be well advised to remember the WWW technique; who, where and when (Intute, 2009). This technique is used to validate the reliability of information obtained from the internet. First, consider who wrote or published the material, whether that person is a trustworthy source and whether the person is trying to sell or promote something (Intute, 2009). Next, look at where the blog originates or is stored, which can also be useful in determining legitimacy of the information. Finally, consider when the blog was published and whether it has been updated.

Where to now?

Presently, I am confining my blogging activities to the requirements of my studies. However, when time permits, I intend to enter the blogosphere with meaningful purpose.

References:

Educare (2009), 7 Things you should know about blogs, retrieved 26 April, 2009, from http://net.educause.edu

Intute (2009), Virtual Training Suite: free Internet tutorials to help you learn how to get the best from the Web for your education and research, Intute, Mimas, University of Manchester, retrieved 11 April 2009 from http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/

Macquarie Dictionary Online, (2009), Sydney: Macquarie Online Pty Ltd, Sydney, retrieved 2 May 2009 from http://www.macquarieonline.com.au/dictionary.html

Totaro, P. (2009, 2-3 May 2009), The blog is mightier than the sword, The Australian, News Limited, Sydney

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