The Internet could be blamed for empowering armies of blowhards, chatterboxes and gas bags. While you probably have no shortage of these around you in the real world, you are just as likely to bump into them online, boasting, preaching, whining, ranting, blathering on about whatever has crossed their radars. With the promise of a massive audience, the Internet fosters such logorrhea
Of course, these types aren’t new to the Net, but they have been evolving. First taking hold of newsgroups and bulletin board services, they expanded onto the Web, which gave them a more controlled and semipermanent vanity channel.
Spend some time around these loquacious types, though, and you might find some that are actually quite intelligent, informed, perceptive, witty and — the crucial factor on the Web — worth a few minutes of your precious time.
Talkative types have definitely made themselves with the Weblog phenomenon. In other words, they like to “blog.”
Um, backspace delete. Let’s try some other words first.
Weblogging (or blogging) is a definite buzzword but one not easily defined. Weblogs connect with a number of recent trends — open communities, personalization, hyperlinked aggregation — but they’re also something very old packaged in new HTML.The easy way is to call them a regularly updated handful of interesting links, annotated in a personal style.
Weblogs are, as a rule, quite eclectic — “target audiences” be damned. At Robot Wisdom, a mention of developments in artificial intelligence might appear next to a review of a new computer game or musings on the relevance of James Joyce.
The range of topics, links and tones in the Weblog scene runs the gamut. Although there is some overlap, there’s plenty more in the mainstream media. For a wide-angle look at the scene check out the mother lode of blogs (www.eatonweb.com/portal/) (be prepared for one big download), or a slightly narrower selection at the Open Directory.
There are practical blogs, full of links and commentary on topics du jour (both specialized and general), and then there are blogs of gossip and ephemera, whimsical blogs and obscure blogs. There are slick, almost commercial, ones and defiantly scruffy ones (Robotwisdom.com will probably never change). Although playfully individual blogs dominate (how about “My Dog Wants to Be on the Radio“?), there are a few big blog collaborations (such as Memepool.com and — if we stretch the definition a bit — Slashdot.org).
It’s been said that Webloggers are more like editors than journalists, but like reporters they often know their fields of interest well and do plenty of research. They’ve also been called pre-surfers who protect you from wiping out in the data waves. Speaking to Wired magazine, RobotWisdom’s Jorn Berger, who first coined the term in ’97, compared Weblogs to “signal fires, spreading the news from hilltop to hilltop.”
More than just guides though, many Webloggers rub shoulders with online diary writers. The difference is that Webloggers’ personalities, agendas and intellects show
in their choice of links and their annotations, not in their confessions or fantasies (though it’s not beneath a Weblogger to report on last night’s TV or throw up a flattering picture of him/ herself).
Webloggers have also been likened to pirate radio DJs (à la Shoutcast). Weblogs bring attention to alternative views on mainstream news as well as point to tidbits that never make it onto CNN or Slate. The entertaining mix of off-center news at Obscure Store and Reading Room and its spinoff Mediagossip.com are, not surprisingly, compiled by a real journalist who started off in fanzine land.
Weblogs have a history as nebulous as their moniker. Some say it began way back with Mosaic’s “What’s New” list, which eventually begat the ubiquitous lists of “cool stuff.” Other forerunners include Justin Hall’s Links from the Underground, or more specialized sites such as Macintouch or Scripting News, helmed by outspoken scripting guru and geek role model, Dave Winer, who is unafraid to sprinkle anything and everything on his updates. Though the community probably wouldn’t like to admit it, the Drudge Report could be called another example (though most Webloggers aren’t looking to create news).
There’s also a strong link to e-mailed newsletters, such as Red Rock Eater News, which conveys Phil Agre’s opinionated yet well-informed take on technology news and related developments. In one report, alongside commentary about cyberprivacy and education, Agre made a +1,000-word detour about his search for the perfect cheap pen. Self-indulgent? You bet. But do you think he’s worried about losing subscribers?
Weblogs shouldn’t be confused with “what’s cool” archivists. Bloggers are more likely to include “what sucks.” In fact, the smartalecks at Suck.com, with their oblique hyperlinks, definitely pioneered the “click here for punchline” breed of humor so common in Weblogs.
The key to current Weblogging is that technology has made it easier for novices to set up a Weblog. Just like Shoutcast, it doesn’t take much. (Aspiring Bloggers should make clicks to Blogger.com, Pitas.com and Groksoup.com.)
Widespread accessibility begs the obvious question: Do you really care about the daily musing of a likeable yet somewhat pedestrian computer programmer who is an avid fan of Buffy, Hooty and UNIX? Maybe not. But don’t knock it till you read a Weblog.
Weblogs have been called microportals, since readers work them into their daily browsing routines and many offer numerous media indexes (like Drudge). I prefer to think of them as supplementary portals, or better yet, human portals. Maybe peterme.com doesn’t offer the coverage of MyYahoo!, but I have more in common with Peter and find more to click.
It’s quite easy to be cynical about the hoopla surrounding bloggers. Even the bloggers at Stating the Obvious, a forerunner of the blogging scene, have already submitted a call for less hype. At their worst Weblogs are simply hyperlinked brain dumps. At their best, they are way beyond filters — they approach a new media form of essay. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find the missing link to the Web’s Whitman.