|1 March 2003
Blog Publishers Stealing Web Limelight
By Eric Auchard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Visitors to Daypop, an index of personal journalism sites known as Weblogs, were treated on Wednesday to a new feature called "word bursts," an automated attempt to identify the hottest words at the moment.
"They are indicators of what Webloggers are writing about right now," boasts the site, at http://www.daypop.com/burst/.
The "word burst" concept was borrowed from a New Scientist magazine article about a Cornell mathematician who came up with the idea. It has taken on a life of its own, making the featured words popular if only because the Daypop site said so and major Web sites were all pointing to the site for the latest buzz.
It's just the latest example of the power of Weblogs to shape perception among a growing audience of online readers.
Weblogs, or blogs for short, the online diaries that first flowered among would-be Emily Dickinsons in cyberspace, are now taking root among office workers and university students and drawing attention from big media who hope to tap their appeal.
"One of the things that got clobbered in the money-hungry Internet boom of late 1990s was the role of the individual," said John Lawlor, an independent marketing consultant and devoted blogger at http://www.blogs4business.com.
"Blogs are a friction-free way to communicate" that restores power to individuals with something to say, Lawlor said.
Blogs are simple Web-page publishing tools that hundreds of thousands of Internet users regularly use to write annotated guides to the best of the woolly world of the Web.
They do so with a freshness and passion that has drawn the attention of major Internet media companies, as highlighted by last week's purchase by Web search powerhouse Google of Pyra Labs, the tiny band of San Francisco programmers behind Blogger, the most popular software tool for creating Web logs.
KNOW A LOT ABOUT A LITTLE
Blogs feed other blogs, cross-referencing each other via hyperlinks. An endless series of underground gopher tunnels, the typical blog has 50 to 100 links to other sites.
The phenomenon is changing the basic metaphors for how the Web works. Bloggers don't so much surf as clip excerpts from the Internet, then share these choice tidbits with friends, colleagues, and passers-by from other blogs.
Successful blogs have certain obsessions that set them apart. In contrast to Web sites that try to be all things to all people, blogs do best when they stake out niches. "Who is saying something interesting today?" is their basic appeal.
Blogs4God offers what it humbly calls a "semi-definitive list of Christian Blogs" (http://blogs4god.com). Gizmodo, "the gadgets Weblog," serves gadget idolatrists as it drools over the latest consumer electronics eye-candy.
Take "Editor: Myself" (http://www.hoder.com/weblog), a free-wheeling Weblog on "Iran, technology and pop culture."
The site appears in both Persian and English, offering links to other Iranian bloggers, a glimpse of the struggle Web publishers are having with religious authorities interspersed with amusing links to wire service news stories out of Iran.
Dave Winer, a pioneering Silicon Valley-based software programmer who is widely credited with spearheading the self-publishing movement, sees blogging following a well-worn path into the mainstream.
"At first the geeks go for a new information technology. It is required for that to happen. Then you have the lawyers and the librarians. Following very closely after that comes education and business," he said.
Winer, whose six-years-and-running "Scripting News" is one of the oldest surviving blogs, recently launched a project called "Weblogs at Harvard" which seeks to string together the dozens of blogs with Web addresses ending in .harvard.edu.
Law school students are using blogs to share case law studies online, while one business school student is keeping an online diary as a reminder of how his thinking evolves at Harvard. The rest of us voyeurs can catch a glimpse at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/about, in a way no fan of "reality-based" dating shows on U.S. television can ever do.
Winer looks to use his position as a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, to highlight the potential blogs have not only at America's most prestigious university, but throughout education.
Lawlor, of Blogs4Business, a consultant living in Florida who has spent years in online direct marketing, sees blogs as an antidote to the inherent weaknesses of e-mail, a static form of communication that is in danger of becoming buried in the growing flood of SPAM, or unsolicited advertising.
E-mail, while having the advantage of privacy, requires waiting for someone to send you something. Blogs stay put in one place, with an open-door policy for visitors, he notes. The publisher controls the content. Visitors keep coming back only if the publisher keeps the site fresh and relevant to them.
Lawlor, 57, has a plan to bring blogging to technical trade shows. The idea is to encourage all the companies participating in a conference to display their wares on their own blog, then encourage attendees to visit the blogs ahead of time, helping them schedule appointments during the trade show itself.
FIND SOMETHING WORTH SAYING
Technology can do little for people who have nothing to say.
Some blog entries take the form of no more than one or two-sentence gasps. Business-minded Lawlor refers dismissively to the mass of blogs as "angst journals" even as he upholds the form as a model of effective small group communication. With names like gigglechick and worldwiderant, one doesn't even need to click to imagine where such blogs are headed.
Tripod, a Web page building unit of online media company Terra Lycos, is experimenting along with Fox Sports to offer blogs that appeal to hockey fans. Officials see a vast market among the millions of customers who have built band, movie and art sites using Tripod.
"I think that crossover with media is definitely there," Charles Kilby, director of product marketing for Terra Lycos said in a phone interview. "We are looking at how to take this mainstream."
A spokeswoman for AOL, the largest Internet services company, says they won't be far behind. "We do have blogs under development. It's something that members will see later this year," she told Reuters.
Earthlink, another major U.S. Internet service provider, announced a deal in October with Trellix, another supplier of blogging software, but has yet to offer the services to its customers.
(This week's LiveWire columnist can be reached at email@example.com)