Weblogs have developed from a personal hobby and an Internet specialist niche to an important contemporary mainstream communications phenomenon. Weblogs or blogs have entered into almost every sphere of communications and knowledge sourcing. While blogging is relatively easy to explain in terms of the mechanics of its functioning, it is much more difficult to understand in terms of the implications and potential for development; particularly with regard to the fields of politics, journalism, academic research and education.
One of the essential functions of Weblogs is to filter the masses of online information, which is growing at an exponential rate. This is a crucial aspect as, through technology such as RSS syndication, the user can selectively access and edit large amounts of information from thousands of formal and informal sources. RSS and news reading software is one of the latest developments in the Weblog field and are aspects that will be discussed in this paper.
However this is not the only advantage to Weblogs and blogging. Both online commerce and journalism are being affected and changed by the proliferation of Weblogs and the recent sophistication of Weblogging software.
Weblogs also provide a unique way of communicating and networking over the Internet, which is proving to be highly successful. Weblogs are also starting to make their influence felt in the world of online commerce and corporate business as well as in journalism. Blogs allow for the all-important element of self-expression and self-publishing in an organized, linked and syndicated environment.
( Smith G.B. 2004)
Those critics who predicted that blogs would be a sporadic fad that would be absorbed by Internet chat groups and peer-to-peer networks, have been proven wrong. One of the indications of the increasing importance and the potential that Weblogs have today is the recent purchase by Google of Pyra Labs' Weblog tool Blogger. Furthermore, "An indication of the competitive activity surrounding Weblog technology can also be seen in the launch of by Six Apart, which sells the popular Weblog tool Movable Type, in answer to Google's initiatives." ( ibid) There are other signs that Weblogs are becoming more mainstream; for example, the new Blogs at Harvard Initiative. Criticism that blogs are too numerous and without much relevant 'rich' data and content, is being countered by recent improvements in Weblog software and filtering systems. Another indication is the recent signs of the incorporation of Weblogs as acceptable media in journalism and the academic research environment. Technology such as RSS also aids this process.
The number of Weblogs online has escalated dramatically in the last year. This escalation can also been measured in the higher readership numbers.
Pyra Labs, which publishes the Web-based editing tool, Blogger, has registered 3,000 new users since its launch late last year. According to the company, subscriptions are growing at a rate of 30% a month. (Smith, G. 2004)
There are a number of factors that have created the environment for this upsurge on blogging activity. Among the most important is spam mail. Another is the increase in Web speed, broadband and downloads times on the Internet in general. Another crucial factor in understanding the impact of Weblogs is the user-friendly and largely free software that has recently been offered for both Weblog creation and maintenance.
A definition of Weblogs and blogging is essential if the precise impact and influence of this technology is to be understood. The following is a brief overall explanation.
In short, Weblogs are regularly updated sites that contain lists of links, commentary and other elements such as online articles, images and media. While this description may seem similar to any interactive website, the difference is that Weblogs are designed for quick and easy access via links to in-depth information and commentary on certain topics. They also allow for a sense of personality and individual style that comes through in the reading of the various entries on an effective Weblog. It's a tour of specified topics; each guide or Blogger develops an audience for his or her particular insights, style and sense of humor. Significantly, Weblogs are often linked to one another and act as a network of information and information sharing.
The above extract points to a number of important facts. Firstly, that Weblogs are similar but much more effective than ordinary Web pages. Secondly, that they also facilitate a personal style and character which fosters creativity; and thirdly that they are intensely interactive and allow for various forms of communication and online input to further immediate discussion.
Userland software, a main player in the Weblog industry, has this succinct definition of a Weblog. "A Weblog is a personal Website that allows you to easily publish a wide variety of content to the Web. You can publish written essays, annotated links, documents (Word, PDF, and PowerPoint files), graphics and multimedia. " ( ibid) A central aspect of modern Weblogs and a factor that has been important in the increase of the usage and popularity of blogs, is that Weblogs do not require e extensive or in-depth technical knowledge on the part of the user. Another aspect is the ability to manage entries according to time.
One of the central issues that have emerged in recent months is the contention that Weblogs combined with RSS technology may be a viable challenger and even an alternative to email. " "Weblogs go beyond e-mail. While e-mail is great for one-to-one interaction, it fails at one-to-many communication. Also, e-mail systems don't organize information for you; while you can categorize e-mail you receive, e-mail doesn't provide you with the context of the message like Weblogs can." ( ibid)
There are also aspects to Weblogs that can possibly been seen in a more negative and critical light. One of these is that in to be effective any Weblog has to be continually updated. If Weblogs are not maintained on a daily basis they become repositories of old information. A part of the value and impact of Weblogs lies in their immediacy and the way in which they can provide instant information and discussion on various topical issues much more quickly and effectively than traditional media. This has been an influential facet for the development of online journalism. An example is the recent Iraqi conflict, where Weblogs or "warblogs" provided in-depth information and commentary long before the mainstream media could assimilate and edit reports." In fact many journalists were scanning the Weblogs each day to find data and links for their stories during the war. Weblogs are also a new publishing phenomenon. With no editors to worry about, the Weblogs can express ideas and views quickly and freely." ( Smith G. Weblogs. 2004 )
In actuality Weblogs, defined as extended and modified Web pages, are not a new phenomenon. They are newer and more competent versions of some of the oldest Web sites which produced commentary and lists of links to areas of similar interest. However, Weblogs have become more accessible and there is a growing list of services and applications that allow easy Blogging.
But blogs aren't as new as you may think. They have actually been around since the early days of the Internet. In the strictest sense, a blog is someone's online record of the Web sites he or she visits. Today's blogs, of course, are much more than that. In 1999 there were dozens of blogs. Now there are millions. (Jensen 22)
In terms of this view the first Weblog was the website created by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN (info.cern.ch/). The content of the site has been archived at the World Wide Web Consortium. There were a number of well-known Weblogs that directed the visitor to other sites of news and interest. These included NCSA's What's New, and Netscape's What's New page (1993-96). The Weblog idea progressed from these initial concepts. Some early Weblogs that are still popular are Robot Wisdom, Tomalak's Realm and CamWorld.
The term Weblog was created by Jorn Barger in December 1997. In relation to the contemporary view of a Weblog, there were only a few active on the Web in 1998. (Blood R. 2000) and at the beginning of 1999 there were only 23 bone fide Weblogs online. ( ibid ) The real development of Weblogs as an accessible medium for Web users begins correctly with Pitas.com. This was the first tool for do-it yourself blogging that was developed by Andrew Smales, a programmer in Toronto in July 1999. (Jensen 22)
Smales, twenty-nine, sort of blundered into blogging as he was developing software that would allow him to more easily update his personal Web site and also facilitate the "online diary community" he envisioned. Personal sites such as his aren't listed prominently on Internet search engines, and Smales thought it would be "cool if I could just click around to read what other people were saying," rather than surf blindly for their sites. ( ibid)
This eventually developed into the diary software that was to become the foundation of…