jody servon
march 2002

 

In the early to mid-1990s, having a website equaled immediate visibility on the web due to the limited number of pages. A decade later this is no longer true. In the beginning of the web age, people created personal homepages to introduce themselves to the world by posting family pictures and information about their hobbies. After the deregulation of the Internet between 1991 and 1993, access was gained by commercial ventures. The influx of corporate pages detailing goods and services buried individual’s homepages in a rapidly accumulating heap of advertising. Technological advancements and faster connections provided the next significant step in the evolution of self expression on the web by enabling people to "go live" pointing webcams at themselves and allowing viewers to watch their every move, from cleaning house to having sex. Recently, weblogs with their emphasis on content ranging from mundane to literary, allow access to a more captivating and intimate space—the mind of the author.

Although it is difficult to precisely define this powerful new medium, a weblog or blog is an online journal created by individuals or groups to express ideas and present information in the form of Internet links and personal commentary. Weblog authors aren’t just programmers and computer geeks. Wanna-be restauranteurs, stock market analysts, romance novel enthusiasts, and avid baseball fans have all taken to blogging. It is no surprise that technologically adept teens —who commonly pioneer new uses for the web—have become blog authors as well.

Tracking the history of weblogs is an elusive endeavor. Several different people including Justin Hall and Jesse James Garrett are credited with being the first to operate blog-like sites. Rebecca Blood’s article "weblogs: a history and perspective," states there were only a small number of weblog sites in 1998. The introduction of template sites such as Blogger and Greymatter in 1999 caused blogging communities to grow and the format to become more widespread. The tools on these sites enabled less technologically proficient users to create content rich blogs without writing their own code. As weblog tools continue to develop blog sites continue to increase. In January 2002, Evan Williams reported over 41,000 newly registered weblogs on Blogger alone.

Harnessing the power of the Internet, blogs have the capability to alter and to expand the current state of journalism. Media conglomerates force their content editors to stay within their site and fail to take advantage of the linking capabilities that make the web unique. The blogging format—commentary plus link—encourages authors to utilize all the information available on the web. This enables groups and individuals to self publish sites that may be considered more comprehensive composites of news, culture, and entertainment than the publications with which we have become familiar. And people are reading and responding to blogs. Popular blogger Andrew Sullivan boasts 220,000 unique users to his site in January 2002. Why are so many people reading blogs? Sullivan, senior editor at The New Republic and a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, touts blogging as a revolutionary form of journalism. Where else can you create your own publication as cheaply and easily with millions of Internet users having immediate access? Imagine a publication with one author/editor who serves in all capacities—no copy editor, layout designer, advertising executives, printing presses, delivery trucks—with the author having immediate access to limitless information to draw from and to link to.

Google search engine recognizes blogs—with their fresh content and numerous links—as influential in determining search results. Blogs link to other blogs and direct traffic to articles and sites of interest. The increase in hits elevates select pages within the search results and directly impacts the amount of visitors to a site. As a result of the blog movement pages run by individuals, not corporations, are once again empowered on the web. Information may be shared without intrusive banner advertisements and irritating pop-up windows promoting the latest gadget or hot new deal.

For me, sifting through the vast amount of information and number of pages was a daunting task, but blogs have reinvigorated my time spent on the Internet. Before discovering blogs, my web usage generally served one of two purposes: I either entered the web seeking information, or to make a purchase and signed off when my mission was accomplished. Rarely did I allow myself the pleasure of aimlessly following links to virtual places, instead I concenrated my time on art and news sites. One adventurous evening I followed a link to a blog and found myself clicking among blogs for hours. I was fascinated with the content and the structure of blogs and eventually I discovered a blogger with whom I share interests such as food and photography. Six months later, I find myself visiting his blog regularly to review the recent posts; rarely am I disappointed. With a visit to his site, I obtain immediate access to information and sites that I may never find on my own. We have a mutually beneficial relationship—he spends time searching, selecting and posting while I click from link to link. He gets hits and I get links. Not all of his links are of interest; however, I regard his blog as a starting point for an efficient and enjoyable Internet experience.

As I continue to read his blog, I feel his identity emerging through the information he reveals. Not that he posts numerous intimate details regarding his life, but enough has been exposed over several to months allowing me to fashion a persona of the author behind the blog. Bloggers share everything from top news to trivial details of their personal lives. While some blogs are self-aggrandizing homages to the persona creating them, others have the capacity to comment on the current social and political climate of our society. Lack of editing on some blogs can be tiresome, but such quick responses to current events and thoughtful commentary can be enjoyed for their unmediated freshness.

Over the next three months blip…blah…blog will link to three blogs. I envision each blogger as a blip on the web contributing endless blah—as in blah, blah, blah—in the form of a blog. These blogs have been selected for use as points of reference for your interactive web journey. In no way do these sites claim to be representative of the multitude of blogs on the Internet, they merely offer an introduction to a new forum for personal expression and social critique. The interests and personalities of the individuals responsible for these blogs are as varied as the format, the content, design, and the style in which they write.

James Luckett, the thirty-one year old behind consumptive.org, recently moved to Japan from Chicago to accompany his wife on an academic fellowship. Grappling with his lack of ability to speak the language as well as the vast cultural differences, James provides witty commentary in addition to links to art, popular culture, and oddities that only someone who spends ample time on the web can provide. At twenty-six, Heather B. Hamilton’s life has taken an anomalous turn as a result of her blogging. Late in February 2002, Heather was fired from her web design job because of the content of her blog on her website, dooce.com. Currently, Heather is no longer posting anecdotes detailing her co-workers recent foibles and inadequacies. We are left with her incessant musing regarding bug swallowing and drug use. Mike Tronnes, at forty-seven the oldest blogger of the three, updates two blogs simultaneously on Cursor.org —a national version as well as a Twin Cities version. Mike began his politically bent blogging during the 2000 presidential election debacle; after September 11th his blogging became obsessive. Typically his blog includes over 300 links as well as original writing and graphics. While most bloggers post personal commentary, Mike and the other contributors at cursor cull their information from news wires and new sites. By posting brief statements such as "INS works off backlog on student visa paperwork" they entice you to follow their links. The mass of information available on cursor offers a thorough, alternative view and a critique of current events and political happenings.

blip…blah…blog’s purpose is to provide you with a point of departure. Your destination is not predetermined and there is no right or wrong path to follow. The excursion you embark on may be a welcomed deviation from your usual web travel. Visit their sites often and follow these bloggers as they comment on anything and link to everything. A worthwhile link may only be a click away.



© 2002