“The blog is the best relationship generator you’ve ever seen.”
—Robert Scoble, blogger1
History of Blogging
Blogs are websites consisting of entries listed in reverse chronological order. They have existed since the mid-1990s; however, interest in blogging has grown exponentially in recent years because of easy-to-use blogging software and increasingly economical Internet access. The term “blog” evolved from weblog, a regularly updated list of interesting websites. These blogs consisted of short postings, in reverse chronological order, that contained links to other web pages and short commentaries or reactions. Blogging has since taken on a looser structure—some blogs still follow the traditional format of links and small amounts of text, while others consist of essays, sometimes not containing any links. Blogs can also now incorporate media, such as music or videos. Many people are familiar with personal journal blogs, like those on Xanga or LiveJournal. These sites include social networking features and are particularly popular with teenage bloggers, who often write about their day-to-day lives for friends.
Blogging has become a major social phenomenon, empowering users to participate in, rather than just view, the web. In July 2006 most bloggers, or blog authors, had not had a personal website before starting their blog.2 The increased availability of user-friendly blogging software has allowed blogging to become accessible to more mainstream Internet users.
Reader comments create an interactive experience, allowing readers to react to blog entries. According to a Pew Internet study, 87% of blogs allow reader comments.3 Successful bloggers pay attention to their readers and respond, often sparking interesting discussions and debates. However, allowing comments increases the possibility of spam (including irrelevant comments, inappropriate language and link spam—where a user tries to increase an irrelevant site’s number of inbound links). By some estimates, over 90% of blog comments are spam.4
Permalinks provide blog readers with a way of linking to specific blog entries. Each blog post has a unique URL referring to that single post. Links stay relevant even after the blog entry moves off the homepage and into the archive.
Trackbacks tell bloggers who is linking to their posts. This enhances Internet content by making linking two-way. The blogger provides a trackback link, and sites that use the link are added to a list on the blog entry. For an example of a trackbacks section, visit http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/08/web-20-the-24-minute-documentary/. This is a permalink to a post on TechCrunch, a popular Internet technology blog, that features a Web 2.0 video from 2006.
A blogroll is a list of the blogger’s favorite blogs. Though not all blogs feature a blogroll, it is common for the main page of a blog to contain links to several other blogs. For example, LiveJournal automatically incorporates a blogroll (consisting of users the blogger has marked as friends) into a user’s profile page.
Blogging and Journalism
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Blogging has encouraged citizen journalism, allowing anyone to be a journalist. Blogs have become a significant news resource, drawing traffic away from the mainstream media. Some argue that this form of “participatory journalism” holds less biases than mainstream media, or at least makes these biases clear and provides many different views. This democratization of media allows a larger group to take part in journalism.6 Traditional journalists had previously been able to create a representative democracy (much like the political system of the United States) by speaking for the masses. However, blogging gives a voice to everyone with a computer and Internet access, creating a more direct democracy.
Many bloggers are recognized as members of the media. Just as television and radio increased the speed of news delivery over that of newspapers, blogs have become a fast and in-depth (and often “unwashed”) news medium. The mass media is embracing blogging; many TV news anchors suggest that viewers read their blogs after the show, and many newspaper websites feature blogs by reporters.
Though journalism is a large part of the blogging phenomenon, according to a Pew Internet study only one-third of bloggers consider their blogs a form of journalism. Eighty-four percent of bloggers consider it a hobby, and only 10% spend more than ten hours a week blogging.7 Posting new content and responding to reader comments requires a substantial time commitment.
Growth of Blogging
The number of blogs has been doubling about twice a year.8 However, there is also a large number of abandoned blogs. A Caslon Analytics study found that “66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months.”9
Companies are reaching out to the blogosphere, or blogging community, to keep in touch with consumer opinions. Many CEOs and top executives from large companies such as Sun Microsystems, Marriott International and General Motors are now regular bloggers. This helps build consumer trust and loyalty. The NewPR Wiki lists over 250 CEOs and upper-management bloggers.10
Increased use of mobile devices has also lead to moblogging, or mobile blogging, as bloggers no longer need to be at their computer to update their blogs. Similarly, vlogging, or video blogging, has gained popularity.Rocketboom, for example, posts a three-minute video every day covering news and Internet stories.
Blogging and RSS Feeds
Many popular blogs provide RSS and Atom feeds to let readers know when new content is posted. Feeds, offered through blogging software or sites such as Feedburner (acquired by Google in 2007), help bloggers track and maintain a steady readership. The feeds (containing an entire post or just a selection with a link) can be automatically syndicated via the web and aggregated on a website or application designated by the user. Some sites (like Feedburner) provide an e-mail option, forwarding the day’s posts to subscribers. While the use of feeds is certainly growing, a Pew Internet study in July 2006 reported that only 18% of bloggers provide RSS feeds.11 (See “RSS and Atom” in Section 3.15.)
Bloggers now have many options for building blogs. Online hosted blog software options include WordPress (which also offers server software), TypePad and Blogger. Blog server software programs include Movable Type and Textpattern. These require users to have their own web server; however, they also allow for more customization. Some word processors (such as Microsoft Word 2007) also offer blog publishing features or are compatible with blog posting extensions.
Blog networks are collections of blogs, often with several editors. Popular blog networks include Corante, Weblogs, Inc., 9rules, b5media and Gawker Media. Many of these networks, with multiple bloggers and daily postings, draw significant traffic and a broad audience. Blog networks help bloggers build reputations and loyal readers. Some social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook also enable blogging to a private network of friends.
Blog Search Engines
Blog search engines, such as Technorati and Google Blog Search, monitor the blogosphere’s constant changes. When dealing with blogs, search results cannot be based strictly on traditional factors such as reputations built over time (since the blogosphere is so dynamic). Technorati, which tracked over 93 million blogs in July 2007, addresses the unique needs of what they call the “World Live Web.” Google Blog Search adjusts Google’s search algorithms to specifically address the blogosphere. Other blog search engines include Feedster, IceRocket and Blogdigger.