Get Ready for the Blogs

Early evangelists of the Web hailed the new medium largely for
one reason: Anyone, anywhere could now be their own publisher. With
nothing more than a modem, an elementary knowledge of HTML, and
some basic design skills, even the humblest worker, student, or
artist could put together a Web site as eye-catching and
influential as anything Madison Avenue could cook up. That
democratic vision is finally being realized, at least in part, in
the burgeoning form of Web logs.

?Blogs,? as they are commonly known, are essentially public
diaries where Web surfers keep a log of the articles and Web sites
they encounter in their online meanderings. Most blogs are devoted
to a particular subject?like politics, tech news, poetry, humor,
film. Others are more like real diaries, random collections of the
author?s thoughts and musings. Many blogs even allow readers to
post comments responding to the author right on the site.

?Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering, sampling and
critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport,? writes
Henry Jenkins in MIT?s Technology Review (March 2002).
Many bloggers monitor each other?s sites, often linking directly to
posts on other blogs, creating an interwoven community of thousands
of constantly updated Web sites. News travels through this
grapevine with astonishing speed. Says Jenkins: ?We surf the Web;
these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital
revolution.?

While the blog format?posts are in chronological order, with the
most recent at the top?has existed nearly as long as the Web, it
has only really taken off since the dot-com crash of 2000. Since
then, hundreds of out-of-work Web designers looking for a creative
outlet developed new technologies making it easier for users to
update their sites.

?We?re realizing [Web pioneer] Tim Berners-Lee?s original vision
for the Web,? says Meg Hourihan, co-founder of Blogger, the Net?s
most influential blogging site, and co-author of We Blog:
Publishing Online with Weblogs
(Wiley, 2002), ?People can
write and publish online now as easily as they can read online.
This is huge!? As she notes in the Canadian tech culture magazine
Shift (October 2002), ?we?ve only begun to see the
repercussions.?

In an August 2001 case study, for instance, Hourihan notes one
blogger found a couple of pages on the Coca-Cola Web site touting
its ?H2No? campaign, which instructed restaurant chains in ways to
reduce their rates of ?tap water incidence.? The indignant blogger
posted a link on a group blog site called Metafilter.org, and
suddenly, Hourihan recounts, ?this non-story that no journalist
would have thought to pick up became a PR nightmare as people
online started talking about it. An article about the campaign ran
shorly thereafter in The New York Times and the page was
removed from Coca-Cola?s site.?

Eve Tushnet in the conservative journal The Weekly
Standard
(October 7, 2002) describes another positive
development in the blog world: Of the more than half million blogs
now online, a small but rapidly growing number (already in the
thousands) are maintained by and for women in the Islamic world.
Sites like Muslimah Ya-Ya (http://muslimahya-ya.blogspot.com/) and
MuslimPundit (http://muslimpundit.blogspot.com/) provide safe
places for women from Morocco to Malaysia to talk candidly about
sex roles, the subjugation of women, and the political implications
of Muhammad?s teachings. One Iranian woman blogger, writes Tushnet,
?has heard from men who say her blog helped change their view of
women in Iran.?

Tushnet notes that this sort of open dialogue, which is not only
discouraged but outright illegal in some Muslim countries, is
crucial if democracy is ever to take hold there. ?Before a ?regime
change? (whether from without or, much better, from within) can
succeed, there must be a core of people who have some of the habits
of freedom, including experience with free expression.?

Leif Utne is managing editor of utne.com.

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