Blogs…have put the power of personal publishing into everyone’s hands and created a new kind of public sphere — one in which we can think out loud together. And now that we have begun, it is impossible to imagine us stopping. (Scott Rosenberg)
The communication medium commonly known as a blog (which was derived from the word weblog or web log), was created through the contributions of web programmers and writers who wanted to share their experiences with others remotely in real time. Over the past decade, using the World Wide Web for blogging has become a common way for individuals and businesses to communicate with and receive responses from their audiences.
Blogs are a rising medium, gaining in popularity by both experts and amateur writers alike. By definition, a blog is “a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Blogging, a verb used to describe the act of posting information on a website in a chronological format, is becoming both a form of advertising and a form of self-expression.
Online applications and user-friendly interfaces make blogging a relatively simple way for individuals and businesses to “speak” to the world. In the book, Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters, author Scott Rosenberg attests, “Blogs…have put the power of personal publishing into everyone’s hands and created a new kind of public sphere — one in which we can think out loud together. And now that we have begun, it is impossible to imagine us stopping.” (Rosenberg , back cover summary) When compared to the effort and time it takes to write and publish a story, blogging is far less expensive and time consuming. There is no limit to how often one can post and produce content for the masses to read.
There seems to be controversy regarding blogging. Is it is a positive or negative means of communicating with the global community? Should blog authors be able to write anything they want on the Internet? Should readers be made aware that the information contained is the opinion of the author and meant strictly for enjoyment, or should readers be allowed to draw their own conclusions? Is blogging more beneficial for the writers or the readers? Do the increasing number of blogs and the fact that anyone can start a blog minimize the creditability of the medium?
This document will attempt to explain the evolution, usage, popularity, effects, and controversy surrounding blogs. Is it smart business or meaningless babble? Blogs…have put the power of personal publishing into everyone’s hands and created a new kind of public sphere — one in which we can think out loud together. And now that we have begun, it is impossible to imagine us stopping.
The History of the Blog
Before evaluating the ethic issues and effectiveness of blogs, we must first explore the origins. Several pioneers are credited for their contributions to the birth and growth of blogging. It started from a few computer gurus, programmers, and writers who had something to say and used the Internet as the tool to share their opinions.
So, you may be wondering, “How and when did ‘blogs’ actually acquire their name?” The concept of chronologically posted articles, or “logging the web”, was dubbed “weblog” in 1997 by Jarn Barger, online author of Robot Wisdom. It was shortened in 1999 to “blog” by a programmer by the name of Peter Merholz. In 2004, the word “blog” became Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. (Chapman)
The term “blog” didn’t exist until 1997, but the concept began several years earlier. Two individuals are accredited for writing the first blogs, both in the 1990s: Justin Hall began his highly personal Web diary, Links.net in 1994; and Dave Winer created the primarily news related Scripting News, Scripting.com in 1997.
Justin Hall, a Swarthmore College student, seemingly started the concept of “over sharing” on the Internet by documenting nearly every aspect of his private life on his homepage, Links.net, in 1994. Hall’s online Web diary is one of the earliest accounts of writing for self-expression on the internet. Hall shared stories of his wild antics, deepest thoughts, and sexual experiences. He believed that what a person was like on the inside was far more interesting reading than politically correct articles. Hall predicted that “journalism of the future” would become unscripted and personal: “The best content comes from people who love what they are doing,” Hall stated. (Rosenberg p.38) In 1995, at He later learned that there were limits to what one should share. In 2005, on his first date with, Merci, his future wife, he posted his most intimate feelings about their first date. His audience responded with negative comments, doubting whether he really knew what intimacy was. He wasn’t taken seriously because of the promiscuous content he had posted in the past. (Rosenberg p.42)
The concept behind blogging was also evolved by another pioneer in the mid-1990s. Software engineer, Dave Winer, started using email lists to circulate essays that he wrote, often to express dissatisfaction of something. When he received responses from email recipients, he circulated those responses out to the rest of the email list. In 1994, an essay he wrote entitled Bill Gates vs. the Internet resulted in a personal, informal email response from Bill Gates himself. Suddenly, writing became a means of self-expression and discussion that had meaning. Winer started Scripting News, Scripting.com, in 1997 which is recognized as one of the earliest news blogs.
Winer and many other online writers used their websites on September 11, 2001 to post updates of the events that occurred on that day. While the world was changing, the purpose of the World Wide Web took on new meaning as well.
9/11/01 is considered by some to be the day that blogging was born and the web changed forever. Robert Andrews, author for Wired Magazine and Wired.com, considers 9/11 the “Birth of the Blog”. On that tragic day, due to heavy volumes, phone networks could not keep up with the amount of calls being made. Major online news sites were overwhelmed with traffic. The public turned to online journals to follow or share breaking news, search for loved ones, or express their emotions in a new way—raw and unscripted. (Andrews)
Many 9/11 accounts were highly emotional and informal. On September 11, 2001, New York businessman, James Marino, used his business website to announce details of the events he witnessed from his office looking out at the lower Manhattan skyline. His account was one of the very first (possibly the first) of public confirmations of what happened to the World Trade Center that morning.
At 8:56:32 A.M. EST Marino posted: “Something very terrible just happened at the World Trade Center. I think a plane crashed into the north-western tower. It is horrible and stunning to look at.- james” (Rosenberg p.1-4) Marino continued with periodic updates throughout the day of what he saw and how he felt as the second plane hit, as each of the towers collapsed, and how he felt at the end of the day. Not only were his emotions captured in a public forum, but I’m sure America could relate to the horror and despair he felt.
There is no doubt that the blogging that filled the blogosphere on 9/11 was not true journalism, but it was meaningful and relatable to many. Speculation and emotion were high. Much of what was written was personal perception and opinion. Even though most of America likely agreed with sentiments of the “bloggers” on 9/11, that does not necessarily qualify all blogging as “journalism.” Yet, because the human experiences and emotions could be shared by the American population, it undoubtedly opened the doors for other writers (businesses and individuals) to share their personal experiences on many other levels.
Technology advances have made it possible for nearly anyone to start and operate a blog. Most blogging platforms are free and available to anyone who is willing to use a computer. The platforms are both user friendly and offer a wealth of documentation on how to set-up, design, maintain, and monitor their blogs. Currently, the three most common blogging platforms are WordPress.com—a free blog community, free WordPress.org software for self-hosted web sites, and Blogger—a free, web-based blog community, originally released by Pyras in 1999 but acquired by Google in 2003.
An informal poll on Lifehacker.com in 2010 yielded the following results for ranking 5 popular blogging platforms with total 9,802 votes: WordPress 55.4% (5,429 votes); Blogger 16.6% (1,629 votes); Tumblr 13.1% (1,286 votes); Posterous 8.3% (814 votes); SquareSpace 3.3% (325 votes); Other 3.3% (319 votes). (Fitzpatrick) (See Fig. 1)
According to a study conducted by Pingdom and released on April 11, 2012, WordPress is the blogging platform of choice for 48% of the top 100 blogs. (Pingdom) There are many advantages to using WordPress for blogging or for a business website.
WordPress is an open-source application used as a CMS (content management system) and blogging platform, designed to make updating websites easier. It is highly customizable, offers extensive online resources, and is easy to manage. A few companies/organizations that use WordPress for their websites are CNN Political Ticker, Mashable, TechCrunch, Boing Boing, ArtsBeat, Grist, Hollywood Life, and several blogs for The New York Times, including The Opinionator, Paul Krugman, and Economix. (Kerr)
Being a web designer, self-hosted WordPress is the platform I recommend for my own clients. The application can be downloaded from WordPress.org for no charge and installed onto a hosting server or installed automatically on hosting servers such as Bluehost.com and HostGator.com.
One of the advantages of using a self-hosted version of WordPress is the ability to design WordPress themes that match the company brand and integrate the blog as part of a custom-designed company website. Since it is a database driven website using mySQL to store all data and content, the theme can be changed without the content of the website having to be radically modified or replaced. Other than some custom CSS styles that may need to be created or modified, the content on all the static web pages and blog posts stay intact. The theme only changes the positioning, fonts, and design elements. Being data driven, WordPress content is search engine friendly, meaning that web crawlers recognize words and phrases within the content as search terms and keywords.
WordPress, unlike Blogger, allows multi-user capabilities and the ability for multiple authors to contribute to the blog with their own username and password. Each author can write articles for the blog. Consequently, the author-specific metadata (author’s name and link to author profile) can be made visible for the viewers within the post. WordPress also allows interactivity with readers, allowing viewers to leave comments for the author to another comment. This feature can be activated on a post-by-post basis, allowing comments when desired or not allowing comments to posts in which the author does not want or require feedback from the audience.
A unique advantage of WordPress opposed to other platforms, which makes it more useful as a blogging platform or company website, is access to thousands of both free and premium (for a licensing fee) third-party plug-ins. WordPress plugins add functionality not included in WordPress itself such as event calendars, image sliders, shopping carts, and thousands of other possibilities. More information, tutorials, and extensions, such as free themes and plugins, can be found at the WordPress codex at www.codex.wordpress.org.
Purposes for Blogging
Though WordPress is one of the most admired blogging platforms by business bloggers, now that all the platforms are user-friendly and easily accessible and to mainstream society, there is evidence that revenue generation is not the primary reason people decide to start a blog.
“The Blogosphere is constantly changing and evolving. In 2011 we are seeing bloggers updating their blogs more frequently and spending more time blogging. The type of information influencing blogging has shifted from conversations with friends, which was the primary influence in 2010, to other blogs, which for 68% of bloggers are having more of an influence in 2011.” (Technorati Media)
Technorati Media, parent company of Technorati.com, the world’s first and largest blog search engine and a robust community blogging platform, has tracked and monitored blog statistics since October 2004. In the State of the Blogosphere for 2011, it classifies blog statistics into five types of bloggers: 1) Hobbyists, 2-3) Professionals, Full- and Part-Time, 4) Corporate, and 5) Entrepreneurs. Figure 2 summarizes these categories and purposes according to Technorati’s 2011 poll (Technorati Media) (See Fig. 2)
Benefits of Blogs (for Writers and Readers)
Blogs make it possible for business owners and skilled trades-people to use their blog for various types of promotion and interaction, including marketing to the global community. According to Tom Pick, Digital Marketing Consultant for Webbiquity, there are five benefits for blogging: 1) Establish expertise and credibility. 2) Become a resource. 3) Create a dialogue. 4) Develop new relationships. 5) Search engine visibility. (Pick)
Blogs can be beneficial for writers and readers. For authors in all of these categories, what they post on their blogs is not “meaningless babble”. They have an idea, some skill, years of industry experience, or a deep personal perspective to express; or they might have a product, service, or company to market; a brand identity that they wish to build.
How can readers benefit from reading blogs? What the authors of blogs write in their posts can be helpful to others in learning something new, seeing things from a different perspective, and having the ability to ask questions or leave comments on the subject. What a blogger writes about does not ensure acceptance or appreciation from every reader; but they are willing to share with the world, regardless. Although not true journalism, it is not unlike a novel or self-help book—it is simply a way of revealing a passion or a subject matter what they know that may be interesting for others.
Frequently, bloggers do not expect direct financial gain by sharing the information. However, they may experience indirect financial gain by building brand loyalty or by taking advantage of affiliate marketing, such as pay-per-click ads placed on the site.
Alexandra Neuman, author of The Death of Journalism, The Birth of Blogging on StudentLife.com for Washington University, expressed the advantage of blogging over journalism quite well. “Readers gain from blogs, as well, as they have a constant awareness while browsing through the blogosphere that the author is just another human being. When reading the newspaper, we are not as likely to read with the eyes of a skeptic as the articles have gone through rounds of editing to make them seem as believable and scholarly as possible, making us more likely to accept them as truth. Blogging, on the other hand, is raw human opinion. We know when we read it that it is someone’s unaltered viewpoint, and, by perusing through multiple blogs on the same subject, we can formulate opinions of our own. Blogs can therefore stimulate and satisfy intellectual curiosity. Readers have to find their own answers by compiling multiple and diverse opinions rather than having finished answers from the same journalists delivered to their front doors week after week.” (Neuman)
After highlighting these benefits of blogs for readers, Neuman concluded:
“Although professional bloggers can make money from advertisements and book deals, the great thing about blogs is that their creation stems primarily from the passion of the bloggers rather than a monetary incentive. The bloggers genuinely want their opinions to be heard, and the readers genuinely want to hear what the bloggers have to say. Bloggers also build off of one another, and readers’ comments influence the blogs themselves, making the whole dissemination process of news more personal and trustworthy without the existence of official regulation.”
I agree with Ms. Neuman that reading about a subject matter from someone who has a passion for it is much more interesting than reading politically correct jargon. When reading a blog, I feel like I am listening to a first-hand account of something as opposed to a second- or third-party account. I am reading what someone has to say in their own words from their own perspective. Even if I do not agree with the opinions of the author, I feel enlightened into seeing another point of view.
Credibility: Blogging vs. Journalism
Like other forms of communication, the blog evolved from a need: the need for a medium that encompasses a more human element to the information readers absorb than journalism. Not all forms of the written word are journalism, and journalism is definitely not always a form of blogging. However, blogging can be mistaken for journalism, and it can be difficult for the general public to tell the difference. However, most often, if there is an element of passion and self-expression, it is not journalism.
“At first glance, it may seem that blogging and journalism cannot be considered as belonging to the same category. After all, anyone can blog about anything. There are no editors involved, no guarantee of the content’s validity, and no shiny well-constructed prose to make readers feel that their new news source is worthwhile. This lack of regulation, however, is exactly what makes blogging so special for everyone involved.” (Neuman)
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics sets guidelines for the profession of journalism under the philosophies of their mission statement: “It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner.” The Code of Ethics includes four main sections: 1) Seek Truth and Report It; 2) Minimize Harm; 3) Act Independently; 4) Be Accountable.
“The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of ‘rules’ but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable.” (Society of Professional Journalists , Code of Ethics) Therefore, the Code is only considered to be a voluntary set of guidelines and is backed by no action for investigating complaints or enforcing discipline. (Society of Professional Journalists , Ethic Quesitons: FAQs)
In sooth, the Code of Ethics only seems to apply to those who deem themselves “professional journalists.” Under First Amendments rights, does that mean everyone else has the power to write and publish whatever information (including lies or slander) on the Internet? Yes, I feel it does. I don’t think opinions should be restrained. Does this mean that all bloggers will defy the Code or take advantage of their First Amendment rights? No, it does not. Not all bloggers use their words to maliciously bash others. Since blogs are a form of self-expression meant to provoke emotion, thought, inspiration, or debate, I don’t feel there are “ethics” for how one should feel. Thoughts and emotions are not always “politically correct”. The Code of Ethics by which journalists voluntarily adhere cannot apply to bloggers since the greatest advantage of blogging is self-expression.
In conclusion, I strongly believe blogging is a positive means of communicating with the global community. The blogosphere brings the points of view of thousands (potentially millions) people to the masses, rather than allowing traditional media sources serve as the only sources of information and ideals for our society.
Blog authors, regardless of crudeness or inappropriateness, should be permitted to write and express themselves freely on the Internet, whether it is agreed upon by readers. However, I also believe that the authors who use blogging for stating strong opinions or resorting to lies or slander are rarely mistaken by readers as professional journalists. Readers, of course, will draw their own conclusions from what they read and have the freedom to agree with or oppose the message.
Blogging can be beneficial for both the writers and the readers, and there is no gauge for measuring who benefits more. It is really a win-win situation in my opinion.
As the number of blogs increases, even the fact that anyone can start a blog does not minimize the creditability of the blog medium because the “creditability” is left up to the reader. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I believe the same principle applies for self-expression on the World Wide Web.
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