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To Blog, or Not to Blog? - Part 1

Friday, September 6, 2002

As my astute colleague, Tim Rutherford, pointed out yesterday tech terms seem to come from either one of two camps. The first is the unintelligable, overly descriptive, five-plus-sylable club, including phrases such as Integrated Services Digital Network, Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol;, Network Basic Input/Output System. These inevitably get broken down into their corresponding acronymyns and initialisms, ISDN, TCP/IP, and NetBIOS. Like most things, the original meaning of the letters is forgot by all but a few academics.

The second type of tech term is the grass roots term. It sometimes comes from an off hand comment in a mailing list or post to a discussion group. "Spam" is a good example of this latter type. By some accounts, the term is derived from a Monty Python sketch, "Well, we have Spam, tomato & Spam, egg & Spam, egg, bacon & Spam...." Another example is the term GNU, which means "GNU's Not Unix." It's a recursive acronym, meaning it resolves to acronym which resolves to an acronym, and so on and so forth in an infinte loop. That's a bit of programming humor. Get it? :P

The latter camp of spams and recursive acronyms tends to reflect the irreverent humor and interests of techies, including things like Star Trek and The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, among other things. Though the term "blog" is of this latter camp, it doesn't have a really nifty story behind it. A blog is simply a slightly more fun way of saying "web log." People who run web logs are "bloggers." The process of writing a web log is called "blogging." If someone talks about you in their web log, you've been blogged.

So, none of this answers the question of what exactly is a blog? A blog is a pretty amorphous concept, which includes many trials and implementations. In its most essential form, a blog is simply a way of keeping track of the interesting sites you find, thoughts that occur to you, and things that interest you. They are sort of like a diary, but available to the whole world. This description may send shivers down your spine, harkening back to bad high school poetry and early incarnations of personal homepages. Sometimes, blogs are just that, but sometimes they are a lot more.

Take 9/11 for instance. As the events of that day unfolded, online news sources were completely overrun. Many, running the most robust software and the scalable servers, were forced to take their sites down, folding under the preasure. Television news sources provided a very small portion of the news: you can only have one news caster talking at a time. Realizing this, most major news stations resorted to running tickers at the bottom of their screens to cover the stories they weren't covering.

And then their was the blog sites. To understand what pushed blogging to the forefront that day, you have to understand that bloggers form informal communities. Blogging is all about sharing what one person finds interesting. Bloggers tend to find other bloggers interesting, read their sites with some regularity, find a piece of information that they find interesting, share that on their own site, and so on and so forth. It's sort of like that recurisve acronym, GNU, except its a recursive discovery mechanism, a way to spread information without editors, approval processes, publication schedules, etc.

It's also distributed. Blogging sites are hosted all over the Internet in just about every country on every continent. In contrast, traditional news media is centralized. So, though the traditional news sites couldn't possibly bear the weight of the world's simultaneous hunger for knowledge, blogging sites continued to serve information, especially the details that didn't make it onto broadcast TV -- even in the ticker.

Traditional media is also unidirectional. They pump the information out to us. I have no way of contacting the anchor person and letting them know that they made a mistake, or that things are worse than they appear. Bloggers, however, are almost immediately accessible, usually via e-mail. When reviewing blogging sites, you see updates appended to posts. You'll see conversations which span two or more sites. You'll see people disagreeing, arguing, rescinding and apolgizing.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe blog is actually an acronym for web dialog. That's really what seperates blogs from personal homepages, diaries, broadcast news, magazines, et al. Blogs are an instantaneous, asynchronous, international dialogs.

In our next story on the subject, we'll point you to some software to make blogging easy and some ways to find blogs that you might find interesting. In the meantime, the following is a short list of some the sites which took part in that dialog on Septermber 11th, 2001. Some are traditional blogging sites. Other's fit the definition only loosly. Regardless, Many of the conversations are still taking place on these and other blogs.

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