Saturday, January 10, 2004

The Emergence of Blogging

Lately, I've been doing a lot of reading around blogs, as well as listening to Christopher Lydon's fascinating series of 'audio bloggings'.

I've been finding myself explaining what a blog is to some of the people I know. It strikes me as a similar feeling to the days before the emergence of email and the web when I was explaining those things to the people around me and working to increase access (BBSing, freenets) and participation.

A question I've been asking myself lately is: What differentiates blogging from the 'traditional' web? I think there are a few key factors.
  1. Ease of Use.
    Just as word processing and desktop publishing made it significantly easier to publish to print, blogging makes it significantly easier to publish to the web. It takes no - or extremely minimal - technical knowledge of formatting content for the web (html) to publish a blog.

  2. Ease of Sharing.
    Sharing what you publish on a blog is as easy as giving out the web page link (URL) for your blog. But, in addition to that, the past couple of years have seen the emergence of protocols (RSS, Atom) and easy to use tools for syndication and gathering (NetNewsWire, et. al.) of 'content' on the web. This is allowing for the rapid spread of ideas and information in ways that traditional publishing and syndication simply could not reach.

  3. Ease of Feedback and Multi-directional Dialogue.
    Blogging currently seems to take some aspects of traditional web publishing, and some aspects of email & message boards, to form a new thing that is part publishing and part dialogue.

    The ease of publishing and syndication allows for people to use their own blogs to respond to, counter or elaborate upon anyone else's bloggings. Not only that, but 'trackback' tools allow for connections between bloggings across diverse blogs to be traced and made explicitly available through the blog.

    There are also various tools popping up to support comments/feedback directly onto blogs.

Something particularly exciting has been the application of this open, extended, dialogue medium to politics. The ability of a blogged campaign to genuinely engage the grassroots in not only participating, but also directing an election campaign, is immensely exciting to me.

I think, too, that we are seeing the emergence of blogs as a new medium. One test of whether something is a new medium is the extent to which making analogies to other mediums fails to express the full scope of it. While blogs have aspects of journalism, diaries, traditional websites, message boards, etc. - none of those (or even the sum of those) fully expresses what a blog is.

I'm not going to venture any predictions as to the future of blogging. The chaotic and surprising history of technologies and social transformations makes foreseeing often a matter of dice rolls. What is clear to me is that blogging is the latest in a series of tremendously powerful and empowering technologies that will deeply affect how we communicate.

In the 80's and early 90's I was BBSing a lot and could clearly see that email could be a valuable tool for activism and for building social understanding & connections. What I couldn't see was how that would actually come about. I found myself training people, one by one, on setting up their modems and accessing BBSes. When the internet finally reached 'the masses' in '94, I was amazed to see the radical transformation, and the fulfillment of that potential I had struggled with for years.

The work I'm doing on building and promoting blogging (and related) tools now feels a lot like what I was doing back then.

I do not doubt that it will be tremendously exciting to find out where blogging takes us over the next decade.

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