news / tech talk

What are blogs and who are bloggers?

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Anyone following the recent elections has probably heard about the phenomenon of blogs (short for web logs). Blogs and the technology behind them are not new but have come into the limelight due to their prominence in focusing attention on the forged document scandal of CBS News 60 Minutes II report on President Bush's National Guard Service. In addition to this single instance, blogs are surfacing as a media alternative to the traditional MSM (Mainstream Media).

What are blogs and who are bloggers? Well, simply put blogs are self-published text provided through the Internet. A blog is simply a web page that is published on the Internet by an individual or group of individuals, typically from their homes. Bloggers are usually ordinary people with day jobs who write and publish their opinions and analysis for anyone who cares to read them. The types of blogs which have received press lately have been those publishing political opinion. This has sparked a type of “revolution” in social thinking.

The MSM is composed of television, print, and radio channels that provide the public with news, information, and analysis. These media channels have developed over time with television being the youngest. Though different, all of these types of media follow a similar model in that information is gathered, sifted, edited and presented to the public by a body of reporters and editors who use their experience and discretion to determine what is shown to the public. Information is presented to the public in a one-way transmission. Any feedback from the public, whether positive or negative, used to be submitted through mail and more recently through email.

Political blogs differ from the MSM in many ways some of which include: bloggers do not consider themselves to be journalists, their commentary is more topic focused, and they provide immediate feedback from their readers by quickly publishing updates, corrections, and new information in near real time. Bloggers in their role as commentators obtain a lot of information from various traditional news sources. Therefore, they act as a “de facto” news gatherer and distiller for their readers. More importantly, bloggers act as immediate fact checkers, a task they can accomplish because they can draw upon the enormous experience of their readers.

For example, Dan Rather's story on the National Guard memos was questioned within hours of airing on CBS, the initial information on typography issues was posted on blogs the next day. Additional information about the military terminology used in the document being from the Army and not the Air Force filtered in afterwards. The nature of political blogs is topic oriented with text by a common author or set of authors so they are focused and consistent. Finally, one of the largest assets and advantages of popular bloggers is their readership. Blog readers tend to be active participants and email bloggers with their own expertise, experiences and insights. This provides bloggers, fortunate enough to have a large audience, with access to a vast source of fast, free, valuable, and specialized information that the bloggers themselves could not match. In many ways, it is a similar model to the open source software development model that created Linux.

Technologically speaking, blogs provide an instant world-wide publishing channel and the ability to write and publish from literally anywhere. How is this revolutionary? Technically, it is no more revolutionary than the world wide web itself. Socially, it is revolutionary in that it provides a low cost way for anyone to publish their ideas. The competition for readers is especially tough because there is no marketing or advertising, word-of-mouth and therefore quality-of-content is the main way that readers find blogs and the only reason they continue to read them.

The overall effect of blogs is a great example of how Internet technology is fundamentally affecting the world. In this case by providing a nearly free way for individual voices to be heard world-wide, by providing a means for nearly free feedback, collaboration, and communication, and finally by acting as a watchdog to the traditional media system.

Lee Le Clair is a founder and Chief Technology Officer of Ephibian, Inc. Ephibian provides software development, data integration, and web design services.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business