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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2003, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
A blog for everyone
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

US Marine in Iraq, AP
The Iraq war provoked a lot of comment on blogs
You know a web trend has reached a high pitch of popularity when AOL starts including it in its basic software. But can blogs be truly mainstream?

Last week the net giant, which has 34 million customers, announced that it would be including web logging, or blogging, tools in AOL 9, the next version of the software people use to log on to their AOL account.

Instead of calling them blogs, however, it will call them AOL Journals, partly because a survey revealed that many users found the word "blog" confusing.

AOL users are not alone in being confused about blogs, what they are for and the impact they might have.

Big news

At its simplest a blog is a web-based, regularly updated journal. They also typically have lots of web links to other blogs they like or share their world view.

Some are updated many times a day, some less frequently and some only when their owner feels they have something to say.

Some are about a blogger's life, others focus on a particular subject, and the writers of some simply note or comment on the events they find interesting or irritating.

BLOG TOOLS
Blogger
Radio Userland
Movable Type
Grey Matter
Tongue Wag
20six
Upon these humble foundations huge expectations have been built.

It has been said that blogs will become an unofficial watchdog for the media and stop journalists getting away with sloppy research and writing.

Certainly blogs are starting to become an unofficial source of eye-witness news.

Last week an accident at the Los Angeles farmers' market which left nine dead was covered by LA bloggers. One blog in particular, waxy.org, detailed the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Many other events have had a blogger or two in attendance who have provided constant coverage.

Some predict that blogs will replace media comment sections entirely because many bloggers are far more knowledgeable about a subject than many of the paid pundits writing columns.

Earlier this month, several British bloggers went to Parliament to convince politicians that they should take up their blogging tools to forge closer links with their electorate.

Popular tool

But some feel that the real power of blogs is what they can do for everyday web users rather than those with a particular political, moral or social agenda.

"If you want to reach millions you book an ad on TV," said Stefan Glanzer, one of the founders of blogging system 20six. "If you want to reach one person you use e-mail or the telephone.

"But if you want to reach between 5 and 500 people a blog is the ideal tool to communicate," he said.

Aftermath of Los Angeles accident, AP
Blogs are acting as alternative news feeds
He said that blogs were an ideal way to foster links among like-minded people and provided an easy way to get feedback and comment that was missing from many other ways of communicating.

"It's all about personal publishing," said Howard Yates, managing director of Port 41 which makes the TongueWag blogging software.

He said that the early blogs tended to talk all about blogging but now it is broadening out into a much more inclusive phenomenon.

"Many of the people blogging are not necessarily looking for an audience," he said.

He said that a lot of the blogs created with TongueWag were being done by people who were part of small communities, such as football teams, or friends who were spread around the world who wanted a common space they could use to keep in touch.

He said one of the more popular uses of the blog was by people travelling round the world who used a blog to let family and friends follow their progress.

Mr Yates said part of the popularity of blogs was because the software used to create and maintain them was much easier to use than other webpage making tools.

"To get yourself set up with a website and put interesting content on it there's a lot of hurdles to go through," he said.

"Blogs are the democratisation of publishing," he said.


Add your comments on this story by using this form below.

The great thing about blogs is that anyone can set one up. The only problem is that anyone can set one up.
Guy Chapman, UK

Never managed to get past the first sentence of a "blog". Boring self indulgent drivel.
Nick Stutley, UK

I run a bjournal. Not a blog. The word log is a nautical term. The word journal isn't. So mine's a bjournal. The problem with blogs like mine is that they aren't very interesting and people don't tend to care about other's people's private musings. That said, they do offer a unique (and often candid) insight into an individual's life.
John-Paul Holt, UK

The hype surrounding weblogs today seems to be a parody of the hype surrounding the early days of the internet itself. Back in 1993/4, when the internet was hitting the mainstream, people said that the ability to publish to the world, cheaply and instantaneously, would change the way we view news and the media. We should learn from the bigger picture of the internet as a whole and admit that while some blogs are useful and some bloggers happen to be in the right place at the right time, the vast majority of blogs are little more than narcissistic and opinionated rants. Alternative perspectives are good as touchstones to keep the media in perspective, but a professional news media that trades on its accuracy and integrity rather than its writer's ego is the only way to ensure that anybody gets the full picture of anything.
Ross Parker, UK

I used to be an avid blogger until about a year and a half ago. Apart from time restrictions and laziness I suppose, the main reason why I stopped blogging was that you tend to open up a little too much (as you do in chat rooms) and people end up knowing too much about you... Not always a good thing.
Faisal Haq, France

I think blogs are a great method for recording our times. As such, future historians will have a more balanced view of the past.
James Morris, Wales

The bloggers I am already aware of seem to have all the time in the world to sit and write their hubristic and self-opinionated garbage - goodness knows how they get the day job done and its a wonder their managers haven't spotted it. Life is too short to go around reading all this stuff.
Ralph White, UK

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