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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Anything to say?
The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor

Many critics claim that blogs have nothing to say and are pure self-indulgence. This new column, Weblog Watch, will be keeping an eye on the blogs and seeing if the criticism is justified.

Notable blogs
A sample of notable weblogs (see internet links)
If you're already a blog initiate, you'll probably prefer to skip this introduction, and avoid yet another description of the ever-changing world of weblogs.

For newcomers, though, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about and how blogs differ from the Home Pages of the web's previous generation.

Well, the most important characteristic of blogs is that form and content are totally separated, meaning that you can publish your thoughts in a good-looking page, even if you don't know the first thing about computers.

There are other important aspects of weblogs, such as readers' comments, and myriad useful ways that the different sites link together. So brace yourself for painless descriptions of trackbacks, pings and Really Simple Syndication!

Bloggers on blogging

It seems appropriate to kick off with one of the most popular topics in the blogging community - and, unsurprisingly, that's blogging itself.

On the UK scene, there was a lot of blogging activity during the general election: political commentary, satire, and candidates themselves using the net to talk to constituents. And then, in the penultimate week, a new topic took over.

Cultural pundit Mark Lawson, picked up on what he called "the promise of blogging", took a quick look at some political weblogs and wrote about them in The Guardian. He didn't like them much.

And, in turn, the bloggers themselves didn't like that one bit. It's a familiar story, especially in the US: a mainstream journalist chastises online writing, and the web community responds that the journalist doesn't know what she or he is writing about.

Although the word blog suggests attitude and subversion, it's really just a hi-tech kind of diary and carries the identical risk of Pooterism
Mark Lawson
Like a lot of professional journalists, Lawson's approach reflects his day job: bloggers are, we're told, like a newspaper's letters page, or a radio phone-in. They're civilians. Amateurs.

The message often seems to be: those who write for love rather than money have little to say. But just as there are good and bad paid writers, there are good and bad bloggers. Their paycheques - or lack of them - aren't really relevant.

The one big difference if you're writing in your spare time is that you're unlikely to have the time or resources to research a brand new story. This is why blogging is dominated by comment and analysis rather than investigative journalism - meaning that bloggers are much closer to cultural pundits like Lawson himself than either of them are to the field of breaking news.

Star-studded blogs

This same syndrome - judging the writer and not the writing - has surfaced in the big blog story of the week: The Huffington Post.

The "Huff" is a new website which takes the form of a "group blog": lots of writers in the same forum. But in this one, all the writers are fabulously, impossibly rich.

Established by socialite Ariana Huffington, it's half news, half posts by celebrities including John Cusack, Diane Keaton and Ellen DeGeneres. Like Ariana herself, it's a glamorous world that leans towards the liberal, or moderate, or progressive, or whatever Democrats are called these days.

To no-one's astonishment, the Post was instantly assailed from all sides. Right wing bloggers smelled the blood of "Hollywood Liberals". Industry watchers know that a wealthy woman's folly makes for a better story than "some new names are blogging, many of them famous". And the natural audience of online liberals decried the arrogance of the project: what does Gwyneth Paltrow have to blog about? Why are these people jumping on our bandwagon? What if starry-eyed readers go to this site rather than reading "real" bloggers?

The reality is more mundane. If you've laughed at the sitcom Seinfeld, you'll probably enjoy the posts by its creator Larry David. If you're enamoured of David Mamet's idiosyncratic reveries, now they're online.

And isn't this the whole point of the blogosphere? That anyone can post: even if they're famous, even if they're an established journalist, and even if they have nothing to say?

It's an environment where all these people are cheek by jowl and it's very hard to pull rank, because there's always so much else for everyone to read. It takes a spot of initial spadework to find the better sites, of course.

But that's what this column will aim to do, once a week. So hand us that spade.

And one final word: the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Add your comments using the form below. If you run a blog and would like it to be reviewed, tell us about it.

My blog has nothing to say and is pure self-indulgence.
Matthew, Aberdeen, Scotland

Too many people seem to think that the skills required for a particular task come packaged with the tools. The truth is, having a PC and access to the web will not make anyone a great writer and their musings worth reading, any more than buying design software will make anyone a designer, or buying a piano will make someone another Mozart. The problem with 'blogging' is precisely this. From those I've looked at, I've been reminded of nothing more than the old adage about a hundred monkeys with typewriters; still no sign of a Shakespeare! It seems Warhol was spot on when he adapted his phrase 'everyone will be famous for 15 minutes' to 'In 15 minutes, everyone will be famous'.
Robert Agasucci, London, UK

My blog is a way to blow off steam. I vent my frustrations with the global situations. I also use it to heap praises on the teams I follow in various sports. A blog has enabled me to keep a public diary which lets me say what I want, no matter if no one else reads it.
Hamza, US

Making really striking html simply takes too much time. Using a template (or script) looks boring. My net image is already very well known and no need to increase it. Most webblogs are indeed self-indulgence. This doesn't mean there aren't some really good ones.
Bill Squire, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I must admit I have never "got" blogging. I have no interest in reading the mostly banal musings of Joe Public on a regular basis. Nor am I so self obsessed that I would think anybody would want to read my inner most thoughts. Guess this is one web craze that will pass me by...
Paul, Southampton, UK

It's my webspace and I'll blog if I want to! My blog is somewhere for me to record my thoughts and opinions - not the most private or intimate details of my life, but those I'm happy to share, whether with one reader or a hundred. If someone doesn't think I've got anything to say then there's one simple answer - don't read it!
Jo, Oxford

Blogs - 20 years = USENET
Steve Sutton, St. Albans, UK

Blogs are a medium, and as in any medium the content is as good, bad or interesting as those writing it. If people were sensible they would approach them as such instead of a 'they're all written by people with nothing to say' or 'they're all great'.And, unless I missed something no one is forcing anyone to read ANY of them - it's not compulsory. However, like with all web content there is some gold to be found if you're willing to look - in the legal, library & information, and marketing fields, for example, there is large number of high quality blogs out there.
Scott Vine, London, UK

I use my blog as a diary. I spend so long on my computer that it's easier to do it on there than keep a paper diary. I find it to be a great way of ranting about things that stress me and generally writing down my thoughts. I don't really care who else reads it. As long as I'm careful to not write anything damaging or libellous, people can read all they want. I write it for myself - if anyone else is interested, it's fine by me.
Ben, Chesterfield, UK

Good step, I'd say, but I think the problem with your method of understanding blogs is that you've lumped them all together, when there are definite "genres" of blogs. The loosest definition I can think of for a blog is a "regularly updated webpage containing (often tendentious) information on a topic." By that definition though, the BBC is a blog too =)
Nimish, Nashville, US

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