Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Monday, October 30, 2006

Introduction To Blogs - How The Web Is Transforming Itself - Part II

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To date, one of the main aims of the World Wide Web has been to provide users with information. In addition to private homepages, large professional information providers, including news services, companies, and other organisations have set up web-sites.

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Photo credit: Fastcompany.com

With the development and advance of recent technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasting and file sharing this model is challenged and community-driven services are gaining influence rapidly. These new paradigms obliterate the clear distinction between information providers and consumers. The lines between producers and consumers are blurred even more by services such as Wikipedia, where every reader can become an author, instantly.


Video credit: Robert Scoble explains in 20" what a blog is

This paper presents an overview of a broad selection of current technologies and services: blogs, wikis including Wikipedia and Wikinews, social networks such as Friendster and Orkut as well as related social services like del.icio.us, file sharing tools such as Flickr, and podcasting. These services enable user participation on the Web and manage to recruit a large number of users as authors of new content.

In the first part of this analysis we have given a general introduction to the new ways in which users can interact though the Web. We are now going to focus our attention on the blogging phenomenon.



Part: II - Blogs

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Photo credit: Blogger.com



Blogs

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Weblogs, often simply called blogs, are web pages that contain newsgroup-like articles in a chronological order with the newest article listed first. Postings to blogs are frequent, typically once a day. They are usually produced by one author or by a small group of authors and are open to the public for reading.

Both in style and content, blogs resemble a cross between diaries, newsgroups, newspaper editorials, and hotlists where owners write down information important to them on a regular basis. Blogs are, however "owned" and maintained by a single person or group of users. They are not open to the public for authoring, and there is no well-defined publishing process as in newspapers.

Blog entries frequently cite a current event such as a law recently passed, a news story, or the release of a new product. Individuals write comments and their opinion on the event in their blog. Hence, blogs are usually opinionated and reflect the author's views on certain topics.



Types of Blogs and Applications

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Basically, two major sorts of weblogs can be distinguished: diaries or personal journals and filters. Journals amount to approximately seventy percent of all blogs, and filters to about ten to fifteen percent.

In the first class of blogs, authors keep readers informed on their work, a social life, they posted holiday photos, etc. The first diary-style weblog believed to have been published was started by Justin Hall, a college student, in January 1994. He employed it to keep people informed about his daily life. Nowadays, for many users, weblogs are a replacement for homepages because they can be used in similar ways but are easier to maintain.

Filters are collections of links to external web-sites that are supplemented with abstracts or brief comments on the contents of the corresponding page. They are usually dedicated to particular topics that can be as diverse as computer hardware, politics, or the war in Iraq. One of the best-known filter style blogs is Slashdot, a web-site focusing on technology.

Slashdot has a large number of authors, and hundreds of new articles are added every day. This was a potential problem for readers because it is hard to find out which articles are interesting, and almost impossible to read all new articles.

Therefore Slashdot introduced a rating system: every entry in the blog is rated by readers of the blog. At the same time, readers can choose to have only articles with a certain average rating displayed. Thus, the community of readers determines which articles are significant and hence is capable of establishing a sort of quality control.

Blogging technology is employed in both professional and personal areas. Companies, for instance, make use of weblogs in order to keep employees informed about new products and strategies or on the progress of projects. Furthermore, they are a means to foster cooperation between various departments. Such blogs are usually only available within the network of the company and not publicly accessible. Authors are frequently project leaders and heads of departments.



The Blogging Community

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With several free tools and services available on the Internet, basically anyone can set up their own blogs relatively easily. Hence, readers can also comment on other authors' blog articles in their own blogs. This network of more or less loosely interconnected weblogs is called blogosphere.

Connections among various blogs are a type of community-building that becomes possible through a set of technologies including permalinks, trackback and RSS feeds.

A permalink is a persistent URL to a single posting in a weblog. When author A refers in her article aA to an article aB by author B, a permalink to aB can be used. If the blogs are trackback-enabled, a link from aB to aA is appended to aB. Thus, aA and aB are linked bidirectionally, and authors of cited articles are informed about their content being used.

RSS is a relatively uncomplicated way for users to find out about the most recent changes on a blog, or a web-site in general, in a given period of time. The RSS feed for a site presents a list of changes and additions that typically contains the title of an article, a short summary and the URL to the full entry.



Advantages and Drawbacks of Blogs

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Weblogs are an easy way for users to express themselves on the Web and are a valuable tool for companies and organizations to communicate information to employees. Critics, however, claim that they are essentially nothing new.

Hotlists, discussion forums, and "what's new" pages have existed before; however, their usage was more complicated than writing an entry for a blog. Blogs are sometimes perceived as authoritative works - which they are not. Their contents may be flawed due to a bias. Depending on the purpose of the blog, this can be an advantage or a shortcoming.

In systems where a blog is utilised in order to give users the opportunity to comment on articles on a web-site, for instance, opinionated entries can be of value to other readers. Filter-style blogs, on the other hand, offer links to external information complemented with comments. In this case, biased comments are undesirable.

When analyzing the blogosphere technological drawbacks of HTTP and HTML become obvious. Permalinks become necessary because it is not possible to identify and locate information at the required level of detail. Since the Web merely implements unidirectional links a technology like "trackback" has to be introduced.

The Web is a passive media that provides content on request; it cannot inform users whenever an existing document is altered or a new page is added. Therefore RSS is employed in order to notify users of new or modified content. Blogs are usually not used by themselves but in conjunction with several other technologies. Most frequently, they are combined with e-mail and instant messaging for "out-of-band" communication or wikis.

From this perspective, weblogs are a new sort of media that is complemented with various other technologies.



End of Part II of 7

Read Part I: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, Social Networks And File Sharing: How The Web Is Transforming Itself
Next part: Introduction to Wikis



Originally published as "The Transformation of the Web: How Emerging Communities Shape the Information we Consume", on jucs.org by Josef Kolbitsch (Graz University of Technology, Austria), and Hermann Maurer (Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria) on August, 2006



About the authors

Josef Kolbitsch

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Josef Kolbitsch holds a PHD in computer science from the Institute of Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of Technology, Austria. He has conducted Several projects in the area of web-based database systems, information processing and information management systems for organisations including the Association of Telematic Engineers, the Association of Austrian Business Engineers, Graz University of Technology, and Lebenshilfe Steiermark. In addition he has been the Software trainer and personal technical trainer for Berufsf├Ârderungsinstitut Steiermark and Symantec Corporation(Auckland Branch), software license manager for Graz University of Technology, and an honorary research assistant at the Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Contact Information: josef.kolbitsch(at)tugraz.at



Hermann Maurer

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Hermann Maurer holds a PHD in Mathematics from the University of Vienna. He has been teaching at various universities since 1966, and has been the director of the Research Institute for Applied Information Processing of the Austrian Computer Society 1983-1998; chairman of Institute for Information Processing and Computer Supported New Media since 1988, director of the Institute for Hypermedia Systems of Joannum research since 1990, director of the AWAC (Austrian Web Application Center) of the ARCS (Austrian Research Centers) 1997-2000, member of the board of OCG (├-sterreische Computergesellschaft) 1979-2003, founder and scientific advisor of the KNOW Center (K+ Center), the first research centre on Knowledge Management in Austria. Since January 2004 Hermann Maurer is the first dean of the newly formed Faculty for Computer Science at the Graz University of Technology.

Contact Information: hmaurer(at)iicm.edu



Photo credits: Farl, Craig Huxtable, Marc Dietrich.

Josef Kolbitsch and Hermann Maurer -
Reference: Journal of Universal Computer Science [ Read more ]
 
 
 
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posted by Robin Good on Monday, October 30 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015


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