Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, September 16, 2005

What Blogs Are: A Collaborative, Open Model For Information Exchange

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I have been hearing and talking so much about blogs that for a while I stopped listening. I personally never felt in tune with those wanting to define blogs in terms of specific software-based features that allow easy publishing of content online, while adding RSS, comments and trackback ability, served generally in a web-site that displays a reverse chronological display of articles on its home page.

I had enough of this craze which wanted to slot something that should be defined not only by the use of non-technical, low-cost, one-click online publishing software but rather by the many different uses and applications that such enabling technologies have made possible.

Photo credit: Robin Good

James Torio has recently taken on the challenge to write about blogs and media phenomenon they represent: blogs are social change tools, business venues, support and development instruments, wonderful marketing channels, gateways to innovative learner-centered education and peer-review journals for a new media world in which each individual can have a voice that is equally accessible as the one coming from CNN or the BBC.

Nonetheless the big fuss many of the early adopters of blog technology have made of their newly acquired communication potential, only a handful of them have fully understood and leveraged the opportunities offered to them by the new medium.

What bloggers have yet failed to achieve in full, is having been able to clearly communicate and explain the power that these tools offer to the non-technical person. The immense opportunity yet untapped by our many brothers and sisters who while having a sharp mind and desire to have an impact by communicating to others their ideas are still stuck in sending emails to their network of contacts.

James Torio does a great a job of providing such a support, enabling those who are still untouched or even alienated by the blogging revolution to learn and understand better what is really happening.

If you are such a person I invite you to spend some time reading his outstanding thesis paper, which, with his permission, I will be joyfully bringing to you via this column.

If you want to "know", "use" and "benefit" from blogs in the future, this is recommended reading. It's New Media Culture 101.

Blogs are another inflection point in the unfolding history of mass communication.

Before the invention of printing, mass communication was laborious and time consuming and quite naturally expensive.

Therefore, it was the powerful and privileged classes that maintained control over this technology.

For example, during the middle ages, a great deal of time was needed by the average person just to maintain a subsistence living. In 1455, not many of the average European working class, even after the invention of movable type, could take advantage of this new technology.

However, as economic productivity gradually increased, this enabled more and more people to learn to read and have the leisure time to devote to reading, thereby increasing the demand for mass communication.

Yet, even by the late 1800's with the invention of the telegraph, it was still capital-intensive to own the means of producing communications that could reach widely distributed groups of people. Later, in the beginning of the 20th Century, radio, was able to communicate with an even wider portion of the population and it captured the imagination and the hearts of many within the general population. However, it was far out of reach of the average citizen to even dream of having control of the content. Most of the population would be a passive receivers of the information; however, it was a vast improvement over anything that was available before. It was an improvement in immediacy over the newsprint (which required physical distribution) but it still lacked an interactive feature that left the average person's voice unheard.

Television added richness to the communication which was a welcome improvement, yet it still remained only one way, and again how many could control the content of what they saw on their TV sets, let alone create content for TV?

A number of separate, but critical, advances in electronic technology occurred in rapid succession and these resulted in a critical mass of support for and interest in the World Wide Web.

First, personal computers during the 1980's were growing more and more powerful. Then in the early 1990's Moore's law (CPU [See glossary] speed will double every 18 months) and Microsoft's operating system (first mass received non-geeky DOS [See glossary] based computer) Windows aligned to create a tornado of adoption whereby main street business owners either embraced or migrated in droves to the new platform.

This more user-friendly computer interface had a trickle-down effect as non-programmer office personnel had to become conversant in this now almost standard office equipment.

Stanford University professors founded Cisco around the same time, and this enabled computers of otherwise incompatible platforms to be able to communicate with each other. During this time, the government opened the Internet to general commercial use while Netscape developed a user-friendly technology to rove about and explore this new realm of cyberspace. All of these metaphorical planets aligned correctly and the public enthusiastically began to embrace this
exciting new technology.

Although this new frontier was generating much excitement, it was still not nearly as simple to upload information as it was to download.

Now enter the Blog software.

Photo credit: Jeff T

Prior to full-blown Blog software, the options for interactive communication via the Internet were narrow and problematical. First was e-mail. It had the advantage of range, speed and cost-effectiveness since it was an inexpensive alternative to ordinary mail. Yet it was limited by the fact that it could only be sent or received.

It was not available to be viewed by all Internet users, but only for those who happened to be already on the sender's list. It was not meant to be universally accessible to everybody everywhere.

Instant messaging solved some problems of the interactivity in cyberspace. Still it was client specific and, therefore, only those with the same base platform or program could communicate with each other. For example, if one user is using Yahoo's instant messaging service, he will not be able to connect instantly with someone who is using any other instant messaging software tools.

While a step forward in the interconnected experience of being on-line, it was still not universal.

Chatrooms solved some of the problems. They enabled people of similar interests to come together to read and relate to each other's posted messages.

Some of the more successful ones E.g. (Silicon Investor) were dedicated to news and information on the stocks and technological advantages and disadvantages of various companies' financial prospects. Others were dedicated to emotional and social connections. However, the chatroom format is boundary-less in nature, and this is a two-edged sword. While it results in one-person, one-comment equality, for all intents and purposes it is not an expert centered publishing format.

Thus one needs to sift a lot of sand before accumulating a significant amount of useful knowledge. On the other hand, the Blog has many advantages over these formats while retaining some useful core aspects of them all.

The social phenomena of Blogging, as well as its unique software, have the serious potential to become a disruptive technology that will "disintermediate" many aspects of traditional media.

First and foremost Blogging software does not require the user to have specialized knowledge to be able to get up and running.

Its user-friendly interface requires no depth of technological know-how before users are able to publish their own site.

This leads to the inevitable question, what is a Blog?

This question has multifaceted answers and, depending on whom you ask, may determine what kind of answers you receive.

In an article for Wired News, Adam Penenberg said, The term Blog has even made it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the #1 word of the year, based on the number of online lookups."

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Blog as, Blog (noun, short for Weblog): a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.

This is a launch point to get a basic idea on the nature of Blogs.

The bigger picture of Blogging reveals what might be termed the "Blogosphere" or the network of Blogs as a whole that are connected together in a Global Conversation.

Furthermore, Blogging is a distinct social phenomenon, which is exerting a growing influence on the business world, politicians and mass media.

Blogging has even influenced the way many people communicate with their friends and families.

The Blogosphere may be in its infancy; however it is having a global dialog and is growing at an enormous rate. In fact, it is an intricately connected network that has evolved into its own cyber universe. Besides being able to exchange information and ideas so liberally, this new phenomenon has the ability to allow people from all over the world to participate in information sharing and creating knowledge bases together.

In an article for Wired News, entitled "Like it or Not Blogs Have Legs", Adam Peneberg says, "In a sense, Blogs function like peer-review journals do in the academic world, but there's a key difference. The distribution of articles in academic journals is largely controlled by a publishing cartel that charges exorbitant amounts for subscriptions, which are subsidized by the institutions that can afford them.

Think of it as a socialist model for information exchange.

With Blogs, however, anybody with an Internet connection can engage anybody else.

Concepts are presented, attacked, sliced, diced, added to and subtracted from, mangled, massaged and molded until what is left is an amalgam of the finest we as an online society has to offer.

For the digitally well-endowed, it's akin to free-market capitalism, with information as its currency. And not only do we all get to watch, we can join in."

According to a Pew Internet study, more than one-in-ten Internet users have posted material or comments on other Blogs...Many of those posters themselves have Blogs.5

People are just not passively taking in information but they are processing, adding, reacting and spreading it around themselves.

The rate at which the Blogosphere can spread information gives it the ability to move quickly to produce a major impact on whatever topic is being discussed.

There are Blogs on just about every conceivable subject, from shopping to shark fishing, from advertising to politics.

Some are written by lawyers and are read and respected by many; others poke fun at the latest outfits worn by celebrities.

There are celebrities who write blogs, politicians who write about politics, other blogs mock politics. There are professors who Blog; also teenagers, senior citizens, and domain experts. Some Blogs are serious; others funny, some journalists write Blogs, as do corporations, small businesses, and pastors.

There are Blogs used as personal online diaries, some used as PR tools to promote a product, new music, or a newly released book.

Most Blogs are written by one person.

However, there are Blogs that have several authors, which are group Blogs, or community Blogs. There are also publishers who create Blogs and hire writers to create the content.

Some Blogs attract over 400,000 visitors a day from all over the world; while others attract only a handful of the Bloggers' friends and family.

There are Blogs that charge $4,500 a week for a small advertising space on the site.

A number of people have used Blogs to launch into careers and other people have been fired from their jobs because of what they wrote in their Blogs.

The one thing they all have in common is that they are part of an intricately interconnected cyber world--the Blogosphere, and to varying degrees they can participate in the global conversation.

Although Blogs are on the Internet, they are not like other forms of media, such as radio or television.

Blogs consist of a person's thoughts, feelings, and views.

It's a unique voice.

Radio and television deliver a one-way message.

Content is designed for their passive viewers or receivers; the system is similar to books and readers.

Blogs are capable of being a conversation.

Whereas other media is a one way message from a sender to a receiver, Blogs are two-way.

Excerpted from Chapter One - Introduction
A Master's Thesis on the Social Phenomenon of Blogs
James Torio
B.A. SUNY Stonybrook, 1999

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Advertising Design in the Graduate School of Syracuse University.

August 2005

(c) Copyright 2005 James Torio

Download the full thesis. (PDF - 4.3 MB)

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posted by Robin Good on Friday, September 16 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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