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Do you blog?

Everything from gossip to homework shows up onscreen in these cyber diaries.

By Elizabeth ArmstrongStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 2003



It's a typical journal entry. Natalia is worrying about a fast-approaching advanced-placement test. She's also been pondering some "all-too-relevant concepts" in her psychology book, such as social loafing and groupthink. And over the weekend, while watching a friend gear up for the junior prom, she glue-gunned fake flowers onto a headband and felt affirmation for being "vehemently anti-skirt."

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Natalia seems to be documenting her adolescence in the most ordinary fashion, recounting each day's events - the good, the bad, and the mundane - with equal fervor.

What sets this high school junior apart from the Dear Diary scribes of earlier generations is that Natalia posts her entries in the very public domain of the World Wide Web. She is, in the parlance of our times, a blogger.

Translation: Natalia runs a blog (short for weblog), which is the cyber-equivalent of a diary, which means the rest of the world now has peeping rights - and she does it all from a laptop in her bedroom outside Washington. She's been blogging for years, and she is not alone.

Weblogs are known as the indie rock of the Internet; thousands of teens claim one for their own. They need no corporate might to sponsor their musings, doodles, or homework, and they need no permission to publish.

Natalia is a true early adopter. At age 8, she learned both to keep a journal and to surf the Internet. She had HTML down by seventh grade, and has been running her own blog, www.imaginaire.nu, for nearly three years. The software is free, the maintenance low, the authority over content limitless.

"My blog is freedom," Natalia says. "It's an outlet for ideas and thoughts that don't have another place to go. If I feel like going on about an actor I think is cute, or music I like, or typing out my Spanish oral [exam] in order to memorize it, I can do that."

What began in 1997 as a fad among the savviest of the tech savvy - individual blogs had to be built, after all, one block of code at a time - has mushroomed into a hyperconnected network of fanatic bloggers. The fervor reached new heights in 1999 with the creation of blogger.com, a site that, along with a slew of others today, enables anyone to sign up and begin blogging in minutes.

"Kids don't really have controlled outlets like this," says Chris Baker, an editor at Wired magazine who has covered what is known as the blogosphere.

"Parents have a say in how you decorate your room, how you dress, your posture, etc. But anyone with basic Web literacy - which means just about everyone under the age of 25 - can set up a blog in about five minutes. Blogs can give instant entree to even the least tech-savvy kids."

David Weinberger, author of "Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web," says the exploration of self identity is a major allure for bloggers of all ages. "On the Web, we all have a persona," he says. "Furthermore, we have exquisite control over that persona. People who write weblogs are inevitably choosing how they present themselves."

And yet, according to a Pew Charitable Trust study, an overwhelming majority of the middle and high school students who use the Internet say their schools don't create assignments that take advantage of resources online - resources they can find on their own. They're "far ahead of their teachers and principals in taking advantage of online educational resources" - such as weblogs - the report concludes.

Some colleges, however, are beginning to use class blogs as a way to share assignments and get feedback. Paul Grabowicz, new media professor at the University of California at Berkeley's school of journalism, teaches a course where students run a class blog.

"In the class," he writes on the site, "students will create a weblog to explore the subject of 'intellectual property.' News sources will be scanned each day, the top stories will be selected, and precise summaries of each story will be written. Students will also write original stories."

Paul Boutin, a technology writer for The New York Times, Salon, and Wired, says if he'd been graced with a DSL connection as a kid he'd have grown up online instead of at the local public library: "But compared to the '80s and early '90s, when the Internet was a special club for super-smart loners, the Net population seems to have normalized closer to the rest of society. Most of the teen bloggers seem like normal teens to me, rather than just the outcasts and geniuses."

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