Blogs: Here to stay - with changes
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"When you try to draw a circle around blogs and say what they are, you always come up with exceptions," Winer concedes.Skip to next paragraph
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The website technorati.com says it is tracking 2.1 million blogs.
Bloggers who write from exotic locations, such as war-torn Iraq or secretive North Korea, or give juicy insider views of Washington politics, have given blogs a cachet. They've attracted the attention of mainstream journalists, who in turn write about them. And though blogs represent only a tiny portion of the content on the Internet, they've grown large enough to carve out their own niche, the so-called blogo-sphere.
"It is an important phenomenon happening on the Web," says Amanda Lenhart, the principal author of a recent survey that asked Americans about blogs and was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington. It showed that between 2 and 7 percent of Americans have created blogs and about 11 percent of Americans have read at least one. "It is not a large number in the grand scheme of the Internet," Ms. Lenhart says. Nevertheless, she says, that's 4 million to 9 million people, not an insignificant number.
The survey also found that most bloggers don't update their blogs very often - once a week or less. Only about 10 percent make a new entry at least daily. That dovetails with a study last October, conducted by Perseus Development Corporation, that estimated 4.12 million blogs were online (more than half written by teens) but also noted that two-thirds of them had not been updated within the previous two months, meaning they had been either temporarily or permanently abandoned.
Perseus projected that the number of blogs would exceed 10 million by the end of 2004, and compared the makeup of the blogosphere to an iceberg.
"An iceberg is constantly dissolving into seawater, and the majority of blogs started are dissolving into static, abandoned Web pages," wrote Jeffrey Henning, chief operating officer of Perseus, in the report. "Right now, though, this iceberg is moving so quickly into Arctic waters that it is gaining mass faster than it is losing it. The key is that an iceberg is never what it appears, and so it is with today's blogging community."
As more people read and write blogs, their influence will keep growing, online observers say. More and more people will look to them to find out the buzz of the day. Politicians will find it important to know what blogs say about them. And smart companies will begin to pick up on what's being blogged about them, says John Palfrey, executive director at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center. Right now, that's mostly true only of tech firms, who might follow what's being said about a hot product like Apple's iTunes player, which downloads music from the Internet.
"On the one hand, it's a very, very simple technology that lots of people can use. And on the other hand, it's a very, very powerful technology in terms of what you can use it for," Mr. Palfrey adds in a phone conversation. Bloggers don't even need their own website: They can go to places such as blogger.com, typepad.com, or livejournal.com and tap out their musings for little or no cost.
Although making a living just blogging is nearly impossible, a blog can have a great deal of career value by demonstrating one's expertise and writing skills, thus serving as a "reputation builder," Blood says by phone from San Francisco. "You can quickly establish yourself as an expert in your field by becoming a kind of one-stop source for information."
And while existing software has made blogs cheap and easy, Blood predicts that the limitations of the form will drive bloggers into other forms of publishing.
"Once we have easy-to-use tools for other kinds of publications, like ezines [online magazines], or even tools that allow citizen journalists to contribute to their local papers, we'll see those kinds of publications explode as well," she says.