My first newspaper column on the subject of blogging ran in 2002, back when we still had to stop to explain what a blog was. Found it while thinking about my upcoming column. We've come a long way, baby.
Writing in 3-D
News & Record
Last weekend I began to blog and I have been blogging ever since. I may in fact be overblogging, but it just feels so good.
Blogging is the act of writing a Weblog, or blog. Weblogs are personal journals published over the Internet with software so simple I can use it. You write something in plain English (or Spanish, or whatever is plain to you) on your computer and click on a button and bam, your work is posted on the Web. No coding, no site administration, none of the hurdles that made a lie of the old promise of a personal Web site for everyone.
Blogging represents a serious democratization of publishing power, and that makes it almost impossible to generalize about blogs. They range from the personal diaries of inane chatterboxes to motherlodes of industry-specific commentary and gossip. This spring they have gotten a lot of media attention in serious places like The New York Times Book Review, due in part to the high visibility of bloggers like the writer Andrew Sullivan.
What the media focuses on mostly, of course, is the impact of blogging on ... the media. There is all sorts of speculation about the future of opinion-writing and even the reporting of news. My guess is that centralized media companies, with all their financial, editing and marketing resources, will remain important even as blogs become increasingly powerful sources of information.
Part of the power of blogs is their network effect. Bloggers link to each other, creating communities of shared readers. When smart people hook up around a particular topic or issue, the results can be impressive. The big-league press gave me less insight on the assassination of Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn than I got from former MTV host Adam Curry and other bloggers linked in an ongoing discussion at the Scripting News site.
Since blogs also link to non-blog Web sites, they become a great filter for the overwhelming torrent of Web content. Regular visits to the blog of someone who is interested in the same stuff you are, or is just interesting themselves, can take you to pages that you may never have found on your own.
I wrote a profile of blogging pioneer Dave Winer for Wired last year, but it wasn't until I began blogging myself that I really understood what he meant when he said the Web is a writer's medium.
As someone who gets paid to write, the idea of writing for free seemed counterintuitive at first. But in my experience, writing more has made me a better writer. Meanwhile, the blog lets me publish work that might otherwise go unwritten. One thing I will write about online is the toll of 9/11 on a group of my close friends from college, including two who died in the World Trade Center, a subject that could fill my weekly allotment of newspaper space every week for a year.
Beyond the rush of publishing in real time, blogging adds an extra element to the process of composing your thoughts. It's like writing in 3-D. The ability to link to other sites from within your own work can enrich whatever you have to say with context or counterpoint, and it also guides you to new subjects to write about.
In a simple example, when I write that my son and I went for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I can make the name of the road appear in blue type that indicates a link to a site with information on the parkway. My observation that the road is a nice relic of FDR-era socialism allows you to click to a description of the Works Progress Administration, and a throwaway comment about our soundtrack for the ride takes you straight to the official Jerry Garcia site.
It turns out that linking is an art unto itself. Mention the Klan-Nazi shooting, and you have to choose your link carefully. Do you want the page by the Greensboro Police or the one based on the victims' point of view or both?
I hope my blog attracts readers who regard it as a daily op-ed column. I promise to try not to wander too far into the realm of self-indulgence and cute stories about my kids. But I'll do some of that, too. Because I can.
© News & Record 2002