What’s a blog?
Blog is short for web log, and that is pretty much what it is. It is an online chronicle of (usually) one person’s point of view.
Many blogs exist to share amateur expertise and to collect information from the Internet. Some amateur journalists use their blogs to chronicle events in a different way from the mainstream media. Other people may use their blogs to focus on a particular issue or experience that is important to them, such as issues around domestic violence, or an interest in philosophy.
Some blogs are very personal, like a journal, and provide a chance for the person writing to share some of their self-reflection with people online. Blogs in this category can include blogs of people who are have been diagnosed with cancer, raising children or grandchildren, or who just write about their daily life.
What’s so exciting about blogs?
It’s fun, and sometimes informative, to read blogs because they are often written from a perspective you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Some bloggers (people who have blogs, or who blog – yes, it’s a verb too) are remarkably insightful or funny, and severahave moved from publishing blogs to publishing books.
But the ease of access is also blogs’ downfall. Because there’s no editorial process, you should be sure to examine any information you get from a blog with a very critical eye. If you are reading a blog to learn about someone’s personal experience, it’s easy to remember that. But it can be harder to keep in mind when reading blogs that read like amateur journalism.
However, blogs can also be big news. In the United States, book editor Russ Kick read that the press was not publishing pictures of coffins coming back from Iraq at the request of the military – so he filed a Freedom of Information Act request and received pictures from the Air Force. He published them on his blog and got the scoop. (His blog is available at: http://thememoryhole.org/)
Some media sites have set up professional blogs. For example, Canada.com offers a travel blog at: www.canada.com/travel/blog/index.html
Politicians are also making use of blogs. Some candidates in the last Federal election, such as Ed Broadbent of the NDP, kept blogs to keep potential voters informed of their activities. At a local level politicians are also making use of blogs to keep their communities informed. One example of this kind of blog comes from Ottawa: http://capitalward.typepad.com/capital_ward_ottawa/ is Councillor Clive Doucet’s blog about the budget.
One particularly nice thing about many blogs is you are able to leave your own comments in response to a piece. You can ask for additional information or give your perspective. Just remember the author doesn’t have to respond! It’s best to treat someone’s blog as if you were speaking with them in their living room – with polite respect that it is their space, and that you are visitor.
Where can I find these blogs?
You can type a search into Google at www.google.ca – for example diabetes blog, or start with one of the directory sites such as www.blogscanada.ca. Before you click though – please be aware that you may find some blogs offensive. The best response in that case is simply not to read them.
Should I start a blog?
If you’ve always wanted to share a story or your opinions, blogging may well be for you. It can be a neat way to chronicle family history, or to give your perspective on current events. But beware some of the pitfalls:
Anonymity: Although you can – and should – take steps to ensure that personal information is not available on your blog (such as your telephone number), be aware that it can be difficult to remain truly anonymous. If you begin to write things you would not normally feel comfortable sharing – beware. Your family, friends, or neighbours down the street may stumble across them.
There have been cases where bloggers have lost their jobs for things they wrote on their blogs, so the real-life consequences can move far beyond the screen. A good rule of thumb is not to write anything you wouldn’t want emailed to your nearest and dearest.
Criticism: You will be free from an editorial rejection letter if you publish your own blog. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll escape criticism. Internet readers can be brutal in their censure. You can avoid some chance for argument by disabling features such as comments, and not including your email address on your blog (this will also, however, prevent people from emailing you with their appreciation). But if anyone can have a blog that means that some people may not like what they read on yours – and take you to task in theirs.
Time: Maintaining a blog doesn’t have to take a lot of time – but it often does. There are probably more “abandoned” blogs than there are active ones. If you want to build an audience it will take time and dedication.
Where can I get started?
The largest free service for blogs is Blogger at www.blogger.com/. MSN has also started a service at http://spaces.msn.com/. There are other services available – just be sure to read all the details before you sign up.