By Leigh Andrews

Wordpress defines ‘blog’ as: ‘a website, usually maintained as an ongoing chronicle of information. It is a frequently updated, personal website featuring diary-type commentary, and links to articles on other websites. Blogs range from the personal to the political, and can focus on one narrow subject or a whole range of subjects.’

Wordpress adds that most blogs consist of a main content area with articles listed chronologically, with the newest on top. There"s also usually an archive of older articles, and a way for people to leave comments about the articles. Most blogs include a list of links to other related sites, called a 'blogroll', and one or more 'feeds' like RSS, which provide the blog reader with easy access to the site. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is also an important part of many blogs.

According to Wikipedia, the term ‘weblog’ was coined by Jorn Barger in December 1997, while the term ‘blog’ was introduced by Peter Merholz in his blog in 1999, when he jokingly broke the word ‘weblog’ into the phrase ‘we blog’. Shortly after this, Evan Williams of Pyra Labs used ‘blog’ as both a noun and verb, and devised the term ‘blogger’ in connection with Pyra Labs" ‘Blogger’ product, leading to the popularisation of the terms. While blogging is therefore still a relatively new concept, with its history spanning a mere decade, the concept has been embraced as an essential part of the social media revolution.

Blog types

There are many different types of blogs, differing not only in the type of content offered, but also in the way that content is delivered or written. According to Wordpress, “content is the raison d"être for any website”. As such, blogs gain popularity and continue to exist based on the content they offer. The personal blog is the most common form, essentially functioning as an ongoing, online diary. These blogs often become more than a way to just communicate, and can quickly garner an extensive following, such as South African blog Peas on Toast, an extremely popular daily office-read. Microblogging is a form of detailed personal blogging which ‘seeks to capture a moment in time’. Microblogging services such as allow bloggers to share short thoughts and feelings instantaneously with friends and family, in a much faster manner than emailing or writing. This form of social media is popular with an online generation.

Blogs can be used for business purposes, either internally to enhance the communication and culture in the corporation, or externally for marketing, branding or public relations purposes.

Other blog types include question blogging, video blogs or vlogs, and linklogs, comprising links is called a linklog. Blogs with shorter posts and mixed media types are called tumblelogs. Blogs are also defined by the device is used to compose them – for example, a moblog is a blog written on a mobile device such as a cellphone. As of June 2008, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112.8-million blogs. With the advent of video blogging, the word blog has taken on an even looser meaning — that of any bit of media wherein the subject expresses his opinion or simply talks about something.

In 2004, Kate Snow wrote a piece on the ABC News website titled ‘The Power of the Blog’. In the article, she states: “There was a time when any political candidate worth his salt needed to master a cutting-edge new technology - television. What television was to politics then, the internet is to politics now”. Snow also quotes Joe Trippi, author of ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’, who reiterates that fact that for politicians to have any chance of garnering public opinion and being elected, they had to master television. Trippi stated: “in the future, you"re going to have to master the Net and master being able to connect with people and get them involved, or you won"t survive." Blogging is one of the easiest ways to connect with people online - not just for politicians, but for anyone in the business environment.

Melissa Attree, social media consultant and online brand strategist, says: “Blogging has been around for some time, and in SA we’re seeing more companies and brands utilising blogs as a means of talking with their customers. It adds a sense of authenticity and honesty to brands; a well managed blog allows a brand to open debate with customers and identify key brand champions who in turn can spread a brand’s good news and in time influence communication strategy. Blog management is key, and as always ‘content is king’ - if blog posts are not worth reading, then no-one will read, seed or spread it. This is not a case of ‘build it and they will come’ - a successful blog should integrate with the existing communication strategy and support it.”

Bloggers in the blogosphere

As all blogs are on the internet by definition, they are all interconnected and socially networked. This collective community of blogs is known as the blogosphere. Discussions in the blogosphere are relevant to the media as they are sometimes used as a gauge of public opinion on various issues. Technorati has just released its 2008 State of the Blogosphere Report. Many bloggers, particularly those engaged in participatory journalism, differentiate themselves from the mainstream media, while others are members of that media, working in a different media channel.

Eric Noe wrote a blogpost on the ABC News website in 2004, titled ‘Web Logs Fertile Ground for Writing Talent’. Noe explains the rise of blogging and bloggers as follows: Blogs can be the most tedious of cyberfare - often no more than online diaries of people whose lives weren't nearly as interesting as they thought. But as the blogging fraternity exploded in the past several years, its membership diversified to include respected businesses and a range of opinions gaining prominence in the media world. An eclectic mix of voices now dots a blogging universe that tackles subjects ranging from politics to literature to pop culture. Blogs are being used as a new millennium version of protest, a cyber soapbox gaining a loyal following in a world no longer anxious to stage sit-ins.” Noe adds that businesses are using blogs: “as a resourceful way to speak to customers. For the bloggers themselves, a simple passion for writing has turned many into semi-celebrities - a new brand of writers and entrepreneurs using cheap web space to forge unusual careers.”

Many mainstream journalists now write their own blogs as a sideline, with few embarking on blogging as a full time career.

According to Matthew Buckland, winner of the best business blog at the 2008 SA Blog Awards: “Blogging is the most important phenomenon to impact mass media since the printing press was invented. The printing press democratised society by creating mass media, and now the internet has taken this further: The audience is talking back. Now everyone"s a potential publisher”.

After all, bloggers - and other contributors to user-generated content - are behind Time magazine naming its 2006 person of the year as ‘you’.