BlogonomicsIt seems appropriate that at an early stage in the life of this blog, which is devoted to issues concerning the economics of the Internet, we should discuss the economics of blogging - "blogonomics".
Blogs come in a range of shapes and sizes, and are used for a variety of different purposes. Some are private and accessible only by a known group of workers within a company. They might be on the company intranet, or on the web but needing a username and password to get into. Usually the software that is used for this kind of blog is purchased (or perhaps licensed) from a company that specialises in weblog software. Manila, from the company UserLand, is an example of the kind of software that can be used to create these company blogs. [http://manila.userland.com/ ]
Public blogs, available on the web and accessible to anyone who comes across them, are usually paid for by advertising. Or if the blog is provided by a portal or search engine company (like Google) the costs are absorbed into the general overheads of the company (which in turn are usually covered mainly by advertising revenue). Google is reported to have paid PyraLabs nearly US$300 in 2003 to acquire its Blogger software (I read that somewhere in a blog!)
These public blogs can range from those that are put together by enthusiastic individuals (like me!) through to commercial operations like Gawker (http://www.gawker.com/) where a team of contributors is paid to update the content. According to Tom Zeller of the International Herald Tribune big companies like Nike and Audi are advertising on Gawker, which now attracts over one million separate visitors each month. [Source: Zeller, Tom Jr "A Blogging Revolution? 'Give me a break'" TechNewsWorld 22nd May 2005 http://www.technewsworld.com/story/43081.html]
So what exactly is a blog? The word itself is a shortening of 'weblog' and it is essentially an online diary where the author (weblogger or "blogger") jots down his or her daily thoughts - and provides links to other web pages that he or she finds interesting. Amy Harmon, writing in the New York Times in February 2003, described a blog as "a kind of hyperlinked online journal". Blogs differ from ordinary home pages in that they are typically filled with a sequence of relatively brief entries that are updated frequently.
Not only is a blog a special type of web page (in the way that it is structured) but it is also created and published in a way that demands little IT or computing skills, or indeed web design knowledge, from its creator. For example to add new material to this blog I simply call up the blogger.com web page (http://www.blogger.com/), enter my user name and password, type in my "stuff" (or copy and paste from a text editor or word processor) and then click on a button to republish my blog. When I first set up the blog there were just three easy steps that I had to follow: 1) Create an account (you have to provide some information about yourself - such as an e-mail address - and choose a username and password) 2) Name your blog (you may find that the name you want is already in use so be prepared to compromise) and 3) choose a template from a variety of onscreen designs.
Blogs add new postings at the top of the file, old entries getting pushed further down the page. Each entry has a title so that a list of titles can be provided for blog readers to choose from if they don't want to work their way through an entire blog. Readers can also post their own comments about any particular entry (although the blogger can usually edit out a comment if it is offensive or otherwise objectionable).
In terms of content blogs can cover pretty much anything, although an important type of blog deals in news, perhaps reporting on topics not covered by conventional news outlets either becuase of their specialist nature, or possibly because they are too controversial or opinionated to be accepted by the established news media. (One complaint that is often made is that blogs are ideologically biased or poorly researched - as if this criticism didn't apply also to some of the tabloid press or TV news channels!).
Some commentators see blogs as a threat to conventional journalism. It certainly provides an unfiltered (unmediated!) outlet for news and views that might not otherwise reach us. Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger, provided a daily account of life on the ground in Iraq during the last days of Saddam's regime - http://www.thebaghdadblog.com/home/
Blogs at work
Another use for blogs is for workers contributing to a collaborative project. Rather than keeping in touch by e-mail, members of a project team can post comments on the progress (or lack of it!) to a project blog. Instead of having to sort through a mountain of e-mails a team member only has to search through the single blog. It helps people to keep track of their work - and of course can provide links to longer documents elsewhere on the web or the company intranet. Obviously where coprorate secrets and sensitive information are being shared the blog would have to be private and not accessible by members outside the group. Google is a company that has become a big user of blogs to enhance communication amongst its employees - perhaps this was a factor in it acquiring the blogger software that it now provides for the public to use.
The Economist newspaper (Blogging Goes to Work, 11th March 2004) refers to a slightly different kind of product that can be used for collaborative projects - the wiki. This is a web page that can be edited by any authorized user (apparently "wiki" means "quickly" in Hawaiian). Members of the ISO at the University of Portsmouth make use of wikis to communicate with each other. Like blogs wikis can of course link to regular web pages or intranets where more lengthy and formal documents are stored.
IT Professional make use of public blogs to share ideas and information (that is not of course subject to intellectual property restrictions). For example Tim O'Reilly of weblog.oreilly.com has recently been running a discussion on the question "could the browser function as the interface for all network applications?" (could the web work as an "Internet Operating System"?). Bill Thompson, who contributes regularly to the BBC web pages on IT and technology issues, has his own blog called Billblog[http://bill.verity-networks.com/billblog/].
The blog is seen by marketing people as the perfect device for promoting products, especially as direct marketing by e-mail tends to be viewed as spam.[See "The Blog Marketing Explosion by Richard Ord on the WebProNews.com site - the article is dated 24-10-05 -
Amy Harmon (New York Times 25th August 2003) gave an example of a rather different kind of use for blogs - by dieters providing a kind of online weight-watching service, documenting the blogger's weight on a daily basis, giving dieting tips and ideas and linking to other dieter's blogs to provide mutual support.