Editor’s Note: The power of the blog in its many forms has become one of the pillars of Internet II and social networks. This paper shows how the blog to support academic and personal goals.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss self-publishing involving blogs. The discussion will focus on issues related to the nature of blog capabilities and limitations. The narrative will describe the role of blogs in sharing knowledge in the areas of citizenship journalism and education.
Internet use has increased significantly in the last ten years. In 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, over 140 million Americans related that they using the Internet. The Internet usage was even higher in South Korea, Finland and Canada (Skank, 2008). The Pew report revealed that people were using the Internet to acquire information related to their jobs, hobbies, making purchases and healthcare. There has been a major increase in people posting online content and this development reflects advances computer technologies. Individuals do not need technical expertise such as knowing HTML to share with others online. Web 2.0 computer applications have created a new set of two-way communication tools and platforms that is transforming the World Wide Web. The rapid growth of Web 2.0 or the read and write web is a remarkable development that has important implications for education, democracy and social networking (Richardson, 2006).
What is a Blog?
Discussions on the origin of term blog often begin with Justin Hall who in 1994 created a home page on the Internet. Hall’s website became a journal first known as a web log and later called a blog. The term web log was dropped because it created confusion and focused on server files. The first definitions of blogs were connected to a tool or service used to produce the postings. Conniff (2005 terms of engagement para#1) uses six attributes to define a blog “…reverse chronology, unfiltered content, comments, links, an informal attitude, and appropriate text.” The characteristics provide basic highlights into the multidimensional nature of blogs. Technology writers define the structure of blogs because the content varies. Blogs are conversations that stop and start at different times and this makes them difficult to describe.
A popular definition among bloggers is Jarret’s (2003, para#2) “blogs are personally published documents on the web, with attribution and date, collected in a single place, generally published with a static structure to facilitate incoming links from other sources, and updated with some regularity and frequency…” Blogs reflect idea sharing by an individual which makes the comments subjective. The author can control the contents through the process of posting comments, editing, revising and deleting materials. The power to control content has contributed to making blogging popular. The Pew Internet & American Life Project (2008) notes that 5% of the daily Internet usage involves people who are reading blogs. The ability to reach a national and international audience makes blogging an appealing and dynamic endeavor. Blogging can be empowering for those who want to share their thoughts with a larger audience. The term blogosphere refers to “the distributed, collective, and interlinked world of blogging” (Duffy, & Axel, 2006, p.32).
Blogs are different from conventional web sites which are often more static in their content and have a more formal document structure (e.g. University home page). In contrast, blogs reflect the author’s daily journey which could involve posting comments several times within one day. Readers can search tools to quickly identify the author’s remarks and archives can be used to create a historical and chronological record (Jarrett, 2003). Contemporary blogs have grown more sophisticated with search tools that enable individuals to track topics and specific comments. The blog archives operate as a permanent place for keeping and reviewing the author’s thoughts. (Jarrett, 2003) argues the records could be considered a form of accountability among those who are reading and sharing within the blog communities.
The bloggers’ web presence is established through commentary, links, personal pictures and sometimes video clips. Hyperlinks can be used to evaluate the author’s perspectives by examining the original source material. One of the built in limitations of blogging is the author’s expertise on the topics discussed within their sites. Bloggers can share their biography that includes both personal and professional data. The information can help potential readers answer some questions about their credibility. Harrington (2009, p. 148) notes that “the biggest question that arises is whether the information in a given blog is authentic and authoritative. Because no one regulates what is posted on the Internet, it is up to each individual user to decide.”
Blog Citizenship Journalism
The rise of web amateur reporters is having a profound impact on the journalism business. In a 2004 CBS evening news report, Dan Rather shared papers about President George W. Bush’s past military records. Bloggers discovered that the documents were forgeries. CBS news executives had to make a public apology for the incident which hurt their credibility. The inauthentic papers probably played a role in Rather’s retirement (Richardson, 2006). The incident highlights how blogs are influencing the news media. People can read newspapers in print or online which makes the information more accessible. Newspapers are financially struggling because of the loss of readers and drop in their print and online advertising revenues. An audit of over 500 newspapers has shown sharp declines in circulation and this includes established newspapers such as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Pena-Perez (2008, p. B4) relates that “ analysts have warned in recent years that offering steadily less in print, newspapers were inviting readers to stop buying. Most papers have sharply reduced their physical size---fewer and smaller pages, with fewer articles---and the newsroom staffs that produce them.” The current financial crisis is placing pressure on the newspaper industry to change their business model and publishing strategies to keep pace with a more technologically literate public (Croteau, 2006).
The 2004 Presidential election has been used a case study of blog journalism. Carlson (2007) examines the reaction of journalists to the election controversy surrounding the decision by bloggers to share election exit polls results that mistakenly predicted John Kerry’s victory. The political bloggers are part of the new media technology that challenges traditional journalism’s authority. Bloggers often took the role of media and election watchdogs. This upsets journalists who considered themselves engaged investigative actives designed to inform and protect the public from political corruption. The public influence of blogs has risen due to their ability to quickly deliver information.
During the 2004 presidential election, television networks were hesitant to share predictions about election results. The traditional media noticed the evening exit polls were not as positive toward Kerry as those during the day. Blogs predicted Kerry’s victory and this event reflected the flaws in their research and reporting methods. The blogosphere operates without established journalistic norms and individuals lack the interpretive expertise to evaluate the poll data. The blogs failed at verifying election information which represents a major limitation for election coverage. Yet, blogs have made journalists more transparent about their practices. Carlson (2007) observes that blogs have become popular because of their ability to engage people in political conversations.
The traditional media has struggled to capture the imagination of people who are choosing alternative news sources. A growing number of mainstream reporters such as Brain Williams have started their own blogs. Newspapers and their staffs are using blogs in an effort to be more responsive to news event. A major concern among journalist involves the frivolous blogs that share useless media information and people might miss the important news (Gorman, 2007a). Traditional journalists consider creative endeavors which strive to be interesting but are weaker on accuracy issues. Bloggers can edit and post their correct errors much more quickly than the media. Critics are concerned that this self-correcting ability fails to alleviate the damage done to people from rumors and falsehoods (Boudreau, 2006). In a tragic case, a 21 year old engineering student committed suicide with a homemade bomb close to the University of Oklahoma football stadium. Bloggers were wildly speculating about the incident and raised questions whether the media was covering up a story about terrorists. The true story was a depressed student who killed himself near a crowed stadium. The parents had to defend their dead son and his brother against terrorist accusations. Sadly, the even generated conspiracy theories that continued long after the bloggers corrected their information. The incident illustrates how the blogosphere can operate in a social vacuum at times due to weak fact checking procedures and poor reporting skills (Young, 2005).
The role of the citizen journalist is still evolving as the blogosphere participates in politics and elections. Conservative and liberal bloggers select over 86% of their links to align with their ideology (Prior, 2008). The links can create more political fragmentation and polarization of views because people share with those who have similar view points. Researchers are finding that the link information can have political value. People who are exposed to the information are motivated to increase their political participation (e.g. voting). The political links seem to have minimal impact on those who are surfing the Internet for entertainment purposes. Individuals who read blogs for news are more inclined to become active in political activities. This raises the possibility that the blogosphere can provide a resource for foster political accountability (Prior, 2008).
Political blogs such as the well known The Huffington Post (2008) have provided forums for people to discuss social issues. Political blogs can be effective tools to raise money for candidates during elections. This is an essential task due to the high costs of running presidential campaigns. During the 2008 election, blogs were used effectively to raise money for presidential candidates. Over 3 million people contributed to President elect Obama campaign (Phillips, 2008). Westheimer & Kahne (2004) describe three versions of citizenship:
The three types of citizenship create a democratic vision that transcends giving money and voting. This raises the question of whether blogs are capable of mobilizing people to social activism. The Mum’s Army blog is an example of how a British group of over 300 women worked together in an effort to reach 2.5 million working class women who were not voters (Simmons, 2008). The group’s voting campaign and online dialogs encouraged local communities to address issues with anti-social behaviors in their towns. Bloggers share a diversity of stories about their personal lives involving rape and violence in their communities. The blog merged private and public narratives into an intimate citizenship that transformed their blog into a dynamic social force (Simmons, 2008).
Today’s college students are used to using Internet search engines such as Google and creating content on MySpace with pictures and video clips. Students are developing online peer communities that are transforming knowledge sharing and social relationships. Self publishing on the web includes a diverse range of producers “…start up commercial enterprises, independent non-profits, religious groups, hobby enthusiasts, political organizations, ethnic groups, and the informal efforts of individuals or small group of friends” (Croteau, 2006, 340). The popularity of blogs is due to their flexible nature and the ability of blogs to reflect the purpose and design of their authors. Blogs can be a basic diary (e.g. photo journal) which communicates news for the author’s friends and family members. Public blogs can serve people in business, education, government and entertainment industries through the sharing of a variety of types of information such as business minutes or book club notes. Blogs can be used for educational purposes due to the easy access through computer technology. Bouldin, Holmes & Fortenberry (2006) observe how blogs are being used for professional development, class dialogs, teachers who manage and share course content and reflective student journaling. Blogs represent a new frontier in the teaching and learning process.
Educators wonder about the blog’s educational value. Brock (2005, para#3-8) shares five educational benefits to blogs:
Brock’s perspective on the blogosphere is quite positive. The five benefits do reflect different ways that individuals can acquire new knowledge and skills. Blogs are text driven which makes them somewhat similar to online university classes. Individuals write and read materials and this offers opportunities to study and learn. People will vary in their ability to comprehend, analyze and share information. For instance, the ability to demonstrate critical thinking skills during online dialogs is influenced by four major factors: cognitive maturity, communication style of blogger, person’s prior learning experiences and degree of understanding the critical thinking process (Bullen, 1998).
Brock’s (2005) point about the importance to learning through individual and group sharing does have support among cognitive psychologists. The interaction over ideas can encourage different types of critical and creative thinking skills. People can test and experiment with ideas with other bloggers. Sawyer (2006) stresses meaningful group interaction as a foundation for creativity in education and business organizations. The blogosphere can foster creativity by integrating learning, professional practice and research on social and educational issues. Information is presented within the community which stimulates dialog by asking thought provoking questions. The merging of content and discussion offers numerous opportunities to explore new ideas. Also, the discussions can be quite dynamic and ongoing over extended periods of time. Individuals are can take their time to reflect and devote additional time investigating a topic before posting their comments. Bloggers can create learning climate that stimulates risk taking and exploration of ideas. Research studies affirm that "creativity does not occur in magical moment of insight; rather, creative products result from long periods of hard work that involve many small mini-insights, and these mini-insights are organized and combined by the conscious mind of the creator" (Sawyer, 2006, p. 74).
An important characteristic among bloggers is their spirit of adventure and sharing information. The blogosphere contains thousands of people who enjoy informal learning outside of higher education. People need more just-time-learning that meets their personal and professional needs. Web 2.0 applications such as RSS feeds provide content syndication to exchange and share information resources with others. Bloggers are developing information networks that offer generalized and specialized information. People are meeting in cyberspace according to their areas of interest and using communication technologies (e.g. email lists) that address basic and complex learning problems (Skank, 2008).
The blogosphere is developing new information networks that support lifelong learning. People want to remain current in their knowledge and skills. Downes (2005) describes how knowledge networks can be the most effective:
Downes (2005) argues against controlling the knowledge networks because this will destroy the autonomy and freedom within the learning communities. Knowledge networks are capable of helping people to freely send and receive information and negotiate these interactions. The networks affirm flexibility and diversity among bloggers. Technology enables people to control information production and communication. Blogs have weakened the media’s control of the public forum (Keen, 2007).
Bloggers are known for their playful personas while being dedicated to sharing with others. Justin Hall who is a pioneer blogger produced 4,800 pages of text over a ten year period of writing. Cognitive psychologists have recognized an important paradox found in creative accomplishments involving playfulness and discipline. Creative individuals work very hard and continue their work with a level of persistence which is rarely matched by others. They often possess playful attitudes which help them deal with ideas with an abandonment and imagination. The ability to find joy in their work enables them to take necessary breaks from seriously pondering complex ideas. Creative people have learned how to foster a receptive mental outlook that produces novel concepts or ideas (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).
The positive benefits of blogging should include a discussion of limitations. Blogs can be quickly built but are much more difficult to maintain. People must invest time into writing posts and responding to their readers. This can be quite time consuming because writing reflective and coherent messages takes time. Blogs requires having the personal discipline to research topics while posting new materials and interacting with those who make posts. Also, those who write frequently might not always have something significant to share with others. Bloggers have limited amount of time to investigate subjects and breaking news events. This has an impact on the quality of their writing and increases the potential for presenting only partial or misleading information.
Nye (2006, p. 47) observes that “no technology exists in isolation. Each is open-ended set of problems and possibilities.” Blogs have only been in existence since 1994. People are experimenting with blogs and learning new ways to use and manage their technological applications. Individuals are discovering the blog’s social limitations. Justin Hall’s blog site has closed with a powerful video message that stresses how the Internet community had failed to meet intimacy needs. People who devote enormous amounts of time online can have trouble maintaining close relationships with their family and friends (Harmanci, 2005). Constantly pouring one’s emotional and cognitive energies into online communities to help others with their project does appear noble. People who devote less time in face-to-face interactions are taking relationship risks that they might later regret. Perhaps, individuals have had unrealistic expectations about technology and neglected to consider unexpected negative social outcomes (Nye, 2006).
Blog authors should spend time studying some of the dangers associated with those who visit their sites. Those who post personal information must recognize the risks involved with their data. The dark side of blogging can arise through identity theft, harassment, attacks on reputations and vandalism of the sites (Houghton, 2005). These are serious issues which reflect potential antisocial behaviors within the blogosphere.
The digital world has given people access to new knowledge and learning communities. Blogs are part the Web 2.0 movement that is changing how people create and share knowledge. The new technologies have been a mixed blessing that has created educational opportunities, raised concerns about sharing reliable information and developed complex social networks. Blogs can foster political participation and affirm democratic ideals. “The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print…” (Gorman, 2007b, para#5)
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