Friday, October 18, 2002

Tom Coates gave me a handy opportunity to find out if I still understand Italian. So here's the article from Il Sole 24 Ore in English - it's pretty cool too. A pox on the media industry! And apologies to any passing Italians for the liberties I've taken with the original text:

A Blog Infection

A look at the the viral spread of personal publishing sites
By Giuseppe Caravita

“Blogorrheic” is the term, now well known, coined by the man who is generally held to be the Italian blog pioneer : Antonio Cavedoni, a web designer from Modena, is the author of one of the first of these personal sites to appear, in the summer of 2000. Blogorrheic is not a pejorative term ; it means love for the things that one has to say. The joy of writing and of updating one’s site every day.

It’s from this that you get what is perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of this phenomenon – its viral nature. It’s different from the classic online communities, which accumulate around specific subjects on a centralised site managed by a moderator. Blogs behave like neurons exchanging signals along a chain. Or like cellular organisms, capable of self-replication. «Let’s take the example of someone who starts a blog, talking about their own life and interests,» explains Weblog expert Tom Coates. “Gradually they start to link to other people who share their interests, and if they produce content that is particularly interesting, they will be linked to in turn. In this way, via constant interlinking, communities of interest form, which continually enrich each other. The blogger naturally tends to attract his friends and relations to his site, generating further “proliferations”. And you often get geographical groups forming, in which you don’t just get online friendships but also personal, real-life relationships.”

Virtuous Circle: It’s a sort of virtuous circle with three separate development trajectories – the community of interest, the real-world family and friends, and local groups of bloggers. The whole system is further consolidated by the activities of aggregator sites (like Bloggando or Blog.it) and above all, by search engines. In particular Google, which compiles its rankings on the basis of the number of times a site is linked to. This tends to increase the visibility of the most popular blogs and further extends their readership. The bloggers, of course, produce all kinds of stuff – journals, music, digital art, books, advice, opinions, hobbies, associations and a huge amount of spontaneous journalism.

Some examples: For example, a site like Kuro5hin, created by a young American physicist, Rusty Foster, organises spontaneous discussion groups around interesting subjects (mostly current affairs) and boasts around 100,000 regular readers, with 6.5 million page impressions per month. Another of the best known blogs, Dave Winer’s Scripting News (Dave is the administrator of Userland Software, a company that produces one of the best blog authoring tools) has a “circulation” of around 10,000 readers, and is considered one of the best technical sources in the US, particularly as regards Open Source software. In total, according to the Online Journalism Review, the half a million active blogs have a combined audience of 150 million American readers and almost half a billion worldwide. These are big numbers. To the extent that venerable titles like the New York Times have started to create partnerships (with Userland, for example) to deliver news channels aimed specifically at bloggers. And online publications like Salon are experimenting with inviting external communities to contribute to sites run by its own reporters, communities who often add to Salon’s articles or rip them to pieces.

The journalistic front: Fear of a progressive undermining of the big publishing houses (primarily online publishers like AOL Time Warner) by the new and unstoppable network of blogs, have recentlly multiplied in the USA. A key case was the 11th September. While the TV networks, during the attack, only showed the images of the towers in flames, the New York blogs reported live (albeit in an often imprecise manner) what was really happening in Manhattan. And this was without the news feeds that are received centrally by the mass media. A lesson which today is driving much of the American media to develop new websites where thet can conduct a dialogue with readers. Amd to provide tailored information services for the blogging community. Given that, as Myrray Fromsen, professor of journalism at the University of South California, observes: «every online community, of whatever size, still needs a traditional news feed to get its information». Except that in the Userland environment there are tens of channels which users can “subscribe” to get the primary material from which they can produce their comments and discussions. The result: it’s certain that blogs, starting from the US, will change the structure of the information industry. But the signs of a possible innovative synergy seem to be already visible.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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