Diaries, journals, columns, essays, musings, daybooks, chronicles, logs and memoirs -- all are ways in which people have kept records of their thoughts and feelings as well as events taking place around them.

In our computer-literate, information-based society, the creation of an electronic equivalent of these personal journals was inevitable. It's called the weblog, often abbreviated to blog, and it has expanded the possibilities for comment, expressing opinion and public discourse.

Traditional diaries come with lockable straps designed to keep others from reading one's private thoughts. In today's world, however, attitudes toward such privacy seem, on the whole, quite different than they used to be. Weblogging represents a distinct movement to share thoughts publicly.



Early weblogger and developer Dave Winer ( says weblogs have the following characteristics, which he sums up in the phrase "personal Web-based publishing communities":

Personal. Blogs are created by a single person, expressing a distinct personality.

Web-based. They're frequently updated, inexpensive to maintain and accessible via a Web browser.

Published. Automated publishing tools help the author present his words in an attractive format, and maybe even syndicate them.

Communities. Blogs link to other blogs and sites, acknowledging that they're part of a larger world.

One other category of weblog is a community blog, which is generally updated frequently by many people and often has an imposing presence. The best-known and perhaps earliest example of this type is, a good site for news and sometimes offbeat commentary on Linux, open source, gadgets, privacy and other computer-related topics.

Weblogging has been around as a distinct form of communication since the 1990s. By one account, the first bloglike page, with personal comments and links, was Marc Andreesen's "What's New" page for NCSA Mosaic in June 1993 (

Jorn Barger coined the term weblog in December 1997 for his "Robot Wisdom Weblog" (, and in 1999 the shortened form, blog, appeared.

At the beginning of 1999, the best-known list counted 23 weblogs in existence, though there were certainly others. In early January 2003, Pyra Labs in San Francisco reported over 1 million registered users of Blogger, its free software and hosting site. (One month later, Google Inc. bought Pyra.)

The Impact of Blogging

Most webloggers seem to be avid readers of other blogs and maintain links to them on their own weblog pages. Many Web sites exist just to aggregate links to blogs, often on a geographic or topical basis, and many weblogs are members of Web rings -- linked sets of Web sites that provide navigation to one another. Surprisingly, many webloggers don't seem much concerned with computers except as a simple tool.

To understand the power of the blogging community, ponder what some consider racist comments made by Sen. Trent Lott about retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond and reported by last year. The first people to comment on the situation were a couple of politically minded pundits who discussed it at length in their blogs over a weekend. The issue spread quickly in the blogging community until the national news media was forced to examine Lott's remarks and history. The result was Lott's resignation as majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

It's also hard to overestimate the importance of personal narratives and statements in recording history. From Samuel Pepys' notes on life in 17th century England to Anne Frank's diary about her experiences in World War II Amsterdam, records of private experiences and thoughts are crucial to understanding the cultures and times in which they were written.

PR Move

A recent development is the use of public weblogs as vehicles for business communications. In his own blog, Dan Bricklin, author of VisiCalc and founder of Trellix Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., comments on the usefulness of public blogs: "A normal part of the job of many consultants entails going to meetings and conferences and being active in trade associations where they 'network,' show off their expertise, appear on panels, etc. A blog is a way of showing your expertise and establishing yourself as a trustworthy authority without doing the travel. ... (A blog is an excellent way to build up your 'authority' and move up politically in a trade association, too. Your readers would be others in your field, not customers.)"

For example, in January, Jupiter Research, an arm of Jupitermedia Corp. in Darien, Conn., started posting its analysts' weblogs, hosted from a common page (

Starting Your Own

Probably the easiest way to start a weblog of your own is to go to Pyra's site at and sign up. The site will lead you through the necessary steps to set up your weblog. Blogger doesn't charge for its basic service unless you want your own domain name, but it does offer upgraded services at a price. Other sites offering similar services (not tested by the author) include and

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer in Worcester, Mass. Contact him at

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