Voices in the virtual world

Written by Rakesh Raman | Updated: Apr 27 2008, 03:08am hrs
Blogs, short for web log, are best defined in a non-geeky way. After all, blogs are about you and me, and other voices of free expression. Blogs have turned the web from a read only to read and write experience for the people, of the people, and by the people. And these people number in the millions. Mushrooming is an understatement for the proliferation of blogs. Theyre multiplying at a rate that will put the speed of light to shame.

Today, there are dozens of free blog-hosting sites. Then there are hundreds of thousands of corporate, media and general organisational sites with their own blogs. No wonder, the ratio of websites to blogs is at least 1:2. By this estimate, there should be around 300 million active and inactive blogscreated by professionals and amateurs alike. And they carry millions of posts written every day on all conceivable topics: love, life, food, friends, travel, technology, you name it.

One of the main objectives of blogs is to meet the increasing information demand through user generated content (UGC), which is what powers the current Web 2.0 era. Social networking and content-sharing sites like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube follow UGC principles. Even traditional media sites have been unable to resist blogs. On one side, they run their own blogs to supplement their conventional editorial content. On the other, they are sourcing content from specialised blogs run by external professionals.

Blogburst claims that it places blogs on nearly 100 leading news and media sites, including USA Today, FoxNews and even Thomson Reuters (its new name after its acquisition by The Thomson Corp), which has nearly 20 blogs of its own on its site. Plus, Reuters features content from independent blogs on specialised fields like technology and entertainment, where drivel is abundant and genuine understanding scarce. The scramble for quality may already have begun, but like the MacBook Air, evidence of this is still hovering thinly above the ground.

Corporates, not to be left behind the curve, have adopted blogs as tools to supplement their conventional communiqus on new launches. For example, the blog section on IBMs site is called IBMers blogs, and these cover simple lifestyle trends to complex technologies. GE runs GE Global research blog to discuss hot issues like imagination market technology and information markets, covering virtual financial market games used to predict anything from election outcomes to box office performance of movies. Oracle, meanwhile, has its own executive blogs as also those from independent bloggers discussing Oracle solutions.

The corporate sector is keen on blogs for other purposes too. A recent study done by TechWeb, a tech business information supplier, reveals that the percentage of business technology decision makers using blogs for work information has gone up from 37% in 2007 to 64% this year. The survey covered 550 IT heads and top corporate executives like CEOs, COOs and CFOs.

Yet, all is not hunky-dory in the blogosphere. As blogging is done in an utterly freewheeling style, it sometimes lacks discipline. For example, the Internet is abuzz with a recent case in which Richard Frenkel, a Cisco IP director, offended a few attorneys on the Patent Troll Tracker blog. He and Cisco face defamation allegations. Earlier, Mark Jen, a Google employee, blogged so freely about life at the search company that it was acutely embarrassed. Jen had to quit the job. Cautious Thomson Reuters wont take responsibility for blog content on its site, as the disclaimers say.

There are millions of bloggers, so you cant expect all of them to follow accepted norms of communication. But these voices in the virtual world are getting louder by the day. Surely, there will always be the good, bad and ugly among blogs. But, you know, we have to live with the pleasures and perils of the new information world driven by Web 2.0.

The writer runs a blog at mytechbox.wordpress.com

These are his personal views