This week, NPR’s Morning Edition will air a series on the 10th anniversary of the word “weblog” and the impact of blogging over the last decade. I’ve been helping the producers in a variety of ways, like writing a timeline tracing blogging’s origins, tracking down interesting bloggers for them to interview and writing a story on my own experience with blogging over the years. (I’ll post links to them once they go online.)
I also sat down with a producer from Morning Edition to do a demo of the mobile audio blogging service Utterz and the microblogging tool Twitter. We were curious to see what kinds of responses we’d get from Utterz Twitter users to this question: “What are you doing for New Year’s Eve, and what do you wish you were doing?” We got 70 replies, and I thought I’d share some of the highlights.
For Utterz, I recorded the question as a voicemail over my mobile phone, which then got cross-posted onto my Utterz page, my blog and my Twitter account.
We got 42 replies to the question this way, including this one from video blogger Jonny Goldstein, who talks about attending a Chinese banquet with his in-laws:
Wendy Drexler, a teacher in Florida, described a trip she’s taking to Maine:
Fricka, who designs apparel for gamers, recalls how she spent one New Year’s eve helping a mother and baby after their car caught on fire:
It should come as no surprise that Hawaiian blogger InfinityPro is happy to be home in Hawaii:
In contrast, technology evangelist Len Edgerly would prefer to toast the new year with Barack Obama:
One Utterz user who goes by the name “rcow” doesn’t know what he’s doing because his wife plans all of their social engagements:
Jennifer Sardam, who writes the literary blog Observed in Books, plans to work on her reading goals for 2008, even though she’d rather be celebrating another new year in Germany:
Over at Twitter, meanwhile, I received 28 replies. Some of my favorites:
kthread: happy to be ringing in the new year partying with close friends at my house, attempting to make this: http://tinyurl.com/39rcsu
leh4: What I wish I were doing: scuba diving somewhere WARM. what i’m actually doing: moving into my new apt
karynromeis: I’m going to a party at my church. I wish I was going to a party with my friends back in Cape Town!
vgloucester: Probably sleeping – probably sleeping…lol.
ruby: I’ll be at the beach with my friends and our families for the 11th New Year’s in a row! It’s ritual of laziness+food+drink+love.
ryanne: we don’t have plans yet, but probably something low key!
ClareLane: Going to Sedona for R&R with nature and spirit and college roomie and our hubbies. Am very happy doing just that Thanks!
jonnygoldstein (supplementing his Utterz post): i’m will be in NYC. Going to Chinese midnight banquet with my wife and in laws. Wish I was going to be inebriated at some blow out.
digitalmaverick: I’ll be, as every true Scot, wearing my kilt and singing Auld Lang Syne at a party, then at the bells I’ll 1st Foot my neighbours
kanter: raising money for cambodian orphans http://tinyurl.com/yryffz
jensimmons: I’m sleeping on much of New Years, recovering from hauling all my stuff to Jersey. I’m thinking about heading to a yoga retreat.
Darshell: Hope to be going out with the hubby- dinner, dancing, etc but will probably be home with the kids. Who wants to babysit new year’s?
Karoli: staying home watching the ball drop on the high-def TV. wish I were going to Corona del Mar and chilling
tigerbeat: not sure yet. Probably be up late enough to listen to the 3 am feed of Morning Edition on KQED. Wish i were somewhere warm & sunny
JoeGermuska: spending it in with friends, which is just the way I like it
BrassT: Watching movies and playing boardgames with the kids and hubby How late will the kids sleep if I let them stay up til 12?
But my favorite reply came in the form of two responses from blogger/artist Susan Reynolds:
NEW YEARs eve home in VA recovering from breast cancer surgery but encouraged by all of you. Twitter pea avatars = VISIBLE Support
NEW YEARs eve – what I wish I was doing? I can’t imagine feling more loved, so no celebration could be better
For those of you who don’t follow Twitter, about two weeks ago Susan announced via Twitter that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would have surgery on December 21. Susan even created a blog called Boobs on Ice to document her sudden transformation into a cancer patient, including how she soothed the pain of her biopsies by using bags of frozen peas as a compress.
Almost immediately, the Twitter community responded. Dozens of people started changing their profile picture to show them with a bag of frozen peas, to show their solidarity with Susan. That gesture then morphed into a photo sharing group on Flickr, which now has almost 300 pictures of Twitter users with their bags of peas.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for Utterz to get into the mix. NBC cameraman Jim Long, better known to the Twitter community as NewMediaJim, recorded an impromptu interview with Susan using Utterz, just after she finished her pre-op visit:
By the time Susan’s surgery took place on the 21st, Twitter users had organized a fundraising campaign called the Frozen Pea Fund, asking people to donate to the American Cancer Society in Susan’s name. Nearly 120 people donated more than $3500 in the first 24 hours. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of Twitter and Utterz as tools for building community, I’m not sure what would. -andy
I’m working with the folks at NPR’s Morning Edition on a series they’re planning to do about the history of blogging and its impact on society, and one of the things I’m trying to write is a timeline identifying some of the major milestones. My goal is two-fold. First, I want to show that blogging’s origins on the Internet pre-date the invention of the term “Web log” by many years, not to mention its historic relation to journal-writing more broadly. Second, I want to emphasize interesting milestones that would be of interest to a mainstream, non-technical audience, rather than create a comprehensive timeline with every minor technical, business, political and social milestone. I’m not sure what the overall word length will be, but it won’t be huge, so I need to pick my milestones carefully.
Here are some of the milestones I’ve come up with so far:
Unknown: Mariners begin keeping a “log book” to record the speed of their ships, measured by “heaving the log,” throwing overboard a piece of wood or lead attached to a long rope with knots in it.
Early 9th Century: Chinese philosopher Li Ao publishes one of the first known diaries, a travel journal entitled Lainan Lu (“Record of Coming to the South”).
17th Century: Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn publish journals that are among the earliest diary best-sellers in the English language
1812: London publisher John Letts begins selling blank “page-a-day” books intended to be used as personal journals and business ledgers.
1966: James T. Kirk (William Shatner) begins an episode of Star Trek with the words “Captain’s Log: Stardate,” inspiring a generation of young diarists eager to document their own life events by any means necessary.
1967: The Internet is invented.
1979: The birth of USENET, a decentralized system of discussion boards, forming the basis of some of the Internet’s oldest online communities.
1983: Brian Redman creates mod.ber, a USENET discussion through which he and his friends post summaries of interesting things they find online and offline.
1989: British researcher Tim Berners-Lee proposes the development of the World Wide Web.
1990: Margaret Lanterman, aka The Log Lady, begins dispensing advice and prophesies that supposedly emanate from the wooden log she carries on the TV series Twin Peaks. (It remains to be seen how much of an influence Lanterman is in blogging history, but I thought I’d err on the safe side and include her just in case.) Hat tip: Jim Long
1992: Berners-Lee launches the first website. Among his publishing innovations that year is the first “What’s New” page, a Web page that places new updates at the top of each page, pushing older items down to the bottom.
1994: Claudio Pinhanez of MIT publishes his “Open Diary,” a Web page documenting goings-on in his life. At the same time, online diarist Justin Hall would gain notoriety for creating a “personal homepage” on the Web covering his day-to-day activities in very revealing – and occasionally embarrassing – detail.
1994: Brian Lucas launches travel-library.com, a collection of online travel journals submitted by the public to the rec.travel USENET group.
1995: Vermeer Technologies releases FrontPage, one of the first Web publishing tools. Introduced the idea of allowing people without coding skills to publish websites.
1996: The 24 Hours in Cyberspace. Thousands of people use the Internet to collect photographs of people whose lives were affected by the Internet. An early experiment in collaborative photo blogging.
Feb 1997: Steve Gibson hired by Ritual Entertainment to journal on a full-time basis, making him one of the first professional bloggers.
Dec 1997: Jorn Barger uses the term “Weblog” for the first time to describe his online journal, Robot Wisdom.
1998: Open Diary becomes one of the first online tools to assist users in the publishing of online journals. Would later be followed by other journaling tools including LiveJournal (1999), DiaryLand (1999), Pitas (1999) Blogger (1999), Xanga (2000), Movable Type (2001) and Wordpress (2003).
Spring 1999: Online journal writer Peter Merholz jokingly takes the word “Weblog” and splits it into the phrase “We blog.” Over time, “blog” would supercede “Weblog” as the term of art for describing online journals.
1999: Development of RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. Made it easier for people to subscribe to blog posts, as well as distribute them across the Internet, such as the early news aggregator Radio UserLand. (Hat tip: Joe Germuska)
2001: Big-name bloggers begin to emerge, including Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit)
2002: Bloggers focus their attention on comments made by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) at a birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) that appear to endorse segregation. After intense coverage in the blogosphere, the story spreads throughout the media, forcing Lott to resign his leadership position in the senate.
2004: Bloggers play a major role in covering the presidential campaign; a number of them are credentialed to participate in the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Dan Rather resigns following pressure from bloggers who documented errors in a story about President George W. Bush’s military service record.
2005 (?): The launch of some of the first blog search engines, including Feedster and Technorati, making it possible for people to track blog conversations on a continuous basis.
2005: Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center launch GlobalVoicesOnline.org, an international network of bloggers emphasizing local and regional stories around the world that aren’t being covered by mainstream media.
March 2005: Garrett M. Graff becomes the first blogger to receive credentials for the daily White House briefing.
2006: The launch of Twitter, one of the first “micro-blogging” communities that allows user to publish and receive short posts via the Web, text messaging and instant messaging.
2006: Research report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimates that 12 million U.S. adults publish their own blogs.
2007: Technorati is tracking more than 112 million blogs worldwide.
If you have any suggestions of ones you think I should edit, add or drop altogether, please feel free to post them as a comment. I need to put this to bed in the next couple of days, so if you can get me your suggestions no later than December 13, I’d really appreciate it.
The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee yesterday approved an amended version of HR 2102, also known as the Free Flow of Information Act. The purpose of the legislation is to create a federal shield for journalists so they could not be compelled to reveal their sources except in extreme cases, such as emergent national security situations and the like. Advocates of bloggers had fought hard to extend the bill’s coverage to the blogosphere, but the amendment passed yesterday might not please everyone who might feel they should be covered.
The bill defines journalism as “gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” By this definition, many bloggers could easily argue that they, too, would be covered if the bill were signed into law. The intention of this language was to get away from the notion that journalism is solely an occupation in which one works for a media entity of some sort, has an editor, etc. Instead, it defines journalism in terms of actions rather than as an occupational status.
Yesterday’s voice vote, though, complicates matters a bit for some bloggers. The Bush administration, as well as some members of Congress, expressed concerns that the bill’s original language could be used to create an enormous loophole for people engaging in criminal behavior. For example, someone who participated in a crime or assisted a criminal could point to a hastily crafted blog and claim that they were researching a story to obfuscate the fact they were engaging in a criminal enterprise or obstructing the law.
As a compromise, members of Congress decided to refine the definition of who would be covered as a journalist. To be covered, you would have to derive “financial gain or livelihood” from your journalistic activities. In other words, if you could prove that you use your blog to generate income, you would qualify as practicing journalism and thus fall under the shield law. But if you published a blog without any financial benefit, you wouldn’t be covered by the law.
I’m not surprised that Congress would offer this up as a compromise. But I also won’t be surprised if some advocates of citizen journalism take this compromise as exclusionary, since it favors those bloggers who are in a position – or make the decision – to blog commercially. I would surmise that the vast majority of bloggers make no income from their activities. Granted, many of these same folks would never consider themselves as engaging in acts of journalism, but where does that leave those who do? I know many bloggers who choose to keep their blogs advertising-free so they don’t appear to have any conflicts of interest. Does this make their acts of journalism less deserving of protection than those who decide to make money off their blogging activities?
I keep wondering how this provision would apply to me, for example. I wear a variety of blogging hats. I get paid by PBS for my contributions to learning.now, for example, but I don’t derive any income from my personal blog. And while not all of my writings on my personal blog qualify as journalism, other posts certainly do. Would I not be covered by this legislation regarding any acts of journalism I conduct for my personal blog?
More generally, will this bill lead to a wave of bloggers adding advertising to their blogs just to be covered? And if all it takes is for a person to derive some income from their blog, even if it’s paltry, won’t that mean the loophole hasn’t really been closed?
This is definitely gonna be an interesting debate. -andy
If you had a chance to put a question to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or any of the other Democratic presidential candidates, what would you ask them? If something comes to mind, please tell my NPR colleague Michel Martin. She’s one of the moderators at next week’s Democratic presidential debate at Howard University on June 28th. I suggested to her that she ask the public for potential questions on her blog and she took up the challenge:
Yours truly will be one of the questioners at the PBS-sponsored presidential debate next week at Howard University.
We want your questions. Do you have one…or three?
We are particularly interested in key domestic and international concerns that have NOT been showcased in the other debates.
What’s on your mind? We’ll be asking every day from now until next THURSDAY, June 28.
So if you’ve got a potential question for the candidates, please post it on Michel’s blog. (You’re welcome to post it on my blog as well, but be sure to post it on hers as well, since I can’t guarantee she’ll read it here.)
Speaking of next week’s debate, I’ll be blogging from the event, thanks to my colleagues at PBS, who are sponsoring the debate. PBS is now working with the Media Bloggers Association to credential bloggers who want to cover the event. I’ll probably be in the media center with everyone else, but hopefully I can snag some time with some of the candidates or their proxies in the post-debate chaos of the spin room. This will be my second presidential debate – I covered the last of the three general election debates that took place between Bill Clinton, Bush Sr. and Ross Perot in 1992. I’m really looking forward to the debate, so please check out the blog on the evening of Thursday, June 28th to get the skinny on what’s taking place there. -andy
Jon Lebkowsky, moderator
Shava Nerad, TOR
Ethan Zuckerman, Global Voices
Rob Faris, Harvard Berkman Center
Shahed Amanullah, HalalFire Media
Yasmina Tesanovic, Serbian filmmaker
Marrit Ingma of the Austin Chronicle ran a great session this morning about the rise of parenting blogs. Here are my notes from the session – andy.
Marrit Ingman, Austin Chronicle
Asha Dornfest, ParentHacks.com
Dan Evans, Dad Gone Mad
Tracy Gaughran-Perez, Sweetney.com
Amy Corbett Storch
Blogging about parenting used to be considered strange. Why would anyone read it? But people do. Telling stories and creating communities is both natural and necessary for parents. We look it as a way of interacting with other parents and staving off the isolation. Question: Some people see it as boring and narcissistic. Why are they wrong?
Corbett: I’m not boring! I read a lot of parent blogs. Some are boring, but the authors don’t care. Not everyone is out for readership and money. The most valuable thing is documenting my baby’s childhood. The community keeps it interactive.
Gaughran-Perez: It’s boring if you’re a bad writer. But that holds for any blog topic. There are bad mommy bloggers, but there are lots of great ones.
Dornfest: When people find a strong voice, it doesn’t matter what they’re talking about. If it resonates, the reader is engaged.
Josh Wolf, as photographed by Amanda Congdon
Earlier this week I was perusing the Wikipedia entry for Josh Wolf, the video blogger who recently set the record for being the journalist with the longest time spent in jail for contempt of court. As I first blogged last August, Josh has been sitting in jail for refusing to turn over footage he shot at a protest in California. A police cruiser was allegedly set on fire by protestors, and the feds demanded that Josh turn over his source materials so they could review his footage. Josh refused, arguing that a journalist shouldn’t be force to turn over such materials, and he’s sat in jail ever since.
Josh’s case has fueled an ongoing debate among some folks over who is a journalist and who isn’t, trying to drive yet another wedge between mainstream media on the one hand, and bloggers and vloggers on the other. Jay Rosen famously wrote two years ago that this particular war is over. Yet the debate continues to flair up in some circles, most recently on PBS Frontline, as Jeff Jarvis lamented this week. It’s flaired up on Wikipedia, too – and part of it appears to be my fault.
Colleen Wilson, Senior Interactive Producer at KQED, spoke during our panel session this morning about their foodie blog, Bay Area Bites. When they first decided to create a blog, they invested a lot of time investigating and participating in Bay Area food blogs. One might assume that the goal was to identify and recruit the A-list food bloggers in the community, but they didn’t. Instead, they embraced the B-list bloggers: second-tier bloggers who were good at what they did, but hungry for more. If you’re an A-list blogger, it might take a lot of incentive (read: money) to recruit them away from what they’re already doing, but bloggers just below that tier are more likely to embrace new opportunities.
Once they selected a team of bloggers, KQED offered them training to improve some of their technical skills, like image editing. They weren’t paid at first; they had to prove themselves on the new blog and demonstrate their commitment. After a while, KQED started paying them a stipend – $25 a post. It’s not a lot of money, but it was enough to give them a sense of ownership in an important community resource. -andy
Right now I’m sitting on a panel session on user-generated content projects in public broadcasting. Brendan Greeley is talking right now about his role as blogger-in-chief of Radio Open Source, “a blog with a radio show.” Radio Open Source has pioneered the integration of radio programs with online communities, engaging the public to discuss the topics of the show, as well as suggest segments, guests and questions. Brendan noted that in recent weeks, around 50% of shows have been suggested by its community members.
In terms of fostering a community around a radio show, Brendan said it’s important to help craft expectations, so the public know how they can and can’t participate. “Users want to be taught what do to,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to be a dictator,” he added, noting there have been times when the discussion threads on the blog started to break down due to user insensitivity and disrespect of each other. In times like this, the public expects you to lay down the law and put the conversation back on track. Community breaks down when flame wars erupt.
In his closing remarks, Brendan stressed the importance of integrating online communit work into the job descriptions of the entire production team. At Open Source, every producer is expected to blog the segments they’re producing, as well as read and respond to user comments. “If people know you’re reading the comments,” Brendan explained, “they’re more likely to behave themselves.”
But the notion of changing job descriptions is really important, because it forces the production team to take responsibility for the online content while embracing a sense of ownership of it as well.
“You can’t sprinkle blog fairy dust over your program and make it bloggy and beautiful,” Brendan said. “You better than anyone in the building know what the show is going to be about,” he said. There was a learning curve, but now all Open Source producers write posts, as well as read and respond to comments. “The technical stuff can be solved in a week…. The real question is do the producers on the show, do the news staff, feel an obligation to update the site…. If they’re not invested in some way, then the blog will be a dumping ground for things produced a few days ago that you’re listeners aren’t interested in any more.” -andy
Update- Another great quote from Brendan: “Anonymity breeds contempt.” Brendan has discovered that having producers blog under their real names and using their names when communicating via email, users are more responsive because they see the people behind the radio program. And it goes both ways, in my view: requiring people to register to a community and use their real names, it holds people more accountable for what they say, and they’re less likely to hide behind anonymity in order to flame another group member.