Monday, January 26, 2009

Belshaw’s World: The wonders of blogging

Australia has a long history of literary hoaxes.

Five months in the making, the latest sting was carefully planned. Would Keith Windschuttle as editor of Quadrant accept a bogus article on genetic engineering carefully crafted to appeal to his perceived prejudices?

The answer was yes. Bait taken, the on-line journal Crickey then revealed that it was a hoax.

The bloggosphere, along with many journalists from the conventional media, went wild. Who was the fictitious Sharon Gould who had written the hoax article?

In long comment streams, the bloggers compared notes, using hints in the article to check previous writing. This literary detective work allowed them to quickly zero in on a former blogger and free-lance writer called Katherine Wilson. Finally, Crickey revealed that the author was indeed Katherine Wilson.

Those of you who are interested in finding out more can follow the links through in this post of mine -

Why do I mention this? Well, blogging has changed from its original meaning of web log, a personal diary, to part of main stream journalism. In doing so, it has become a critical personal and professional tool.

Just to put all this in perspective, I am not an A-list blogger, one of those who generate huge traffic volumes. Even so, last year my blogs received over 53,000 visits. The stories I wrote have been picked up by fellow bloggers in many countries and lead, among other things, to this column.

A test before I go on. How many of you know that there is an Armidale based photo blog that has been classified by Australia’s National Library as worthy of permanent preservation in their electronic archive? The answer is Gordon Smith’s lookANDsee -

I love Gordon’s blog and, with his permission, use his photos to illustrate stories.

Blogging is constantly evolving.

The supply of free platforms such as Google’s blogger supported rapid growth to the point that there are now more than seventy five million blogs worldwide. As you might expect with such a huge number, the standard is quite variable. Further, there is a high churn factor with new blogs starting all the time, others stopping. Burn-out is common.

The idea of community is central to blogging.

Each long-running blog gathers its own readership. This is generally small, with most blog traffic generated by search engines. However, these small communities are overlapped and linked because bloggers tend to cluster, drawn together by some shared interest. This creates what I call the village – you have your own personal friends, but then there is a much bigger group that you know or know of and sometimes chat to.

Like any village, there can be wars – flame fights that can get nasty. There are also the normal legal risks that apply to any form of publication. This has led to the development of what we can think of as blogging manners, a set of rules designed to aid polite discussion.

Blogging is a remarkably useful way of keeping in touch. Unlike the conventional search engines, Google blog search allows you to search for posts on topics by date. With such a large number of bloggers worldwide, new developments get picked up very quickly.

Over the tumultuous days of October, I followed the global financial crisis quite closely. To do this, I used conventional web sources such as media and official sites. However, I also used blog search to find out breaking developments from different parts of the world. This was actually far faster than the conventional resources.

In all this, how does New England rank in the blogging world? Not well, I fear.

So far I have identified just thirty three blogs across the broader New England. Some such as Gordon’s are very good, but many are barely updated.

This is a far smaller number than I would have expected, given the area’s population. To my mind, it is a symptom of a broader problem, the area’s failure to use the internet in an effective fashion. However, that’s the subject for another column!

To finish with my usual question. What was the name of the first major airline established in New England? Again, I am talking broader New England. And, no, it wasn’t East West Airlines. That was the second.

Note to readers

This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 14 January 2009

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