Focus: Blog

Go on, everyone's doing it. Every day another 10,000 people start writing online journals, or blogging. Some are angry, some brilliant, some plain mad. David Randall hails a new column by sorting the weird from the wonderful
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The Independent Online

"Captain's Blog, Stardate 20050501, Sunday: I'm starting this blog so that I can record my feelings, tell of places we visit, give links to interesting sites, and experiment with a novel I am thinking of writing about a boss plagued by a rather superior second-in-command..."

"Captain's Blog, Stardate 20050501, Sunday: I'm starting this blog so that I can record my feelings, tell of places we visit, give links to interesting sites, and experiment with a novel I am thinking of writing about a boss plagued by a rather superior second-in-command..."

If they were making Star Trek today, that is probably how it would start. Suddenly, blogs are everywhere. Millions of us have them: more than 10,000 are started every day. Celebrities take time off from manicures to compose theirs. Rupert Murdoch has chided editors for not paying them enough attention. Regimes such as Iran are afraid of them and jail their authors. They have their own awards, the Bloggies, and BusinessWeek said last week that they were "the media of the masses". Is this a genuine world-changing phenomenon - or what?

You will be able to find out for yourself, as we find the most entertaining and present them, edited only for space and not for grammar, as they appear online.

The search led us, on one day, to a dissident policeman, a transvestite designer, a self-confessed female sex fiend, and a "glitter-splashed, Britney-loving lesbo". Just another day in cyber- space, then? Like homepages but with fewer inhibitions?

No. Blogs - web logs - are different: sites, or parts of sites, that consist of regularly maintained, dated entries. Started in online antiquity, in 1997, they were initially the province of the technically adept, but, in the past four years, software that makes them almost as easy to establish and use as email, has made them the internet's rampant growth sector. Educated guesses at their numbers range from eight million in America alone, to 50 million worldwide, many of which are dormant.

There seem to be four main types. Most numerous (but with the highest drop-out rate) are personal journals of the "Dear Diary" variety. These can chart experiences at work, such as those of a London magistrate, everyday emotions, trips, a crisis (SaveKaryn.com recorded a New York woman's battle with credit card debt - and raised, via donations, the cash to clear it), parenting, or the more self-consciously publicity-seeking, like the Englishman whose blog of his alleged conquests of women in and around Lyons has become a French sensation (Libération, not mincing its words, called him "the most famous shagger on the web".)

Celebrities have them (Britney Spears's is not for the squeamish), but these can often have a distinctly promotional feel. Soul-baring blogs, however, give fine fodder for emotional voyeurs, especially those with a taste for other people's intimacy. There is no shortage of bloggers prepared to pander, some of whose entries are unsafe to view on a work computer.

More useful are links blogs, which direct readers to sites deemed interesting and single-issue or subject blogs, which track news and developments within that field. Some, especially in technical areas, now attract enough of an audience to be courted (or quietly sponsored) by manufacturers. Some are journalism by another name (several blogs were accredited to US party conventions last year). Others have a political or religious axe to grind (there is an annual conference for Christian bloggers called GodBlogCon). Their collective, if uncoordinated, highlighting of writings they dislike can constitute a raucous lobby. Our own Robert Fisk is frequently demonised on US right-wing and pro-Israeli blogs.

Finally, there are what you might call literary logs, which contain writing of a more sustained fictional or autobiographical kind. These allow non-professional writers to rehearse material, collect feedback, and "publish" without recourse to an industry often slow to recognise unknown, or non-celebrity, talent. Not a few blogs begun in lone hope have ended in a book deal, among them: Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq, Straight Up and Dirty, the memoirs of a divorcee in New York, and Belle de Jour, the London prostitute's blog, which, authentic or not, has earned its anonymous author a TV deal.

There are risks. Several bloggers who wrote about their work have been sacked (a Waterstone's employee in Edinburgh for referring to his boss as "a sandal-wearing bastard", a Delta Airlines attendant for posing on blog in her uniform, and several in the IT industry for divulging company policy). Only last week the former UK ambassador to Jordan upset his Scottish neighbours with his undiplomatic language about them on his blog.

Not that you can automatically assume that anyone is reading. Although the world's top three or four blogs attract audiences touching two million a month and A-list blogs get at least 15,000 hits per day, many get few or none. Such figures are an antidote to the more excessive hype now surrounding blogging. As Guy Chapman wrote on a BBC website: "The great thing about blogs is that anyone can set one up. The only problem is that anyone can set one up."

Nevertheless, the possibilities lure tens of thousands to start blogging every week. They could get discovered, make money (a mere handful do), find their voice, or get in touch with kindred spirits in the online jungle. And, if you live in China, Iran, or any of a score of repressive states, blogging is not only sounding off from your particular branch of the tree, it's a lifeline, a rare non-governmental source of information, and, maybe,a trigger for change.

Commercial maws may now be starting to salivate at the thought of the blogging phenomenon (firms such as IBM and Olympus use them for product feedback and a division of Random House sends bloggers books to review), but one thing is for sure: more than at any stage in the life of the internet, it's a democracy out there - and, like most fledgling ones, God know where it's all going to lead. Read our Blog of the Week column, from this week onwards, and you will surely find out.

Blog of the week

Jamie's Diary

(at www.jamieoliver.com)

Posted by Jamie at 12.50pm, Friday 29 April 2005

Hi guys

I am still getting loads of feedback about School Dinners from other countries that are starting to air it, mainly Australia. Thanks for all your support. I really appreciate it, even though you are halfway across the world. Say hello on the forums.

At the end of the day it is all about kids and food, and most of us lot who come to the website care about both so I really appreciate your support and help. Keep it coming.

We are gonna create a school dinners forum so it is easier for you guys to talk and share information amongst each other. Right now you can tell us about how you have been changing school dinners.

I am in Italy at the moment, discovering new stuff and gathering ideas to bring back to the restaurant. I have just been to the Sicilian Islands for a couple of weeks, check out the moblog. My van has just packed up, so I am waiting to move on to the next place. I would tell you, but if I do then I will end up with the paps after me so I will tell you when I have done it!

Love Jamie Oxxx

Italy

Posted by Jamie at 3.38pm, Tuesday 12 April 2005

Hi guys,

Hope that you have been enjoying the photos on the moblog. I am having a great time in Italy, cooking heaps and meeting some of the local characters.

My split screen 56 VW Campervan is beautiful but to tell you the truth it made me a bit crazy on the drive out to Italy. I had to pour about 25 litres of oil into it since we started the trip because it has a small oil leak. This causes it to smoke a bit and I have been pulled over a few times by the police thinking that it is a fire hazard.

Everything is cool though and Italy feels very homely, keep checking out the moblog for photos of the trip...

Love Jamie Oxxx

On the forums, ordinary people (some or all using pseudonyms) respond:

Wayne 25

Joined: 25 Jan 05

Posts: 18

Location: brisbane

Posted on: 25.01.05 1.30pm GMT

Is it too late to start [a chef's] apprenticeship at 25?

Pannacotta

Posted at 11.56pm GMT, 22 March 2005, San Francisco

Location: San Francisco, CA, USAJoined: 09 Mar 05

Posts: 24

Posted on: 22.03.05 11.56pm GMT

Apprenticeship

How will you know unless you try it? I say go for it. It's not like your life is over if you quit 6 months or six years into it. Don't let anyone pee in your cornflakes.

David Beckham

Joined: 26 Apr 05

Posts: 11

Location: England

Posted on: 28.04.05 2.48am GMT

Location England

I would like to ask that why Jamie always don't reply to the topic or post some new post?

Angel

Joined: 28 Jun 04

Posts: 209

Location: UK

Posted on: 28.04.05 6.32am GMT

Do you know how busy he is?

He has got so much to do at the moment and if you see on the diary he is in italy.

So stop getting all moody and give him a chance.

Comments