Brave New Blogging World

A blog is like a diary or a daily opinion column that you post on the Internet for all to see and comment on. Blogging has become incredibly popular in the last couple of years, because it's easy to do, it's free and it's a great way to leave your little stamp on the Internet, says CBS Sunday Morning contributor David Pogue.

"Basically, they're Web sites published by people who have an interest or passion-and keep it updated daily with a lot of links and comments," says Meg Hourihan.

And she should know. She was present at the birth of the blogs in 2001 when she helped develop a website that makes it simple for anyone to create a blog: Blogger.com.

"You can decide what you want your blog to look like. You can pick from a bunch of different styles for your blog," Hourihan says.

You also have Meg's team to blame for the word blog.

"It was actually a joke," says Hourihan. "A friend of ours said, I decided I'm not gonna call it 'web log' anymore; I'm gonna pronounce it 'we--blog.' So, we changed it all to blog."

In 2003, Meg sold Blogger to Google. These days, she works full-time on a blog about cooking.

"I just type in a box, hit a button. It's as easy as sending an e-mail," explains Hourihan.

No wonder blogging has become so popular; by one estimate, 70 new blogs are created every minute.

But how many people are actually reading these things? To find out, I decided to conduct a highly scientific survey on the streets of New York City.

When asked if she reads any blogs, one woman replied "No. My friend has a blog, but I never read it."

Which we're sure the friend would be glad to find out.

Another man said, "No, I do not."

And another woman: "No, not really."

And so on and so on.

The individual "this is what I fed my cat today" blogs - is anyone is reading those? Except for the guy's mother, of course.

"Yeah. I think that's probably true. But I think that's OK. Because my -- I don't think most people aren't blogging to connect with the whole world. Most people are blogging to connect with their friends and family," says Hourihan.

Most people, but not all. Big, high-profile, commercial blogs have become part of the media landscape.

"Most of the people who read blogs -- they are highly educated. They are middle aged. And they are high income," says Carol Darr, the director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.

"Cause the people who are reading blogs tend to be opinion leaders and they tend to be trendsetters. So they are influential far out of proportion to what their numbers are," Darr says.

One of these high-profile blogs is Wonkette.com, a funny, gossipy blog about the personal lives of Washington politicians.

"I think it's very American. The idea that someone could enter into a conversation, you know, based just on having an opinion and an argument," says Wonkette.com founder Ana Marie Cox, who turned it into a must-read for politics junkies.

"I often did wear pajamas. I would tell myself that I was gonna put on real clothes and like take a shower and act like I had a real job," Cox says.

So she's ground zero, the cliché of the pajama-wearing blogger.

"I am not ground zero. There were other people wearing pajamas long before I did," Cox replies.

Eventually, Cox became so famous she was offered a book deal and a column in Time magazine.

"I still can't quite believe any of that actually happened. I'm still waiting for someone to like come out from behind the curtain and be like, 'Ha ha,'" Cox says.

Wonkette is typical of the modern commercial blog: breezy, funny, and sometimes a little mean-spirited.

"If you have a limited amount of time and energy shooting things down is easier than building things up. So, 12 posts a day, you're gonna shoot a lot of things down," Cox explains.

Carol Darr has noticed this tendency, too.

"You know, these are people who are not alienated from politics," says Darr. "But they are very alienated from Washington politicians, from Capitol Hill, and they're frustrated about the status quo."

But in the world of blogs - the blogosphere, as the bloggers call it - sarcasm sells.

"I think that they're looking to generate traffic. And it's easy to generate traffic when you're snarky. And when you have, you know, nothing nice to say, you get a lot more readers than, 'Here are my kittens and they're all really great,'" says Meg Hourihan.

It's fun to read those snarky blogs. Just not so much fun when the subject of their ridicule is you.

All of the people mentioned so far; blogger inventor, blogger star, blogger expert, blogger reporter, have one thing in common: they've all been the victims of blogger attacks. That's when bloggers single you out, and then repeat and amplify each others' criticism.

Close-ups of some blogs that critique each of us, so we can see our actual names and insults. This is great television!

Has Cox ever been on the receiving end of incorrect or damaging, echo-chamber blog stuff?

"Of course! There's always gonna be people like looking for things to, you know, shoot down, looking for big targets to shoot down. You just gotta ignore it. I mean it's not worth -- it's not worth the energy of like batting these things down. It's like a million little gnats, you know," Cox says.

But what if the attack bloggers aren't just calling you names? What if they're determined to destroy your business?

"That's what happened to Greg Halpern," says Cox.

His company was preparing to launch a new product, a no-calorie fat substitute called Z-trim, when anonymous bloggers went on the attack.

"We started getting people that were putting up web-sites, and - chatting on chat boards and blogs, and saying all sorts of information that we knew to be completely false," laments Helpern.

"They were saying things like, 'The product isn't good for you,' or, you know, 'It'll give you a stomach ache.'"

Halpern says he was the victim of stockmarket manipulators who stood to profit by driving down his stock price.

"We went on it first naively, saying, 'Let's go explain to these people saying this stuff.' And then they - they just kept twisting whatever we said more and more. And then we said, 'Oh, OK. So it's a fire-with-fire mentality.' So then we fought 'em," says Halpern.

After months of legal struggles, Halpern unmasked his attacker and got the blog shut down. But it wasn't an entirely happy ending, the company stock had plunged.

"The cost in monetary terms was probably well over $100 million at one point, of loss to equity value," explains Halpern.

But isn't the Internet all about free speech?

"We're all for free speech. It's what allows us to go tell you our story. And we're very excited about that. But somebody's gonna have to, at some point, act responsibly about managing the free speech, cuz free speech doesn't mean libel," says Halpern.

The blog format is only a couple of years old. But already, there's a tension between many bloggers and what they derisively call the MSM, the mainstream media.

"They don't believe that you are unbiased, objective, fair a lot of times. And so what they want is they want to read a lot of different sources themselves. because they don't trust the mainstream media…that would be ya'll," says Darr.

But does that mean that blogs are on the way to replacing the MSM? Meg Hourihan doubts it.

"That's a lot -- a lot less likely, I think. Just because the resources of a -- a professional newsroom are so much greater. A lot of times, especially with the deep reporting, it takes a concerted effort to stay on that story-you know, months," says Hourihan. "And blogs, you know, if they spend five minutes talking about something before they move on to the new thing, you're, you know, it will be a miracle."
By David Pogue
  • William Vitka

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