Le Wall Street Journal fête les 10 ans des blogs

Happy Blogiversary

"It's been 10 years since the blog was born. Love them or hate them, they've roiled presidential campaigns and given everyman a global soapbox. Twelve commentators -- including Tom Wolfe, Newt Gingrich, the SEC's Christopher Cox and actress-turned-blogger Mia Farrow -- on what blogs mean to them.

July 14, 2007

Notwithstanding the words of Tom Wolfe, who puts an elegant boot, below, into the corpus of bloggers, there are many more people today who would read blogs than disparage them.

The consumption of blogs is often avid and occasionally obsessive. But more commonly, it is utterly natural, as if turning to them were no stranger than (dare one say this here?) picking one's way through the morning's newspapers. The daily reading of virtually everyone under 40 -- and a fair few folk over that age -- now includes a blog or two, and this reflects as much the quality of today's bloggers as it does a techno-psychological revolution among readers of news and opinion.

We are approaching a decade since the first blogger -- regarded by many to be Jorn Barger -- began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: "I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis," and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word "weblog."

Once a neologism, outlandish to some, weblog has come to be abbreviated to blog, a brusque and jaunty word that no one, now, would think to look up in a dictionary. That said, the spell check on Microsoft Word has yet to awaken to the concept of the blog. Type in "blogging," for instance, and you will promptly earn a disapproving underscore in red, with the suggestion that "bogging," "clogging," "flogging" or "slogging" (unappetizing alternatives all) might, in truth, be the word you seek.

In the decade since their conception, blogs, once a smorgasbord of links, have evolved into vehicles for a fuller, more forceful and opinionated prose. Not all of it has been lovely to behold, or even edifying. Inevitably, there has been bombast, verbosity and exposure to the public eye of thoughts that, ideally, should have remained locked inside fevered heads. (The impact of blogs on public discourse has included, I contend, the emergence of a form of "oral blogging," noticeable at seminars and the like, where people who might once have asked brisk questions are now empowered by the blog form to hold forth at length, with little attempt at self-editing.)

Cory Doctorow and David Pescovitz: BoingBoing.net
The other change in the blog has, of course, been its mainstreaming. Blogging was once the province of the Nerd Without a Life (NWAL -- which, when pronounced aloud, sounds remarkably and appropriately like know-all). Today, while members of that tribe still abound, there are others who blog not because it is their only window on the world, but because blogging offers the opportunity of direct and immediate communion with those who would respond to their ideas. Call it intellectual "skin contact."

Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, blogs (his is the Bogle eBlog, so called because the second word is an anagram of his surname; and unlike many CEOs, he blogs without the aid of a ghostblogger). Gary Becker, Nobel laureate in economics, blogs. Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement of London, blogs. Mia Farrow, the cinema actress, who also writes below, blogs. As do politicians and activists of every stripe. Some blogs are profitable businesses, and it is no surprise that the traditional media have bought into the action, including this newspaper (see James Taranto's contribution, below).

Featured here, then, are a dozen brief meditations on what the blog has come to mean and on the role blogs play in the usual tussles of any civilized society. The appropriate question about blogs, 10 years into their first appearance, is not whether they are a form of exhibitionism, or journalism, or theater. It is, instead, this, and I pose it with a courteous apology to Tom Wolfe: What would we do without blogs?"

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