Scientific Methods

Friday, March 17, 2006


Please view the News in the Digital Age - Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN Asia correspondent and Research Fellow at the Harvard Law Schools Berkman Center for Internet and Society, explores how new forms of interactive media such as weblogs effect the way people absorb, react to, and act upon news and information)

What is a Web Log?

A Weblog or blog (contraction of the phrase "web log") is a website where posting are regularly and easily posted on a regular basis and are displayed in reverse chronological order. The first Blog effectively appeared in about 1995 and has become one of the most popular expressions of the internet culture. Blogs usually focus on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news or serve as online diaries. Blogs combine text, images, and links as well as other media related to its focus. The impact of Blogs in influencing public opinion and mass media world-wide is immeasurable.

Blogs are most typically developed using a dedicated blog hosting services, such as the one we are using here which is hosted by and is part of the Google empire. Alternatively they can be run using commercially or open-source blog software.

Why did Blogging take Off?
It has been described as citizen journalism, and the most influential weblogs were those that operated within a political context and at various global hotspots of the world. It can be seen as a democratizing influence and ensures that the voices of the people get aired rather than the political talks of the national governments. Nevertheless certain countries like China use software to filter blogs (like a net nanny) so that their citizens cannot access them. I doubt very much whether this Blog could be seen in China since it is hosted on a commercial Weblog site.

Why is it Important to develop a Weblog?
In the BCB Honours/ NISL-EI programme we are attempted to produce socially aware and sensitized researchers. Research as you will have noticed from previous chapters in this Science Methodology course is derived from culture and cannot be divorced from socio-economic conditions. Societies seek solutions through the application of science, to solve problems, to correct problems that science has already caused, to improve the quality and length of life and to democratize the world we live in. It should be realize that science has both the ability to liberate or en-prison and is based on the nature of knowledge. Knowledge is often seen as power, withholding and providing it can be both useful or damaging. The words of the pop group King Crimson captures this duality with the following lyrics…..

"The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments if death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams.

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying."


It is important that we document how society is performing, but equally it is important that you capture personal experiences. It is in this latter context that we have asked that you develop a personal Weblog to interact with each other and the rest of the world through this medium for the rest of the year. This Weblog will count 30% of your year mark for Science Methodology, but it's focus is to establish a scientific dialogue, where we encourage you to contact other scientists in the world and even invite their opinion to be expressed on your Weblog. Weblogs should be seen as an enabling technology for communication and action.

Nevertheless of the estimated 4 million sites up in 2003, the majority are not actively maintained . Please review the analysis of Blog usage by using the previous link.

Before Blogging - Retrieved from
Electronic communities existed before internetworking. For example the AP wire was, in effect, similar to a large chat room with "wire fights" and electronic conversations. Another pre-digital electronic community, amateur (or "ham") radio, allowed individuals who set up their own transmitters to communicate with others directly.

Before blogging became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, e-mail lists and bulletin board systems (BBS). In the 1990s Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with "threads." Threads are topical connections between messages on an electronic "corkboard." See "Common terms," below.

The modern blog evolved from the online diary where people would keep a running account (or blog) of their personal lives, the first of these personal blogs started in 1995. Most of the writers called themselves diarists, journalists, journallers, or journalers. A few called themselves escribitionists. The Open Pages webring included members of the online-journal community.

Other forms of journals kept online also existed. A notable example was game programmer John Carmack's widely read journal, published via the finger protocol.

Websites, including both corporate sites and personal homepages, had and still often have "What's New" or "News" sections, often on the index page and sorted by date.

One noteworthy early precursor to a blog was the tongue-in-cheek personal website that was frequently updated by Usenet legend Kibo.

Blogging emerges - Retrieved from
The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz. He broke the word weblog into the phrase "we blog" in the sidebar of his weblog in April or May of 1999. "Blog" was accepted as a noun (weblog shortened) and as a verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog").

Justin Hall, who began eleven years of personal "blogging" in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College, is generally recognized as one of the earliest bloggers. After a slow start, blogging rapidly gained in popularity: the site Xanga, launched in 1996, had only 100 diaries by 1997, and over 50 000 000 as of December 2005. Blog usage spread during 1999 and the years following, being further popularized by the near-simultaneous arrival of the first hosted blog tools:

Open Diary launched in October 1998, soon growing to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary innovated the reader comment, becoming the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers' blog entries.

Andrew Smales's sister projects: created in July 1999 (as an easier alternative to maintaining a 'news page' on a website), and Diaryland, created in September 1999 (focusing more on a personal diary community)

Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan (Pyra Labs) launched in August 1999 (purchased by Google in February 2003)

Paul Kedrosky's GrokSoup
As of March 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary included the terms weblog, weblogging and weblogger in their dictionary.

Dave Winer is one of the pioneers of the tools that make blogs more than merely websites. One of his most significant contributions was setting up servers that weblogs could ping to update themselves.

Blogging combined the personal web page with tools to make linking to other pages easier - specifically blogrolls and TrackBacks. This enabled bloggers to control the threads that connected them to others with similar interests, thereby wresting control from forum moderators.

Blogging gains influence - Retrieved from
The first broadly popular American blogs emerged in 2001: Andrew Sullivan's, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire and Jerome Armstrong's MyDD-all blogging primarily on politics.

In 1999, then owner of popular technology review portal, The Review Center, John Guilfoil theorized that daily, and often multi-daily updates instead of the often used weekly news updates seen throughout the technology reviews world would soon be needed in order for these web sites to survive. He suggested that shorter, more pointed news updates in the theme of, which was then a fledging blog site, would be necessary across the board. This revolution in up-to-the-minute updating and real-time news updates has led to the evolutionary shutdown of countless amateur technology web sites.

By 2001, blogging was enough of a phenomenon that how-to manuals began to appear, primarily focusing on technique. The importance of the blogging community (and its relationship to larger society) gained rapidly increasing importance. Established schools of journalism began researching blogging and noting the differences between journalism and blogging.

In 2002, Jerome Armstrong's friend and sometime partner Markos Moulitsas Zϊniga began DailyKos. With up to a million visits a day during peak events, it has now become one of the Internet's most trafficked blogs.

Also in 2002, many blogs focused on comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Senator Lott, at a party honoring U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, praised Senator Thurmond by suggesting that the United States would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president. Lott's critics saw these comments as a tacit approval of racial segregation, a policy advocated by Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign. This view was reinforced by documents and recorded interviews dug up by bloggers. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.) Though Lott's comments were made at a public event attended by the media, no major media organizations reported on his controversial comments until after blogs broke the story. Blogging helped to create a political crisis that forced Lott to step down as majority leader.

The shaping of this story gave greater credibility to blogs as a medium of news dissemination. Though often seen as partisan gossips, bloggers sometimes lead the way in bringing key information to public light. This puts the mainstream media in the unusual position of reacting to news that bloggers generate.

Since 2003, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories. The Iraq war saw both left-wing and right-wing bloggers taking measured and passionate points of view that did not reflect the traditional left-right divide.

Blogging by established politicians and political candidates, to express opinions on war and other issues, cemented blogs' role as a news source. (See Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.) Meanwhile, an increasing number of experts blogged, making blogs a source of in-depth analysis. (See Daniel Drezner and J. Bradford DeLong.)

The second Iraq war was the first "blog war" in another way: Iraqi bloggers gained wide readership, and one, Salam Pax, published a book of his blog. Blogs were also created by soldiers serving in the Iraq war. Such "milblogs" gave readers new perspectives on the realities of war, as well as often offering different viewpoints from those of official news sources.

Blogging was used to draw attention to obscure news sources. For example, bloggers posted links to traffic cameras in Madrid as a huge anti-terrorism demonstration filled the streets in the wake of the March 11 attacks.

Bloggers began to provide nearly-instant commentary on televised events, creating a secondary meaning of the word "blogging": to simultaneously transcribe and editorialize speeches and events shown on television. (For example, "I am blogging Rice's testimony" means "I am posting my reactions to Condoleezza Rice's testimony into my blog as I watch her on television.") Real-time commentary is sometimes referred to as "liveblogging."

The popularity of Blogs Retrieved from
In 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Even politicians not actively campaigning, such as MP Tom Watson of the UK Labour Party, began to blog to bond with constituents.

Minnesota Public Radio broadcast a program by Christopher Lydon and Matt Stoller called "The Blogging of the President," which covered a transformation in politics that blogging seemed to presage. The Columbia Journalism Review began regular coverage of blogs and blogging. Anthologies of blog pieces reached print, and blogging personalities began appearing on radio and television. In the summer of 2004, both (America's Democratic and Republican) parties' conventions credentialed bloggers, and blogs became a standard part of the publicity arsenal. Mainstream television programs, such as Chris Matthews' Hardball, formed their own blogs. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary declared "blog" as the word of the year in 2004. (Wikinews)

Blogs were among the driving forces behind the "Rathergate" scandal. To wit: (television journalist) Dan Rather presented documents (on the CBS show 60 Minutes) that conflicted with accepted accounts of President Bush's military service record. Conservative bloggers declared the documents to be forgeries and presented arguments in support of that view, and CBS apologized for what it said were inadequate reporting techniques. (See Little Green Footballs.) Many bloggers view this scandal as the advent of blogs' acceptance by the mass media, both as a source of news and opinion and as means of applying political pressure.

Some bloggers have moved over to other media. The following bloggers (and others) have appeared on radio and television: Duncan Black (known widely by his pseudonym, Atrios), Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) , Markos Moulitsas Zϊniga (Daily Kos), and Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette). Hugh Hewitt is an example of a media personality who has moved in the other direction, adding to his reach in "old media" by being an influential blogger.

Some blogs were an important source of news during the December 2004 Tsunami such as Chiens Sans Frontiers, which used SMS text messaging to report from affected areas in Sri Lanka and Southern India.

Around the beginning of 2005, amateur blogging took off in a big way. Terms such as 'Alternative media' began to be used for blogging in the mainstream US media. Well-informed bloggers like Sameer Bhat [7]and Delilah Boyd [8] soon shot into prominence by sheer ingenuity and clarity of their content.

In the United Kingdom, The Guardian newspaper launched a redesign in September 2005, which included a daily digest of blogs on page 2.

In January 2005, Fortune magazine listed eight bloggers that business people "could not ignore": Peter Rojas, Xeni Jardin, Ben Trott, Mena Trott, Jonathan Schwartz, Jason Goldman, Robert Scoble, and Jason Calacanis. [9]

Impact of Blogging Retrieved from
Recently, scientists have analyzed the dynamics of how blogs become popular. There are essentially two measures of this: popularity through citations (i.e. permalinks), as well as popularity through affiliation (i.e. blogroll). The basic conclusion from studies of the structure of blogs is that while in order for a blog to become popular through blogrolls takes a fair amount of time, permalinks can accumulate more quickly, and are perhaps more indicative of popularity and authority than blogrolls, since they denote that people are actually reading the blog's content and deem it valuable or noteworthy in specific cases.

The Blogdex project was launched by researchers in the MIT Media Lab to crawl the web and gather data from thousands of blogs in order to investigate their social properties. It has now been gathering this information for over 4 years, and currently autonomously tracks the most contagious information spreading in the blog community.

Blogging and Society Retrieved from
Many bloggers support the Open Source movement. The free speech nature of its technology has helped blogging to have a social impact. Blogging makes it easy for employees to irritate their bosses, and a number have been fired. (See Heather Armstrong, Mark Jen and Jessica Cutler.)

Open Source Politics, or the ability of people to participate more directly in politics, is reframing terms of debate (see George Lakoff). Many bloggers differentiate themselves from the mainstream media, while others are members of that media working through a different channel. Some institutions see blogging as a means of "getting around the filter" and pushing messages directly to the public. Some critics worry that bloggers respect neither intellectual property nor the role of the mass media in presenting society with credible news.

Bloggers' credibility problem, however, can be an advantage for the bloggers and for the mainstream journalists who take an interest in them. News organizations are sometimes reluctant to tell stories that will upset important people. But when bloggers or activists make sensational claims, then they become stories themselves, and journalists can use them as cover for reporting the underlying scandals.

Blogs have been seen as archives of human thought. They can provide useful insights to aid in dealing with humanity's psychological problems (such as depression and addiction). And they can also be used to solve crimes. (In 2005, Simon Ng posted a blog entry which identified his murderer.)

Blogs have also had an influence on minority languages, bringing together scattered speakers and learners; this is particularly so with Scottish Gaelic blogs, whose creators can be found as far away from traditional Gaelic areas as Kazakhstan and Alaska. [11] Blogs are also used regularly by Welsh language activists. Minority language publishing (which may lack economic feasibility) can find its audience through inexpensive blogging.

The making of a Blog Retrieved from
A variety of different systems are used to create and maintain blogs. Dedicated server-based systems can eliminate the need for bloggers to manage this software. With web interfaces, these systems allow travelers to blog from anywhere on the Internet, and allow users to create blogs without having to maintain their own server. Such systems allow users to work with tools such as Ecto, Elicit and w.bloggar which allow users to maintain their Web-hosted blog without the need to be online while composing or editing posts. Blog creation tools and blog hosting are also provided by some Web hosting companies (Tripod), Internet service providers (America Online), online publications ( and internet portals (Yahoo! 360Ί or Google). Some advanced users have developed custom blogging systems from scratch using server-side software, and often implement membership management and password protected areas. Others have created blogs using wiki software, such as the Wikimedia platform.

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
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