Cindy Curling is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.
Weblog Structure Blog Flavors Recommended Reading Finding Blogs Weblog Building and Hosting Tools Thoughts on Blogging
The trenches have been filling up lately with references to some new, useful technologies. Weblogs in particular have been getting lots of attention. I do my best to keep up with technological advancements, especially when I think they’ll save me time at my job, but I totally missed the front end of this trend. I thought we all might benefit from a closer look.
Weblogs (blogs for short) have been around for about five years. They are used mainly to create rolling pages of frequently updated, chronologically listed links and commentary. Sometimes they are also used for “collaborative editing”. Groups of people working on the same project, for instance, can add materials to a hub site and discuss their work as it develops. The first Weblog I really paid any attention to was the Virtual Acquisition Shelf and News Desk (VASND) by Gary Price. Price has been compiling useful resources on his Web sites for some time, but VASND is a relatively new development for him. He started promoting it in March of this year. When I first took a look, I thought the content was great, but I wasn’t sure I liked the format.
VASND’s format is typical of most blogs. It’s essentially a list of resources with annotations. Price adds new content every day and entries are relatively short – the classic “long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to be interesting”. Each item includes the date added along with basic information about the referenced resource, including links. Price, like most bloggers, makes his links transparent. That is, his text is linked, but you don’t actually see the link addresses. That’s one of the things that bothers me a little about blogs. When I use them, I’m usually looking for new resources to pass along to my users, so it’s helpful to have the actual URLs.On the one hand, I understand this convention – blogs are writing tools as much as anything else. The line between them and personal journals is pretty fuzzy, though blogs tend to be more focused on resources. Originally, they were used more as personal reminders to their authors of interesting sites or articles. If a visitor happened to benefit from the information, well, that was just icing on the cake. Dropping URLs into text makes it choppy and less personal, and blogs are very personal. Good blogs not only share useful information, but also give you a taste of the author’s personality. These are not plain vanilla annotations; they are an ongoing commentary imbued with the author’s voice and bias. On the other hand, when I’m using a resource for work, I don’t want to have to spend much time sifting through someone else’s personal opinions to find the information I need. Since Price is an information specialist whose opinions I trust, and VASND is among the most serious, resource-based blogs I’ve seen, in his case it’s actually helpful to read the descriptions. It isn’t that much trouble to find the addresses - one has only to follow a link to the page or look at the properties of the link (right click on the link, pick properties from the menu, see the address – ta, da! – and it works for e-mail links too), but it’s nice when it’s right there with the description.
Another restriction of the format is that as new items are added at the top of the list, older items at the bottom drop off. Most bloggers offer an archive, but these are generally organized only by date. There are ways to get around this (use your Google toolbar to search the site, for instance), but it would be nice if more authors would provide a site search of their own and/or add a site index by topic. The pure log format doesn’t lend itself to that kind of organization, but I expect it will become more common to see enhancements like these in the future.
The content of Weblogs is now as varied as the content of the Internet itself. While initially there were only a few1 blogs, once they were gathered together and published as a list on Cameron Barrett’s Camworld site, it was easier to read them. People did, and blogs started to catch on as a publishing format. At that time, you really had to know some HTML in order to publish a blog, but hundreds of people knew enough to give it a shot. The big jump in popularity came along when the first free tool for Weblog publishing, Pitas, became available in mid-1999. With its advent, pretty much anyone, Web developer or not, could build a blog on her own. These days blog authors have a variety of options for blog creation (see Weblog Building and Hosting Tools below). Happily, the ease of blogging has encouraged lots of folks who are experts in their fields to share their expertise, noting useful resources, commenting on the accuracy of news articles, and pointing to other good blogs. Blogs have begun to be the place to go to see the very latest information, “pre-surfed” for you by an expert. Of course, as with the rest of the Internet, there’s a whole lotta trash out there along with the treasures.
There seem to be four main flavors to blogs right now: the researcher’s list of annotated resources, the extremely succinct pointer site, the more personal, annotated journal, and the personal diary. The “me” pages are not generally as useful. I don’t want to sell them short - some are obviously excellent examples of creative writing - they just aren’t the Weblogs I’d use at work. The other types, though, have something more to offer. Here are a few examples of those useful flavors:
Researchers' List of Annotated Resources
These are the kinds of sites that I find most useful. They describe general Web resources, usually very new items, with enough detail that I know whether a site visit is in order. Entries are dated, and usually only a few are added on any given day, so it’s pretty easy to keep up.
already mentioned Price’s Virtual
Acquisition Shelf and News Desk. Price focuses on newly available full
text-materials on the Web, invisible Web resources, and news about Internet
searching tools, companies and technologies. He updates the site everyday, and
provides brief but informative annotations. On my last visit, recent items
touched on: an update to the Online Netskills Interactive Course; an article
on using bulletin boards, chat and Usenet to mine for competitive
intelligence; OCLC’s enhancements to its ArticleFirst and ContentsFirst
databases; comments on an article regarding recent improvements to Yahoo’s
search feature and results display, etc.
Drawer is a recent addition to her incredibly useful ResearchBuzz
site. Calishain’s site is all about research on the Web, in all kinds of
resources using all kinds of tools. Even so, as it says on the blog page,
Sometimes we find stuff that doesn't quite fit in the main
part of ResearchBuzz. It may be too specific, not categorized enough, too
small, too commercial, articles we wanted to comment on, or just not quite on
the beam with the goals of the main site. These sites aren't worse or inferior
to those we cover on ResearchBuzz -- they're just different.
falls in that category? Recent additions include references to an article on
the use of the Internet to hunt up recipes, a project chronicling the life of
former President Clinton and an update of her 911 page. Sites in the
knickknack drawer are well reviewed, generally include the link address, and
are always dated. More miscellaneous resources without much annotation are set
aside in the “Lint Pile”. Today’s goodies: a game site update, and
MST3K’s “Master Ninja Theme Song”.
Succinct Pointer Sites
this flavor is interesting to read, I find the extensive annotations of the
sites above more helpful. Sometimes referred to as “microcontent” sites,
the idea here is that an author tells you the least he can to get the point
across and then gives you a link. The reader gets to see more links, the
writer doesn’t have to spend much time, and so long as you don’t need to
see extensive detail, it makes for a very speedy review of new items.
eclectic blog has been around since the
early days, and starts with a section called
“Today’s public bookmarks", an excellent example of
microcontent. It is not as resource-oriented as the researchers’ pages
above. Instead, and this is more typical of blogs, it’s more news-focused.
When I visited, references ran the gamut from political issues, to Web
statistics to an old commentary on blog burnout - it's easy to get addicted to
blogging, evidently. To give you a feel for the pointers from this section,
take a look at this sample:
Doug Kaye's blog page.
Thomas L. Friedman's Saudi Royals and Reality. Also his Bush to bin Laden.
ESR's open source business models from The Magic Cauldron.
Dave on men.
Nielsen/NetRatings' screwy TV-modeled Web statistic.
Tom on Gonzo Marketing.
Cliff Havener and Margaret Thorpe on The Route Causes of Conflict and the Resolution of It. Also: Solving the Communications Problem
JY on my phen375 fatblog diet.
A Camworld oldie on blog burnout.
As you can
see, the brief commentary and choices for inclusion give you an idea of the
personality behind the blog. Most Webloggers, however, have more to say, and
Searls is no exception. His blog continues on with more extensive commentary,
like the next flavor listed below.
there are the sites that fall somewhere between the two annotation extremes.
This flavor really lets you hear the author’s voice, and not just through
the choices he makes about what to include.
is a “free-lance online journalist and former new media director” who
writes about the Web for a variety of publications. His
blog strikes a nice balance between being a personal journal and font of
information on the worlds of news reporting and Internet technology. His
opinions are clearly just that, not disguised as reporting, but valuable for
their insight to the process. From a recent entry on the politics of
I find it outrageous that the Bush administration is
warning all the television networks not to broadcast videotaped statements by
Osama Bin Laden. Does anyone really buy their rationalization that there may
be secret coded messages to terrorists hidden in the message? What they're
really worried about is flagging public opinion if Bin Laden is still making
videos and eluding capture by U.S. forces months from now.
entry goes on, pointing to several items examining the war coverage, with a
little commentary on each that clearly reflects his journalistic background.
Of course, that’s the point of having your own blog - you get to say your
blog’s usefulness is in the eye, or in my case mainly the job, of the
beholder. Whether you are a law librarian, a business researcher or are just
interested in information technology, there are a ton of good resources to be
culled from the blog trend. The problem is, how do you find them? Personal
recommendations are a good starting point. In addition to the above, here are
a few of mine on library and technology topics:
A technology-oriented Weblog of “Web sites and stories dealing with the
interface between technology and libraries.” This is a little different from
most of the rest of the blogs I’ve discussed. It’s posted not by an
individual, but by the Redwood City Public Library. Even so, it has a very
personal feel, plus the benefit of being very business-oriented. On the day I
visited, it touched on topics from Excite@Home’s failure, to an article
about how the Internet has influenced programming languages.
News Daily is authored by Peter Scott, also known for Hytelnet,
LibDex and The
Complete Guide to Weblogs. It covers news on database software, reference
sources, conferences and more for librarians. In fact, the print and online publications referenced in New Media Librarian (see below) were passed on
from this site. That’s another
common feature of blogs - they’re very communal in that people pick up each
other’s references and pass them along.
Library TechLog from Matthew Eberle is a wonderful resource for news on
technical issues from RSS news feeds, to scripting, to Web tips.
Breed Librarian from Colleen Bell and Juanita Benedicto is aimed at newer
librarians, but will be helpful to most of the rest of us too. Today’s items
covered ad-blocking Web technology, IKEA as an example of information
architecture, recommendations of print and online publications, a quote on the
fear of technology and more.
Librarians are evidently pretty active bloggers as a group. Two lists of library related logs are Library Logs and LibDex. In the course of researching this article, I also looked for law, finance, and business research blogs with very little luck. I found plenty of news logs covering those topics, but they were mainly commercial and lacked that personal Weblog touch. The only true blog on law I found was Accessible Info, Legal Drafting and Plain Language, Anne Vespry’s site focused on accessibility law, with links to Web tools, grammar and writing resources. I suspect there are more out there simply not covered by the sites which index blog content. If you have a law, finance or business blog, I’d be interested in hearing about it. Of course, it may also be that even at five years old, blogs are too new to have become so specialized.
are many, many blogs that are more strictly technology oriented, and selecting
which among those would be best suited to your interests is a little more
difficult. Rather than list any recommendations, let’s look at the options
available for finding Weblogs on your own:
Nosey Neighbor Technique
who write blogs tend to think of themselves as a community, and within that
community there are neighborhoods of people with common interests. These
neighbors keep in close touch, and spend time showing each other their best
new information. If the neighborhood where you grew up was like mine, there
were a few houses where all the kids gravitated because those folks had the
swing set, the wading pool, the popcorn, and got the new Atari games first.
Weblogs work in a similar way. If you are looking for a regular read rather
than something specific, the best way to find a blog is probably to see what
Weblogs are being read by other people - the ones where all the other kids go.
Start with any of the blogs listed above, or reach one using one of the
methods below. Then take a look at the blogs listed on that site. The best
hosts, who have a real talent for entertaining, get the most listings on other
- Search engine for finding blogs by keyword.
- 7000+ rated blogs by topic and alphabetically. This is a very informal
sliding scale rating system running from “Loved It” to “Hated It”,
rated by the folks who use them, so viewer beware. Also, many of these blogs
seem to be personal journals of the “me” variety.
Portal lists blogs by topic and alphabetically, and also lists non-English
is a UK based blog directory.
Page Only of Weblogs, has an eclectic categorized list.
Madness - Blogs and Weblog resources.
lists Weblogs outside the U.S.
Note that some of the above list metablogs (blogs about blogs) as a separate topic.
offers a URL search that lets you find a keyword like “legal” within the
address of a blog in its index.
Search - is a search tool for the Blogger.com Weblogs.
- Those informally rated sites mentioned above, keyword searched.
- The press loves Daypop, and it’s easy to see why. While it doesn’t
search only blogs, Dan Chan has included a select list of Weblogs and news
sites (5000 sources together) to create a current awareness search engine.
Chan is at the head of a trend that takes advantage of the up-to-the-minute
character of blogs.
Portal One of the oldest directories of blogs is searchable too.
Hot List - The100 sites most-linked-to by the pages housed at Weblogs.com.
- The researchers at the MIT Media Lab set up this site that tracks the
popularity of links cited in selected Weblogs.
Carmen's Headline Viewer - A Windows application that lets you view recent headlines from sources you select from a list of news pages and Weblogs.
- Scans indexed Weblogs once each hour, listing them as “Fresh Blogs”.
- Once this Windows program is installed, it can notify you when blogs
you’ve selected have changed.
- Reviews RSS and specially formatted (<scriptingNews>) XML files, often
used on news sites, but also on Weblogs, then provides a list of those links
each hour. Previous hour’s links for the current day are also available.
are still early enough in their development that there are many different
people with good ideas coming up with complementary and competing services to
help make blogging easier. The two getting the most press are the
user-friendly blog building tools Blogger
is a free, automated Weblog publishing tool. You can either use it to send
blog postings to an existing Web site, or you can create a page that Blogger
will host for free at blog*spot.
Either way, you don’t need to install any new software to use it. You
provide Blogger with a template of your page (or pick one of the Blogger
designs) so they know where new entries should appear. Then, to update your
page, you fill out a form at the Blogger site, submit it, and your newly
updated page will be posted automatically via FTP. More sophisticated users
can include script in their entries. Any script is processed when the page
update is made available.
offers free blog building tools at Weblogs.com,
but hosting at Weblogger costs $9.95
per month or from $79.95 per year. Happily, they do offer a trial month for
free, so you can at least see what it’s like before you decide. File updates
at Weblogs.com are browser-based. Please note: as I wrote this article, the
Weblogs.com site was undergoing a transition and was unavailable.
Scott, the above mentioned Internet Projects Manager for the University of
Saskatchewan Libraries, is a valuable resource for information about Weblogs.
He keeps a comprehensive
list of hosting providers for Weblogs and personal diaries. I’ve picked
a few from his list with features in addition to hosting and blogging that
might be of interest:
Includes chat, Webcam and guestbook.
- Basic pricing is free, but their multi-tiered pricing system includes
Web-based editing, an interface for updating by e-mail, discussion forums, one
newsgroup, e-mail, and support for collaborative editing, all without ads.
- For the more advanced user looking to develop a virtual community,
GeekLog offers user administration options, messaging, comments, polls, a
calendar, and more. It runs on several operating systems and uses PHP4 for hypertext
pre-processing and MySQL to create Web
pages built dynamically from a database.
- Browser-based editing, discussion groups, news scanning tools and more.
The first automated Weblog creation tool. Unlike most hosts that use either
FTP or web-based editing, pitas gives you the option. Also offers a "yourname.pitas.com"
Scott also has an exhaustive page listing Weblog tools to help you short-cut the posting process, build content, enhance scripting, see who has referenced your blog and much more. If your are thinking about creating your own blog, look at his tool page first to see how the enhancements you might like will work with your host.
I’ve taken a closer look at Weblogs, I don’t think I’m as far behind the
curve as I believed initially. I can see they definitely have their uses,
especially in a community as interested in sharing resources as ours. However,
I still see some room for growth:
are a range of tools available to make blogging easier, most authors do not
take advantage of them. Blog creation has started to become automated, but the
major tools really only cover the basic features of submitting new content
before the complexity of managing it starts to become a little too complicated
for most users. Blogs have a huge potential for more interactive,
collaborative applications, but until the tools become better integrated, few
users will take advantage.
There are not
enough experts writing professional blogs, and most Weblogs are too personal
to be useful to anyone other than online voyeurs. Even considering the huge
growth in blogs since the automated building tools became available, there are
not many blogs as compared to straight Web pages. There probably never will
be, but there are many niches left to be filled.
difficult to search and still mainly dependent on the community of blog
creators for word of mouth recommendations by cross-posting, though DayPop
is definitely making forward progress.
find it interested that there is so much enthusiasm among otherwise staid
individuals for a publishing format. It reminds me of the initial rush to
create Websites that has left the Internet littered with pages people got
bored with and failed to maintain. Yet, people are passionate about blogging,
and many Weblogs seem to be as much about persuading readers that blogging is
great as they are about saying anything useful.
was asking me before I wrote this article whether I was going to create a blog
of my own. My initial response was no; I don’t surf the Web enough to see
things so quickly that referencing them would be useful to very many Web
users. On further consideration, while that aspect of blogging is helpful,
it’s the added value of the comments authors add to their links (thank you
Tara Calishain and Gary Price) by comparing resources, noting potential
improvements, and sparking inspiration, which sticks with you even when the
resources are obsolete. From that perspective, I may actually have a few
things to say that wouldn’t be a waste of space. If you feel the same and
are considering creating a Weblog, or simply want to learn more on the topic,
here are a few more resources that may help:
Are a Natural for Librarians from Paula J. Hane in NewsLink,
Issue 24, October 2001.
News: Law Librarians as Newscasters from Susannah Crego, New Jersey Law
Journal, September 4, 2001.
Complete Guide to Weblogs from Peter Scott, author of far too many other
pages to list.
Tools - Good but dated
resources for information on blogs from Weblogs.com.
1. Jesse Garrett, “Ye Olde Skool” section of http://www.jjg.net/portal/tpoowl.html, The Page Only of Weblogs as it appeared on 10/9/2001.