From Prince Harry in Afghanistan to Tom Cruise ranting about Scientology and footage from the Burmese uprising, blogging has never been bigger. It can help elect presidents and take down attorney generals while simultaneously celebrating the minutiae of our everyday obsessions. Here are the 50 best reasons to log on. The article below said ‘Psychodwarf‘ was Beppe Grillo‘s nickname for ‘Mario Mastella, leader of the Popular-UDEUR center-right party,’ but it’s actually his nickname for Silvio Berlusconi. Mastella‘s first name is Clemente, and Popular-UDEUR was part of Romano Prodi‘s center-left coalition. And Peter Rojas, not Ryan Block, founded Engadget and co-founded Gizmodo. Apologies.
1. The Huffington Post
The history of political blogging might usefully be divided into the period’s pre– and post-Huffington. Before the millionaire socialite Arianna Huffington decided to get in on the act, bloggers operated in a spirit of underdog solidarity. They hated the mainstream media – and the feeling was mutual. Bloggers saw themselves as gadflies, pricking the arrogance of established elites from their home computers, in their pajamas, late into the night. So when, in 2005, Huffington decided to mobilize her fortune and media connections to create, from scratch, a flagship liberal blog, she was roundly derided. Who spluttered the original bloggerati? Did she think she was?
Sign up for the new-look Media Briefing: bigger, better, brighter. But the pajama purists were confounded. Arianna’s money talked just as loudly online as off, and the Huffington Post quickly became one of the most influential and popular journals on the web. It recruited professional columnists and celebrity bloggers. It hoovered up traffic. Its launch was a landmark moment in the evolution of the web because it showed that many of the old rules still applied to the new medium: a bit of marketing savvy and deep pockets could go just as far as geek credibility and get there faster.
Huffington’s success made the first generation of bloggers look like two-bit prospectors panning for nuggets in shallow creeks before the big mining operations moved in to borrow the gold-rush simile beloved of web pioneers. In the era pre-Huffington era, big media companies ignored the web or feared it; post-Huffington started to treat it as just another marketplace, open to exploitation. Three years on, Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace, while newbie amateur bloggers have to gather traffic crumbs from under the table of the big-time publishers. Least likely to post ‘I’m so over this story – check out the New York Times.’
2. Boing Boing
Lego reconstructions of pop videos and cakes baked in the shape of iPods are not generally considered relevant to serious political debate. But even the most earnest bloggers will often take time out of their busy schedule to pass on some titbit of mildly entertaining geek ephemera. No one has done more to promote pointless, yet strangely cool, time-wasting stuff on the net than the editors of Boing Boing (subtitle: A Directory of Wonderful Things). It launched in January 2000 and has had an immeasurable influence on the style and idiom of blogging. But hidden among the pictures of steam-powered CD players and Darth Vader tea towels, there is a steely, ultra-liberal political agenda: championing the web as a global medium free of state and corporate control.
Boing Boing chronicles cases where despotic regimes have silenced or imprisoned bloggers. It helped channel blogger scorn on yahoo and Google when they kowtowed to China’s censors to win investment opportunities. It was instrumental in exposing the creeping erosion of civil liberties in the US under post-9/11 ‘Homeland Security’ legislation. And it routinely ridicules attempts by the music and film industries to persecute small-time file sharers and bedroom pirates instead of getting their own web strategies in order. It does it all with gentle, irreverent charm, polluted only occasionally with gratuitous smut.
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Their dominance of the terrain where technology meets politics makes the Boing Boing crew geek aristocracy. Least likely to post ‘Has anyone got a stamp?’
Techcrunch began in 2005 as a blog about dot-com start-ups in Silicon Valley but has quickly become one of the most influential news websites across the entire technology industry. Founder Michael Arrington had lived through the internet goldrush as a lawyer and entrepreneur before deciding that writing about new companies was more of an opportunity than starting them himself. His site is now ranked the third-most-popular blog globally by search engine Technorati, spawning a mini-empire of websites and conferences as a result. Business Week named Arrington one of the 25 most influential people on the web, and Techcrunch has even scored interviews with Barack Obama and John McCain.
With a horde of hungry geeks and big money investors online, Techcrunch is the largest of a wave of technology-focused blog publishers to tap into the market – GigaOm, PaidContent, and Mashable among them – but often prove more contentious than its rivals, thanks to Arrington’s aggressive relationships with traditional media and his conflicts of interest as an investor himself.
Least likely to post ‘YouTube? It’ll never catch on.’
One of the early wave of blogging pioneers, web designer Jason Kottke started keeping track of interesting things on the internet as far back as 1998. The site took off, boosted partly through close links to popular blog-building website Blogger (later married one of the founders). And as the phenomenon grew quickly, Kottke became a well-known filter for surfers on the lookout for interesting reading.
Kottke remains one of the purest old-skool bloggers on the block – it’s a selection of links to websites and articles rather than a repository for detailed opinion – and although it remains fairly esoteric, his favorite topics include film, science, graphic design, and sport. He often picks up trends and happenings before friends start forwarding them to your inbox. Kottke‘s decision to consciously avoid politics could be part of his appeal (he declares himself ‘not a fan), particularly since the blog’s voice is literate, sober, and inquiring, unlike much of the red-faced ranting found elsewhere online.
A couple of key moments boosted Kottke‘s fame: first, bSonythreatened with legal action bor breaking news about a TV show, but most notably quitting his web-design job and going solo three years ago. A host of ‘micronations and readers donated cash to cover his salary, but these days he gets enough advertising to pay the bills. He continues to plug away at the site as it enters its 10th year.
Least likely to post ‘Look at this well-wicked vid of a dog on a skateboard.’
One of the best-known personal bloggers (those who provide more of a diary than a soapbox or reporting service), Heather Armstrong, has been writing online since 2001. Though personal websites came before hers, certain elements conspired to make Dooce one of the biggest public diaries since Samuel Pepys’s (whose diary is itself available, transcribed in blog form, at Pepysdiary.com). Primarily, Armstrong became one of the first high-profile cases of somebody being fired for writing about her job.
Armstrong was sacked after describing events that her employer – a dotcom start-up – thought reflected badly on them; the incident caused such fierce debate that Dooce found itself turned into a verb that is used in popular parlance (often without users realizing its evolution): ‘dooced – to be fired from one’s job as a direct result of one’s personal website’. Behind Dooce stands an army of personal bloggers perhaps not directly influenced by, or even aware of, her work – she represents the hundreds of thousands who decide to share part of their life with strangers.
Armstrong’s honesty has added to her popularity, and she has written about work, family life, postnatal depression, motherhood, puppies, and her Mormon upbringing with the same candid and engaging voice. Readers feel that they have been brought into her life and reward her with their loyalty. Since 2005 the advertising revenue on her blog alone has been enough to support her family. Least likely to post, ‘I like babies, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.’