Weblogs track war in Iraq - 04/08/03
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Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Weblogs track war in Iraq

Combination of cyber journal, scrapbook place microscope on the fad of the day.



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ANN ARBOR There are now about 3.1 billion sites on the World Wide Web, according to Google.com, but one type of Web site is attracting more buzz because of the war in Iraq.

They are called blogs.

Opponents and proponents of the Iraq war alike have been posting their arguments, diaries, photos and whatever else they choose on blogs and corporations are using it to promote new products.

Rob Malda, founder of Slashdot.org, said blogs have been around almost as long as the Web.

Netlingo.com defines a blog as a type of Web site that features "a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links... often a mixture of what is happening in a person's life and what is happening on the Web, a kind of hybrid diary/guide site." The number of these online diary/Web guides have exploded as more Internet access and no-brainer Web design services become available.

Ann Arbor-based Slashdot.org, a technology news network blog, boasts 2.6 million unique visitors monthly.

Before the war, people used these sites to trade stock tips, discuss the newest technology fads, argue about the prevalance of corporate scandals and discuss or post the most mundane information or photos.

Malda and other bloggers say blogs are changing the way people get news. Blog writers offer unedited and unusual points of view and perspectives. One such example is http://www.dearraed.blogspot.com/ which claims to be the site of someone living in Baghdad. The site gives supposed daily accounts of the war and provides other views and news.

But what value is there in digging through thousands of blogs for news when a person can just go to an established news company?

Malda said blogs will never replace other media outlets, but they do give people access to news independent of corporate control.

"There's more of a water cooler feel to it," Malda said. "Who knows what corporate interests these media organizations are hiding? People are suspicious of that."

But the suspicion works both ways.

"We don't know if a dude is totally lying," he said. "There are more perspectives and it's less controlled, but it's a double-edged sword."

Like any media outlet, trust is earned, he said. Online writers can gain or lose the trust of their readers from the consistency, good or bad, of the writer.

"I strongly suspect that people don't go to blogs for facts. They go for thoughts and opinions," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which is based in Washington, D.C., and studies the impact of the Internet on society. "People are hungry for information and opinion."

Five to six million people operate their own blogs in the United States, according to Pew Internet research.

With media comes advertising.

Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. in Plano, Texas, is using blogs to promote its new milk-based soft drink, Raging Cow. Hoping to bank off the word-of-mouth advertising possible through blogs, the company built a blog around the product (blog.ragingcow.com) and offered product samples and gift certificates at Amazon.com to people who link and talk about the product on their blogs.

"We did it to create a buzz in the online community," said Kyle Rose, manager of corporate communications at Dr. Pepper/Seven Up.

This has raised some eyebrows in the blogging community, which often has few good things to say about corporate marketing ploys.

"As long as (the blogger) is up-front when they're being a tool of marketing, I don't care," Malda said.

Some blogs that are linked from the Raging Cow Web site do not tell visitors why they are linked.

On http://www.jen.secret-agent-girl.net/ run by an 18-year-old girl from Macon, Ga., a March 18 posting reads:

"If you're wondering about the banner below the tag-board, it's a promotional thing I signed up for ... This new drink sounds awesome. I can't wait to get my free sample. And no, nobody told me to say that. That was my natural cheesiness exuding."

Gary Anglebrandt is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.

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