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.
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.