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A Blog by Any Other Name...

And that's still how I feel, despite the fact that Sholin is right. One of the more tiresome debates in the blogging community -- one that the "mainstream media" covers more than is necessary -- is what defines a blog. There are attempts at establishing ethics codes, rules and all sorts of guidelines to separate the blogs from the wide range of other writings that people post on the Internet.

I guess that's fine. As Sholin noted, we have all kinds of different media printed on paper that fall into categories based on presentation -- glossy magazines, daily broadsheets, tabloids, newsletters, quarterly journals.

On the Internet, however, it seems that people present personal communications in ways that are as fluid as the information we digest. Defining blogs seems to accomplish two goals: It lets bloggers identify themselves as practitioners of a rigid format, which then, ironically, allows the corporate world to figure out how to use this amazing medium for ends that have little in common with the spirit of the first-generation bloggers.

Whatever the label, I hope that Sholin and the blogging community at large remain committed to free expression online -- even if their postings expose my own errors.

Make $$$$ Instantly With Blogs!

USA Today columnist Steve Strauss illustrates what I'm saying about blogs with his answer to this question: "Blogs just seem so trendy. Aren't they just the 'Pet Rock' of the Internet? I really see no business use for them. Am I wrong here? My boss wants me to start one for our consulting business, but I say gimme a break!"

Strauss writes that blogs can strengthen relationships, build brands, improve customer service, bump up your search engine rankings and most importantly, make money: "You could sell ad space next to your blog. You could tap into affiliate programs and get paid for that. For instance, you could post an ad provided by Amazon.com or Lands' End affiliate programs and receive a commission every time readers click that ad. You could use Google Adsense. This is a service that automatically posts ads next to blogs and for every click on those 'Ads Provided by Google,' a small amount of money is paid to you."

He's talking about small businesses, of course, but this is something that even larger corporations are doing on their own level. As the song goes, "Your loving give me such a thrill, but your loving don't pay my bills, now give me money."

USA Today reporter Lorrie Grant explored the blog phenomenon as it applies to the online retail industry. She profiled three companies, including designer clothing merchant Bluefly.com: "The blog 'encourages [customers] to visit often to check postings on styles, designers and fashion faux pas,' says Melissa Payner-Gregor, CEO of Bluefly.com . The company's fashion spotters around the country post items on Flypaper, which launched in April. ... A recent study by online market research firm ComScore Networks found that shoppers who visit blogs spend about 6% more than the average online shopper. Payner-Gregor says that result is in line with Bluefly's experience. 'The people who spend time on our blog are the people who are ... the very top customers that we have,' says the former CEO of fashion catalog Spiegel."

Movie studios are taking advantage of other people's blogs as advertising for their big-budget-small-audience films, the New York Times reported. A good case in point is " The Constant Gardner," the adaptation of John Le Carre's novel of greed and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz:

"In particular, the ads for 'The Constant Gardener' seem to seek out people who distrust multinational corporations. The banner contains the taglines 'The corruption is contagious' and 'The conspiracy is global,' and links to the film's Web site, where snippets of dialogue about 'payoffs, cover-ups, unmarked graves' can be heard in the trailer. Joseph Jaffe, the president of Jaffe L.L.C., a marketing consulting firm in Westport, Conn., agreed. 'The movie is about getting people to talk about a social issue,' he said. 'Blog readers want to be able to respond and add their own points of view. 'The goal is to find and engage a very small subset of influential thinkers and opinion leaders.'"

Oh Mr. Jaffe, the point is to use all means that their disposal to scrape together enough cash to mollify the studio chief who promised that heads would roll if this film failed to top box-office returns on "The Tailor of Panama."

On another note, the article says that an ad for "The Aristocrats" on sites such as Gawker.com and the Onion entices readers by allowing them to submit their version of the dirty joke. That's a great idea for an ad, but I'm not sure I need that kind of gut-churning humor at this hour of the morning.

Blog Like a Civil Servant

That is, blog rarely, if ever. This is the example being set by Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams (D), who managed to provoke this laugh-riot headline from the copydesk at The Washington Post: "Mayor Punctuates His New Blog With Silence."

You don't really need to read the article at this point, but here's what reporter Eric Weiss observed: "Mayor Anthony A. Williams can usually be found wearing a bow tie, not an iPod. Nonetheless, Williams (D) decided to do a cannonball dive into the new world of blogs. He posted his first installment, 'Getting Started: What Button Do I Push?' on Aug. 15. In the nine days the mayor has had his blog, 44 responders have tried to engage him. But after a while, it seemed to some that the host had left the party. Days started to go by without a post from Williams. After six days without a mayoral missive, responders became impatient. 'Mr. Mayor: You really need to make some comments so we can know what your views are,' asked 'bjones.' 'How long do you think folks will stay tuned?'"

Apparently they'll stay around for a second posting, which eventually did show up. Williams's posting, titled "Good Lord, Are We There Yet?," starts like this: "It's been a week since my last official entry and I know what you're thinking. 'Isn't this pace a little processional? Can't you speed it up?' And this has been slow. After all, as Yoda would say, 'a weekly paragraph will not an exciting blog make.'"

OK, the man has a sense of humor, and that's news to DC denizens, believe me.

I was going to write that I would prefer our mayors to spend less time blogging and more time on the hard work of running troubled cities, but I changed my mind after reading this from the Associated Press: "He said the blog, along with other recent, high-visibility events, is just indicative of his efforts to improve city services. In recent weeks, the mayor has hosed graffiti off a building and filmed a cameo in a movie with Michael Douglas."

What is it? The sequel to the China Syndrome? Check back next year for the Mayor's latest blog entry.

Send links and comments to robertDOTmacmillanATwashingtonpost.com.


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