Saturday, July 29, 2006
Just a decade ago blogging started as a form of simple text narration. Since then it has grown by leaps and bounds and offers a forum to the ordinary citizen and organisations to express themselves freely. Subimal Bhattacharjee says there may be some concerns about this freedom of expression but there’s no justification for blocking blogsites
In 1994 when Justin Hall started making personal online notes and continued this for 11 long years, little did he realise that the whole world would be taking up his action in varied degrees in the next few years. Today some 120 million such persons come and make those notes on the Internet and this increases by 10 million every month. These notes are commonly known as blogs as short form of weblogs, which is a form of websites where the contents are written in the reverse chronological order and cover diverse subjects. The term blog was coined by Peter Merholz in the year 1999 when he segregated weblog into ‘we’ and ‘blog’ in his blogging space, peterme.com.
So blogging is a relatively new phenomenon in cyberspace and it is one the fastest growing among the users of Internet. Today it is used both as a noun and verb — in the former it refers to the content notings and in the latter it refers to the act of writing or editing weblogs. It got into the Webster dictionary in 2001.
A typical blog consists of a title, body text which also has the link and the date and time of the posting. While blogging started as a form of simple text narration, today it has grown in sophistication and can be categorised according to different parameters. Thus we have videologs and photologs for blogs having video and photo components respectively. Likewise depending on the topic of the content, we have political blog if it pertains to politics, music blog if it pertains to music and travel blog if it relates to travel. Some of the most popular blogging sites are blogspot.com, typepad.com, geocities.com and boingboing.com.
Thus from a humble beginning around 1994, where only some hundreds of blog pages were there, today blogging has crossed some billions of pages and it continues to grow rapidly. It still remains a predominantly personal expression space, although personalities from the political and celebrity spaces have used the medium for reaching out more effectively. However some public forums as well as corporate houses and trade bodies are finding the medium useful for propagation of ideas and programmes and at the same time gather reactions from the users.
While not many commercial tones have been attached to the blogs, some entrepreneurs are looking at the targeted advertising to garner revenue out of this pursuit. This, incidentally, is viewed negatively by the users who want the blogging space to remain a forum free from commercial tones.
Blogging is getting increasingly popular with journalists and the media today. Many journalists today sift through the blog spaces to find out new and interesting incidents for reporting and analysis and many of them maintain detailed blog sites to get citizen participation. Even mainstream media like newspapers and television channels give coverage to blogs. The redesigned Guardian newspaper in the UK in September last year introduced a column on blogs in the second page of the newspaper sensing popular demands.
Blogging is also very popular in the political space. Apart from the huge coverage of political incidents in blog spaces, there is also the avid interest of politicians to maintain and listen to blogs. The Afghanistan and the Iraq wars and the tsunami have seen maximum coverage among the bloggers. Many of the American and European politicians rely on blogs to assess the mood of their constituents. Even in China, where there is large-scale censorship of the Internet, many politicians take interest in blogospheres.
Over the years, a growing number of candidates in the course of their political campaigns have come to use blogs for recording their plans and achievements and also to publish unknown facts about their rivals. During the last US presidential elections, Howard Dean used blogging to campaign among a large section of the voters.
The impact of blogging has not gone unnoticed. Many of the postings have actually resulted in actions — be it in the form of some government response, politicians becoming conscious or even employees being sacked. There was the incident where a top-ranking Indian IT professional resigned from his job after protests from a business school to destroy computers manufactured by his company.
While blogging in cyberspace offers the best forum for free expression, there are some concerns about the freedom of expression. Along with the ordinary users, many anti-social elements as well as terrorists have been misusing the medium to penetrate blogspaces and also indulge in undesirable propaganda.
Bloggers reflecting al-Qaeda propaganda, which includes psychological pressure for joining the group as also raising funds for its notorious activities, have been seen on the Internet. Many governments are actively following the blog sites to block harmful and provocative propaganda.
In India, too, blogging has caught on fast and very well. Today there are 18 million bloggers among the 50 million Internet users in the country. Internet in India is by far an urban phenomenon and so bloggers are also restricted to this sector and participate in issues relating to societal concerns and global incidents.
An interesting feature for Indian bloggers is that roughly 7 million bloggers in the country blog in Indian languages. Blogging in India has mainly been on the social front whereby people have been able to find the right forum for discussions on various issues that often gets brushed by the media and a non-caring political class. Celebrities and filmstars happen to be the most popular among the Indian bloggers.
The democratic fervour of our people has been well reflected in the blogospheres. The recent murmurings surrounding the anti-reservation protests and pro-reservation lobbying by various activists have found enough reflection in the bloggers postings. Even the controversy surrounding the removal of the AIIMS Director, Dr P. Venugopal, has also seen strong reactions from the bloggers. Likewise the tsunami that hit Tamil Nadu and other southern in December 2004 resulted in various postings which, incidentally, helped aid to reach to the right persons. Many aid workers were using blog-rooms to convey the situation in those areas devastated by the tragedy.
The recent bomb blasts in Mumbai have also seen a lot of activity on the blogging spaces. Many personal incidents have been narrated as also concerns expressed at growing intelligence failures in our government and the spread of terrorist networks. However just in the aftermath of the blasts, the government ordered the blocking of a few specific blogging spaces although most of the Internet Service Providers ended up blocking the whole blogsite due to some technical difficulties.
This resulted in huge protests from the blogger community whose massive voice was felt for the first time in the country. While most of the Indian blogging has remained safe and decent, there are attempts by some fundamentalists and anti-social groups to rake up passions through these postings.
The fact remains that along with the growth of the Internet as a free medium, blogging has grown and will grow more in the near future. The horizons for blogging will also grow further with more and more areas for discussions and propaganda. It remains to be seen how governments and their law enforcement agencies address such concerns. However for the ordinary citizen this is one of the best forums to express themselves. In a world which is moving towards more online activities, blogging will remain as a popular tool. The responsibility lies with the blogger community to see that it remains safe and hygienic.
The writer is an expert on
IT policy issues