Blogging communities’ popularity draws students

Patricia Drey

After breaking up with his girlfriend last September, University student Dan Johnson had a little extra time on his hands, so he began posting his friends’ antics online on a daily Web log, or “blog.”

Johnson, a journalism senior, said the blog has kept him motivated to write. His stylized accounts of punk karaoke, parties and overheard conversations so captivate his 20 to 30 readers they send him harassing e-mails if he waits too long between posts.

By the looks of the Web these days, Johnson is not the only one with a little extra time. Blog sites and communities are popping up all over cyberspace – and University students like Johnson are taking part in the phenomenon.

Blogs are frequently updated online journals organized chronologically. They are a lot like diaries, with one big difference: Many of them are actually intended to be read by other people.

Although they have been around since the advent of the Internet, blogs have become more popular and available recently.

Some bloggers like Johnson write about the events in their daily lives, but others focus on a particular subject. Usually the authors mix their own opinions with links to other sites on related subjects.

Issue-related blogs act as information “filters,” said Clancy Ratliff, a rhetoric graduate student. Ratliff has her own blog and writes for the online rhetoric journal “Kairosnews.”

Ratliff has made blog use a primary focus of her research. She’s examining why the most popular bloggers tend to be male.

“I find that there is sometimes conflict in blogging communities centered on gender,” Ratliff said. “Men tend to link to other men more often than they link to women.”

Ratliff said in the world of blogging, links become a status symbol. A blog becomes more prestigious when it is linked from other sites.

Although there are popular female bloggers, the “A-list” is mostly males, Ratliff said.

One popular blogger, Andrew Sullivan, has readers so dedicated they actually send him donations. Even less-read Web authors such as Josh Kortbein, a University philosophy graduate student, receive gifts from fans.

Kortbein reviews music on his blog and estimates that about 200 people visit his site regularly. Since he started in December 1999, he said, readers have sent him six or seven books and a handful of CDs, but that’s not the reason he keeps blogging.

“If I’m doing anything that I think other people would like to read, I want them to have the chance to do that,” Kortbein said. “If it was just for me, I wouldn’t do it.”

Most bloggers do not have a tangible incentive. Nadhra Halig, a mechanical engineering senior who has had a blog since fall 2000, said she does not care how many people read her blog.

Halig’s blog contains her experiences, reflections and opinions on controversial issues. She said as an Institute of Technology student, she does not get many chances to write in class, so she uses her blog for practice.

Johnson said he would prefer his site remain less widely read. His blog contains too much incriminating evidence about his friends, he said.

Patricia Drey covers student life and

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