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Pass Me the Blog, Please

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I'm often asked, "How in the world did you find THAT?" The answer, quite often, is by searching through blogs, the web's equivalent of a sophisticated early warning system.

Before we describe blogs and how they can be useful for a searcher, let's first look at where they came from. From the get-go, the web was designed as a participatory, interactive medium. Web creator Tim Berners-Lee envisioned an environment where all users were capable of both reading and publishing documents. But in the early days, server space was scarce and expensive. It was a challenge for most people to put their work online.

The advent of "community" sites like Geocities and Angelfire changed that, providing free server space for people to publish web pages. But this first wave of the "writeable web" was somewhat limited by available publishing tools. You had the choice of using a simplistic editor provided by the free service, or using your own HTML editor, but this required both knowledge and a certain degree of skill.

The second wave of the writeable web began with the emergence of "web logs," pages of commentary that were frequently updated by their owners. Web logs, or "blogs" as they have come to be known, were less like traditional web sites and more like running commentaries on the current state of the web.

According to Jorn Barger, a blog pioneer who wrote what many consider to be the definitive FAQ on blogs, "A weblog (sometimes called a blog or a newspage or a filter) is a webpage where a weblogger (sometimes called a blogger, or a pre-surfer) 'logs' all the other webpages she finds interesting."

Blogs captured the imagination of the web community, and they began proliferate like crazy. It was only a matter of time before entrepreneurs built tools and sites to facilitate the creation and maintainence of blogs. Blogspot and Blogger are two of the largest of these services.

Today there are literally thousands of blogs on the web. While many are little more than online diaries, others are produced by people who are constantly scouring the web looking for useful sites and information. A blog written by a specialist in a particular field can serve as an excellent "radar" that can rival or even outdo expensive online alerting services.

Many blogs are also useful for competitive intelligence research. Searching blogs for the names of companies or business people can often reveal some terrific scuttlebutt that you probably won't find anywhere else.

Traditional search engines can include blogs in their indices, but because blogs tend to change frequently and cover a variety of topics, they typically rank poorly and will rarely turn up in search results. If you're interested in finding information in blogs, you have two alternatives.

The first is to find a blog that interests you, and see which other blogs the author links to. There's a healthy sense of community and competition among bloggers. You'll see the more popular blogs linked on many other blog sites. This is an informal way of assessing which blogs are worth your time.

The other way is to use a blog-specific search engine or directory. The links below point to several of the better blog search services on the web; the ODP has an extensive list of others if you really want to take the plunge into the world of blogdom.

Blogger.com
http://www.blogger.com
The big kahuna of free weblog publishing tools and services. Though their directory is searchable, the site is most useful for its free weblog creation tool and companion publishing site, Blogspot.

BlogHop
http://www.bloghop.com/
BlogHop is a directory of more than 8,300 blogs, rated for "quality" by other BlogHop users.

Eatonweb Portal
http://portal.eatonweb.com/
A searchable directory of nearly 2,300 blogs, sortable by new additions, alphabetically, categorically, or filtered for non-English blogs only.

Bird on a Wire
http://students.washington.edu/lwinn/bird/map/map_results.html
A smallish blog directory, but organized by geographic location, with clickable links displayed on a map of the United States.

Linkwatcher
http://www.linkwatcher.com/
Linkwatcher is a system designed to publicize and monitor weblogs. It visits all the blogs it knows about once every hour, updates the search engine, and determines whether each blog has changed. You can either search by keyword, or scan the list of the most recently updated blogs.

Weblog Resources FAQ
http://www.robotwisdom.com/weblogs/index.html
Jorn Barger's page of Weblog information, a bit out of date but still worth a look.

Open Directory Project Web Logs Meta List
http://dmoz.org/Computers/Internet/On_the_Web/Web_Logs/Meta/
ODP's list of blog directories, portals, and other sites useful for searching for information in blogs.

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NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.


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