Online community expert, Matthew Gross, examines the potential of online journals as both powerful and empowering tools.
What is it about blogs that make them such a powerful force for social change?
In the simplest form, a blog (short for weblog) is nothing more than a journal kept on the web. There are millions of such journals on the Internet—and thousands more are created every day. A blog can be about anything, and can range in scope from a personal diary to a journal discussing sports, politics, or international affairs.
But what makes blogs much more powerful than traditional journals—and, in fact, what makes blogs empowering—is the ability that bloggers have to link to one another—to debate one another’s ideas, to challenge each others’ thinking, or to point out something of interest to the rest of the world.
Most forms of mass communications are broadcast communications—one person or group disseminates its ideas or content to a larger audience. Before the Internet, mass communication was inherently hierarchical—the message went from one to many. Television, radio, and print communication was (and still is) accessible primarily to those with the economic means to purchase advertisements or otherwise gain access to editorial control.
Blogs break down the monopoly of broadcast communication by providing the power of self-publishing—and by removing the traditional filters that often keep the most powerful communications tools out of the hands of ordinary people. Using a service like Blogger (http://www.blogger.com), for example, a person can create a blog for free, within minutes. The technical and economic barriers to blogging are very low—if you have access to the Internet, and can write an email, then you have all the skills necessary to start your own blog.
But blogs aren’t just a cheap way of starting your own website, or another way of broadcasting a message—because the blogosphere is an inherently democratic medium. Information in the blogosphere moves laterally (rather than vertically, as it does in traditional and hierarchical forms of mass communication). The seed of an idea, written about by one person on their blog, can be almost instantly expanded upon by another person linking to the original post. A third blogger might add their own personal experience to the discussion, making the conversation richer still. A forth person may add a comment in the comment threads. In the blogosphere, anyone can become a participant, instantly. In fact, that participation is what the blogosphere is all about.
Blogs, then, are a many-to-many medium. By linking to each other and beginning conversations, bloggers create community—a community that crosses geographic and national boundaries. In the blogosphere, you can start up a discussion with someone half a world away—and in doing so play a role in helping to further the bonds between people everywhere. And when bloggers decide to take action together—when the community they’ve formed agrees to use its collective power to change the world—the resulting change can be amazing. For what is stronger than people acting together in common purpose?