I had an opportunity to hear Meg Hourihan, Duncan Black, Lisa Dickey and Jesse Kornbluth discuss the significance of blogging last week.

Given that it was a mixed audience, some were unsure what a blog was. Meg, one of the founders of Pyra, defined it loosely as a "website that is updated frequently". She said she despises the term because it encompasses "anything and everything" these days. Duncan also questioned why we are trying to define it.

Meg suggested that blogging is just the digital equivalent of the printing press, a description I tend to agree with. That is, it simplifies the process of publication and removes those barriers to entry. Blogging won't affect change in and of itself, but it will enable others to do so on a broader scale than we have ever imagined.

When asked if his political blog made him a journalist, Duncan said no but that he "occasionally commits acts of journalism".

Meg also talked about how the blogging phenomenon enabled niche communities that were otherwise unsustainable, alluding to but not specifically mentioning the long tail. She used the example of the "Lower Manhattan Lesbian Knitters Blog" - quite a niche indeed.

Jesse, who joined the panel late, addressed the issue of when a blog explodes and becomes bigger than mainstream media. Ironically, he says, many of these blogs become successful because of their honest and unfiltered commentary and, after becoming successful, tend to "act more like the mainstream media they once diametrically opposed". He briefly mentioned the "spy story" - I didn't quite catch all the details, but it had something to do with the DailyKos and espionage accusations.  Jesse feels that the editors have an obligation to steer the ship because otherwise the community will commit acts in the name of the bloggers that don't necessarily reflect his views. He also said that "beneath that velvet gloves lies something darker".

Next the topic turned towards blogging among political leaders. An audience member from Hungary shared that many Hungarian ministers have started blogs to share the reasoning behind their political decisions. Meg thinks it's great way for politicians to communicate as long as it is authentic - unlike, say, Howard Dean, who simply approved posts written by his staff.

Talk then turned to commercial interests in blogging. The issue in both of these cases is not commercial or political interest, but transparency. He did not discuss things like PayPerPost, but again that may have been lost on the audience.

Curiously, there was no mention of syndication and aggregation as a key element in blogging, a point I was unfortunately unable to raise during the panel. I personally think this was the catalyst for a lot of the success, because it allowed us to better keep up with the explosion of content.  In speaking about this afterwards, Duncan admitted that he doesn't even use an aggregator. Meg agreed with the importance of syndication, but stressed that it is more significant when people don't know. We discussed how syndication is sort of blurring the boundaries of a "site".

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