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November 06, 2008

A new world of Blogs

World of Blogs

A prominent English channel hosted a chat show under its segment, ‘We the people’. It had the same title as this article (and no, I am not in breach of any copyright as I had used this phrase in my article on Bollywood blog wars a few weeks ago). It had a very interesting mix of bloggers, authors and some people from the media. The issue under discussion was if regulatory mechanism should be planned for the world of web logs, now universally known as blogs.


Various opinions were expressed and the show also dwelt for a substantial amount of time on the content of blogs in India. There were some very brave young bloggers on the show (they shall remain unnamed in this article) who had excerpts from their blogs put up on screen for the world to read and discuss. The reason for taking this liberty was that since these bloggers had anyway put this stuff out into the public domain using it on the show was not a breach of privacy.


This is an interesting situation. The reason many bloggers put even very intimate details on the blogs is that they are cloaked by the anonymity that the internet provides. The argument goes that the risk to breach of privacy is self generated and the bloggers bear responsibility for it. The problems arise when this same anonymity is used for slander, defamation, blackmail or any other kind of unsavory use. The need for regulatory mechanism arises due to this misuse of the Internet in general and the blogs in particular. The question is that in the mammoth world of I Internet, how practical is it to track down the culprit and seek justice?


Regarding the issue of content regulation, I think, given the enormous size of the world of internet, it would be difficult to regulate the blogs. Some regulatory framework will get into place going forward but the real control will come from the blogging community itself. Just as in the world of print media, the publications have their niche readership and those indulging in yellow journalism do not have any credibility amongst the journalistic community and the readers, similarly with time the credible stuff on the blogs will stand out and the rest will fall by the wayside.


Already the figures speak for themselves. There are some 4,00,000 registered bloggers in India, out which only about 40,000 are active. To register for a blog is easy but to consistently be able to generate content that will find readership is another matter altogether. Many register, post a few posts and then fall off the radar. Out of those that doggedly stick to it, only some find wide readership. No one writes just for their own writing pleasure. We all look for an audience and it’s the reader feedback that keeps most of us motivated. Lack of eyeballs usually spells the death knell for many blogs.


Committed bloggers, with interesting content, are already finding ways to build trusted communities with similar interests and this in itself places some regulation in place. The blogging friends might be only virtual presences in our lives but we value their participation nonetheless and avoid indulging in offensive practices. As far as the community of ‘anonymous’ comment posters is concerned, no one really cares for their opinions. At worst, they offend our sensibilities by crude and vile remarks but in the final reckoning they do not count for anything. The world of blogs is relatively new in India. Weeding out of the nuisance stuff will take place as the blogging world matures and comes into its own.


Regarding the issue of most Indian blogs, reading like online diaries where people write mostly about their personal lives with special emphasis on their dating hits and misses and their sex lives, I think this too is due to the novelty factor. The host of the TV show was most perplexed by this phenomenon, given the fact that in the West blogging is now a very skilled and mainstream activity and some of the best political commentators now run their own blogs. The specialist blogs devoted to specific subjects are very popular and credible sources of information in these countries.


Personally, I think our blogs are what they are because we are still at a nascent stage in terms of blogging, but sooner or later we will get to the stage where blogs become a credible, alternate medium for political and social commentary. The current obsession, with sex and sex related content is merely reflective of where we are as a society.

This is the first time that the Indian society is not only experiencing a less rigid social environment, but also has a tool like the Internet at its disposal to discuss these ‘taboo’ issues. The anonymity of the Internet lets us be more expressive then we would be in face to face encounters. And there is nothing wrong with being a little more open about such issues anyway.



Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.


Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Whatever the underlying causes may be, people coping with cancer diagnoses and other serious conditions are increasingly seeking—and finding—solace in the blogosphere. “Blogging undoubtedly affords similar benefits” to expressive writing, says Morgan, who wants to incorporate writing programs into supportive care for cancer patients.


By all appearances, the blog boom is the most democratized revolution in media ever. Starting a blog is ridiculously cheap; indeed, blogging software and hosting can be had for free online. There are also easy-to-use ad services that, for a small fee, will place advertisements from major corporations on blogs, then mail the blogger his profits. Blogging, therefore, should be the purest meritocracy there is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nobody from the sticks or a well-connected Harvard grad. If you launch a witty blog in a sexy niche, if you’re good at scrounging for news nuggets, and if you’re dedicated enough to post around the clock—well, there’s nothing separating you from the big successful bloggers, right? I can do that.
In theory, sure. But if you talk to many of today’s bloggers, they’ll complain that the game seems fixed. They’ve targeted one of the more lucrative niches—gossip or politics or gadgets (or sex, of course)—yet they cannot reach anywhere close to the size of the existing big blogs. It’s as if there were an A-list of a few extremely lucky, well-trafficked blogs—then hordes of people stuck on the B-list or C-list, also-rans who can’t figure out why their audiences stay so comparatively puny no matter how hard they work. “It just seems like it’s a big in-party,” one blogger complained to me. (Indeed, a couple of pranksters last spring started a joke site called Blogebrity and posted actual lists of the blogs they figured were A-, B-, and C-level famous.)


That’s a lot of inequality for a supposedly democratic medium. Not long ago, Clay Shirky, an instructor at New York University, became interested in this phenomenon—and argued that there is a scientific explanation. Shirky specializes in the social dynamics of the Internet, including “network theory”: a mathematical model of how information travels inside groups of loosely connected people, such as users of the Web.





It is just a passing phase though and once we have done our share of expressing our angst, finding our dream dates, venting our spleen at the society’s restrictions and generally let out all our repressed and suppressed feelings online, we too will go beyond it. The West having had its sexual revolution in the 60s, via the flower power of the hippies, had relatively less need to do all this on their blogs. Already in India there is growing trend of specialty tech blogs, celebrity blogs and blogs devoted to sports and music. It is just a matter of time before well known authors, journalist, social and political commentators, artists and musicians also join the bandwagon bringing both depth and width to this wonderful world of blogs. So, write on to your heart’s content, dear bloggers!

SIDDHARTHA SHANKAR MISHRA,
NEAR PROFESSORS’ COLONY,
AT/PO-BUDHARAJA,
DIST- SAMBALPUR,
ODISHA,
PIN- 768004.

Blog it in Hindi

IN FACT there are many Hindi blogs which boast of lots of clicks everyday – many a time, more than a hundred readers feel that they should comment on the post in the blog. So, Hindi blogosphere already boasts of many Amitabh Bachchans. Let’s see how.


When a new technology arrives, everyone feels inclined to exploit it, if it offers exploitable features. Using one’s own language is one such exploitable feature. Soon after the Internet started gaining popularity, there were people willing to see their language put to use on the Internet. Hindi lovers were one of them and soon we saw the emergence of Hindi websites on the Internet. This we may call as the first phase. Hindi-writing and Hindi-reading was not so easy in the first phase as most documents were either scanned or typed using primitive Hindi fonts. Hindi-typing was tough and scanning was not an easy task. What people wanted was using Hindi at their convenience.


Then, along came the era of transliteration. In transliteration, one script was transformed into another - like you wrote Hindi words in the Roman script and then transliterated it into the Devanagari script. The software which used such tools could be downloaded free of cost. This needed the relevant software to read such write-ups. If you installed the relevant software in your computer, you might read; if not, you might watch a lot of squares on your computer screen. The software needed a particular combination of key-strokes for each and every Devanagari character that one needed to remember – quite a tough task obviously.


Something which changed the status of Hindi usage on the Internet was the arrival of Unicode fonts (such as UTF 7) with transliteration capability. Here you write Hindi in the Roman script on your computer screen and it will be transliterated into Devanagari. If you feel the word is not correct, you have options to choose from. Using this is something close to perfection and the Hindi in Devanagari script is clear and clean. Moreover, this form of Hindi is supported by the main search engines and operating systems like Windows XP and Vista. Websites like quillpad.com and tools like Google Indic Transliteration tools make Hindi writing so easy that everyone who so desires, can write Hindi on the Internet. There are other tools like Romanators which transliterate the content into other Indian scripts. So if one knows Hindi but can’t read the Devanagari script, one may get to read it in the Tamil script.


This brought about a revolution in blogosphere and soon, Hindi blogs started to grow exponentially. Hindi lovers from all over the world switched their blogs to the Hindi language; everyone got so enthusiastic that soon there emerged blog aggregators for Indian languages. A blog aggregator is a website which registers every blog and places it in its page as soon as a new post arrives. Those willing to read blogs just visit the blog aggregators and choose the blogs they need. Thus they help the blogs to attract traffic and the readers to access blogs. Currently there are many Hindi blog aggregators like blogvani, narad, chitthajagat, chittha wishva and Hindi blogs.


There are other websites like chitthacharcha and Google charcha samooh which discuss posts on several blogs giving precise information on what is going on in the Hindi blogosphere.

Blog aggregators help the new blogs greatly because when one starts, one may not have many readers. With the number of Hindi blogs rising everyday, anyone who desires to express in his / her own language has a platform. There has been a sudden rise in Hindi poems, short stories and views on society, economy and politics. There are a few theme blogs like women’s blogs where more than one blogger shares the same platform. Everyday, each and every piece of information, news, etc, is discussed and thus, a cyber coffee house sort of ambience is created. There are blogs to tell you how to use new technology and how to make your blog better; there are tips on health issues, writing a poem or a story or even a gazal.


Hindi blogs are working as an alternative media which help you in getting your views published, commented upon and appreciated. That is why many notable names from media, literature and the social sector and the masses as well just log on to any blog service and start blogging in Hindi. Trust me - it is a cool and effective way to say something.