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Blogging And The City

by Laura Forlano, Jul 14, 2003
 

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Thousands of New Yorkers are inviting total strangers into their lives by posting their thoughts online (and linking to things that interest them) in often personal journals, called web logs or just blogs.

Blogs are particularly useful for telling the folks back home what you are up to without having to pick up the phone or write e-mail; in a city of transients and transplants, this is one technology that serves a true purpose. In the media capital of the world, though, it shouldn't be surprising that some bloggers have aspirations beyond personal expression, aiming to be treated as journalists ... or media pundits ... or at least gossip columnists. In fact, a few have started to realize their ambitions, launching (or advancing) professional writing careers as the result of their blogs.

As Catherine Shu pointed out in her list of favorite NYC blogs on one of Gotham Gazette’s own weblogs (see her entry for June 26), there is a blog called nycbloggers that aims to connect to as many NYC blogs as possible. The key feature is an interactive map which links each blog to the author’s closest subway stop. The exact time of each entry is posted and authors often mention where they are or where they’ve been prior to writing.

Another list of sites in and around NYC is searchable at GeoURL. GeoURL was written by Joshua Schachter, a visionary blogger that started community entertainment site memepool in 1998.

You can find NYC blogs on just about everything. For example, there is a list of 32 blogs that (more or less) have something to do with technology.

And blogs are faster and easier to create than Web sites, using Web publishing software like MovableType or inexpensive services like Blogger and Blog*Spot.

Many bloggers like to link to one another, and some favorite New York blogs have emerged. Gen Kanai, a New Yorker currently living in Tokyo, lists his favorite New York blogs as Gawker and Gothamist, along with blogs by Anil Dash, Jason Kottke, Jeff Jarvis and Paul Ford. Another NYC-centric blog, EverythingNY, begun by Ari Paparo in March, has recently started to summarize and link to all the latest posts from some half dozen of his favorite NYC blogs -- updated automatically, every 15 minutes!

Blogs have become businesses, albeit not very profitable ones yet. That said, some of the most skilled bloggers claim to make upwards of $20,000 per year in additional income from contributions from friends, family, fans and those who just can’t live without hearing from their favorite bloggers. Nycbloggers sells merchandise like “Brooklyn Bloggers” t-shirts and “Big Apple” coffee mugs, lunch boxes and messenger bags to pay for their overhead and keep people passionate about blogging. Some blogs have started to run ads.

If blogs have reached the point of competing with other media outlets for readers' attention, are they strengthening our relationships, communities and cities or are they merely self-centered musings gone public? It is too early to tell.

However, the impact of this new medium was felt after 9/11 as many New Yorkers turned to their blogs to share their experiences and grief. Thus, the nycbloggers site has dedicated a whole section to 9/11 posts which is linked to the subway stations closed after the attack. There were also those observers who argued after the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times that bloggers were responsible for keeping that story alive past what would have been its normal shelflife, disrupting the Times so much that the publisher of the Times felt forced to accept the resignations of the executive editor and managing editor.

What’s next? Mobile blogging or sending images from your cell phone directly to the Internet. The images include location information about the place where the photo was taken.

“ Moblogging” (pronounced “moe blogging” NOT “mob logging”) has already become popular with a core group of eclectic enthusiasts in Europe and Asia where camera-phones have been already on the market for several years. In early July, the first International Moblogging Conference (1IMC), was held in Tokyo. The excitement is spreading as more advanced phones hit the market in New York. By next year, there could be enough mobloggers in New York to warrant hosting the event here.

In the future, cities may also allow people to access information about their surroundings on small wireless devices. For example, NYU graduate and Web-site design guru Adam Greenfield offers this vision of how technology might be integrated into cities:

" You're on the corner of Washington and Greene facing southeast. In front of you is what is now NYU's Main building. Now look up - you're looking at the site of the worst fire in the history of New York City. On March 25th, 1911, 146 women doing textile piecework burned to death inside of fifteen minutes because the bosses had locked the doors on them."

In Other News

Arts and technology non-profit Eyebeam is playing host to several great events this Summer including a Robot festival in partnership with New York-Tokyo and its sixth annual Digital Day Camp. The day camp focuses on civil disobedience, cyber-activism and contagious media. It will have a public exhibition of student’s final projects from July 29 to August 2.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.


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