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Weblogs mix creative expression with practical information

By Jim Battey (November 1, 1999)

Personal sites known as Weblogs have been around for a few years, offering Web-savvy individuals a forum for expressing opinions and a chance to share links to interesting articles or obscure tidbits. Although many Weblogs are a complete waste of time, there are a number of Weblogs geared toward technology professionals that are worth a visit.

Weblogs provide a series of annotated links to items such as news stories, and often include personal rants. They are maintained by one person, most commonly someone who is involved in Web design or some other tech-related field. Weblogs are usually updated on a daily basis and always reflect the style and attitude of the author.

The first Weblog I started reading on a regular basis was The Obscure Store and Reading Room, a compilation of links to unusual news items carefully crafted each morning by journalist Jim Romenesko. Obscure Store is always an interesting read, and Romenesko does a masterful job of compiling links that are entertaining. What's more, his annotations cleverly reflect his cynicism and sense of humor.

A little respect

Up to this point, Weblogs have existed in relative obscurity. But just last week, this burgeoning genre of online communication gained some legitimacy when respected technology columnist Dan Gillmor launched his own Weblog on Mercury Center, the San Jose Mercury News' Web site.

Gillmor's Weblog, called ejournal, is meant to help chronicle a trip he is taking to Hong Kong, but it will continue even after he returns. Whereas most Weblogs are text-based and have minimal graphics, Gillmor is dressing up ejournal with photographs he is taking with a digital camera. It will be interesting to see how he will manage to keep ejournal fresh while continuing to turn out his regular column.

As should be expected, there are a number of Weblogs around these days that focus on technology and Internet topics. A few of the more useful ones include:

-Tomalak's Realm. Maintained by Lawrence Lee, this site provides a daily digest of links to news stories on Web design and Internet issues. Like any useful Weblog, the keys to the site's effectiveness are Lee's selection of links and his informative annotations. Tomalak's Realm is pretty sophisticated by Weblog standards -- Lee provides a search engine for his archives and offers a newsletter and XML version of the site.

-CamWorld. Web designer Cameron Barrett's site serves as a good launching point into the world of Weblogs. He provides a long list of his favorite Weblogs categorized by topic and riffs on a variety of subjects ranging from user-centered design to living in a wired world. CamWorld is a classic Weblog in the sense that it contains a healthy dose of attitude and personal opinion, mixed with a bit of whimsy.

-Scripting News. Software programmer Dave Winer posts a running commentary filled with updates on his latest work, links to articles from the computer press, and random musings. Winer lends his site a unique perspective because he has an extensive background in the software industry and is currently CEO of UserLand Software. True to the nature of Weblogs, Winer doesn't mind letting his readers know what CD he's listening to at the moment and isn't afraid to unabashedly root for his favorite sports team.

-Robot Wisdom. Jorn Barger compiles this bare-bones Weblog that is made up of a list of one-line headlines that link to interesting articles and a series of comments that border on stream-of-consciousness. Although the topics in the headlines section aren't necessarily tech-related, the commentary section delves into issues such as the hidden dangers of Web cookies and the most popular programs for writing business applications.

Weblogs are, at best, an essential cog in this vast experiment we call the World Wide Web and at worst, a mindless diversion. In any case, many of them are interesting, thought-provoking, and oftentimes downright entertaining. In fact, the immediacy of the Web and the ability for people to constantly update sites makes Weblogs the perfect forum for individuals to express themselves in a creative manner while providing their readers with links to useful information.

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Write to jim_battey@infoworld.com.

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