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When blogging came of age

In the mad scramble for more information and insight about last week's suicide bombings, Web logs proved their value--and then some, says CNET's Charles Cooper.

It was well past midnight and I was bleary-eyed from scrolling through yet another Web log. My wife had long since gone to sleep, and even the cats had turned in.

But there I was, still glued to my computer, zipping from one link to the next in search of more information as I desperately tried to get my arms around the enormity of last week's suicide bombings.

As events unfolded, this was turning out to be the Web's story. To be sure, sundry big media outlets on their own Internet sites were offering ample "content." Yet deep pockets and all, the big news organizations were still limited by time and resource constraints of their own. What's more, the initial crush of Internet traffic sometimes made it nigh impossible to get through--and even when you did, the individual menus were relatively limited.

If you were scouring the Internet for news and context during those first terrible hours, you could have done a lot worse than eavesdropping on the free-wheeling mini-universe of Web logs chockablock with first-hand info and spirited commentary about what was going on.

Sometimes they were raw, sometimes they were pretentious and sometimes they were flat-out wrong--I'd dare say that many times it was all three combined!--but the information was fresh and real and unmediated by any intervening institutions.

That blogging has become a popular surrogate venue for offering a voice and a platform to regular folks shouldn't come as any surprise. The phenomenon started in earnest a couple of years ago with the launch of sites like Blogger and Weblogger, which provided regular people with publishing tools they could use to get their voices heard through the medium of the Internet.

Since then, blogging has taken off in remarkable fashion; in some way, it has made good where newsgroups have failed, helping deliver on the delayed promise that the Internet would provide real community to Web surfers. Tuning in to some of the newsgroups devoted to the terror attacks, I sometimes felt in the middle of a verbal war zone with so much noise passing for informed discussion.

If you spent as much time surfing through Web logs, you'd also run across angry ruminations, ranging from the pretentious to the ninth moon of Jupiter. Still, for my money, some of the best stuff was being served up in this most unlikely venue.

Some bloggers who were near ground zero offered updates on how people were being affected. Others did their part by chipping in with links to other news resources and commentaries--and, of course, to aid organizations accepting donations.

Everyone has their favorites, and mine during the past couple of weeks included:

• Dave Winer's Scripting News. Among the better blogs during the current crisis. Winer, who is a software developer and operates one of the earliest Web logs, featured a number of valuable links to news articles from around the world as well as intelligent bits of commentary that offered readers a point of view not usually served up on the mainstream CNN-MSNBC-Fox express train.

• Jim Romenesko's Media News. Well, I'm a news junkie, and Romenesko's is a delight for people looking for links and informed analysis about what the media is thinking about as it attempts to explain this complicated, immense and still-developing story.

• Former Los Angeles Times journalist Mike Reilly runs a Web log that's not in journal or diary form. Instead, it features a trove of links to related sites that will help you get informed in a hurry about the story. (At last look, he offered some 225 links...and counting.)

• If you really want to spend serious time researching what's out there, you can indulge at Eatonweb, which has compiled a list of blogs about everything under the sun in alphabetical order.

All in all, I?ve revised my earlier views about the usefulness of blogging, moving full circle from my earlier position. Yes, there's still a lot of chaff out there, and it's the reader's responsibility to sift and choose. But in the best spirit of grassroots participation, these new information gatekeepers are helping to rewrite the rules.

Not that they are about to displace the main organs of journalism. I don't think any serious blogger would make that claim.

But to the degree that they complement, supplement and otherwise advance understanding of our human condition, bloggers far and wide merit serious praise. Because they help tell the story.