For the first decade of its existence, the World Wide Web was primarily a new vehicle for fast-growing numbers of online users to get information from the same sources that had always provided it. The medium offered unprecedented convenience and efficiency; today, more than 90 percent of users see the Internet as a good place to obtain everyday information, including news (Fallows, 2005). But the providers were mostly traditional institutional elites, including media outlets, government agencies, universities, and both for-profit and nonprofit business entities.

Of course, individuals have been building their own Web sites since the first graphics browsers emerged from the labs in the early 1990s. Some of these personal sites developed a following, but their reach and impact generally have been minuscule compared with, say, the 20 million unique visitors a month to sites offered by MSNBC or CNN (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004).

These mainstream media sites, along with those offered by major newspapers and other news organizations, have become increasingly proficient at taking advantage of the Web's attributes, including its inherent interactivity. But they remain traditional journalistic enterprises, using the online medium to accommodate and extend what they see as their core strength: gathering, organizing, verifying and delivering information to the rest of us.

Blogs are a media form inherent to the Web, similar to personal Web sites but better in various ways. The do-it-yourself sites of the 1990s were often poorly designed and technologically shaky, as well as nearly impossible to locate in the vastness of cyberspace if you did not already know where to look. In contrast, today, free "foolproof" software allows bloggers to select from among standard templates to easily create a sleek, streamlined look and a consistent functionality. Once their sites are established, bloggers typically use extensive hyperlinks to cross-reference other blogs they happen to like, generating "blog rolls" that serve as their own ready-made stepping-stones across the "blogosphere." (And yes, generating lots of jargon in the process as well.)

That blogosphere is an exponentially expanding universe. An estimated 8 million American adults have created their own blogs, and nearly four times as many say they read blogs-a jump of 58 percent in less than a year (Rainie, 2005). And the numbers are likely to continue to grow as blogs become steadily more visible. For example, information requests using popular tools such as Google, which use links as part of their search algorithms, are now likely to turn up blog entries. (Google, by the way, owns the company that offers one of the most popular free blog-creation programs, But that's another story.)

More to the point than either their ubiquity or their visibility, however, are the blogs' common characteristics, of which four are particularly relevant:

The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2005 (16:2), pp.1,14-16 .