(STAR) By Eden E. Estopace - According to technorati.com, the search engines for blogs, around 175,000 blogs are created daily and bloggers update their blogs regularly to the tune of over 1.6 million posts per day. In 2007, the website was said to be tracking 112 million blogs daily, feeling the pulse of the universe of blogs called the “blogosphere,” tracking “what’s hot” and “what’s gaining attention,” and keeping watch on rising stories and upcoming trends.

As more people pour their thoughts and private lives into blogs or online journals, mainstream media is puzzled. How can bloggers command an audience of hundreds of millions of people all over the world when newspaper readership is shrinking by the day? Only a few weeks back, the New York Times bared plans to cut at least 100 newsroom jobs. A few days later, the three largest newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area had offered more than 1,300 employees buyouts as a prelude to massive layoffs.

Yet blogging is flourishing. On the day Apple’s iPhone was launched last year, Engadget, Technorati’s top technology blog, was reported to have received 10 million page views. Meanwhile, one of the most read and most linked-to blog was that of Chinese actress Xu Jinglei, with an estimated 50 million page views. Gizmondo, another top tech blog on Technorati, has 1.5 million monthly visitors.

“On the surface, Xu Jinglei’s blog may seem run-of-the-mill, one of the millions of online diaries that have permeated the Internet in recent years. She coos over her cats, complains about feeling cranky and dishes about her social life. But while most personal blogs attract a handful of faithful readers, Xu Jinglei draws tens of millions regularly. She may not be well known in the United States yet, and only Chinese readers can understand her blog, but Xu, a popular actress and director in China, is making waves on the Web,” writes Ellen Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle in the actress’ blog on Feb. 12.

“Blogging has become such a mania that a new blog is being created every minute of every hour of every day. We are blogging with monkey-like shamelessness about our private lives, our sex lives, our dream lives, our lack of lives, our Second Lives,” observes Andrew Keen in his book “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture.”

So who is blogging aside from geeks, celebrities, teenagers, dissidents, public relations practitioners, journalists and lonely men and women seeking an audience? Virtually everyone now – from heads of state to foreign min-isters to election contenders to underground rebels to university professors to federal authorities.

In September last year, Britain got its “first blogging foreign secretary” when David Milliband wrote his first entry on http://blogs.fco.gov.uk on his way to New York to attend a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

According to a report from AP, the blog was accompanied by a wobbly one-minute, 17-second YouTube video clip in which Milliband introduced the new site, which he said was aimed at “opening up what too often has been the secret garden of diplomacy.” Today, Milliband’s blog “provides a place for Ministers and officials to engage in a dialogue with you about international affairs and the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

In the United States, diplomats are also revealing their personal sides on the new State Department blog at http://blogs.state.gov. “Although the blog, launched Sept. 25, has its dull aspects, the “Dipnote” lives up to its promise of providing glimpses of diplomatic work and what it is like to serve overseas,” AP reported.

On Feb. 16, Janine Keil, who serves as a Public Diplomacy Officer at the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, posted an entry on Dipnote entitled “Starbucks, Juan Valdez, and a $60 Million Day.” She wrote: “I’m here on a temporary assignment in the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy in Bogota and had the good fortune of accompanying Ambassador William R. Brownfield, Liliana Ayalde, Director of USAID in Bogota, and various other USAID staff and contractors on a visit to a town called Chinchin· in Colombia’s coffee region for a signing ceremony to inaugurate a $60-million project supporting 30,000 hectares of specialty coffee, benefitting 25,000 of the country’s poorest coffee grower families...And what celebration of Colombian coffee would be complete without a visit by Juan Valdez himself?”

Aside from Dipnote, other interesting blogs authored by federal authorities include “The Flow of the River” (http://epa.gov/flowoftheriver) by Marcus Peacock, deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and “Eye Level” (http://www.eyelevel. si.edu/) by the Smithsonian Art Museum.

Describing the EPA headquarters’ haunted house, Peacock wrote: “The building was never attractive. It apparently made some people sick. A guard was killed by a drug dealer. But, just by the accumulation of time, Waterside Mall collected memories that evoke nostalgia among some: retirement lunches at Jenny’s, file cabinets in shower stalls, the tread worn Safeway, the tiny ‘penthouse’ elevator on the twelfth floor. And while it has fallen into disuse, some say the place still has lots of ghosts.”

These posts are certainly better and more readable than the standard press release. But what made these high-profile government executives join the so-called “mob rule?”

Blogs and blog entries have often been considered by many, especially intellectuals and professionals, as trash.

“Blogs,” writes Keen, “have become so dizzyingly infinite that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blog spot.com...What happens, you might ask, when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule?”

So why blog? It is simple economics. To create and maintain a blog is free (on free web hosting blog sites) or costs very little. Like the dotcom boom in the late ’90s that ushered in the entry of low-cost, low-maintenance digital publishing and enabled many media organizations to publish online minus the huge cost of owning a printing press, the new blog economics has enabled “you” and “me” to make public our state of mind and allow others to comment on it.

In 2006, Time magazine named “you” (and me, too) persons of the year. “Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion? The answer is, you do,” it says of the decision.

A year later, Time says it’s still “you” lording it over on the so-called Web 2.0 realm. “All year long, You were YouTubing, Facebooking, Twittering, chronicling Your life and community, scrutinizing the candidates and the media, videotaping Yourself getting upset on behalf of Britney Spears – but the blogosphere is slowly becoming ‘them.’

“It was Them. The professionals, the old-media people, the moneymen – all of Them, conscious that there was profit in Your little labor-of-love socialist paradise. Story of Your life, right? You make the discoveries, They make the Benjamins,” Time says.

In the run-up to the “Super Tuesday” campaign primaries in the United States first week of February, AP reported that newspapers jockeyed with bloggers or the so-called “citizen journalists” in the coverage of the Democratic and Republican nominations. And the frontrunners themselves have very active blog sites. Democrat contender Barrack Obama had reportedly even made an art of Internet fundraising and raked in as much $32 million in campaign contributions a month before Super Tuesday, mostly from small contributors.

Of course one can’t expect Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain to be writing the daily posts themselves, much less US President George Bush in his official White House blog at http://www.whitehouse.gov/president. But these political blogs are an acknowledgement of the power of blogging and the so-called social networking tools to reach out to millions of potential audience.

In the second half of last year, bloggers from different nations joined a protest in cyberspace against the Myanmar junta for the crackdown in the country. In Belgium where separatist sentiments were fever-pitch after elections last September, artists, writers and trade unionists had opposed the collapse of the country through a bilingual website that appealed for unity. The Internet battle was reported to be very fierce that auction site EBay had to take down a sale item posted by an anonymous vendor auctioning the country of Belgium for $13.9 million.

In Malaysia last month, the opposition has mounted an online presence in preparation for the March 8 polls. In Russia, AP reported that bloggers offered a different view from regular media of the man President Vladimir Putin has named as his successor. In Myanmar again, bloggers identified with Aung San Suu Kyi and the opposition were arrested for initiating a discussion on daily life in the country.

Oh yes it’s them – the persons in power and those on the other side of the political fence in the classic case of the “if you can’t beat them, join them” thing. And where does this leave the “lurkers” or those who do not blog but “lurk” around to see, hear, feel the noise of the blogosphere?

In the Philippines where the political lexicon has been invaded lately by colorful words and phrases such as “moderate their greed,” “she is evil,” “probinsiyanong intsik,” “lucky b**ch” and “patriotic fund,” expect the blogging community to have a mouthful to say. But whether or not our own blogging community can steer a real discussion and dialogue on the important issues affecting the country remains to be seen.

Would people rather blog about their dog’s latest tricks? Well, it’s “you” and “me” and “them” too in this continuous blurring of our online and offline lives.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved