Twilight of the blogs – are online writers losing their edge?

Blogging has become an internet phenomenon, but, asks Chris Bond, is it time to pull the plug?

BLOGS, as those of you who use the internet will doubtless be aware, have taken off in a big way since the turn of the century.

Blogging (not to be confused with blagging) has, its supporters claim, given ordinary people a platform to air their views on anything they want – from the impending US election, to whether green is the new black.

However, a recent article on the technology website, Wired, has caused consternation in the blogosphere (the name given to the blog community). In it, the technophile's bible claims that the blogosphere has been "flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge" with "cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns" drowning out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths.

Strong stuff. It's certainly true that national newspapers and the big media organisations have switched on to the potential value of blogs. For instance, the BBC's business editor, Robert Peston, has used his blog page to great effect in recent weeks to explain, in layman's terms, the reasons behind the global financial crisis.

It's interesting to note that the esteemed Orwell Prize – awarded for political writing – has added a special award for political blogs, to coincide with the Orwell Diaries blog being made available online.

So, too, is the fact that the number of Whitehall communications staff has almost doubled during the past 10 years – from 1,628 to 3,158 – caused, largely, by the growth of media on the internet.

There are now an estimated 1,600 political blogs in the UK alone, but that doesn't include the plethora of personal online diaries, many of which require a redefinition of the word "dross". Is anyone really interested in knowing that someone's cat is sick, or the fact they're having ravioli for tea? And, more importantly, who has the time to read such inane chunter?

Bryan Glick, editor of Computing magazine, reckons that the vast majority of blogs are probably read by no more than 10 people.

"Everybody would like to think that other people are interested in what they've got to say and the minutiae of their lives, when, in reality, they're not. You would think that the people with the most interesting things to say would be too busy to spend their time blogging," he says.

"It's certainly true that a lot of social networking sites attract a sort of fashion crowd. What often happens is there's a huge boom in activity and then, after a while, this tails off as people try something else."

That something else could prove to be Twitter. This free social messaging space allows friends, family and work colleagues to stay in touch via quick online messages using no more than 140 characters, which equates to roughly 20 words. Over the past 18 months, it has become increasingly popular, leading some to believe it will take over from blogging, which, purists argue, has become diluted.

But what, you may ask, is wrong with emailing someone, or – heaven forbid – actually meeting them for a drink and exchanging the day's trivia while propping up a bar?

Iain Dale, a political commentator and former chief of staff to David Davis MP, uses Twitter and also has his own hugely successful blog site.

He says that his blog, like many others, has a loyal following. "It's a community and there's a real mixture of people. There's no one type of person who reads blogs, it's a broad cross-section."

And he dismisses the idea that blogs will soon disappear. "If you look at the number of people starting blogs, it's on the increase, not just here but all over the world."

He claims that readership figures are also rising.

"Most newspapers would kill for the kind of increases that blogs have. My weekly readership is now bigger than the New Statesman's and I'm just a one-man band," he says.

Dale rejects the accusation that blogs are nothing more than do-it-yourself journalism. "I'm not a trained journalist, and just because somebody is, does that mean they have anything more interesting to say? Many mainstream journalists now blog, but that doesn't mean

that other blogs are redundant," he claims.

"Nobody is going to read everything, but people can choose which ones they're interested in. It's like any form of media – the best rise to the top."

He believes that even poorly written blogs still have their merits. "There is some excellent writing from bloggers who aren't journalists. There are also lots of bloggers who don't write well, but that doesn't mean that what they're saying is wrong. It's still relevant," he says.

"The great thing about blogging is that it gives people the opportunity to express their point of view, which, beforehand, they could only do through the letters pages of newspapers like the Yorkshire Post."