Computers: Blogs, Bloggers and Blogging

Online diaries offer a uniquely personal communications tool for the safety and health profession.

by Michael J. Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Welcome to Blitz's Blog!

Web logs, or "blogs," intrigue me, but I've never taken time to research them. Scott Schnieder finally pushed me over the edge when he turned me on to Jordan Barab's excellent Confined Space safety and health blog. It's time to write about blogs and blogging for Occupational Hazards.

I established this blog account on Blogger (blogger.com) as research for my next "Computers" column. I'll use the account to set up a private blog to share with friends and family and a second blog for my Around Lake Erie (ALE) bicycle ride. I really enjoy the hands-on research. It feeds my inner geek.

Why an account on Blogger? Because it's free and hosts Barab's Confined Space blog. Other popular blog servers include Blog-City (www.blog-city.com), LiveJournal (www.livejournal.com), Pitas (www.pitas.com), Diary Land (www.diaryland.com), TypePad (typepad.com), Weblogger (www.weblogger.com), Journal Space (www.journalspace.com), and Xanga (www.xanga.com).

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Why the interest in Web logs? Blogs represent a new form of journalism an easy-to-use Web-based journal hosted by a blog server. The blog server software manages the user account and associated blogs. The owner can limit access to their blog. The blog can be entirely private, seen only by people selected by the owner, or open to anyone. A blog can even be a collaborative if the owner permits others to post their own entries and comments.

Like all things Internet, blogs have their own special vocabulary. "Blog" is a verb as well as a noun. I blog. He blogs. She blogged. Someone who actively maintains a blog is a "blogger." And "blogging" is the act of maintaining a blog. "Sorry, I can't go to the movies tonight. I'm blogging." Finally, the universe of blogs is the "blogosphere".

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Bloggers are people who have something to say. And, according to a study published in October 2003 by Jeffrey Henning of Perseus Development Corp., a lot of people have blogs (www.perseus.com/blogsurvey/thebloggingiceberg.html).

At the time of the study, Henning estimates there were 4.1 million blogs on the internet. But only one-third of these blogs were active. Of the active blogs, only 160,000 were updated weekly and just 50,000 were updated daily.

Who are all these bloggers? Ninety-two percent of blogs are created by bloggers aged 13 to 29. Fifty-six percent of all blogs are created by women. Henning concludes that "blogging is a social phenomenon: persistent (Internet) messaging for young adults." According to Henning, "the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life."

But what about the 4 percent of bloggers who devote the time and energy to update their blog on a daily or weekly basis? These are people with a passionate, serious message. Jordan Barab's blog, Confined Space, News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics, is a perfect example.

Barab has a passion for researching and publicizing the politics of safety and health. He established Confined Space to "provide news about workplace safety issues, but more important, information about the politics behind health and safety issues, and how workplace safety is determined by politics. I want people especially workers to understand that their vote influences their chances of coming home safely after work every day."

Confined Space examines health and safety politics from a labor point of view. Barab spent 16 years running the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees health and safety program. He also served as National Labor Liaison to the Assistant Secretary for OSHA during the Clinton administration.

Even if you don't agree with Barab's politics, you'll find Confined Space an interesting source of safety and health news. The Weekly Toll, a listing of the previous week's workplace fatalities, is not only a grim reminder of the importance of good safety and health programs. It's also a wonderful source of information for safety meetings and training programs.

Thank you, Jordan!

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Another serious blog that deserves special mention is Kevin Sites' blog (www.kevinsites.net). Sites is a freelance journalist on assignment for NBC News in Iraq. He also maintains a personal blog that chronicles the daily lives of soldiers in the units he's assigned to. We all know someone making a sacrifice for us in Iraq. Sites' blog provides a unique personal insight that you won't find on the evening news or the daily newspaper.

Friday, August 20, 2004

My ALE ride starts tomorrow. I can't wait. I've been planning this trip for over a year as a prelude to a bicycle ride across the United States to celebrate my 55th birthday. Three other cyclists have signed on my brother and two experienced tourers who I rode with from Cleveland to Bethel, Maine in 1997. Hopefully, I can find Internet access along the way and update the ALE blog during the ride.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Well, I didn't get a chance to update my ALE blog on the bicycle ride. Part of the problem was finding computers in the small towns where we stopped. Plus, after 100 miles and 7 hours on a bicycle, all I wanted at the end of the day was a shower, dinner and a good night's sleep.

But I found another example of the versatility of blogs. You don't need a fancy computer and web browser to update your blog. All you need is electronic mail.

One of the cyclists on the ride, Charlie, hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Vermont in 2003. During the trip, a hiking partner, Skeemer, used a hand-held e-mail computer and Pocket Mail (www.pocketmail.com/us) to maintain a blog of his hiking experiences. Skeemer typed away at his handheld every evening. When they came to a town on the trail, Skeemer would connect his hand-held computer to a phone and update his blog on Trail Journals (www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=869).

Trail journals are extremely popular, according to Charlie. Blogging hikers use local library computers in towns along the trail to read each others' journals, getting the latest news from their hiking friends. The journals also help friends and family keep in touch with loved ones making the long trek from Georgia to Maine.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Blogging has certainly captured the attention of traditional media. On a positive note, the media use blogs to cover special events, like the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. On the negative side, media concerns about publication rights prompted the International Olympic Committee to bar competitors, coaches and other personnel from publishing anything on the Web until after the summer Olympic games ended. So much for freedom of speech.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I spoke with Allison tonight about my blog article. She suggested that I write it "blog style." Great idea. But blog entries appear in reverse chronological order since the latest entry is posted at the top of the page. I'll write my "blog" in chronological order so it makes sense to the reader.

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Time to wrap this up so I can enjoy what's left of the Labor Day weekend.

Like all neat Internet technology, blogs have mainstream business potential. Wired News reported that Macromedia uses blogs to maintain a running dialogue with customers about their products. And the New York Times revealed that several corporate chief executives use blogs to communicate directly with employees, customers, and suppliers.

Blogs certainly have a place in the safety and health profession. Safety and health organizations could use blogs as another channel to communicate key information to employees and management. National and local professional societies could use blogs to maintain a running log of activities and meetings. Consultants could use blogs to market their expertise and highlight significant contracts.

Occupational Hazards may test the blogging waters soon. They're looking for a way to make the new IH Insights electronic newsletter more interactive with subscribers. A blog would be a natural fit. (If you are interested in a blog for IH Insights, contact Editor Stephen Minter at [email protected])

Contributing Editor Michael Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP, is an occupational hygiene and safety professional, writer, and computer enthusiast. He can be reached by mail addressed to Occupational Hazards, by fax at (309) 273-5493, or by e-mail at [email protected]

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