3.1 What is a blog? A blog, short for weblog, is: “a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order” (Wikipedia 2007a, see also Stanyer 2006, p. 1, Blood in Williams et at. 2005, p. 2, Schiano et al. 2004, p. 1, Gill 2004, p. 1). Most blogs represent the personality of the author and are “intended for general public consumption” (Bytowninternet 2007). A blog is not necessarily text based. We also find examples of photo-blogs, video-blogs and audio-blogs. Common to them all is that they tend to provide commentaries or news on particular subjects (Wikipedia 2007a).
There are several reasons why the medium has become an interesting communication tool for politicians. First, blogs, contrary to mainstream media, “offer an unmanaged space for attitude expression that is not controlled by gatekeepers of various kinds” (Stanyer 2006, p. 405). Second, blogs are interactive. Most blogs allow visitors to respond to the author’s message (Stanyer 2006, p. 405). Blogs can therefore be used as vehicles for two-way communication where the author can create a dialogue with readers internally on the blog (Simmons 2005, pp. 2-3). Third, blogs connect with other blogs through so-called hyperlinks forming an overall universe of blogs, often referred to as the ‘blogosphere’ (Stanyer 2006, p. 406). Sroka (2007, p. 7) claims that linking is what renders blogs and the connection amongst them into what essentially is a very large conversation, turning the blogosphere into something more than a bunch of individuals ranting into cyberspace. This conversation occurs because most bloggers maintain a “blogroll” on their site – “a list of blogs that they frequently read or especially admire, with clickable links to the general URLs (web addresses) of those blogs” (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7) - and because bloggers deliberately link to each other through entries or so-called blog posts (this is a blog post) discussing whatever topics interest them (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7). Posts commenting on posts are a key form of information exchange in the blogosphere (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7).
The conversations and the public sphere created by this linking system present a new arena where politicians target messages, spread information, receive feedback and actively engage with potential supporters. Consequently, understanding the nature and structures within the blogosphere becomes a necessity for anyone intending to understand how blogs may impact politics or how politicians may influence blog audiences.