Way back when, Henry Jenkins didn’t have a weblog, which Torill and I used as an example of the way the web can invert some power relationships – with no weblog, the influential MIT professor of media and popular culture had no online voice with which to meet criticism from bloggers.

Years have passed, and Henry Jenkins now has a blog, a very interesting one, too. This morning he posted an email from a former student of his who sent him a long description, with illustrations, of blogs in her native Lebanon, and of “city blogging”, graffiti in Amsterdam and New York that expresses opinions and care about the bombings.

The post is interesting in itself, but also illustrates a larger change in how blogs are being used. Four years ago, Jenkins wrote of bloggers as an exotic species very different from himself:

Like cockroaches after nuclear war, online diarists rule an Internet strewn with failed dot coms. (…) Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering,
sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We
surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the
digital revolution. (Note: The bit about “cockroaches” generated a lot of upset among bloggers, and was actually removed from the article after publication. Apparently it was the editor who put it in, not Jenkins himself.)

Today blogs are mainstream. According to a phone survey Pew Internet conducted last month in the US, 39% of internet users read blogs and 9% write blogs. Another recent survey shows that only 40% of the US population had read a newspaper “yesterday” and only 36% had listened to the radio. (Norwegians read more newspapers: in Norway, in 2005, 74% of the population read a newspaper on an average day.) Now I realise that these statistics don’t quite match – that’s 39% of internet users, not of the whole population, and they didn’t say they read a blog “yesterday”, they said they read blogs in general, so the figures aren’t really comparable – and yet they do show that blogs are rapidly closing in on radio and newspapers as mainstream, everyday experiences.

As more and more people read and write blogs, they’re obviously going to become less like an extreme sport. Today, professors blog. Politicians blog. Celebrities blog. Sure, there are still more regular people who blog than people-in-conventional-positions-of-power who blog, but the balance is shifting.

Henry Jenkins blogging is, of course, wonderful. It not only means he can speak in the same arena as other bloggers, responding directly, for instance, to criticism of his new book, it also means we get to share some of the feeling of the classroom and the richness of his day to day connections. MIT’s Open Courseware is a wonderful sharing of teaching paraphernalia, but real learning and research, in my experience, happens less in reading syllabi and watchign lectures and more in the intersections between experiences and ideas that you find in conversations and social groups. Watching Jenkins discuss his book and share thoughts his students and ex-students have shared with him is far more interesting than leafing through the assignments given in an MIT classroom.

4 thoughts on “cockroaches no longer

  1. trond

    Did you see the news on BBC recently that the president of Iran has started blogging? Only one entry so far. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4790005.stm http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/

  2. jill/txt » president of iran blogs

    […] I wrote yesterday about how blogs are becoming mainstream, and in a comment to that post, Trond reminded me that the president of Iran now blogs at ahmadinejad.ir. Despite initial discussions of the blogs veracity (Boing Boing: “Either the presidential blog is fake, or they are total n00bs.“) it is now clear that the blog is official, though unlikely to be written by the president personally – politicians usually get their assistents to do their blogging. […]

  3. Shane

    After looking at the statistics put out by Pew Internet- I’m wondering about those people who are reading blogs daily and don’t realize it. Are they also included in the 39%. Perhaps the numbers are actually higher.

    Aren’t they also saying that there are a good number of people subscribe to RSS unsuspectingly by using applications like MyYahoo and Googleís reader. The last Web conference I attended, the Keynote said those numbers were as high as 23% of youths in the USA subscribe to RSS without knowing. I would imagine these numbers will be much higher when Internet Explorer 7 (with an RSS reader built-in) goes mainstream.

    By the way, the new book ìUses of Blogsî looks fantastic! I canít wait to get my hands on it.

  4. […] Henry Jenkins also initially used this us vs. them rhetoric to talk about bloggers, as Torill and I discussed in our essay Blogging Thoughts (pdf). Now he blogs himself. Jakob Nielsen, a well-established though today somewhat controversial usability expert, argues that experts shouldn’t blog. Habermas has expressed concern that intellectuals are “suffocating from the excess of this vitalising element, as if they were overdosing”. […]

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