Internet

Kid with modem vs. CNN

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Johannes Gutenberg
This is a version of an article I wrote published in That's Beijing's January issue:

Kid with Modem vs. CNN

There is a publishing revolution going on, and it's not being funded by venture capitalists nor by the nameless powers that hippies call 'the media'.

This revolution is the result of several different pieces of software that have made it easy and cheap for anyone to put up a website and update it daily. This revolution has spawned the word 'blog' or weblog, a term which has, in the last few months, memed its way out from the lexicon of geeks onto the front pages of the New York Times.

Where did the current worldwide media fascination with blogs come from?

It's probably because the number of blogs has reached a critical mass. In the first few months of 2004, there will be five million blogs on the Internet, according to a survey by Perseus, a US-based software company whom you can find here. That five million only includes blogs found on specialized blog hosting-companies in the US, so to get the real number of current blogs you would have to add the millions of blogs hosted by individuals on other servers. And the millions of blogs outside the US, in countries like China, where the word blog has been Sinofied into ‘bo ke’.

As in the rest of the world, most Chinese blogs are excruciatingly boring accounts of minor incidents in the lives of college students, and breathless comments about new bits of code written by computer nerds. But there’s other stuff too: well-written observations of daily life in big cities like Beijing but also in small towns that you've never heard of in rural Zhejiang.

And then there is Mu Zi Mei, a young Guangzhou journalist who kept a blog about her one night stands, sometimes naming names and rating performance.

What the Chinese press has been calling the ‘Mu Zi Mei phenomenon’ has more than anything else been responsible for a sudden huge interest in Mainland blogs. Although the storm of publicity surrounding Mu Zi Mei's online diary has resulted in her losing her job and, it appears, the end of her online journal, she has become an instant celebrity in a way that would not have been possible just a few years ago.

So where are blogs going in China and elsewhere? You can’t really listen to most bloggers about the subject because they tend to view everything through the prism of their current site traffic, which is about as relevant to the future of media, the Internet and everything as a wok full of cold fish. It is probably better to forget about the word blog which is just the jargon term du jour, and think of it this way:

In Europe, Johannes Gutenberg's invention of a printing press that used movable type in 1436 brought down the price of printed materials and made such materials available for the masses, paving the way for mass literacy and enabling reading and writing to spread way beyond the enclosed walls of the monastries of the dark ages.

In the early 21st century, online publishing technology allows a kid with a modem to compete with CNN for your attention. Wherever the kid is, wherever you are.

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