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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Blogging in Ottawa

Many years ago, when I was a high school teacher, I made my students write in their journals every day. Some groaned at the thought of the strenuous act of writing. You would think I asked them to wash their clothes on the rocks down by the river. Many, thankfully, liked the routine. They could write about what ever they wanted for 20 minutes. Some liked the vagueness and some preferred structure. My English teachers encouraged me to keep a journal when I was their age and I quite enjoyed the task. My entries, however, were so ephemeral and the pages were eventually tossed. I kept nothing.

Times change. With the increasingly available internet technology, more weblogs or online journals are started every day. The word "blog" was the Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year 2004. 'Democracy', incidentally was the previous year's word. And it's this online democracy that allows for millions of people writing, linking, creating and sharing thoughts anonymously or publicly.

Blog: noun [short for Weblog] (1999): a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.

Technorati.com, a popular indexer of blogs, currently lists over 21 million of them. Blog.com announces that it provides the ability of international writers with alphabets or character sets other than the western iso-8859-1. This is important communications feature in a global blogosphere. And it seems that the web space given to host your documents and photos are ever increasing into the gigabyte range. There are news blogs, literary blogs, personal blogs, promotional blogs, and even blogs about blogs (they're called meta-blogs).

The photograph that I bought for my wife's birthday present came from photographer and Ottawa blogger, Lana Stewart. If that name's familiar it's because Lana's photoblog, placeandthyme.com, was voted Ottawa's Best Blog by Alex Munter in the spring of 2005 in the Ottawa Citizen. Photoblogs, a sub-category of a blog, are usually frequently updated.

I also enjoy the photojournalistic style of Alex Cairncross's photographs. He has a photoblog at missionlessdays.blogspot.com to complement his own web site. Cairncross says, “Blogging has changed my photography in the sense that I’m able to get my stuff out there more quickly and easily. It also inspires me to take photos more often for myself and also so I can share them with others and receive feedback.”

Feedback seems to be an important part of the process of blogging. Pearl Pirie of www.pagehalffull.com/humanyms says, “By writing in a public interactive forum, I can see what resonated, fell flat or how people interpret differently than I intended, unlike when one of my articles is published in print. With publishing online I am more conscious of my impact on particular readers so look for a positive outlook when I am living, not only when I am writing because I found it's true: [almost] Nobody likes sad songs. I can see the readership go up or down so it's like biofeedback training for writing.”

People may have mixed feelings toward the internet in general, let alone placing their thoughts down for the anonymous public to gawk at. Despite the ease of creating your own space, there may be too many choices. It might be simply that people just don't know where to start. Or if they have started writing the question might be, "How do I get people to read my blog?" Reading, linking to other like-minded sites, and leaving comments may be the best way to get noticed if that option is available.

This column that you are reading is the very product of my weblog. I was initially inspired by my mother's kitchen calendar. She has a collection of calendars going back decades with neatly printed notes pertinent to our family life. I similarly got the urge to carry on my own recording of daily events - online. Blogging provides the opportunity to view another person's life unfold in their own blog or see a snapshot or moment in time of an event that one could not necessarily get to.

There is plenty of activity online in Ottawa. Like the works of James Joyce, or Samuel Beckett? You then might want to read Stephen Rowntree's blog, phrenology1011.blogspot.com. Stephen's gorgeous and sometimes painful writing reminds me that there is also a very literate side to blogging - that a blog is not just a place to complain about daily aggravations and posting photos of one's cat, but it can be a place to be inspired, to learn, and be challenged. He feels that writing should be evocative, “that it should evoke thought and that there is no one meaning to poetry.” Writing, for Rowntree and probably many others, is therapy. Want to create your own blog? Students, take out your journals and start...now.
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This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on December 4th, 2005

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