Blogging an effective social media tool

ABSTRACT

The proliferation of the internet has today spiraled the number of ways in which people can be connected online which has sparked the interest of people in social networking services like blogs. These social networking services have developed efficient ways to tap into the world of the internet creating a 'Blogosphere' which has today enlarged the scope of social interaction.

Blogs which are basically web logs have become an excellent tool for people to interact with each other in myriad areas and has thus become a social media tool. This paper attempts to analyse the effectiveness of blogs as a social media tool. Firstly an overview of blogs describing its characteristic features, strengths and vulnerabilities is done. This is followed by a discussion on the significance of blogs encompassing the benefits, application areas and impact of blogs/blogging. Finally certain recommendations have been made which could contribute in improving the content, privacy and security aspects in blogs. The paper concludes that blogs have incredible potential in our day to day events and their utility as a social media tool has today been exploited well.

General Terms

Blogs, Benefits, Vulnerabilities, Content, Privacy, Security

Keywords

Blogging, Social media

INTRODUCTION

The emergence of blogs today as one of the important applications of the internet has made it possible for one person to communicate with innumerable people about any topic which can be visualized. Enabling users to contribute content and communicate with each other has contributed to the success of the internet. We are living in a world where millions of people are socially connected to the Internet using social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Blogging has today enabled the successful dissemination of ideas to the global community by encouraging discussion and collaboration.

BLOGS -AN OVERVIEW

A blog, a contraction of the term "web log" is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. It can also be described as a collaborative space, a political soapbox, a breaking-news outlet, a collection of links, private thoughts. In simple terms, a blog is a web site, where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (Art blog), photographs (photoblog), videos (Video blogging), music (MP3 blog), and audio (podcasting).[1] Microblogging is another type of blogging, featuring very short posts.

In a study of bloggers it was seen that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. The results indicated that personality factors impact the likelihood of being a blogger and have implications for understanding who blogs.[2] A blog is written by people for different and varied purposes and it is difficult to summarise why we as a community write blogs. Self-expression and sharing expertise continue to be the primary motivations for bloggers, and 70% of all respondents say that personal satisfaction is a way they measure the success of their blog. Among Pros, however, the leading metric of success is the number of unique visitors. Hobbyist bloggers overwhelmingly blog about personal musings while professional and aspiring professional bloggers tend to be more topical. Hobbyists are also far more likely to discuss the political aspects of their topics while Pros and Self-Employeds do so very rarely.[3]

Characteristics of the Blogosphere

The collective community of all blogs is known as the blogosphere. Since all blogs are on the internet by definition, they may be seen as interconnected and socially networked, through blogrolls, comments, linkbacks (refbacks, trackbacks or pingbacks) and backlinks. Discussions "in the blogosphere" are occasionally used by the media as a gauge of public opinion on various issues. The "State of the Blogosphere 2009" report by Technorati included survey by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, conducted an Internet survey from September 4-23, 2009 among 2,828 bloggers nationwide.[4] It demonstrates, the growth of the blogosphere's influence on subjects ranging from business to politics to the way information travels through communities continues to flourish. In a year when revolutions and elections were organized by blogs, bloggers are blogging more than ever, and the State of the Blogosphere is strong. With the blogosphere filled with several different growing groups, there are also several trends on the rise. Professional bloggers grow more prolific, and influential, every year. Twitter and other social media represent one of the most important trends affecting the Blogosphere this year. The blogosphere is also further insinuating itself into the traditional media's historic turf, as seen most clearly in coverage of the Iran election protests. With more areas of involvement, and more ways to tell the story, the blogosphere is strong - and only getting stronger.

General features of blogs

Blogs earlier were simply manually updated components of common Web sites. The blogs usually contain small articles called posts that the author/multiple authors in some cases write. The articles are generally posted using "weblog client" software or can be written offline and uploaded a later time.

Some of the common features in all blogs are as follows:-

  • Categories - The articles related to a specific topic/area are organized into categories and listed chronologically with the latest on top. They can also be organised by author or alphabetically.
  • Archives - Older articles can be archived based on dates, like monthly or yearly with some link to a calendar of dates.
  • Comments - This is a feature which enables people to leave their comments on the article under the particular article.
  • Blogroll - A blogroll is a feature which links to those webpages which the article is related or to those blogs with similar interests.
  • Feeds - Feed is a function wherein updated content is provided automatically to the users to keep up with the latest information posted on different blogging sites. Feeds include technologies like RSS (Really Simple Syndication), Atom or RDF files.
  • Permalinks - A permalink is a permanent link which an author uses to help another blogger link to his article. Permalinks are intended to be permanent links as the URL to that article shouldn't change.
  • Blog through email - Some blogs offer the facility of posting the article through e mail directly to a blog without going through the interface.
  • Excerpt - Some blogs offer the facility of excerpts to summarize the post which is generated automatically by using the first few paragraphs or using the post up to a specific point as assigned.
  • Plugins - Plugins are programming scripts that either enhance or add additional functionality to the blog.

Strengths of blogs/blogging

Blogging is an evolution in communication. Blogging can be an innovating center of creative action in the world and offers the possibility at least for individuals to criticize and to create, to reinforce and to innovate, within a structure. Bloggers describe significant, positive impacts on their personal lives, but even more bloggers have experienced positive career and business impacts. 70% say that they are better known in their industry because of their blog.[5]

The vast amount of ways in which people can be connected online has sparked the interest of social networking services like blogs. These services have been developing ways to tap into the world of internet and establish means of enlargement of the scope of social interaction. Blogs give you an easy way to share your thoughts about current events, what's going on in your life, or anything else you'd care to discuss with the world. Blogs have developed a host of features to make blogging as simple and effective as possible. Blogs have a potential for encouraging interaction between people. A blog gives you your own voice on the web. It's a place to collect and share things that you find interesting— whether it's your political commentary, a personal diary, or links to web sites you want to remember. Blogs has become an excellent tool for people to interact with each other as also as a communication media. 82% of respondents say that they post photos to their blog, making them the most popular form of multimedia. Video, which nearly half of all respondents use, is the next most popular.[6]

Vulnerabilities in blogs/blogging

Permalinks

Permalinks are visible to people which make it hackable, wherein a user might modify the link text in their browser to navigate to another section of the blog which leaves a vulnerability in the blog.

Use of information by service provider

By submitting, posting or displaying Content which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant the service provider a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content.

Personal Information

Service provider asks for some personal information when you sign up to use the blog including your email address and a password, information, such as a photo, birthday, location. For certain services, such as advertising programs, credit card or other payment account information are also requested. These can be misused.

Log information

When you access services, the servers automatically record information that your browser sends whenever you visit a website. These server logs may include information such as your web request, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser. This poses a vulnerability.

Comment Spam

Spammers are relentless and use comment spam which are useless comments on the posts posted on a blog. These are irrelevant to the post and contain links to other websites which offer money for clicks to their websites. Spammers even build automated tools (robots) to rapidly submit their spam to the same or multiple weblogs by which bloggers are overwhelmed by these comment spams.

SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOGS - A DISCUSSION

Benefits offered by blogs to users

There are innumerable benefits offered by blogs. Some of them are described below:-

Ease of communications

Publishing your voice is easy and free. Creating your blog takes just a few easy steps. In a matter of minutes you can start posting text, photos, videos, and more to your blog and as often as you want.

Simple-to-use interface

Follow a few basic steps to start posting to your blog. Our simple-to-use interface lets you change fonts, bold or italicize your text, adjust text color and alignment, and more. As you compose each new blog post, the blog saves it automatically, without interrupting your typing. There's also an easy-to-use spell-check feature and a simple way to add labels to your posts. In addition, Blogger includes an HTML editor that lets you fully customize the look and feel of your posts.

Feedback from your readers

It's easy for readers to leave comments on any of your blog posts, giving you useful, timely feedback. They can leave comments right below the post, in a pop-up window, or on a separate page. You can also use Reactions to let your readers quickly provide feedback with just one click.

New post notifications

Your readers can choose to subscribe to your blog's feeds, so they're notified whenever you publish a new blog post. You can also customize what's shared in your blog's feed, and set up your blog to email new posts automatically to specific email addresses or mailing lists.

One simple ID

Blogger.com a prominent blog allows you to login to Blogger with your Google Account; as also giving you access to Gmail, iGoogle, orkut, etc. thus you have one less username and password to remember. Your blog's address can also be used as an OpenID to give you a single digital identity across the web. Since your blog can accept comments from OpenID users in addition to registered Blogger members, it'll be easier for all your readers to leave feedback and participate in your conversations.[7]

Posting on the go

Blog sites have devised many additional ways for you to post to your blog. You can post to your blog from your mobile phone or through a secret Mail-to-Blogger email address. Or use the Blogger Post Gadget to edit and publish posts directly from your custom iGoogle homepage. With these options, it's easy to post to your blog whenever you want, from wherever you may be.[8]

Group blogging

With Blogger, it's easy to create a team blog, allowing multiple bloggers to contribute to a single blog. You select which team members have administrative authority and those who are just authors. You can also choose to make your blog private and restrict who can view it. This puts you in full control of your blog.

Application areas of blogs

A blog today is being used in a number of areas ranging from personal to the political. Blogs now cater to a wide spectrum featuring a whole range of subjects. Some of the application areas of blogs are described in the following paragraphs:-

As social communications tool

Blogging is becoming more and more common among the masses and is a great way of sharing your thoughts with others. The strength of blogs is that it gets a good conversation going and keeps it going. Social blogging is become a popular concept developed due to the advances of weblogging, micro-blogging, and social networking. These ever-changing constructions represent the new way of communicating for people who like to express their activities and share their common interests. On social blogs people inform each other about their activities by providing them with updates continually. These updates often include text, pictures, audio or video. Blogging is a free service for communication, self-expression and freedom of speech. It increases the availability of information, encourages healthy debate, and makes possible new connections between people.

Personal Publishing tool

The evolution of tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of Web articles posted in reverse chronological order made the publishing process feasible to a much larger, less technical, population. Ultimately, this resulted in the distinct class of online publishing that produces blogs we recognize today. For instance, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of "blogging". Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, or they can be run using blog software, or on regular web hosting services. Thus blogging has converted into a popular personal publishing tool with the ability to be published worldwide instantly with a growing readership whereas the circulation in print media is limited.

Marketing and business promotion tool

Blog is a nice way to promote an organization or business and is also good for blog marketing and social media marketing. For testing out new ideas, nothing has been better than blogging because the audience can be more diverse.

Collaborative projects with e business sites - Blogger.com a prominent blog started the process for monetizing a blog by adding a "Monetize" tab in the Blogger app.[9] They started with AdSense, which allows you to add contextual advertising to your pages. They also launched direct integration with Amazon Associates to search Amazon's product catalog and add links to products that earn you commissions when your readers buy products you recommend. This is known as an "affiliate program", and it's designed to let you recommend products you like to your audience — if they buy the product, you'll earn a commission on that purchase.

Knowledge sharing and education

Most of bloggers post interesting stuff which gives me something to read while at work. There is such a variety of information to be learned just from reading a few blogs. Reading blogs is an excellent way to identify new technologies, techniques, and strategies worth writing about. Reading blogs in disciplines outside your own area of specialty helps you to relate the concepts familiar to you with those of others that may not have ever materialized without such information. Blogs can organize and store information of interest as it can share information with people of similar interests. In a very tangible way it helps by providing quick access to reference sources.

Impact of blogging

Content analysis revealed that blogs offer comparable and additional benefits to areas other than social media such as education and research, business as also impacted politics, shaken up journalism, and enabled millions of people to have a voice and connect with others.

Social communication medium

People have discovered weblogs as a means of expression on topics like terrorism, financial crisis etc. Blogs on these areas attract a fair amount of attention. The media uses blogs to know what people think on these current issues. Social blogging serves as a useful tool, as its inherent from continuous updates on weight control like calorie intake and exercise throughout the day. Acting as a virtual support system, Twitter and various blog communities have assisted many people in losing a great deal of weight.[10]

Consumer awareness and customer relationship management

Today consumer-to-consumer communications has greatly impacted the marketplace. Blogs are being used as an element of the promotion mix because it enables companies to talk to their customers as also it enables customers to talk directly to one another. To further enhance their service offerings, businesses are finding ways to use blogs. The business world has found new ways to improve how they use blogs and how they capitalize on the information exchanged here. Managers must learn to shape consumer discussions in a manner that is consistent with the organization's mission and performance goals. Methods by which this can be accomplished include providing consumers with networking platforms, and using blogs, social media tools, and promotional tools to engage customers.

Business promotion

Internet-based promotional tools like blogs are being used effectively by companies to understand consumer preferences and likings. Businesses like real estate sales, music business use the high value information gained from the masses. The concept of Social Media is top of the agenda for many business executives today. Decision makers, as well as consultants, try to identify ways in which firms can make profitable use of applications such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Second Life, and Twitter. This can help businesses use sales data, organize business events, and automate marketing decisions based on the data retrieved from Facebook followers. In addition, companies can create new ways for Facebook users to connect and share data. They can create applications that aide recruiting, productivity, and project collaboration. Social networkers may be able to use these tools that will allow them to share information about a job opportunity, or to collaborate with co-workers on a project.

Politics and governance

The role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Blogging was established by politicians and political candidates to express their opinions on war and other issues as has been effectively done by Barack Obama.[11] (Barack Obama article cite here) In the United States, blogging was an integral piece of the 2008 presidential campaign, where it was a key forum for citizen commentary on everything from Sarah Palin's clothes to healthcare policy. On average, respondents think that the blogosphere was as accurate as traditional media sources on the presidential election and that it was, in some cases, much more up to date. Further, many bloggers believe that blogging was a big reason Obama enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage throughout the campaign.

Israel's was among the first national governments to set up an official video blog and a political blog. The Foreign Ministry also held a microblogging press conference via Twitter about its war with Hamas answering questions from the public in common text-messaging abbreviations during a live worldwide press conference. The questions and answers were later posted on IsraelPolitik, the country's official political blog.[12]

As blogs mature and their influence and readership grow, the medium is emerging as a powerful tool for journalists and activists alike. Perhaps nowhere was blogging's growing influence more apparent than during this year's protests of the presidential election in Iran. During the contested Iranian elections earlier this year, Iran banned journalists from moving around the country and blocked Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other popular websites. In this setting, disenfranchised Iranis have often turned to the blogosphere to engage in commentary critical of the regime. Nevertheless many bloggers see the protests of the Iranian revolution as a watershed moment for the medium - deeming the blogosphere both a key driver of the protests and a news source more reliable than the traditional media on the topic.[13]

Bloggers believe that politics and business are among the fields most impacted by the blogosphere, and that they will continue to be transformed by the blogosphere going forward.[14]

News dissemination and Journalism

Bloggers sometimes lead the way in bringing key information to public light, with mainstream media having to follow their lead. The impact of these blogs gave greater credibility to blogs as a medium of news dissemination. More often, however, news blogs tend to react to material already published by the mainstream media. An increasing number of experts are blogging thereby making blogs a source of in-depth analysis.

When it comes to complex policy issues, the blogosphere's impact is immediate and noticeable. Many bloggers have written about the current financial crisis and subsequent global bailouts. The blogosphere helped interpret the economic chaos for a nervous and confused public and often served to humanize the policy discussions taking place around the world. Many people use a blog just to organize their own thoughts, while others command influential, worldwide audiences of thousands. Professional and amateur journalists use blogs to publish breaking news, while personal journalers reveal inner thoughts.

RECOMMENDATIONS ON ISSUES OF CONTENT, PRIVACY AND SECURITY

Researchers have analyzed the dynamics of how blogs become popular. There are essentially two measures of this: popularity through citations, as well as popularity through affiliation (i.e. blogroll).

Content management

Content policies

Content policies play an important role in maintaining a positive experience for the users. Service providers should clearly lay down strict policies for the contents being posted on the blogs and enforce them diligently. However exceptions based on artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific considerations or where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking action on the content.

Some of the essential content policies should be as follows:-

Child safety and Adult Content - Zero tolerance policy towards content that exploits children like Child pornography, Pedophilia as they are legally banned. Adult content to be marked as such by the user. Blogger.com for example puts it behind a 'mature content' interstitial if the blog has not been marked as 'adult' in the Blogger settings.[15]

Hate Speech - Content that promotes hate or violence towards groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity not to be posted.

Crude Content - Shocking or graphic content like close-up images of gunshot wounds or accident scenes not to be posted.

Violence - No threatening posts like death threats or encouraging readers to take violent action against another person or group of people.

Personal and confidential information - No posting of another person's personal and confidential information like credit card numbers and bank account details etc.

Impersonating others - No misleading or confusing readers by pretending to be someone else or pretending to represent an organization which you are not.

Illegal activities - Not to post blogs promoting dangerous and illegal activities like encouraging people to drink and drive.

Spam - Posting spam comments on other people's blogs just to promote your site or product should be discouraged.

Malware and viruses - Do not create blogs that transmit viruses, cause pop-ups, attempt to install software without the reader's consent, or otherwise impact readers with malicious code.

Content control by contributor - Contributors should use caution and exercise proper judgment when posting seemingly offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate material.

Managing comment and moderation

Managing Comments - Almost all blogs have a highly interactive feature which allows users to comment upon the articles posted. Trackbacks and pingbacks can be effectively used by authors of other blogs to leave comments without even visiting the blog. This can be used to inform other bloggers when an article from another site is cited in their own articles. This will ensure that online conversations are maintained effortlessly among users and various websites.

Comment Moderation - Comment moderation should be implemented rigorously wherein the blog owner and author is able to monitor and control the comments on article posts. This will help in effectively tackling comment spam by deleting any comments you don't like and also decide to allow comments on a post-by-post basis., and you can. It lets you make decisions about the comments whether to moderate or delete unwanted comments.

Access control

Access Controls let you decide who can read and who can write to your blog. With access control you can either let just a few friends or the entire world see what you have to say. You can use a group blog with multiple authors as an excellent communication tool for small teams, families and other groups. Or as a single author, you can create a private online space for collecting news, links, and ideas, to keep to yourself or share with as many readers as you want.

Customisation of your Profiles that share your interests etc helps people find you. Custom colors and fonts gives a design that perfectly reflects you and your personality. Simple drag-and-drop system lets you easily decide exactly where your posts, profiles, archives and other parts of your blog should live on the page. All blog sites lets you send photos and text straight to your blog while you're on-the-go. All you need to do is send a message to xxxx from your phone.[16]

Privacy issues

Accessing and updating personal information

Users should be provided with access to their personal information to either correct this data if it is inaccurate or to delete such data at their request. Individual users should be made to to identify themselves before processing requests for information to be accessed, corrected or removed. If the request jeopardizes the privacy of others it should be declined. Google for example provides all the details for these procedures in the specific privacy notices or FAQs of these services.[17]

Legal Ramifications

Blogs are becoming a media form of their own. While they offer the benefits of marketing products, discussion of specialised topics, and channel for political activism and social change, they have brought with it a range of legal ramifications. Since blogging is a relatively new phenomenon, a substantial body of case law simply does not exist. There is very, very little case law at this point. The biggest problems arise when bloggers reveal proprietary or confidential information, and post contents that defame the person. There needs to be put in place a legal mechanism to deal with the potential legal liabilities which could arise from such blogging.

Several cases have been brought before the national courts against bloggers concerning issues of defamation or liability. U.S. payouts related to blogging totaled $17.4 million by 2009; in some cases these have been covered by umbrella insurance.[18] In 2009, NDTV issued a legal notice to Indian blogger Chetan Kunte for "abusive free speech" regarding a blog post criticizing their coverage of the Mumbai attacks. The blogger unconditionally withdrew his post, replacing it with legal undertaking and an admission that his post had been "defamatory and untrue".[19]

Security aspects

Third Party Code

Adding site counters, templates, and other third-party code to your blog can leave your blog vulnerable to malicious activity if you aren't familiar with its source. Third party scripts disguise themselves as helpful add-ons, when in fact they are performing a malicious operation behind the scenes. For example, a site counter widget may indeed be providing your blog with helpful tracking data, but at the same time may also be discreetly sending that information to advertisers for the purpose of collecting the online habits of your readers. This needs to be discouraged. WordPress has a built-in Link Manager so users do not have to depend on a third party for creating and managing their blogroll.[20]

Permissions

Another security area which has proven problematic for bloggers is your blog's Permissions settings. Users sometimes get locked out of their own blog, the result of giving admin privileges to an unfamiliar blogger. You should only extend adminprivileges of your blog to more authors if you absolutely trust the person(s).

Cookies

Cookies are small files containing a string of characters sent by service providers to your computer or other device to uniquely identify your browser. These are sent basically to improve the quality of service, storing user preferences and improving search results. These should preferably not be activated.

Verification using Pingbacks and Trackbacks

Trackbacks and Pingbacks should be efficiently utilized to provide verification to blog commenting which is a necessity Comments on blogs are often criticized as lacking authority, since anyone can post anything using any name they like: there's no verification process to ensure that the person is who they claim to be.. SixApart has published an official trackback specification.[21]

Information security

Blog sites should take appropriate security measures to protect against unauthorized access to or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of data. The service providers should have proper infrastructure for data collection, storage, processing practices and security measures, as well as physical security measures to guard against unauthorized access to systems where they store personal data. Personal information should only be restricted to those who need to know that information in order to operate, develop or improve the services. Google employees are bound by confidentiality obligations and are subject to discipline, including termination and criminal prosecution, if they fail to meet these obligations.[22]

Data integrity

The service providers must clearly lay down the policy of collecting personal information and use it only for the purposes for which it was collected and in accordance with the Privacy Policy. Necessary steps to be taken to ensure that the personal information processed is accurate, complete, and current and is only collected so as to provide or improve their services.

CONCLUSION

Blogs have reshaped the web impacting every field it has touched as seen by the proliferation of blogs. It has enabled millions of people to connect with others and express their thoughts. This paper tried to analyse the potential of blogs as a social media tool. Blogs have incredible potential as a social media tool favored largely by common people as also institutions and is being exploited quite well as a medium for communications and interaction. The large number of bloggers today has highlighted the utility value of blogs in almost all important areas of human computer interaction.

REFERENCES

  • Blog; http//:www.wikipedia.com
  • Rosanna E. Guadagno, Bradley M. Okdie and Cassie A. Eno. Who blogs? Personality predictors of blogging (2008); Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 24, September 2008.
  • Matt Sussmann; The What and Why of Blogging- SOTB 2009; http//:www.technorati.com
  • Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates; September 2009.
  • ibid
  • Matt Sussmann; The How of Blogging- SOTB 2009; http//:www.technorati.com
  • http//:www.blogger.com
  • ibid
  • http//:www.buzz.blogger.com/2009/04/monetize.html
  • Social blogging; http//:www.wikipedia.com
  • The Social Pulpit, Barack Obama's Social Media Toolkit; http//:www.edelman.com
  • The Toughest Q's Answered in the Briefest Tweets, Noam Cohen, The New York Times, January 3, 2009
  • Dave Hughes, Robert Kellman; Blogging's Global Impact and the Future of Blogging; http//:www.technorati.com
  • ibid
  • Blogger content policy; http//:www.blogger.com
  • Features of Blogger; http//:www.blogger.com
  • http//:www.google.com
  • McQueen MP. (2009). Bloggers, Beware: What You Write Can Get You Sued. WSJ
  • Indian bloggers criticizing NDTV http://www.desipundit.com/2009/01/28/blogger-silenced-by-ndtv
  • Introduction to Blogging, http://www.WordPress.com
  • http//:www.movabletype.org/docs/mttrackback.html
  • Privacy; http//:google.com

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