Brown students take to blogosphere
Josh Tobias, Brown Daily Herald, Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Blogging may be re-inventing the news media landscape and causing a stir in Democratic politics, but has the online journal phenomenon hit College Hill? Three Brown students share their very different reasons for starting Weblogs of their own.
When Krishna Chokshi '09 went to India last summer to promote human rights activism among young people, she needed a way to communicate her message to Indian students. So Chokshi created a blog – an online journal or Weblog – to post her thoughts on Indian political and human rights issues.
"It created a forum where I could share my opinions with other people," Chokshi said.
Her decision is not unusual among Brown students – or the population at large. Millions of blogs have been created worldwide, making it one of the fastest growing media forms, according to blogger Nathan Lovejoy '06, who wrote his art semiotics honors thesis on new media networks and writes his own blog.
A blog's stature in the blogosphere is measured by how many times other sites link to it and how many people subscribe to its content. Subscribers request to be updated every time a new post is added to the blog, and successful blogs often have thousands of readers, Lovejoy said.
At one end of the spectrum are "A-list" blogs, like the left-leaning political site Daily Kos, that have considerable influence and a large readership, but blogs like these are very few in number, Lovejoy said.
Most blogs are personal journals with a small number of links and even fewer subscribers.
"They're trivial," Lovejoy said of personal blogs on sites like LiveJournal.com. "(Bloggers) talk about what they did during their day. Their friends read it."
In between the leading sites and personal ones are blogs that comment on social and political issues. Although most of these blogs don't have a very large readership, they allow people who share a common interest to connect with each other, Lovejoy said. Bloggers who fall into this category, like Lovejoy himself, often don't know the people who read and comment on their own thoughts.
Lovejoy, Chokshi and Aurojit Panda '09 may fit loosely into Lovejoy's definitions, but each of them told The Herald they have their own reasons for blogging.
Lovejoy himself blogs mostly about, well, blogging. He describes his own blog as part of the middle category – a media commentary with a small group of loyal readers. Lovejoy said he doesn't know most of the people who read his blog, but he communicates regularly with them online.
"Most of the people I interact with (on the blog are) pretty digital," he said. "We're not exactly best friends."
A former paid blogger for the file-sharing site Limewire, Lovejoy had to stop when the company was sued for copyright infringement. His current (unpaid) blog analyzes new media networks, like blogs, from a critical theory perspective.
He said his own blog "takes critical theory and brings it to the entrepreneurs and programmers."
Aurojit Panda '08 has been blogging since 2003 and said blogs are an effective way to air opinions without confrontation.
"It's an easy well to tell people that you think what they are doing is stupid, without telling them directly," Panda said.
Panda said his first blog entries were mostly personal. Panda, who is from India, wrote about strikes in his hometown and applying to college in America. One entry criticized Montreal's McGill University for losing his application five times. But over this summer his blog became more focused on computer programming, Panda, a mathematics and computer science concentrator, said.
Panda said he knows most of his blog's readers but is sometimes surprised by the traffic it receives. One entry about a computer library drew e-mails from people as far away as Australia.
He blogs mostly for himself. "It's a good strategy to break when writing papers or programs," he said.
Chokshi said this summer she used her blog to spread her ideas about human rights to native Indian students. Unlike most bloggers, Chokshi did not post about personal matters. She wrote mostly about her firsthand experiences in India and analysis of news stories.
"(I wanted to) bring these human rights and social issues to the front; it's something that the media (in India) pay attention to," Chokshi said.
Blogging put Chokshi, who is Indian-American, in touch with Indian students and gave her insight into their understanding of contemporary political issues. Chokshi said the many comments made by Indian students on her blog revealed cultural differences between India and America.
"Part of my identity, sensibility is very American," Chokshi said. Unlike in America, human rights in India are not contextualized in an academic context, she said.
Chokshi said her blog received significant exposure in India. While many bloggers may only hope that their efforts will someday be paid, Chokshi's writing prompted one newspaper in Gujurat, the Indian state she stayed in over the summer, to offer her a position writing a column.