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Voices on the rise: raw and unfiltered blogging still lives

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Erik Hersman | 11:10 UK time, Friday, 17 July 2009

(Erik Hersman is a web technology professional; he is creator of Ushahidi, AfriGadget; Erik blogs at whiteafrican.com and may be found as @WhiteAfrican on Twitter. The following post is published with kind permission and represents Erik's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Blogging evolves, just like any other citizen-based communication channel. Our definitions change on what it is, the tools themselves and how it is perceived within our own culture.  Where once we thought of blogs as being the domain of individuals locked away inside their homes, madly typing away on their own, we now see blogging conglomerates coalescing around themes. This is particularly true in the US and Europe, where mega-blogs have emerged, epitomized by blogs like TechCrunch for technology, Gawker or AOL's Weblogs Inc blogging networks, BoingBoing for eclectic news and the Huffington Post for US politics. 

The question is, "has blogging lost its feeling of freedom, untethered and raw that once defined it?"  Not at all, for a couple of reasons.

Mega-blogs as Filter
First, though we've seen a growth in mega-blogs and multi-author blog networks that fill the role between traditional media and unfettered citizen journalism, this doesn't discount the massive number of single bloggers still writing on the ground-level by themselves. Though these big blogs are targeted by PR firms and companies for early scoops and information, many times these mega-blogs act a lot like filters where they comb a certain niche category of smaller blogs for interesting information, and then repost and add their analysis of the information.

Microblogs, Status Updates and Mobile Phones
Second, while we myopically focus on what we define as blogging and the use of citizen reporting (and the homogenization of the same) in the West, we lose focus of the impact, growth and use of citizen media channels and their use in the rest of the world.  For instance, let's look at Africa. Blogging levels in Africa range on a country-by-country basis; we see large and vibrant communities of bloggers in South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and Tunisia, where there is generally a decent penetration level for both connectivity and computers, but much lower usage in places like Malawi or Liberia. This doesn't mean that citizen voices aren't on the rise across the continent, because they are.

Equally important to take note are upcoming tools in the space that allow all of us to communicate in shorter and more direct ways. That raw and unfiltered feeling that we got from blogs years ago is still well represented in emerging conduits like Twitter and microblogging platforms like Tumblr, or even within status updates on Facebook. This isn't unique to the West, as in Africa alone there are at least five active, country-focused microblogging platforms that allow for open discussion by anyone with access to a phone or internet connected PC.

A Rising Tide
In fact, this same methodology has been taken to a new level, and you see the new form rear its head more each week. It is most apparent when there is a major event in a country, whether it is a politically taut Iran or Honduras, an earthquake in China, a pop star's passing in the US or the Confederations Cup in South Africa. When these events happen, affecting millions of people, there is a growing number of individuals reaching for mobile phones and the PC to start broadcasting news and information directly to the world. It is no longer a one-to-many mass broadcast, it's now a mass-broadcast to mass-broadcast environment.

We are all part of this sea change in news, information flow and transparency - where the barriers are finally so low that anyone in the world can tell their story, and the whole world can see it. There is no stopping this change in information dynamics, there is only harnessing it in ways that add more value. 

I witnessed this first-hand in Kenya's post-election meltdown last year, where we launched a tool called Ushahidi that allowed anyone with a simple mobile phone to text in a report of what was going on around them. It meant that even if no traditional journalist, or even a blogger, could get to some out of the way area where violence was happening, that the citizens themselves had an outlet that was free and open to use.  We had lowered the barrier even further. 

So, in answering my question at the beginning, we see not a loss in the freedom and raw power of citizen-based communication, but a burgeoning growth in it that threatens to overwhelm us all.  In fact, the wave is coming on so strong and big that the most important question we need to ask is not how to get more citizen blogs, updates and voices, but how to filter it so that it remains useful. 

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