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Oct. 8, 2009

Blogging on

by Jewel Galbraith, Print Managing Features Editor
"To my brother. To my dear, dear brother. I do love you. But I really don't like you." Freshman Ellie Musgrave wrote these words to her brother on a September evening after the two had a fight, but she never sent them. Instead, she vented her anger in a page-long rant and posted it on her public Web log.

Web logs, commonly known as "blogs," are online journals made up of individual posts that are arranged in reverse chronological order and allow user comments. Musgrave's blog is just one of millions in an ever-growing "blogosphere" – 133 million total blogs since 2002 as indexed by Technorati Media, a media company focused on online communication. According to Chris Harvey, director of the Online Bureau at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Web logs first became popular in the late 1990s when Blogger.com, one of the earliest sites on which people could publish personal blogs, was founded. Most blogs share the same organization and allow the blogger to link viewers to other web content, Harvey says. Beyond these basic features, however, blogs are free to be as unique as the people who write them, and this freedom is catching on. In fact, in 2007, Technorati reported the creation of 120,000 new blogs every day. And Blazers are joining in on the phenomenon, creating a diverse range of blogs to express themselves on a public level.

Tapping into an outlet

Musgrave channels her anger and frustration through her keyboard, using blogging as an outlet for the stress she experiences in her day-to-day life. In seventh grade, Musgrave's friends introduced her to Gaia Online, a virtual community and social networking Web site. When she realized how much she enjoyed writing posts on an online journal feature on the site, Musgrave decided to create her own blog. After several abandoned attempts in the past two years, she now posts almost weekly on her blog at Diaryland.com. Her entries take on a traditional diary format, with reflections on her mood and daily activities. Many of Musgrave's posts deal with conflicts with her friends and family, including her brother. When she blogs, Musgrave says, she is able to express her negative feelings healthily, letting them go instead of acting on them. She also values being able to communicate her strong beliefs without the fear of sparking criticism from her family members. "It's nice to have a place where you can have your own opinions and say your own things," Musgrave says.

In comparison to Musgrave's emotive blog, senior Sulie Kondeh's site, which focuses on hip-hop culture, may seem impersonal. But hip-hop music has played a significant role in Kondeh's life for as long as he can remember. Kondeh, who began listening to hip-hop at an early age, is an avid rapper and has been writing his own songs since the age of 11. When Kondeh's friend started a blog about hip-hop and pop culture this past June, Kondeh joined the project, eager to write to his intended audience of teens about his primary passion: music. Kondeh understands that not everyone likes hip-hop music, but he hopes that his blog, called We Egotistical, will encourage readers to appreciate clever and creative lyrics that are characteristic of the genre. "It's something that everybody should try to embrace," he says. Although he writes fewer posts than his two co-bloggers, known on We Egotistical as 'Sweetz' and 'Bam Bam,' Kondeh, known by his posts as 'Sulayy,' finds the blog gratifying because it allows him to share his interpretations on the music that he experiences both as a listener and as an artist. "It's another way to express myself," he says.

A web of bloggers

For Kondeh, it's hip-hop, but for senior Eric Wan, the passion that drew him to blog is writing. Even more so, Wan says, he is driven to blog by the interactions and friendships he fosters through the blogging. After taking classes in both creative writing and web design in middle school, Wan became interested in blogging, which he saw as an ideal combination of the two subjects he enjoyed. He initiated several minor blogging projects focused on writing at the time but had trouble keeping his sites up to date with his life. Last year, he launched his first official blog: a collaborative site for his fellow students in the Magnet program. The site, which started out as a place where Magnet students could access copies of their in-class worksheets, transformed into a forum for organizing the Magnet community into protest when budget cuts threatened to eliminate Magnet resources. Wan used the blog as the primary avenue for promoting the letter-writing campaign, protest and testimonials in front of the Montgomery County Board of Education that he and his classmates organized. While the future of the Magnet may still be uncertain, Wan considers the effort a success, as his blog garnered over 100 attendees at the protest and united the Magnet community in its effort to keep their program alive.

This element of community, says Harvey, is a considerable benefit for teen bloggers, who can use their blogs to interact with people who have similar interests. To build such a community, Wan created a new, more personal blog with a group of friends. Soon, it grew to include nine contributors. Wan believes the addition of more bloggers to the site adds valuable diversity to its subject matter. "Instead of having one blog with one interest, one color, we could get multiple dimensions to the blog," he says. Having a group of bloggers working together is also a practical benefit for Wan, who says that in his first individual blogs, the tasks of publicizing the site, improving its layout and consistently writing posts became difficult to handle alone. Wan's newly expanded site, entitled Nuts, boasts several separate columns devoted to movie reviews, music and "It's Academic" facts of the day, creating an eclectic mix of thoughts and personalities with unique contributions from each writer. For Wan, the blog is a way to indulge in his love of writing while relating to his friends and fellow high schoolers. "I like writing, and I like people, and this is a way for me to connect both of them together," he says.

A future in the blogosphere

Kondeh echoes Wan's desire to share his blog with other people and has high hopes for increasing its appeal. He promotes his blog to friends by word of mouth and via Facebook, where he and his collaborators posted a homemade promotional video for their site. He also reads other blogs about fashion and hip-hop culture for inspiration. "There [are] always better blogs, so we try to learn from them and see what they're doing," he says. Kondeh himself aspires to start filming and editing a weekly "blog show" - a series of humorous short videos that he hopes will increase interest in the site. Musgrave also wants to increase readership by word of mouth and hopes that future readers will identify with her writing. In order to make the blogging experience more engaging for herself and her audience, Musgrave plans to move away from blogging just about herself and begin incorporating political news into her posts, she says.

While they may blog about their own lives, ideas and interests, each of these Blazers has a passion to share and a community with which to connect. By channeling their personal thoughts into a Web log, they are able to communicate with others who are willing to listen and relate to them. To Musgrave, blogging is more than just writing down her private reflections - it is a way to make herself understood by her friends and peers. "If it were really private I'd just keep it in a journal in my room," she says. But unlike solitary journaling, these Blair blogs nurture an online community and connect Blazers with diverse backgrounds in today's technological world.



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