By Paul Thomasch
Cranking out a column after a presidential debate or publishing a
prize-worthy photo of the next catastrophe just got a whole lot easier
-- no matter where or who you are.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others have started to offer
simple-to-use tools that let anybody with a digital camera or personal
computer create blogs and produce homemade news.
When twinned with new technology like camera phones and handheld
computers, it's now possible to publish pictures or jot notes from
anywhere: the street, a beach, a restaurant. Seconds later the
information is posted to a Website for the world to read -- and
suddenly you've got a mobile web blog, or moblog.
"Text messaging and camera phone have put two powerful storytelling
tools in the hands of millions of vpotential correspondents around the
world," Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review at
University of Southern California's journalism school, said in an
"So it is now inevitable that when something newsworthy happens in
public, someone will be there to document that event online
The recent tsunami in South Asia gave evidence of moblogs' power and
widespread use. Shortly after it struck, dispatches began appearing on
blogs, often beating mainstream media to the unfolding story. One such
blog was Waveofdestruction.org, created by Australian Geoffrey Huntley
and made up of video and photos taken at the scene.
Adam Greenfield, who helped organize the First International
Moblogging Conference, is credited with coining the term in 2002. But
moblogging -- defined as using a mobile device to publish on the
Internet -- dates back to the 1990s.
Most believe Steve Mann was the first to put photos on the Web from a
mobile device, a bulky computer he carried with him.
His first entry is hardly dramatic: "Feb. 22, 1995: most of my day was
quite boring, walking to lab, pizza at food trucks etc." But when he
later comes across a building on fire, he records the scene in about
45 Internet photos -- in what would now be thought of as moblogging.
Yet it took a decade for moblogging itself to catch fire. Today its
popularity largely revolves around photography, thanks to the rise of
cheaper and better camera phones.
The Internet, of course, had an earlier fling with online photos back
before the dot-com bubble burst. That business centered on photo
storage and hard copy reprints, which were then stuffed into the
family's picture book.
These days online picture sharing is all the rage. Kodak's EasyShare
Gallery and sites like it are awash with albums of The Smiths at
Niagara Falls, Madison's First Birthday or Me at Graduation.
But those virtual albums are exclusive; only those invited by the
photographer can take a peek. Google (blogger.com), Yahoo (flickr.com)
and MSN (spaces.msn.com), among others, are taking it a step further.
Take Yahoo's Flickr, a blog site it bought from a husband-and-wife
team in Vancouver. A Flickr account can be created so that only
friends and family can browse your pictures, but it can also be opened
up to a broader audience as a blog, or in many cases, a moblog.
The pictures can also be tagged with labels -- making it easy to
search for snapshots of everything from the tsunami to Tiger
Woods. Though slightly different, Google's blogger.com and MSN's
Spaces are based on the same idea: creating a global network of people
sharing photos, news and commentary.
"Families, friends, and co-workers will form there own social spheres
through mobile blogging and so too will citizen journalists," Biz
Stone, Blogger Senior Specialist at Google, predicted in an e-mail
"There is more hype around the idea of real-time breaking-news
bloggers than there is around a family that shares on-the-scene
wedding and baby photos, but they are all the same from our
perspective of enabling self-expression and sharing."
Like most business battlegrounds, Yahoo, MSN and Google are squaring
off over blogging and moblogging because huge money could be at
stake. Already, MSN's Spaces is running ads.
"The online advertising market is massive and growing faster than any
one type of media," OJR's Niles said.
"By controlling the publishing tools with which grass-roots reporters
and other Web users communicate with each other, these companies
control billions of page views through which they can serve the ads
Of course, the popularity of moblogs -- both as a commercial venture
and a publishing tool -- is itself a subject for bloggers. One recent
posting on www.moblogging.org even touts an upcoming competition for
the best cellphone photos -- with a C$500 prize.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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