While we weren't looking

I've been arguing for a long time that, for all the hype, weblogs have barely made an impact with regular people in any appreciable way. Most people have still never heard of them and don't know what the word "blog" means. But watching TV last night made me think that perhaps we're finally making some progress.

I was watching Bill Maher's HBO show Real Time and at one point, you had the host Bill Maher, who has his own weblog, talking to Andrew Sullivan, who of course is now best-known for his blog. This was right before Maher interviewed Ron Suskind, who was making the news not just for his book, but for the accompanying weblog which lists much of the book's supporting documentation.

The word blog was only barely mentioned once in the intro for the show, and only as part of the introduction to Sullivan, but the presence of the medium was undeniable on the show.

It's not just late-night HBO. A few weeks ago, we had the highest-visibility week that weblogs have ever had, and it was barely noted in the blogosphere. On Sunday, January 11th, Emily Nussbaum wrote a lengthy story in the New York Times Magazine on one of the first popular genres of weblogs, the personal diary written by a teenager. On Tuesday of that week, Nussbaum went on the Today Show, in a follow-up to her story, and participated in a lengthy two-part segment on blogs. Finally, later that week, ABC's Nightline featured a segment on web coverage of the Iraqi war, including coverage of Salam Pax's weblog. While we talk a lot about bloggers getting book deals or creating memes that spread to other media, the reality is that a single TV appearance on a popular show can give the entire medium orders of magnitude more exposure than any of the small victories we celebrate so far.

We're still not at the day where a character in a movie has a blog, or where the nightly news can credit a blog as a source without a lengthy explanation. (They still usually settle for crediting "discussion on the Internet".) And of course, unlike Iran, we here in the United States still don't have a President who's acknowledged the influence of the medium.

But I remember when I started my blog, we we were so eager to promote the medium that we would track mentions of the word itself whenever it appeared in the media, even if it was just a passing mention in a small-town paper. I think it had been a full year and a half after I started blogging that I first read an article that talked about the medium, and perhaps another year and a half after that before weblogs were mentioned in stories that weren't about the technology. Tracking these kinds of stories today would be a job for automated software, not an individual person, because there are hundreds of mentions per day.

I suppose none of this is news, we've never yet had a time in the weblog realm when the medium has been getting less popular, but it seems worth noting that, while we weren't looking, we started to cross over to that other 95% of people that have never heard of blogs. I can't help but be excited to find out how they participate and what they think of our medium.

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