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...Find a Blog

Diary-like Web sites can be funny, brilliant or just plain dull: There's something for everyone

By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER

Where's Melvil Dewey when we need him? The 19th-century creator of the Dewey decimal system has helped generations navigate libraries. If only he could do the same for one of the 21st century's burgeoning media: Web logs, the diary-like Web sites also known as blogs.

Blogs mostly catalog their creators' musings, with links to related sites, and as such they can be as hard to categorize as the people behind them. They're occasionally ferocious or funny, brilliant or banal -- and they all want your attention. But with more than half a million of these sites out there and new bloggers appearing all the time, how can you find the ones worth the commitment of a daily click?

To find a blog that matches your interests, try starting with a community blog, a general site where people post their commentary on all sorts of topics. What makes them useful for blog searchers is that many of the people who post items on these sites have blogs of their own, so if you find something interesting, you can check out the blogger's personal site. One of the most popular of such community blogs is MetaFilter.com (www.metafilter.com), which frequently displays 25 or more new postings a day, with links and comments from readers.

But the community blogs also have a beauty of their own: The breadth of topics is staggering, and for people with the time to scan them, they can be both provoking and entertaining. Offbeat items on "Virtual Legos" and "French McDonald's Ads" might appear on the same day as weightier topics in the news. Take, for example, recent links to and discussion about the anthrax attacks in the U.S. last year, on MetaFilter -- an impressive compilation of facts and opinion on the subject. Another recent posting on MetaFilter offered a list of resources for banishing the pop-up, pop-under and banner ads that many Internet users find so annoying.

Branching Out

Once you've found some blogs you like, following their advice is one of the best ways to find new ones. "The nice thing about Web loggers is that they're very generous with links to sites they enjoy," says Paul Bausch, one of the founders of Blogroots.com (www.blogroots.com), a site that offers news, reviews and practical advice about blogs and blogging. Most Web logs have a list of links to other blogs -- sometimes called a blogroll -- along one side of their main page.

"Once I find a few I like, I branch out from there, based on the places they talk about or link on their side bars, and I've quickly grown a list of 20 to 30 sites I read daily and enjoy immensely," says Matthew Haughey, the creator of MetaFilter.

For a broader approach, try Blogdex (blogdex.media.mit.edu), a site developed by Cameron Marlow, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as his dissertation project for a doctorate in media arts and sciences. This site not only ranks the links most popular among bloggers but also allows you to track discussions around the Web. So you can find out what topics are popular and link to all the blogs talking about them.

For instance, one of the top listings on Blogdex one day this month was titled "It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Terrifica!" Clicking on the title linked you to an article on the ABC News site about a woman who patrols "New York's party and bar scene," dressed in a red superhero outfit, complete with mask and cape, "looking out for women who have had a little too much to drink and are in danger of being taken advantage of by men." To see who was talking about this article, clicking on "track this site" under the title on Blogdex brought up a list of eight blogs that had provided links to the Terrifica story in the past couple of days; you could click on any of those to check them out. But the trail doesn't end there. Clicking on "track this weblog" under any one of the eight blogs on the list provided a list of other sites that had been cited recently on that blog, each with a "track this site" option that would uncover yet more blogs, and so on ad infinitum.

There are also a handful of directories that break the blogosphere down into categories. Portal.Eatonweb.com (www.portal.eatonweb.com), compiled by early blogger Brigitte Eaton, lists 7,875 blogs in 87 categories, the biggest being personal, journal, humor and commentary. You'll find treasures in the smaller categories, such as New Age. Listed there: Herbalist Evo Terra's ASimplerWay.com (www.asimplerway.com) discusses holistic vs. conventional pediatrics, while "my so called life" is a link to the "morbid sense of humor" of a girl named Jenise-Marie about growing up as a New York teenager, such as recent entries about how she's never going to be able to show her dad her report card.

Other directories include the Pepys Project (pepys.akacooties.com), which lists blogs from around the world by country, GlobeofBlogs.com (www.globeofblogs.com), where you can find lists of blogs by title or topic, or search authors by name, location, birthday, or age and gender, and www.bloghop.com, whose listings include the blogs rated highest by readers. The Weblogs Compendium (www.lights.com/weblogs/directories.html) even offers a directory of blog directories.

None of the directories, however, comes close to organizing the entire blogosphere. Others don't even try, taking a more specialized approach -- sometimes without offering a clue to content. NYCBloggers.com (www.nycbloggers.com), for example, lists 1,591 bloggers by which New York subway station they live near. "NYCBloggers, of course, is the best place to find the blogs of the most opinionated and interesting group of people on the planet: New Yorkers," says co-creator Mike Everett-Lane. "You can find who's blogging at your subway stop; maybe that guy you see on the train every morning has a noteworthy blog." Other popular blog-mapping resources include LABlogs.com (www.lablogs.com) and DFWBlogs.com (www.dfwblogs.com), for the Dallas/Fort Worth area. And, of course, bloggers don't just live in America. YULblog (www.billegible.org/yulblog) lists mostly English-speaking Montreal-area bloggers, and Xenoblogs (www.fawny.org/xenoblogs) lists blogs by country outside the U.S.

There are special-interest directories, too. Web directory Ageless (jenett.org/ageless) collects the work of silver-haired bloggers, categorized by birth decade. "We're sending the message that the personal, creative side of the Web is diverse and ageless," the site says. You can find Christian bloggers at Blogs4God.com (www.blogs4god.com), or a collection of the meanest blogs at Cruel.com (www.cruel.com).

Web rings are another way to find related blogs. A common icon and "next" link on each blog in the ring send visitors on to others like it. For example, feminists are connected by the Geek Goddess ring, while knitters share the Knitting Bloggers ring.

Random Clicks

Of course, there's still something to be said for serendipity. "Sometimes a random click will take you to a stupendous blog -- and sometimes to one that's stupendously dull," says Mr. Everett-Lane. The founders of NYCBloggers found each other through a happenstance surf, and hope to facilitate the same through a "random" button on their site. Blogger.com (www.blogger.com) offers a similar option.

One random approach is to visit Weblogs.com (www.weblogs.com) or Blo.gs (www.blo.gs). Both track updates to thousands of blogs and list them with the most recently updated blogs on top. "Every hour you're certain to find dozens of blogs you've never heard of showing up at the top," says Mr. Haughey.

And finally, it's not quite the Oscars, but you might want to check out the winners of the Bloggies Web log awards in January, in which the blogosphere votes for its own best in some 30 categories. Nominees don't get to attend a glitzy dinner and walk the red carpet, but they do get to put a special seal on their site, and a few this year won $20.02.

Winners of the 2002 awards included best-designed Web log Loobylu.com (www.loobylu.com), where Australian artist Claire Robertson offers commentary on her daily activities, illustrated with the beautiful small drawings that earned her the award. One recent entry about passing her driving test showed an illustrated Ms. Robertson studying a book of road rules, while another showed her pregnant and frowning at a small bag of old shriveled mushrooms. Another winner was the most humorous Web log, Disturbing Search Requests (searchrequests.weblogs.com). Browsing that site, you'll be amazed by the things people try to search for in Google.

However, not everyone is so positive about awards, or blogs as a self-obsessed medium in general. For these people, there are the AntiBloggies (www.antibloggies.com), with awards including "Most Banal Content" (winner: GothicGranola.org) and "Most Updated Blog" (winner: VieuxBandit.org). The prize for the latter was a "Get a Life" DVD.

-- Mr. Fowler is a staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal in New York.

Write to Geoffrey Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com

Updated November 18, 2002

     

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