Web blogs catching on in LTER

Network News Fall 2007, Vol. 20 No. 2
News Briefs

A Web log or "blog" is a journal posted on the Internet. As many as 77 million blogs worldwide chronicle personal reflections on political, technical, or creative endeavors, inviting readers to post feedback and create a discussion. Some blogs are quite popular and a few, influential.

Blogs are gaining momentum and recognition as sources of information and authority. Moving beyond the fringe, they are social focal points, with many regular readers and commentators communicating directly with each other in a public forum.

As well, LTER investigators are entering the "blogosphere," creating and maintaining their own forums on the Internet to communicate over distance, and to stay informed of happenings at their sites.

At the Jornada Basin LTER site in southern New Mexico, a new blog (http://jrnsite.wordpress.com/) allows LTER site personnel to share observations related to particular studies, natural history, acute events, or other phenomena. Anyone can read and submit comments on the blog entries, but only a predefined set of people are allowed to make and edit entries, "specifically the few technicians and myself who are in the field frequently," says John Anderson, who approves comments from first-time posters to prevent spam.

Investigators at McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER site use web logs (www.mcmlter.org/blogs0708.html) to communicate across the vast distances between their field sites and their homes. "Our blogging is very informal," says Chris Gardener, McMurdo's information manager. "It's a great way to inform family and friends what you're doing in Antarctica," Gardener says, "and we team up with local teachers back home and allow their students to ask us questions in the field."

Gardener has created a Web page that links to everyone's blogs, and subscribers are notified of new entries. He now plans to create a page that updates automatically using XML feeds. "Last year, this area was the most visited portion of the website during the height of our field season in December and January," he says. "It's too early to tell yet, but it is pretty popular again this year."

After reading and responding to blogs for some time, James Brunt, associate director for information management at the LTER Network Office, decided to create his own blog (http://lno.lternet.edu/blog/jbrunt). "I try to keep the material of general interest to socio-ecological information management," he says. "I'm really trying to reach the LTER sites with this information." Brunt began his blog in September 2007, taking advantage of the website content management system's capability to support web logs without extra effort.

He notes that blogging is similar to emailing in "the immediacy with which I can put together some thoughts." But, he adds, "I find I have to spend a little more time organizing and editing which probably makes the content better (than email)."

By Patty Bonito, LNO