Although blogs (weblogs) have been around for some years now, there has recently been a flowering of interest in the phenomenon among mainstream news outlets, culminating on this side of the Atlantic in the Guardian's Best British Weblog competition.
A good example of the form is the popular Rebecca's Pocket. As well a classic double-column, single-page format with plenty of white space, this well designed site also offers a useful history of the blog's development. But readers of this column may find the short historical note short historical note by Dave Winer on early weblogs more insightful.
As Winer points out, the blog format of short entries in reverse chronological order linking to other items on the Net makes weblogs the spiritual heirs of the original NCSA what's new page (happily still available) that was practically the starting-point for the entire Web revolution.
Winer is a prominent blogger himself, one of the main purveyors of weblog software - Radio Userland - and runs the Weblogs.com site Weblogs.com site. The other main weblog system, Blogger, comes from Pyra, and is a Web-based system run from the Blogger.com site, where there is more information about how this free system works, Blogger help and details of the paid-for Blogger Pro.
Blogger.com also offers a blog directory of sorts, since it consists of one long list (though there is a search box to help you find blogs of interest). Slightly more useful is the Eatonweb portal.
Perhaps this lack of a comprehensive, centralised blog resource reflects the rapid growth of the medium - it is estimated that there are now more than 500,000 weblogs. It may also be a side effect of a slight schizophrenia that has crept into the world of blogs since their first appearance. On the one hand there are the personal diaries that amount to little more than a dated record of what their creators have found online together with some comments. On the other, there are the blogs that offer a kind of specialised Web filtering service.
The latter tap into the same user-driven dynamic that has made Google so successful. An interesting approach might be to combine Google's approach - which ranks its hits according to the number of links to that page - with blog pre-filtering by searching among the links found on bloggers' pages, with due weight given for frequency and subject-matter.
Blogdex provides an amalgamation of links from blogs, with an indication of the material linked to.
Another domain ripe for experimentation is the business blog. One application would be to use weblogs as an alternative to internal e-mail: instead of sending everything to everybody, information would be posted to intranet blogs (intrablogs?), either personal or departmental, and links between them used to flag up facts of wider interest.
A second business use would be weblogs aimed at customers, providing them with an alternative and more informal source of information about a company and its products.