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Blogging 101
What is this thing people do on the Internet and why should I care?

When Jamie Arpin-Ricci started blogging, he was looking for a way to write that would provide discipline and accountability. He had no idea it would change his ministry. “I expected to have some good conversations about ideas,” he says, “and what resulted is a shift in my focus. We’ve recently announced we’re doing a church plant, and the relationships came directly from my blog. It definitely has been bigger than anticipated.”

Arpin-Ricci is one of many Canadian Christians who blog. Blogger, a popular online service, defines a blog as “a website, where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. New stuff shows up at the top so your visitors can read what’s new. Then they comment on it or link to it or email you. Or not.”

The number of “weblogs” is growing exponentially. Last April Technorati, a search engine for blogs, said it was tracking over 70 million blogs, with 120,000 new ones being created worldwide each day.

Why blog?

Why do people blog? Some blog for personal reasons. Jordon Cooper, who works for the Salvation Army Community Centre in Saskatoon, began blogging as an “informal and personal way to communicate and follow what others were doing. It also makes it easier to keep track of links I am reading and also thoughts that may be forming in my head to go back to later. Looking back at six years of blogging, it documents an evolution of my thinking and learning.”

Others blog to become better known. Deborah Gyapong, an Ottawa journalist, began blogging to build a platform. “If you’re going to be a published author, you need to have a platform in order to help sell books. Having a blog is a way of getting your name out there.”

Some even write to make money.  Denyse O’Leary, a Roman Catholic journalist in Toronto, began her blog to complement her book By Design or By Chance? “These days, I don’t know why any author wouldn’t have a blog.” O’Leary now generates most of her income from writing for blogs. “I blog for money as well. I have clients who pay me to blog on their sites. I have a few print clients but I really don’t have the time for print clients anymore.” She believes we are witnessing a shift from print to the Internet. “Web-based publishing and the blogosphere are slowly replacing print publishing,” she says. “The winners will be those who position themselves correctly – and the forests, I hope.”

John Stackhouse Jr., a professor of theology and culture at Regent College in Vancouver, initially dismissed blogging. “I had only rarely looked at blogs and, frankly, had a low opinion of what I had come across. They seemed mostly to be exercises in self-indulgence: ‘Here’s what I had for breakfast.  Here’s the show I’m looking forward to seeing on TV tonight. Here’s why I have no friends.’ But it shows I was obviously looking in the wrong places. There are blogs like that but there are also blogs by serious writers on a lot of different subjects.”

A graduate of Regent told Stackhouse that, if he wanted to communicate with people under 35, he should consider the blogging medium. After reading the blogs of other scholars, Stackhouse decided to launch a blog with short essays on topics that interest him.

Stackhouse finds blogging rewarding. “I’m delighted I have readers literally around the world, on every continent. I am able then to connect with readers I previously would not have connected with. It’s exciting to think of being read all over the world.” Stackhouse is also glad that many read his blog who would not normally read his more academic works. “Blogging is a much more accessible medium.”

Evaluating blogging

Denyse O’Leary:  “These days I don’t know why any author wouldn’t have a blog.”

Blogging has its critics. George Schuurman, a retired police officer living in Oakville, Ontario, admits he has left comments on blogs stating that blogs are a waste of time. “I think I did and do waste time with blogging but I also know I have learned a great deal from it. One of the things I learned is that there is a lot of noise out there.”

Arpin-Ricci says blogging can also be dangerous for the blogger. “The danger is that, if you gain a certain degree of popularity, people can mistake you for some kind of an expert. I started to get invited to sit on panel discussions at seminaries and conferences when I’m just some guy living in the inner city putting his ideas down.”

Blogging can be time-consuming, addictive and it can never replace face-to-face communication.

The quality of blogs is uneven. “The easiest way to drive your hit count up,” Stackhouse says, “is to be sensational and extreme.”

The comments left by readers of a blog can also be misguided and hurtful. And the person who operates the blog is responsible to ensure they are not libellous or discriminatory.

Given all of this, why is blogging worth the hassle?

O’Leary argues that blogging allows people to bypass the media. “The New York Times picked up a tip from my blog and, unfortunately, they botched the story. As a blogger, I always take exception to the idea that blogs are less reliable than legacy media. Here’s what makes the blogosphere different: you can go to the blog of somebody who is an absolute expert in a given field. You’re dealing directly with an expert.”

Gyapong says “Blogs have an amazing ability to stay on what is often called the understory, or the story that is not getting reported in the mainstream media. Blogs can marshal a tremendous amount of resources for digging into stuff that professional journalists don’t have the time to do anymore.

“It’s a whole new world,” she says. “If Canadian Evangelicals are tired of the kind of spin they see in the mainstream media that is anti-Christian, thatBlogis kind of smug and self-satisfied and seems to think there is only one point of view on some issues, then blogging has something to offer them.”

Jamie Arpin-Ricci says “Blogging is a tool.  It’s a medium that can be used for just about anything.  “IT’s not inherently good or bad.  It’s what we bring to it.”

Community and conversation

Arpin-Ricci still receives e-mails from all over regarding some of his older blog entries. Some of his struggles have given readers freedom to share their own.

Arpin-Ricci has been surprised by the relationships he has developed through his blog. “I have made some incredible friendships through blogging, most of which have transferred into face-to-face meetings.”

He once responded to a blog that criticized the ministry that employs him. Arpin-Ricci wrote to express appreciation for the excellent critique. It started a growing friendship and culminated with Arpin-Ricci conducting a wedding ceremony for the critical blogger. “These kinds of friendships are common for me now.

“Blogging is a tool. It’s a medium that can be used for just about anything. It’s not inherently good or bad. It’s what we bring to it.

“My hope is that blogging can be a seminal place for developing a new approach to creating community and conversation, levelling the playing field, creating safe places for vulnerability.”

Darryl Dash pastors Richview Baptist Church in Toronto and blogs at www.DashHouse.com.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2008.

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