a blogger at his computer

Talking about politics has always provided a basic way to "do politics." E-mail extended talking politics by making it easier to type out some ruminations on politics and zap it to fifty of our closest friends.

Most of us have someone in our social circle who is a self-confessed political junkie--the person who can be depended on to raise politics in casual conversation or to be up on current political events. Though they're not necessarily political professionals, these are the friends most likely to start an argument or to turn a casual night out into a night of intense discussion. Conversations that turn to politics are often followed a day or two later by an email or two (or three, or...) stretching the conversation. These are the folks who might even increase their friends' interest in politics enough to get them a little more involved. The habitual non-voter finally gets registered and shows up to vote; the casual voter starts reading the paper a little more closely and maybe even attends a meeting or a rally.

In the last few years, the growth of weblogs has provided many of our political junkie friends with a new medium for venting their preoccupation with things political and reaching out to others. The original weblogs, which grew out of personal web sites, were powered by software that made it easy for individuals to write some text, add a few hyperlinks if they wanted, and post the result to the World Wide Web from their personal computers. Bloggers, as the software's users were soon called, needed neither programming nor web publishing skills (though some early practitioners had both). They downloaded easy-to-use software or registered with a free website, and with very little effort were able to spread their thoughts via the World Wide Web.

Blogs now exist on almost every conceivable subject, but political junkies took to the medium immediately and in large numbers. Punch "politics" and "weblog" into a good search engine, and you'll need days to go through the results.

But at least sample a few of these blogs. You're likely to find people a lot like that friend of yours. Political bloggers often seem compulsively opinionated and determined to point their readers to a website, book, or bit of news that has struck a political nerve. They're determined to think and write about politics, and get others to do the same. And like your friend, they're likely to spark your interest in something, or even nudge your conscience.

If you are interested in politics but not involved in any organized activities like a political party or an interest group, blogs offer a way to stick your toe in the water. The structure of the Web enables bloggers to link to each other, and from its origins as an individual enterprise the weblog format has evolved into a tool for promoting political causes and candidates. Whether your goal is to provide publicly available running commentary and contemplation or to encourage interest in a set of issues or political positions, blogging might be right for you. If you are already engaged in a party, interest group, or other kind of political organization, but aren't sharing your experiences with others, a blog may add another dimension to your political activity.

Finding political blogs

Independent blogs come and go, but numerous sites offer ways to find political blogs of interest. The all-purpose and popular Google search engine increasingly indexes weblogs. The Day Pop search engine focuses on weblogs and news feeds, and some experimental searches for political topics yielded finely grained results. (We were going to include a list of blogs in this feature, but it's the nature of the Web for sites to live and die quickly--and, apparently, the nature of bloggers to lose interest. So we point you to search engines instead of providing you a list of blogs that will always include some state Web sites.)

As with everything else on the World Wide Web so far, commercial versions of weblogs have also proliferated, including blogs by reporters, columnists, and other media professionals. The Web sites of many major newspapers and magazines now include political blogs, so you might want to look at some of these to see how "the pros" write their blogs. Unlike individual blogs, these columns are usually subject to the editorial processes standard in professional journalism, so they differ fundamentally from the do-it-yourself blogs that started the phenomenon.

Campaigns and party organizations have also discovered blogs as a means of getting their messages out and of responding quickly to current events. Many campaigns for the 2004 presidential election, for example, included blogs. You can survey these sites at the e-democracy web site.

DIY: Starting your own blog

Starting your own weblog is cheap and easy if you don't mind sharing your space with some advertisers. Several Web sites offer free access to user-friendly software for posting your musings and links, and will host your site, too. You can find a good list of these at this page on the Web site maintained by the blogging authors of a book on the subject. For a relatively small fee most of these blog sites will host your musings without any advertising. Try a free site to start with to see how you like it, who you connect with, and to see how far talking politics on the Web will take you.

Blogging Web site Description
Blogger Provides free hosting and template-based layouts for novice bloggers.
LiveJournal Also an introductory-level blogging/journaling provider with a focus on community-building.
UpSaid "Web journaling service" with free guestbook, hit counter, and Web poll.
20six European site that offers free (for the time being) hosting and the ability to publish through the Web, e-mail, or Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).
Moveable Type A free "publishing system" for intermediate and advanced users with their own servers.