Blogging for Belarus

They had talked about blogging the previous day, but it all still seemed to elude them. They didn't seem to quite grasp how it worked or why it was done. They wanted to know why I blogged. They previously had talked to a journalist who wrote a blog for a newspaper site. They knew why he was blogging: somebody paid him to do it. They asked what's in it for me.

I explained that blogging allows me to publish information—both personal and professional—more effectively. I explained how I started my web site back in the earliest days, but it was rather static. About two years ago, once I started blogging, I finally began accumulating significant content.

They said they saw the reasons why people might want to publish a weblog, but not why people might read them. I explained that the best weblogs are participative. Bloggers will use their site to respond to other bloggers. I also pointed out mechanisms that formalize the dialog, such as comments and trackback.

They asked about readership statistics for the Austin Bloggers web site. That lead into a discussion of RSS, which was new to them. I must have explained it effectively, because they seemed to comprehend not only how it worked, but also its value. They asked some really good questions, like how do you measure RSS readership (answer: with the same techniques as HTML readership, but you have to modify the reading model slightly) and how can you publish RSS if you depend on advertising revenue (one answer: publish headlines or article synopses and readers can click through to the web site).

Speaking through a translator was odd, and slightly difficult. I found myself struggling not only to gather words, but also to find breaks for the translator. The worst part is I was speaking to blank faces. I depend on feedback to tell me if I explained something sufficiently. I felt handicapped without that feedback.

Early in the hour I mentioned my interest in the spam problem. Later, one of the delegates asked me what I thought of Microsoft proposal to charge for sending email. I explained that I don't like it. The discussion devolved into discord. The translator eventually gave up and said they were debating among themselves. It was interesting to confirm that spam is internationally hated and controversial.

I went into this situation with a small bit of trepidation. Belarus has a reputation as being unfriendly to journalists. I hope weblogging can serve as a tool to help open communications for Belarusians.