Blogs have established themselves as another means for conveying messages and engaging others in conversation using the Internet. Political bloggers are among the most visible, but the medium serves other purposes as well. Health professionals may wish to consider whether blogs offer effective opportunities to serve their particular communication needs.
Political pundits spoke of the influence of bloggers in the 2004 presidential campaign and election. ABC News chose bloggers as their People of the Year in 2004 (Vargas, 2004). They noted not only the sheer numbers of blogs, but the immediacy of their reporting on unfolding events. Blogs led the way with firsthand reports on the effect of the 2004 tsunami as well as with images from hurricanes in Florida and the war in Iraq.
Also in 2004, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary announced that "blog" was the most frequently searched word in their dictionary that year. Their definition is as follows: "Blog noun [short for Weblog] (1999): a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."
Yet in January 2005, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 62% of Internet users did not know what a blog is. Since then the mention of "blogging" continues to pop up in the mainstream media as they refer to the use of blogs by political activists and various personalities. Technorati, a blog search engine, reports it is tracking 45.5 million blog sites and that 75,000 new blogs appear each day (www.technorati.com/about/). So just what is blogging all about and what might it mean for you as a health professional?
Typical Characteristics of Blogs
Blogs are created to serve different purposes such as a personal diary, discussion of issues, classroom tool, news digest, promotion. Information can be posted in chunks and with any frequency and appears chronologically with the most recent at the top. The list is regularly pared with older information typically moved to an archived space. Many blogs allow readers to comment on specific items, providing the opportunity for an interactive discussion. It is also common for blogs to provide links to related sites, as well as the opportunity to "subscribe" and receive alerts to new postings through RSS feeds (RSS feeds were discussed in this column in October 2005).
"Blogrolling" is the term used to follow the links provided within a given blog to other blogs of possible interest. However, due to the overwhelming number of blogs, it can be difficult to find that first blog with good content. Blog search tools are quite effective on finding specific posts on a given topic, but less so to find a blog on a given topic. Here are a few blog search engines:
Blogstreet (www.blogstreet.com): in addition to providing keyword searching, highlights the interrelationships between blogs. Once you have identified a blog of interest, you can enter that Web address and view its "neighborhood" (similar blogs), its "visual neighborhood" (mapped social blog network), its "blogback" (listing of blogs linking to it), and its "Googlatives" (blog relatives as identified by Google).
Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com/): indexes all blogs that provide a site feed (such as through RSS). Typical Google advanced search features are also available.
Sphere (www.sphere.com): results from a keyword search include a link to a "profile" of the blog which includes average posts per week, average word length of posts, and information on recent linking to and from the blog. This indicates how active the blog is and the extent to which it is tied into the greater blogosphere.
Technorati (www.technorati.com): provides keyword indexing of a vast number of blogs. Also highlights current blog activity, the top100 blogs, and recent postings by popular categories (movies, news, books).
Blogging in the Healthcare Environment
The following are some examples of healthcare-related blogs.
TIME Global Health Update (www.time.blogs.com/global_health/ ): one of the subject-oriented blogs from TIME magazine. By-line says "A personal take by Christine Gorman on the latest international health news."
Nick’s Blog, Windber Medical Center & Windber Institute, Windber, PA (http://windberblog.typepad.com/nicksblog/): Nick is Nicholas Jacobs, President and CEO at Windber. Linked from Windber’s home page and used by him to communicate with employees, patients, the public, the board.
Hospitals: Community Outreach
Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron, OH (https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/site/323068afe0c3ea47/index.html): online diary of hospital director on her travels to a Chinese orphanage.
Hospitals: Patient Communication
High Point Regional Health System in North Carolina (www.highpointregional.com/blogs/): "...where patients can share their experiences with each other and with the public." Real names of patients withheld to protect privacy, assurance that patients’ comments are their own. Public can contribute comments by sending to an email address.
Family Medicine Notes (www.docnotes.net/): "Docnotes - Occasional Notes from a family physician - since 1999"
medpundit (http://medpundit.blogspot.com/): "commentary on medical news by a practicing physician."
codeblog: Tales of a Nurse (www.codeblog.com/ ): blog run by an RN that will post "any health-care related personal story. Stories about patients, nursing school, med school, that unbelievably awful night your Med-Surg self had to float to the Psych floor…." All postings are monitored to insure privacy and no profanity.
Nursing Research: Show Me the Evidence, Saint Joseph Hospital, Orange, CA (http://evidencebasednursing.blogspot.com/)
"... will communicate the nursing research activities at SJO to staff. Communications may include, but are not restricted to, announcements of Nursing Grand Rounds, Nursing Journal Clubs, Nursing EBN [Evidence-Based Nursing] classes, ongoing nursing research and relevant medical library announcements and news. Secondly, this blog will serve as an open discussion forum for nurses and librarians interested in evidenced based nursing."
Effect Measure (www.scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/): "a forum for progressive public health discussion and argument as well as a source of public health information from around the Web that interests the editor(s). The editors are identified as senior public health scientists and practitioners.
As a Communication Tool
A blog is simple to create. Blogger (www.blogger.com/start), for example, is a free site that will guide you through a few steps to create and name your own blog, post your information, and get feedback. The information you post is not limited to text, but can include images and MP3 audio files. It is also possible to set up an RSS feed.
Your audience need not be a world-wide one. Possibly the greater promise of blogs is their potential to support collaborative work groups. Fichter (2005) highlights the basic features of good online collaboration tools: provide a way to communicate, to share documents, and to discover other members of the community. Some organizations have chosen to use blogs for communication and sharing within their research groups. Privacy is assured when this is undertaken behind the institution’s Internet firewall.
Use in Education
Blogs are being used in education from K-12 through college. A blog can serve as a class portal for publishing the course syllabus, assignments, handouts, and lecture materials. Students can use it to share their presentations and projects. The blog also provides an ideal means for students to create their personal e-portfolio to showcase their work. Blogs can support group work and be used in both traditional and online courses. Maag (2005) discusses the benefits for use in nursing education. Foremost among these is providing an engaging forum for students to practice their communication skills and promote critical thinking. Students may journal their own reflections or respond to the comments of others.
Although many of us may be thinking we really do not need yet one more communication channel, blogs are worth keeping in mind as an option that may serve a particular need very well. The potential currency of posts, the possibility of encouraging interactive discussion, and a means to share file types other than text may provide communication opportunities not as aptly delivered by other means.
Barbara F. Schloman, PhD, AHIP
Associate Dean, Library Public Services
Libraries & Media Services
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242
Disclaimer: Mention of a Web site does not imply endorsement by the author, OJIN, or NursingWorld. Links to web sites are current at the time of publication, but are not subsequently updated.
Pew Internet and American Life Project. (January 2, 2005). The state of blogging. Retrieved June 24, 2006 from www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp
Vargas, E. (December 30, 2004). People of the year: Bloggers. ABC News. Retrieved June 24, 2006, from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/PersonOfWeek/story?id=372266&page=1