PHILADELPHIA – How big have blogs become?

Bigger than Jesus. Bigger than sex.

More than twice as big as sex, actually, the CEO of Blogpulse found when he typed the words blog and sex into the Google search engine. That big.

If 2004 was the year blogs entered the language (so says Merriam-Webster), then 2005 was the year they found their voice. Mainstream media embraced blogs, corporations embraced blogs, spammers embraced blogs.

It was a time of great convergence, with indie blogs joining together to capture audience and advertising, as brand-name media shed their institutional voices to go unfiltered where the readers were.

Nine percent of American adults who surf the Web write blogs, according to Pew’s Internet and American Life Project – that’s 13 million people. And 27 percent of Internet users read them – 39 million Americans. That’s only counting those 18 years old and up. Millions more young people post Web logs – diaries, sounding boards, screeds, commentaries that draw commentary – in places such as Xanga, LiveJournal, AOL and MySpace.

Group blogs took off in influence. The lefty Huffington Post got out of the gate first, in May, trailed by the more right-thinking Pajamas Media, which wound up shooting itself in its footies by changing its name to something that another site had already claimed. And then changing back.

Newspapers launched blogs this year. The Washington Post began to include links to blogger reactions next to stories displayed online. MSNBC and other broadcasters began programs celebrating bloggers’ work., whose investors include Knight Ridder, has started allowing readers to post their own news.

Lee Rainie, director of Pew project, said technological innovations in blogging software accelerated growth, and changed the way people viewed the world. Video blogs, or vlogs, surfaced a year ago when a tsunami devastated parts of Southeast Asia, and grew in popularity during the Gulf Coast hurricanes. People learned the ease of posting images onto blogs from mobile phones – called mobloggings.

“The mainstream media opened its arms to bloggers in crisis moments in all sorts of ways,” Rainie says. “We have entered this melding stage of thinking. … We’ve been through anger and fighting. Now we are in the wary-embrace stage. At some point, it will be wholesale endorsement.”

Sometimes crises forced the change. Hurricane Katrina turned the New Orleans Times-Picayune into a blog of information bits, street scenes and urgent calls for help that attracted as many as 30 million readers. Hurricane Rita did the same for the Houston Chronicle.

Corporate America recognized the power of blogs to spread buzz, from MSNBC buying about 800 advertisements on sites that run Blogads to the proliferation of the medium as a marketing tool. Of course, Rocky Balboa has a blog that chronicles the production of Sylvester Stallone’s sixth film about the Philadelphia fighter.

With mainstream success has come some unwelcome attention. Blogpulse, which tracks trends, estimates that as many as 30 percent of new sites are spam blogs, which use keywords to get their products listed on search engines.

Corporate America also felt blogs’ sting. When Jeff Jarvis, frustrated over the purchase of a laptop lemon, headlined a post “Dell Sucks,” thousands of bloggers joined in the conversation, and the computer maker’s slow response cost it a swarm of unwelcome attention.

Bloggers from the left and right united to appear before the Federal Election Commission to argue to get the same exemption from campaign-finance laws as print and broadcast media. The bloggers, represented by Philadelphia lawyer Adam C. Bonin, won.

While there was no national election, activism didn’t sit out the year. Campaigns hired bloggers, such as that of Jon S. Corzine for New Jersey governor with Matt Stoller of MyDD. Conservative bloggers magnified the heat on ill-fated Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Millions of dollars were raised for victims of Katrina. A conservative budget-cutting effort called pork busters identified excessive federal spending.

The subjects that came up the most include the hurricanes, Miers, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. (then a nominee), intelligent design, Wikipedia, the London bombings, the Pope, Valerie Plame, Peter Jennings and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was an Oregon man’s parody religion to rib Kansas officials who embraced creationism. Pastafaria!

Blogs continued their explosive growth – with 30,000 to 70,000 new ones each day, and 20 million to 23 million total worldwide, depending on whether Blogpulse or Technorati is counting. The sphere has been doubling in size every five months for three years now. The most growth is found in Chinese-language blogs, writes Technorati founder Dave Sifry.

And people are spending more time reading them. A recent survey by Advertising Age found about 35 million workers in the United States visit blogs and spend an average of 40 minutes a day reading them. One out of four blog visits could be considered job-related.

Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, told Management Issues online magazine that blogs had become the favored diversion for “office goof-off time.” Blinq reader (and blogger) William Young put the medium’s appeal this way: “Anyone who participates in the blogosphere knows that it’s the divining rod of the nation.”

(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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