Twenty million. That's approaching the gnat population of the Midwest in August.
Yet that's where the blogosphere is: 20 million blogs — online personal journals — and multiplying fast.
That's a huge jump since 1999, the year free weblog software became available. Back then, there were only 30 known blogs. Now it seems like everyone's blogging.
And those who don't have a blog of their own read others’ blogs and opine in the available comment boxes.
Thirty-two million Americans were reading blogs at the beginning of 2005. Now more than 50 million — one sixth of the population — are. Many credit bloggers (or blame them, depending on point of view) for derailing John Kerry's presidential run and hastening Dan Rather's resignation from the anchor desk at CBS News.
We're living in a world gone blog. Hence this new column.
Every month or so, I'll tell you what's happening in the Catholic niche of the blogosphere. I'll point out the sites that are worth visiting and, when I'm feeling acerbic, make note of which ones aren't.
There won't be many of the latter. There are scads of Catholic blogs, and a strong majority of them are maintained by defenders of the faith rather than dissenters.
Which brings me to what qualifies me to write this column. I've labored in orthodox Catholic publishing for years, with bylined articles not only in the Register but also New Covenant, Catholic Exchange, Godspy and Our Sunday Visitor. I also edited Gilbert Magazine (aimed at devotees of G.K. Chesterton) for a short spell.
And, yes, I blog.
My site, The Daily Eudemon (ericscheske.com/blog), offers an entertaining mix of social and cultural commentary from a Catholic perspective. With a following of approximately 500 visitors a day, it's not the most popular Catholic blog on the Internet. Still, considering that many blogs scare up fewer than 100 readers, it's not invisible, either.
I also contribute to two other blogs: Chesterton and Friends (chestertonandfriends.blogspot.com), and Crux Magazine's Blogs (cruxmag.com). The former is dedicated to G.K. and his ilk (like C.S. Lewis and Hilaire Belloc). The latter is a start-up endeavor of St. John's Fellowship, publisher of Touchstone magazine.
In the course of my blog work, I surf hundreds of blogs and come across many relatively unknown but talented writers. I'll highlight as many of them as I can in this monthly column.
I hope the column proves a reliable guide to the Catholic blogosphere, because the service is needed. Quite a few blogs are junk. Many are poorly written, heterodox or suffering from other shortfalls; others aren't updated frequently enough to deserve your time.
It's estimated that fewer than 15% of blogs are updated at least once a week, and a significant number of the 20 million blogs are defunct. There is no consistently reliable way to find good bloggers, other than to slog through the crowded blogosphere — an endeavor that requires a lot of free time, plus plenty of patience.
Here's hoping — and praying — that this column will make your trips to the blogosphere enjoyable. Maybe even spiritually fruitful.
Check out SecretAgentMan's Dossier, run by Ian A.T. McLean (secret-agent.blogspot.com). McLean sets up his blog so it seems like you're looking at a spy's dispatches. On most blogs, you can click on the “Home” link and get back to the main page. At SecretAgentMan, you click on “Central Command.” You don't e-mail the McLean, you “Make Contact.”
And you don't get 100 short posts a week. You get one or two big reports (which are “transmitted,” not merely “posted”). Occasionally he transmits a short report, but mostly, he sends lengthy essays that run thousands of words.
In the blogosphere, they say length is death, but it works for McLean. He's been blogging for three years. That alone is an accomplishment, since blogging burnout often hits after a mere six months.
But it's not just perseverance. McLean is a gifted writer. He has twice won awards for “Most Insightful Catholic Blog” (2003 and 2005). Author and fellow blogger Mark Shea (markshea.blogspot.com) calls McLean's blog the “Porterhouse Steak of the blogosphere,” and says McLean is “one of the great undiscovered essayists of our times.”
If you want a trip to a more cerebral side of the blogosphere, you may want to consider stopping in at SecretAgentMan's Dossier from time to time.
Will the new box-office blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe make us weary of C.S. Lewis? Internet Monk Michael Spencer thinks it might.
“I am afraid that the story so many Christians have loved will never be loved the same way,” he blogs, “because so many of us will be sick of those children and that lion, courtesy of marketing maniacs making sure we all have the ‘Narnia Experience’ until we're tired of it.” Check out the rest of his thinking on the matter at internetmonk.com.
Bloggers like a little pay for their efforts. The Internet provides different compensation schemes, including a plan from Amazon that gives bloggers store credits if readers click on an Amazon link from their blog and purchase a book.
Domenico Bettinelli, editor of Catholic World Report magazine, used a high-tech version of this plan at his blog, bettnet.com. He gave Amazon key words (Benedict, John Paul II and so on) and Amazon posted ads to his blog with similar titles.
Unfortunately, Amazon changed the program and, instead, sent software to scan his blog's content for an indication of the type of books readers of that blog would enjoy. Bettinelli frequently writes about the homosexual culture war. Amazon's software concluded that “gay issues” must be one of his interest areas and, in Bettinelli's horrified words, “started putting up ads for books about and by gays, including some salacious covers.”
Bettinelli has since dropped that Amazon program.
See you next month.
Eric Scheske welcomes comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit his blog, The Daily Eudemon, at ericscheske.com/blog.