'Blog' Expert Hopes To Bring Trend to Harvard

Students tired of penning response papers and letters to the editor may soon have a new way to express their opinions, with help from a new fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Dave M. Winer, a California-based software developer, will come to Cambridge to study how “blogging”—one of the hottest new Internet trends—could be used at Harvard.

Blogs, or Web logs, are personal Web sites updated frequently with posts from the author on virtually any subject.

“We wondered if we could help spawn the use of Web logs as a mechanism for people at the University to better build communities of knowledge,” said John G. Palfrey ’94, executive director of the Berkman Center.

After a University-wide meeting last year to discuss using the Internet to connect faculty and students, the center recruited Winer as an “evangelist to spread the word about blogs,” Palfrey said.

When he arrives at Harvard, Winer will attempt to create a community for people who already have blogs and also to find others who are interested in learning to use blogging technology.

“This is very exciting for me. I haven’t been in a university environment in 20-plus years,” Winer said.

Winer—the founder and former CEO of UserLand Software, which specializes in programs for publishing blogs—created one of the first blogs on the Internet in 1996. He has already begun compiling a list of existing blogs at the University. The blog directory, which currently contains 29 listings, can be found at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/.

Eventually, Winer said he would like to set up a server where anyone at Harvard could create and access blogs free of cost.

Winer will also study how to integrate blogs into an academic setting.

“We want to see how it works for students who are doing class projects and want to do collaboration with other students,” Winer said. “We have ideas that whole classes will use Web logs.”

Palfrey said he hopes the Law School will begin using blogs this fall. And he hopes others throughout the University will want to follow suit.

Though some criticize blogs as frivolous soapboxes for those without a medium to vent and whine, Winer said he is confident that introducing more blogs to Harvard is a worthwhile pursuit.

“Who knows when a great news story might come out from someone who last week was just whining?” he said. “The more people reporting on blogs, the more information there is out there.”

Palfrey agreed, adding that though blogs can be frivolous, they can also be useful.

“It’s the technology that can be meaningful,” he said. “If you use it as a technology in an academic and meaningful way, it can be a powerful tool.”

Still, others have their doubts.

“I don’t think it will save the world or drastically change the University for the better,” said Matthew G. Yglesias ’03, who has been posting for about a year and a half on his blog.

“I’ve had classes where discussion is supposed to evolve from the message boards, but the message board technology is kind of cumbersome; blogs are easier to use, but I’m not too sure how effective it will be,” he said.

Minutes later, an update appeared on Yglesias’ blog: “Just got a call from a Crimson reporter who wanted to ask me about Dave Winer’s Weblogs at Harvard initiative. I was, as I have been every time a reporter’s called in the past, absurdly inarticulate.”