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The pleasures and perils of blogging

December 27, 2005|By LYDIA HADFIELD

Blog - n. 1. a Web log, a chronological online journal; vt. 2. The act of self-expression and communication with others via an online journal; often used by teenagers

Do you blog?

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 19 percent of Internet-using teenagers in the U.S. - nearly 4 million teens - have authored blogs. Whether it's a detailed diary or a sparse personal profile, a growing number of teens are creating blogs on sites such as MSN Spaces (MySpace), Xanga and Livejournal.

So why do teenagers start blogs or profiles?

"Everyone else had one," says Kimmy Tate, 15, of Brunswick High School. "It's a way of keeping contact."

It's simple enough to assemble your own blog. Blogging sites abound, and most offer templates and a simple, step-by-step process to get your words from the keyboard onto the Web. Members of blogging sites can make profiles with information about themselves, play clips of their favorite music, type blog entries, make friends' lists and post comments on friends' pages.

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Anna Abbott, 18, a home-schooler in Middletown, Md., uses her MySpace and Xanga accounts to organize get-togethers with friends and "to keep tabs on what everyone is doing."

For some teenagers, blogging is a way to meet other people, too.

"You can visit people's sites from other schools near to you, and you can get to know them without 'getting to know them' and talk to them if you want to without the formality," says Nick Whims, 15, of Brunswick High School. He mentioned that he has been able to meet teens from other areas and hang out with them.

Others are more wary. Kimmy screens people who contact her MySpace account.

"I don't accept people who want to be my friend that I don't know," says Kimmy.

Anna communicates mostly with her friends on blogging sites but says, "I know people do go out (to meet other members) and have, like, 200 people on their friends list."

Internet safety and parents' groups have voiced concern about the amount of information teens post on their blogs. Wiredsafety.com recommends that teens not post their address, telephone number or full name on a blog.

"You can't (write) anything too personal because you don't want just anyone to read it," Anna says, "You do have to be careful."

However, it's clear from visiting the home page of any blogging site that teenagers share a lot of personal information, sometimes stories that they probably don't want their parents to read.

There are good and bad aspects of blogs

Cyberbullying - when people post threats or hurtful comments directed toward peers - has been a problem for some.

Conversely, some teachers are trying to use blogs as an educational tool.

The number of teens who blog could easily continue to grow because of access.

It's easy to set up a profile, and it can be free. To begin registration, log on to a popular blogging site such as www.spaces.msn.com, www.livejournal.com, or www.xanga.com. Many blog sites allow a user to set up a free account and pay to become a member. Members often receive blog accouterments and tools that allow them to further personalize their page.

Nick says he updates his MySpace page "only a couple times a year."

Kimmy says, "I go and log in every other day to get the comments friends post."

Anna says she adds to her page, "like once a week. Not very often. I know people who will (update) every other day or, like, two or three times a day."

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