1. Introduction

" 'I certainly have not found a comparable way to get my ideas out. It allows me to have a voice I would not otherwise get,' Mr [Brad] Setser says. Blogs have enabled economists to turn their microphones into megaphones." -"The invisible hand on the keyboard", The Economist, 3 August 2006

So what is this thing called blogging and why is it important? While arguments may rage over the precise definition of blogging, a blog is in essence an online diary style website. Short articles are posted in chronological order, with the most recent one at the top of the page. Simple software enables writers to fill in a form, press a button and update their website, producing quick and easy publishing on the web without the need for technical skills. The Economist has become so taken by the concept, that it has a suite of blogs of its own.

What is the case for blogging among the economics community? One of the most famous blogging economists, Brad DeLong of the University of California at Berkeley, says that blogging gives him access to an "invisible college" of people who will react to his opinions, point him to more interesting things, help him to raise the level of debate on economic issues and bring it to a mass audience. He neatly sums up blogging as "turbo charging of the public sphere of information and debate", which he hopes will make him smarter and more productive.

Blogs do this by being interactive. This takes many forms including: providing links to other websites, papers or blogs; allowing readers to comment on articles; via acknowledgements to other bloggers for leads to interesting pieces of news; or by critiquing each others writing, producing a network of links, relationships and interactions across the web.

Blogs have been in existence since the late 1990s according to blog pioneer Rebecca Blood, but it took another few years for blogs to go mainstream, with the US Presidential election of 2004 seeing them start to be used as a major source of online news. The vast majority of blogs are written by girls in their teenage years or by males in their 20's, and they write about their daily lives and interests. Blogs behave in accordance with the "long tail" theory whereby a small number of blogs enjoy a large amount of influence, which has led to their increasing prominence in search engine results and readership.

How do you take the first steps into this brave new world of blogging? Hopefully, this guide will provide some useful pointers. It will start by taking you through the mechanics of blogging, choosing appropriate software and offer some advice on how to start writing, as well as highlighting, the potential pitfalls of sharing your thoughts with the world online. Finally we will focus on specific uses of blogs in economics and some case studies of how they are used in teaching, before looking at the future of blogs and blogging as a developing technology.