Every so often, when Ido Kenan, 29, walks down a street in Tel Aviv, someone he doesn't know stops in front of him and says: "Aren't you Ido Kenan? I read your blog."
Such encounters still surprise Kenan, even though thousands of people read his blog, Room 404, and some consider him the most influential blogger in Israel. "It's nice to meet people who read my blog," says Kenan. "It's nice when they tell me, 'Today at the office we talked about your latest posting.'"
Blogs don't have budgets, and they don't have marketing departments. "But I don't really like it all that much that people know me and I don't know them," says Kenan. "What interests me is precisely the dialogue, the discussion between me and the readers. You can write in a large media outlet and have tens of thousands of readers, but under those circumstances, an intimate community of active participants will never develop."
Although new blogs continue to pop up, the rapid expansion of the blog scene has taken a hit. As with other forms of browsing content, there are those who believe expectations of a media revolution and "new journalism" were over the top.
Once the dust settled, two kinds of bloggers survived: a large mass of so-called "amateur bloggers," whose readers comprise acquaintances alone, and a small group of "professional bloggers," who thanks to their writing talent have attracted a broad readership and have become an authority in their respective fields. This is the new media elite the Internet has created, which can apparently be expected to survive and flourish in the coming years.
Kenan (who until recently worked at the newspaper Calcalist) has been starring now for several years on every list of Leading Individuals on the Israeli Internet, together with Yuval Dror and Gal Mor. On the blog "The Questionnaire" (http://hasheelon.co), Sinai Gez has brought together a great many of these leading bloggers: Kenan, Dror and Mor and also Boaz Cohen, Gadi Shimshon, Heli Goldenberg, Guy Hajaj, Dvorit Shargal, Riky Cohen and others. On the Internet, they are considered royalty and enjoy a following of faithful readers, who wait on tenterhooks for the next posts.
Presumably, however, some of the readers of this report are not familiar with even one of these names, and it will be a while before the paparazzi hide out behind their homes.
"I'm still quite stunned by the number of people who read me," says Riky Cohen, whose popular blog in Notes, "The Life of the Lost Mother" (www.notes.co.il/riky) deals with the "great and small moments of parenthood."
"Here and there I meet people of both sexes who say to me, 'I read your blog,' and sometimes that makes me anxious. At first, I would write without taking anything into account, but nowadays I am more careful. For example, as the blog gained popularity, and my partner's friends started telling him that they were reading it, I stopped mentioning him."
Some of the leading bloggers are journalists who grew up on the technology pages of the newspapers or veteran Internet career folk who became active in the online world more than a decade ago, when it was still an esoteric means of communication. For many of them, the boundaries of the Internet are the planet's true boundaries.
"What seems like the in crowd of the blogs are the people who have simply been there long enough," says Kenan. Nonetheless, he notes that the leading blogs, especially in the field of technology, are not necessarily the most popular blogs. "I am not at all certain that in terms of the numbers of visits, that they are the most read. It could be that there is a blog by a 16-year-old girl, who tells about her life, that dwarfs our postings with regard numbers. We are living in a bit in a bubble, but this is the bubble that interests us."
If, in the past, the way to fame was paved by Channel Two talk shows, the blogosphere has created new middle ground for fame. Journalist Clive Thompson of wired.com magazine has defined these gurus of technology sites as "microcelebrities" - small-scale celebrities who are known to a relatively small group of people, especially users of social networks and blog browsers. Though they will not appear on "Saturday Night Live," they turn heads in their own social circles.
"A blog is a micropublishing medium," explains Gadi Shimshon (shimshon.net), formerly the editor of Walla and Nana Web sites. "Many bloggers are people who never reached a large audience before, and now they can address people who are interested in their writing. But they aren't celebrities who have only their fame to offer. Nowadays blogs don't create fame at the level of reality shows, but the consumption patterns are still changing, and maybe this will happen in the future."
Are bloggers influential? In recent months, a number of leading blogs have been promoting Hadash MK Dov Khenin's candidacy for Tel Aviv's mayorship. To some extent, the municipal elections can be seen as a test of the strength of this group's influence on the world outside the net.
"Dov Khenin's campaign managers have said to us that elections are won on the street. Still," says Kenan, "in this campaign, we have shown that with zero money and zero means it is possible to establish an agenda, that Dov Khenin can transform Tel Aviv into something different. We are trying to create a discourse about something. In my opinion, there are now more than 80 bloggers who have expressed support for Dov Khenin, and this makes waves. In the wake of the blogs, the local weeklies have started to write about this."
Kenan says the bloggers' power is the ability to conduct a prolonged battle over an issue that is important to them. "Bloggers have patience," he says. "Unlike a newspaper, which has to bring a new issue every day, a blog can sit on a single issue and wring it dry. Somebody keeps pecking away at you, doing the work that in an ideal world the press ought to be doing - dealing with injustices."
However, even as several bloggers have begun to evince awareness of social issues, it is hard to say the blogger elite is ready to take the reins of public opinion in hand. Most of the leading bloggers still prefer to act like overgrown geeks who are running jokes on Google after school. Many of the most popular blogs are devoted to Internet jokes from America. The most insulting curse they know is "technophobe." When they write about politicians who dare to contact them over the Internet, they enjoy depicting themselves as subversive types, even though technology is far from a threatening force in the world. Nonetheless, in view of the vulgarity and arrogance so common among certain media people on television and in print journalism, the net princes seem like courteous pussycats. They are also usually respectful of one another - after all, everyone is someone's friend.
"The blog is a medium that encourages open discussion and unpretentious professionalism," says Kenan. "I love the culture of links and credits on the blogs. They also respond on one another's blogs, and that's what creates a community. The blogger ethos is a lot more communal than the journalistic ethos. If someone writes about something, there is nothing to prevent me from writing about it, too. This doesn't detract from my dignity. Blogs are a fun place, and quarrels aren't a significant part of the matter."
Ido Kenan: www.room404.net
Yuval Dror: www.holesinthenet.co.il
Sinai Gez's Questionnaire: http://hasheelon.com
Gadi Shimshon: http://shimshon.net
Dvorit Shargal: http://www.notes.co.il/dvorit/index.asp
Guy Hajaj's Oneg Shabbat: http://haoneg.com
Riky Cohen: www.notes.co.il/riky