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Psyber Psychiatry


Blogs: Personal and professional

Online journals have entered the mainstream in medical practice and business.

Vol. 4, No. 12 / December 2005

Text:

Once reserved for personal diaries, the Web log or “blog” has become a powerful cybertool for self-expression, news, and debate. Physicians are increasingly using blogs to communicate and stay abreast, and advances in search engine technology make blogs easy to find and easier to start.

This article reviews numerous uses for blogs, plus information on starting your own.

The birth of the blog

Blogs started as public online diaries that provided a forum for self-expression and support. Blogs are similar to personal home pages and newsletters, except that authors update the content more frequently—daily in many cases—and readers can post comments for public viewing. Blogs combine elements of individual and group psychotherapy with a public journal.

Patients and families, for example, use schizophrenia.com to list their favorite blogs or create their own. Moodswing.org lists blogs for persons with bipolar disorder and their families.

Medical professionals also have discovered the therapeutic benefits of blog writing. Crazy Tracy features a psychiatric nurse’s musings about her work and personal life. Physicians post their experiences with patients and their thoughts about health care on blogs such as Intueri.org and Shrinkette.

Although blogs are public, many if not most authors keep identifying information out of their author profiles. Posting your e-mail address on a blog, for example, may open the door to viruses, spamming, or identity theft.

Also, recounting a specific case on a blog could breach patient confidentiality. Instead, post abstract case information to protect the patient’s anonymity.

Blog evolution

Blogs are also becoming well entrenched in business. Most corporate Web sites include blogs for employees to make announcements about products and services. Compared with discussion forums such as Invision Power Board, a blog helps create a sense of community without the constraints of defined topic headings seen in a bulletin board.

Google’s 2003 purchase of Pyra Labs—which developed Blogger, the easy-to-use blog creation site—helped push blogs into the mainstream. Even the CIA is using enterprise-based blog software to collect, organize, and publish information on its Intranet. (See “Psyber Psychiatry. Web logs: Blogging into the future,” January 2003.)

Medical blogs. A growing number of blogs, such as PsychNotes, AATP Interactive, and CodeBlueBlog, disseminate medical news. Authors cull information from clinical journals and Web sites to discuss their opinions and draw attention to new findings. Many medical blogs link to others, using pieces of code from blogLinker or Blogroller, so finding medical blogs is easy.

Some search engines and directories allow users to search exclusively for blogs. Technorati, a well-known blog search engine, searches based on links to sites and keyword tags. The blog sites’ authors choose the keywords, such as “schizophrenia” or “psychiatry.” Keyword tags can be linked to Web sites offering other services, such as photo sharing and listing favorite Web sites. Google also offers a specialized site for blog searching.

Social tagging

Even search engines cannot keep up with the growing number of sites proliferating on the Web. Enter social tagging, through which users can share common interests by storing links to Web sites. Blog users can use social tagging to consolidate links to other blogs.

Social tagging sites such as del.icio.us, Furl, and Shadows allow users to store URLs of sites they want to save and share. After creating an account, the user adds URLs with keyword tags into a database. Users can search the database for sites of interest. Using the keyword “psychiatry” on del.icio.us, for example, I found the Virtual Hospital Emergency Services Handbook and other mental health references. Each site found under the keyword also lists the number of users who have added that site to their “favorites” list.

Flickr and Buzznet offer a similar service to help users find photos related to keywords; these photos can be linked to blogs.

Rollyo and Wink are similar to social tagging sites, but with a twist. After establishing an account, users create a specialized search using a keyword tag but specify which Web sites to search. This type of keyword search could be more productive than conventional Web searches if the user knows which sites may produce useful results.

Although the Internet continues to grow almost exponentially, social tagging helps create a sense of community and a shared knowledge base. At SuprGlu, users gather content from other social tagging sites where they have an account. Ning expands upon this process, providing a free online service for building social blogs and connecting blog users based on common interests. These sites and services help make the Internet a much smaller and more useful place.

Starting your own blog

Not long ago, bloggers needed special software to post links to other blogs and comments from readers. Also, archiving previous posts required some skill, as this process was not automated.

Today, blog creation sites take the technical difficulty out of creating and hosting blogs, allowing authors to use the Web browser to edit and then publish the blog. These services, however, may have limited ‘skins’ or templates to customize your site’s look, and your URL will be based on the host name, such as boredhousewife.blogspot.com. You can circumvent this problem by registering your own URL and purchasing blog creation software such as Movable Type.

Send questions about blogs or this column to Dr. Luo or e-mail to currentpsychiatry@dowdenhealth.com.

Disclosure:

Dr. Luo reports no financial relationship with any company whose products are mentioned in this article. The opinions he expresses in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Current Psychiatry.

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