Blog. To some people, the word may conjure up images
of a creature from a fantasy realm, but for Johns Hopkins
graduate student Alexis Rice, the term is the future of
Short for Weblog, the blog in its true form is a
regularly updated online journal that allows users to stay
in touch with each other. For a political campaign, a blog
can be a forum, a mouthpiece and a powerful fund-raising
vehicle all in one. Relatively unknown just six months ago,
the term has rapidly ascended its rank in the vernacular,
thanks in large part to the campaign of Democrat
presidential hopeful Howard Dean. The Dean blog,
www.blogforamerica.com, was launched in March 2003 and
by September was generating 30,000 hits per day, allowing
supporters to stay on top of Dean's near every move.
The success of the Dean blog in particular caught the
eye of Rice, who was then completing her degree
requirements for the Communication in Contemporary Society
program, part of the Krieger School's
Programs. When the time came to prepare her thesis
project, Rice added a chapter titled "The Use of Blogs in
the 2004 Election." Little did Rice know the impact the
10-page report would have.
In October 2003, Rice launched
CampaignsOnline.org, the development of which was part
of her thesis project. The nonpartisan site's mission is to
promote improvements and understanding in the use of the
Internet and emerging technologies in political campaigns.
Wishing it to be an ongoing project, the Johns Hopkins
Center for the Study of American Government, where Rice is
a fellow, has since co-opted the site that is completely
designed, written, managed and edited by Rice.
To date, her blog report and Web site have been cited
in news pieces by CNN, NPR, Meet the Press and the
Tallahassee Democrat, among others. This week Rice brings
her one-woman blogging show to Homewood, where she will
speak from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, in the
Mattin Center, room 160. Her talk, "Blah, Blah, Blog
— Weblogs In, As and About the Arts," is part of the
Mattin Art Munch series and will look at the impact Weblogs
have on the creation, advancement and promotion of the
Rice, who will receive her master's degree from
Hopkins in May, says the attention has been a bit
"It's exciting, and there has been just shock from
friends about how my little report on blogging has gotten
such national attention," says Rice, who works full-time as
communication director for a nonprofit religious
organization. "It just shows that if a student is writing
on something that is so new, and no one else has touched
that subject and field yet, you can get publicity. It is
such an evolving field. I'm sure in the next few months and
years, technology experts, academics and others will be
writing major books on the subject."
Rice says that blogs have been around nearly as long
as the Internet has. One of the first successful blogs was
Matt Drudge's Drudge Report, a news and politics gossip
site. The number of blogs has exploded in recent years, she
says, due to the availability of free and low-cost blogging
In comparison to a traditional Web site, a blog is
more fluid and intimate, Rice says.
"I call it an interactive Web journal. You can have a
blog about what you are doing on a daily basis. You can
share photos. You can rant, you can rave, you can share
your opinions, " she says. "Allowed their freedom, users
can make a blog a community onto itself."
For a campaign manager, a blog provides a direct link
to the candidate's core support, Rice says. She gave an
example of one candidate changing his campaign tour attire,
even if it meant only switching from blue to red ties, due
to comments posted on the blog.
Not quite ranting or raving, Rice shares her opinions
on Internet usage by politicians on her blog on
CampaignsOnline.org. For instance, on Jan. 16 she noted on
the site that Gen. Wesley Clark's personal blog has not had
postings since Nov. 27, 2003. She wrote, "I liked the idea
of Clark having his own blog, but what is the purpose if it
is never updated?"
Since the early fall of 2003, Rice has diligently
followed the trend of other presidential candidates who she
says have ridden "the Dean Blogwagon." Taking notice of
Dean's early success, three other candidates for the
presidential nomination — John Kerry, John Edwards
and Clark — launched blogs of their own. President
Bush has also started a blog,
www.georgewbush.com/blog, but Rice says it's more a
public relations tool, as users are not allowed to post
topics on the site.
CampaignsOnline.org, in addition to Rice's blog,
includes a copy of Rice's original report, news clips on
Internet campaigning and links to relevant Web sites, such
as those of presidential candidates, political parties and
technology resources. This is not Rice's first Internet
endeavor. She created and wrote a nonpartisan political
information Web site back in her days as an undergraduate
at George Washington University, where she studied
Peter Decherney, the associate chair of JHU's
Communication in Contemporary Society program, says that
since blogging is such a rapidly evolving field, Rice in a
sense hit a bull's-eye on a moving target.
"Her work came right at the peak of the Internet
campaign boom. Her timing could not have been better,"
Decherney says. "People view her as an expert, but it's not
that odd when you think that those her senior might have
been in the field only all of a month longer than she
Decherney says that Rice's success is more than just a
case of good timing; her skills as a research and
self-promoter have helped her come to the forefront of this
"She is certainly well-deserving of the credit and
attention she has received," he says.
What's next for Rice? She says she will continue to
update CampaignsOnline.org throughout the presidential
election. Rice says that what will interest her in
particular is what happens to the blogs of candidates who
drop out of the race, and what the fallout will be from
Dean's relatively poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire,
since he popularized the Weblog technology.
In any case, Rice says she is just elated that the
site will continue into the foreseeable future.
"I think that the use of blogs will filter down to
state and local political races, and the use of this
technology will only mature," she says. "This is only the