Blogging is a funny thing. Weblogs, those online diaries that run in reverse chronological order, are just like any other new technological advance: more people have heard of them than have actually read them or written them. My Aunt Bobby, when she heard that I was writing about blogs, would say, “Gosh, those conservative bloggers are sure stirring up a hornet’s nest about ’60 Minutes’ and the fake documents from Bush’s National Guard service! Now where can I find a blog?”

There is no easy answer. Blogs are everywhere and nowhere. I can’t direct her to a newsstand selling blogs, and a printout of a blog wouldn’t do it justice. And if she met a blogger, how could she differentiate him or her from a non-blogger? I could recommend a few good blogs, with a web address scrawled on a piece of paper, perhaps political blogs I like such as Daily Kos on the left and InstaPundit on the libertarian right. Maybe a search engine such as Technorati or Bloglines could help them poke around and find knowledgeable bloggers on the topics of their choice.

I have danced around becoming a blogger myself. I’ve written some email newsletters that had blog-like tendencies, with a personal tone, commentary and links to other media sources. When I wrote a column for the USC Annenberg School’s Online Journalism Review, the column started its life as a blog-like stream of consciousness with no original reporting — that is, I didn’t interview people but relied on other news stories for my commentary. That changed, and I was soon doing in-depth reporting about — you guessed it — blogs.

I was on Air America, the liberal radio network, as a blog expert, when the host Marty Kaplan sucker-punched me on air: “You write and talk about blogs all the time, so why don’t you actually blog?” Well… The truth was that I knew that a blog would take over my life, requiring care and feeding more than the highest maintenance pet. And if it wasn’t screaming out to me for more content, then the Comments section, where readers respond to each blog posting, would be brimming with controversy that I couldn’t ignore.

But now, finally, in 2006, I am ready to turn my life over to the blog. I hope it doesn’t eat my wife and son, chew through my assorted leisure activities, and gnaw on my dreams at night. It helps that PBS.org — bless their souls, Preacherman! — has offered to finance my vision. When I first was pitching the idea of the MediaShift blog, one pitchee told me, “Mark, why don’t you think outside the blog?” It had a nice ring to it, and I had to agree. So MediaShift will try to think outside the blog, by offering you more — and serving you more.

The Top 5 will be a very unscientific Intelligent Designed look at trends, people and technology that won’t leave us alone. It’s no surprise that Google is atop the list, and I’m not sure if it will ever leave the list this year. We all are addicted to Google for searching, and we wait breathlessly for each and every new doodad they come up with, no matter if it’s a clunker, like the new Google Video store. (Excepting MediaZone presents Rugby: 2005 Air New Zealand National Provincial Championship!!)

And each week, I’ll pose a more pointed question to you all to get Your Take. The following week, I’ll do a roundup of the best of what you’ve offered to share with us. And once per week, I’ll do a feature called Digging Deeper that will include deeper thinking and even interviews. Eventually, I’ll start a weekly podcast, add audio and video to the site, and do more stories that include you in a two-way conversation.

And I hope that together we can break the bonds of traditional blogging and journalism. The more I think about the traditional way of doing journalism, the more questions I have about it. If I’m a movie critic, for instance, why does my view rate in importance? I got in free to the movie, the movie stars are there for me to interview, why do I know better than you?

And as a journalist reporting a feature story or news story, why do I only talk to the usual analysts and experts? Why are the same people quoted over and over again in all the different news outlets? Are they really that much smarter than you are?

As I launch into the Great Unknown of the Blogosphere (that’s where blogs live, but you can’t take a train there), I need your help. I know you’ve heard all the hubbub about blogs and podcasts, and maybe even heard about RSS news readers and wikis such as Wikipedia. You might have even — gasp! — experienced the digital revolution up close and created your own blog.

What confuses you? What keeps you up at night? How can I help YOU? (I’m talking in generalities here; I can’t do tech support for you…) Go to the Feedback page and tell me, or hit the Comments below. Rest assured that I will read everything you send me, even if I don’t have time to respond with grace and loving care to each and every one of you. Welcome aboard!