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Nick Denton blogs. That is, the 36-year-old Englishman, who lives in New York, keeps an online diary where he updates the world about what's going on in his mind, ranging from the Atkins diet to the war in Iraq to who's going to win the 2004 presidential election.

Who really cares what Denton thinks? It's safe to say, not too many people at the moment, but some are betting that Denton, along with tens of thousands of other enthusiastic “bloggers� (a compound of “Web� and “log�), will turn the once-private art of the diary into a new, very public medium, allowing businesses to target niche audiences like never before. “Blogs are focused,� explains Dan Gillmor, a technology columnist for The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a media channel that can reach markets as micro as, say, blacksmiths or tatting enthusiasts, in as cost-effective a manner. (Most blogs cost only $2,000 to set up.) This may be why search-engine powerhouse Google spent an undisclosed sum to acquire Blogger, a Weblog publisher, in May.

Sounds great, but are blogs just another Internet pipe dream? Perhaps not, but they sure have a long way to go to prove their business viability, according to an exclusive study of attitudes toward blogs conducted by research firm Ipsos-Reid for American Demographics. Only 17 percent of adults are aware of blogs, and fewer than half of those (5 percent) say they have actually ever read a blog. Since 73 percent say they are Internet users, that means approximately 1 in 15 Internet users have read a blog — a fairly modest penetration rate, to be sure. Only 1 percent of adults claim that they're extremely devoted blog readers and that they're going to these sites either every day or two or three times a week.

Blog readers tend to be young to middle-age males, our survey reveals. About 1 in 5 (21 percent) male Internet users report that they're tuned into blogs, versus 13 percent of females. For a male-dominated media channel, interestingly enough, the largest share of bloggers (34 percent) say they're checking into blogs that focus on personal or family-related issues. These topics are followed by politics, technology, news and, finally, sports.

With only 17 percent of adults registering any familiarity with the term “blog,� it's clear that the channel is not quite ready to supplant prime time, according to Thomas Riehle, president of Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs. “Before advertisers will be interested, they'll want to see more daily activity,� he says. “The blog culture remains a million miles away from being a profitable enterprise.� Will blogs ever complete that journey? Who knows? In the meantime, Nick Denton — and thousands of others — will be happily blogging away.

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