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The new water cooler - Martha Carr

There was a time when gathering information was a chore that was boxed in by where we lived, who we had access to and the age of our parents' set of encyclopedias. My parents had a set that predated me. I think Hawaii was still listed as a territory.

But somewhere around 1993, everything changed when the internet became accessible to the average guy, and someone sitting in front of a slow Commodore computer figured out that building a web site wasn't all that difficult. The tricky part was letting everyone on the old-fashioned Rolodex know of its existence, but back then, spam was a lot easier and less of a social faux pas. If someone could get a newfangled e-mail address, they used it.

Most of us were enamored with being able to go to any web site at all. There wasn't the flood of e-mails or sites that there are now. That's how I ended up on a list for precious rocks and another for designing leather purses. Entrepreneurs with only one or two great products were the first big wave on the net setting up virtual storefronts right and left. Along with them came all sorts of snake oil salesmen, but the public forum even figured out a way to expose the shams by creating sites with feedback from consumers.

All of that chatter back and forth about what was working led to chat rooms where there were always a few who went on and on about some beloved topic. Even in the virtual world there were word hogs. That opened up the world to the idea of blogs and bloggers, an online kind of diary with a specific subject that can even be interactive or have guests weighing in on the topic.

Some started because the blogger was looking for more information on how to fix a car or connect with others who had a rare disease, and they formed a central place that ended up benefiting everyone looking for information. These mavericks inadvertently became the experts just by creating the meeting site.

Now, there are niche blogs on every topic in every language offering the serious, the necessary and the silly. A lot of them give great advice that would have cost some serious time and money in the past, and most will even entertain questions from their subscribers. Instead of six degrees of separation from anyone, we are only a Google search or a few good tweets away from connecting with the one person who knows how to build self-esteem, how to deal with childhood nightmares or how to dress well without looking ridiculous.

I've gathered some of the better blogs I've found out there on a variety of topics. The first is MomCentral, www.MomCentral.com/blogs, that was one of the first Mom sites, started by Stacy DeBroff, who has the DeBroff DeBrief, which includes an array of big-name giveaways. Next is the Visual Therapy blog, www.visual-therapy.com/blog/ by celebrity stylists Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo that has tips on how to dress well without breaking the bank and looking hot at any age. Plus, there's plenty of behind-the-scenes pictures from the runways.

Next is ChronicBabe, www.ChronicBabe.com, that was started by Jenni Prokopy, who was a young woman looking for answers to why her body felt so badly. ChronicBabe became the meeting place for holistic answers to chronic health problems in young women. Along those same lines is FatWars, www.FatWars.com, with a monthly blog by Brad King that gathers the best comprehensive research on metabolism, body fat, exercise and getting healthy. King is well known as a holistic nutritional expert in Canada, and the rest of North America is finally getting to know him.

Andy Dooley's web blog, www.AndyDooley.wordpress.com/, is short webisodes on getting out of a life in theory to actually living. He uses a lot of comedy, common sense and visualization and offers practical tools. His type of blog, a short film, is the next coming wave, plus his comedy is actually entertaining.

Last is Ramblings of a Literary Agent, written by the popular book agent, Rachelle Gardner, www.cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/, voted best web site for writers for three years in a row by the bible for new writers, Writers Digest. Everyone out there thinks they have a good book in them and with the explosion of publishing on the web, more and more people are giving the literary career a try. Gardner's blog offers insight into the practical side of the business as well as some good guest interviews.

We'd have to travel in some pretty fast circles to meet all of these people in person and get their attention long enough to glean some sage advice, much less go back time and time again. However, with their blogs we can tune back in day after day and even send in questions or make comments and enrich our lives all at the click of a mouse. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.