As I conduct my daily business I’m seeing more and more evidence that blogs, this very medium, have attained another landmark in their maturation.

For the first few years of their existence as a medium for self expression, blogs were truly a Wild West of opinions, rants, community and occasional thought-leadership.  They’ve blossomed at a remarkable rate, becoming the harbingers of change in some very explosive ways (think Rathergate and conventional media) and other precedent-setting ways (think politics and the Kerry campaign).

We’re now entering a new stage where the public popularity of blogs, combined with the litigious nature of society, creates the likelihood that the medium will become a victim of its own success. Authors are facing repercussions for how they express their opinions and to whom they refer.

We are well aware that blogs can effect change; but in the early days, the recipient of the attention typically was the person or organization impacted. Now, the blog authors themselves are facing a degree of reciprocity as lack of discretion and defamation are costing people dearly. Examples lay strewn all over the Internet: Mark Jen, formerly of Google; Ellen Simonetti, formerly of Delta Airlines; Oakland University professor Donald Mayer; etc. Precedent is being set daily and, so far, appears to be limited to the individual bloggers.

As this phenomenon progresses through the natural escalation cycles and deeper pockets are sought, look for the next targets to be companies that encourage blogging – often as a means of creating the much sought but elusive value of “transparency” — or simply don’t forbid it in their policy manuals. Along those lines, ISPs and browser developers could be enablers to an ambitious plaintiff’s attorney.

I can envision a whole new industry cropping up: blog moderators and censors who push content through legal filters to minimize liability. At a minimum, expect a whole new set of fine print to become standard issue tacked onto the ends of blogs.

It’s rather a shame to see the end of innocence for bloggers but I guess that they–or we–have brought it upon ourselves. We’ve legitimized the medium through the acknowledgement of its impact, and it has emerged from the technophile fringes as a mainstream platform for advocacy. You’ll even find them on media lists and audience summaries in PR plans.

— Eric Kushner