Actor finds stellar forum

Blogs: Wil Wheaton, formerly of `Star Trek' fame, lets people get to know the real him via Weblog.

October 30, 2003|By Dan Gillmor | Dan Gillmor,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Wil Wheaton is not, repeat not, Wesley Crusher.

Wheaton, 31, isn't sorry he played the role of the brainy teen on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's proud.

But some fans of the show utterly loathed the Crusher character. A once-notorious Internet discussion group was called "alt.ensign.wesley.die.die.die."

In 2001, the Pasadena, Calif., resident launched a Weblog (www.wilwheaton.net), in part to "undo a lot of the misconceptions directed toward me because of the character I played on Star Trek," he says.

His online journal mixes intensely personal observations with commentary on modern life, politics, technology and entertainment. It tells you a lot about who he really is: a thoughtful and intelligent family man, with a bent toward geekiness and political activism.

The blog has become Wheaton's portal into a new career as a writer. And Wheaton has established a new kind of connection with his audience.

Wheaton is a relatively early adopter among a small but growing number of newsmakers learning how to use the tools of modern communications for their own purposes.

Recently, a few forward-thinking newsmakers have seen the power of creating their own messages. They are frequently unfiltered, and more unvarnished than the standard public relations-massaged and/or lawyered offerings. The informality can add credibility.

Ray Ozzie, whose Lotus Notes groupware became a corporate standard, writes a blog (www. ozzie.net/blog/). It gives me a communications channel under my control," he notes. He can say what he wants (within limits, such as keeping trade secrets), and he has the ability to post quickly and without limits on length.

Political candidates are using these and other techniques with increasing frequency. The most successful efforts, notably Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's campaign blog, serve as portals into the center of the action and help supporters find each other as well.

Wheaton's blog is highly personal. It's helped people get to know him, as opposed to the "Star Trek" character.

He's no fan of the Hollywood system that creates stars and later spits them out. The blog has reflected that sentiment.

"I'd struggled so much as an actor, and felt like I was running out of time to be a successful actor," he says. "I'd done lousy movies to support my family. I started writing about that, the ups and downs, mostly downs - what it's like to be someone whose first half of life is being famous, and the second half, being famous for being famous."

He lost his passion for acting, he says, and found a new one in writing. The blog has spawned one book, Dancing Barefoot, and another is on the way. He's making a living from his writing, which, he says, is an enormously satisfying turn of events.

Wheaton has been using computers much of his life. He's conversant with the Web's programming languages, he's an advocate of open-source software and he uses Linux at home.

He's also taken up some causes dear to the hearts of many in the tech community, such as reform of the copyright system that has been tilted so drastically toward copyright holders and against customers and users. He's a strong supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights for liberties in a digital era; he stirred up the crowd at an EFF fund-raising event last year.

In writing a blog like his, authenticity matters.

"They always say to write what you know," says Wheaton. "That's really good advice."

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