Of course, being a key part of online culture doesn't necessarily mean that it's a key part of everyday culture. Even among the technically-savvy, blogs aren't an everyday word. A co-worker of mine, who's no technical slouch by any means, asked me last week if I'd be "blurbing" over the holidays. But, the awareness is building.
The build-up of blogging in the general consciousness reminds me a lot of the slow build-up for Linux. When I first tried Linux in 1996, I didn't know a single soul who had also heard of Linux or open source. Try finding anyone who's remotely tech-savvy now who hasn't heard of open source.
Blogging is actually like open source in many ways, and I don't think it's an accident or mere coincidence that blogging has gained in popularity at the same time that open source software has been in ascendance.
Like open source, blogging is much more inclusive and accessible, allowing participation by those who might not ordinarily get to join the game. There's no guarantee that a blogger will be read, nor any guarantee that an open source project will gain traction, but the barriers of participation are much lower. The number of journalism jobs and programming gigs are finite, and even when one does get a chance to go "pro" it's usually on someone else's terms. Bloggers and open source folks are allowed to scratch their personal itch, whereas professional journalists, writers and programmers often find themselves on assignments that are less than interesting.
Like open source, blogging draws in a wide range of talent. Seasoned professionals and newbies have equal opportunity to get involved. Blogging also gives the audience a much more active role in the process than is usually found in mainstream journalism. One will often find as much wisdom and insight in the comments of a blog as in the original posts. In general, there is much more give and take between the authors and audience in open source and blogging than exists in the proprietary software world or mainstream media. Daily Kos, for example, without the comments and diaries would be much less valuable. Without the give and take between users and developers, open source projects would be far less valuable.
There is also a significant blurring of the lines between audience and publisher, and the ability for any member of the audience to become a publisher in their own right. The costs of running a blog, or starting an open source project, are negligible. (At least until those projects become popular. Bandwidth is still a somewhat pricey commodity.) Some see this as a negative, and prefer the "quality control" mechanisms that are part of mainstream media and the commercial software market.
But, from where I'm sitting, it's a huge positive. Sure, there are bloggers who produce less-than-stellar material and open source projects that make Microsoft Bob look like a stroke of genius. But that doesn't mean those voices should be stifled simply because they're not of the same quality.
The long and short of it is that open source and blogging enable "consumers" to become publishers. The conversation belongs to everyone now, not just the folks with deep pockets.