Blogging is just the most recent incarnation of several practices with a long and very respectable, non-technological tradition.
Diarists, pundits, commentators, and givers of advice on all topics, among others, are the ancestors of today’s bloggers, going back to the days of the quill.
Only the breathtaking advances in speed and reach make contemporary blogging fundamentally different from its predecessors.
Although ancient examples have crumbled to dust, consider more recent pre-internet practitioners: the 17th century’s James Boswell, gossipy chronicler of the intellectual landscape, Steven Jay Gould, evolutionary commentator in Natural History magazine, regional political observers such as Alan Chartok, hyper-local experts like Tom Ferrick, and advice columnists such as Dear Abby. They all respond to a recurrent and persistent urge of literate folk to share their ideas.
Blogging borrows from these earlier models. The word itself comes from the term ‘weblog’. While we know the web as an interconnected system of telephone and computer communication, the ‘log’ in weblog has a far more colorful history.
In the era of sail, people, news, and cargo travelled without navigational satellite assistance. To estimate location, one needed to know speed from the last known location.
A heavy piece of wood (the ‘log’) was thrown overboard, attached to a rope knotted at regular intervals, unwinding from a huge spool.
The number of knots’ unspooling per specified time constituted speed in knots, recorded in a logbook, and signed. The logbook also recorded other phenomena, such as weather or passing ships, becoming a joint diary of the voyage.
In the 1970s, some computers (mostly at universities) communicated over those clunky modem lines where the telephone receiver fit into a special cradle.
Long distance fees constrained casual use. Through the 1980s, the Department of Defense, through its stable of high-tech consulting firms, such as Mitre Corporation, was developing ARPANET for convenient large data transfer and communication between universities and defense installations. CompuServe offered subscribers shared time on large computers.
The first USENET newsgroups allowed like-minded individuals to share information and post messages of mutual interest.
The record of visitors to the webserver constituted the weblog. This writer suspects that many of the same folks who were tricking the phone company to obtain free long distance access in the 1970s were also later subscribers to the Bulletin Board Services of the 1980s, and early online fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons.
In the 1980s, CompuServe (CIS) made individual online access much easier. Truly personal desktops brought computing into the home in 1984. Hourly access fees still constrained real-time interaction, however.
There were, however, many ‘bulletin boards’ serving all sorts of email lists. Users posted messages for others to answer, asynchronously, creating a ‘thread’, and were moderated by locally powerful individuals known as ‘sys-ops’.
AOL (originally a gaming service called Quantum Computer Services) added convenience by offering monthly subscription services in 1985. The monthly sunk cost certainly motivated users to spend more time online, sharing news, and views.
In 1994, a Swarthmore undergraduate created Links.net, which permitted personal, frequent, brief postings. By 1998, The Charlotte Observer used such a weblog to report on Hurricane Bonnie.
However, the word ‘blog’ was created in 1999, shortened from weblog. Nineteen ninety-nine also witnessed the introduction of free blog creation services (Blogger.com). This encouraged online composition.
Blogging prompted the establishment of new companies and services, such as Boing Boing in 1999, and Gizmodo in 2002. In 2002, as well, blogs could display advertising for the first time, making them potentially self-supporting.
2002 also highlighted the potential power of blogging when US politician Trent Lott was vilified by the nascent blogging community for his apparent approval of an icon of Southern, racism; Strom Thurmond. Technorati was introduced as a blog search engine, and scholarly articles were published to analyze blogging.
Two thousand three ushered in the acquisition of AdSense by Google, expanding access to moneymaking while blogging. It was also the year of WordPress, still a force in blog creation services. MySpace was launched, attracting non-computer geeks. These innovations made blogging more than a techie hobby.
Two thousand four saw the introduction of video blogging, followed in 2005 by the launch of YouTube.
This is the first video ever posted on YouTube:
Bloggers were newly being paid (e.g., Andrew Sullivan), becoming glamorous (The Huffington Post), and granted press credentials at the White House (e.g., Garrett Groff). Ads costing $100 million were sold. ‘Blog’ entered the dictionary. New mobile blogging tools enabled ‘on the fly’ observation.
By 2006, 50 million blogs existed, some of them in collaborations with big names such as CNN. Facebook and Twitter appeared as well, followed by Tumblr in 2007, and with these, the phenomenon of micro-blogging, and shared photos of your friend’s lunch. A bloggers’ code of conduct, drafted by Tim O’Reilly, may or may not have influenced behavior, but had wide applicability, since by then, 95% of US newspapers were featuring blogs.
New tools, an expanding field of web creation services, and ever-increasing authorship/readership have furthered blogging’s growth. Celebrities and politicians have handlers tweeting micro blogs while they are on the stage or platform.
Even in places with governmental constraints, such as the China, over half of internet users access blogs. This number alone is mind-boggling.
In 2004, scholars predicted that all computer-mediated communication was becoming routine, and they were right.
Blogging is everywhere, in every field, and shows no signs of contracting. A conservative estimate of the number of blogs would top 500 million.
When we all get implantable chips, will our every thought constitute a micro-blog? Check back then!