Blogosphere Big Bang
July 6, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

The Early Days of Blogging - Presented at the 2009 HyperText conference, this paper is an extensively cited and well-researched narrative of the blogosphere's formative period. It delves deep into the involvement of Jorn Barger, Dave Winer, and other A-list luminaries.
posted by SpecialK (36 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
The paper starts with, "The blogosphere today is a writing space"; follows with massive meta-examination about how the earliest bloggers tried very hard to repress the "writing space" model in favor of the "access structure" -- and failed; and then closes with "maybe one day, we'll dig into the archives to understand how it became a writing space."

Granted, that's a quick-and-dirty summary, but I guess my point* is that it seems pretty disingenuous to acknowledge that "what we hoped it would be and tried to make it, isn't what it became, and what it became had no small amount of influence from the people doing all that personal observation that we pooh-poohed, those nasty 'diarists'" -- and then pointedly not bother to also examine the evolution of the diarists.

* Full disclosure: I was in the diarist camp, as were many other MeFites. In 2001, I thought the weblog guys were dry and dull, and I thought the constant competitive territory-marking of trying to find the best content and be first to link it was just so much weenie-measuring.

And I didn't care for the dismissive way that the weblog writers dismissed the journallers, as though what we were doing had zero validity. WE WRITE LIKE THIS AND IT'S BETTER, AND THOSE TOUCHY-FEELY NAMBY-PAMBY DIARISTS WRITE LIKE THAT AND THEY SUXX0RS. It was polarizing and self-important. "Blog" became a dirty word, a publication that was intentionally devoid of any real analysis or personal response.

So I guess there's some cold satisfaction in seeing them finally admit that the type of writing they abhorred is what the blogosphere actually did become... but it's weak that the weblog pioneers still will only gaze at their own navels for the history of the blogosphere.

It'd be like writing a history of [Massive War Period], and glorifying the role of [one's homeland] while reducing to a footnote the participation of [ally country that you secretly hated and only grudgingly acknowledged but who totally saved your homeland's ass].

Man, that would have been such a better closing if I had even the slightest inclination toward military history.
posted by pineapple at 8:49 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


"blogosphere" is one word that will never be spoken or typed without pullquotes by me.
posted by autodidact at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2009


Also, it is patently amusing that the same dry, dull writing that the original web loggers made their stock in trade is on display yet again here. The paper was in fact "extensively cited" and "well-researched", sure... but just about as entertaining as slogging through actuarial manuals. I hope the actual presentation in Torino had dancing girls or one of those slide decks full of monkeys wearing people clothes.
posted by pineapple at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which is to say, SpecialK -- this is a good FPP and I'm glad you made it. You shouldn't take personally my long-standing grudge against the weblog faction.
posted by pineapple at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2009


I liked the paper. But, then, I was very much on the "access structure" side of the argument, and quit blogging once bloggers all decided they were journalists.
posted by Jimbob at 9:01 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


i read this article and then i went and got a sandwich on a bagel. the sandwich had hummus and cucumbers. the air was thick with impending rain and the smell of bagels.

Then i came back to my office and typed this comment.

aaaaaaaaand POST!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:08 AM on July 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


agreed, pineapple.

there's no "one" source for the blogging phenomenon. it's no secret that the team over at Six Apart were really influenced by the net art movement of the late 1990s. it's not everyday you have a guy like Joi Ito funding a company like 6A and also sitting on the board of Ars Electronica.

net artists like Mark America, Yael Karnarek, MTAA, RTMark, Mark Napier were experimenting with writing and publishing methods that interested a lot of people who were in the early blogging business.

then there's the likes of eZines like Enterzone and The Thing. I mean, The Thing was "podcasting" Yael's "The Upgrade" meetings waaaaay before the word was invented!
And then there's Rhizome.org, 7/11, Hell.com. I almost forgot The Well.

Ive wanted for a long time to setup a wiki to actually collect the oral history of the web if only because a linear narrative will always lie, omit or obviate a lot of the other separate narratives that were unfolding at the same time sometimes with the same actors.

i mean, does anybody remember when corporations were still skitish about going on the web not just for e-commerce but even for just publishing their friggin' brochures? those are the stories we need to collect because they're gone with the ephemera that are today's online newspapers.

btw: i opened culturekitchen in 2000 as a static writing-log. i set up the blog literally at the end of December 2001 and by 2002 was blogging. i never know if am in the last batch of the first wave or the first batch of the second wave of bloggers :D
posted by liza at 9:12 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


liza said: "btw: i opened culturekitchen in 2000 as a static writing-log. i set up the blog literally at the end of December 2001 and by 2002 was blogging. i never know if am in the last batch of the first wave or the first batch of the second wave of bloggers :D"

Time-wise, you've got a fair claim to either. I think it depends on what and how you were publishing. Which side of the spectrum of this comment from Jorn Barger is more applicable? "you can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility."

(see what I mean there about Barger? What a prat.)
posted by pineapple at 9:22 AM on July 6, 2009


Just scroll down to "who invented blogging" and you'll find out who this article is biased towards. Wikipedia can tell the story better than Mr. Barger-- the gaming news site Shacknews and Blue's News both started in 1995, and the founder of the former was hired to write web news before the word "blog" was even invented. Even as the net.artists were getting bored with their little game, big names like Slashdot were getting started. It may well be that blogs got off the ground in spite of, not because of, diarists like Winer.
posted by shii at 9:26 AM on July 6, 2009


I used to follow Jorn Barger's site, Robot Wisdom, all the time. It doesn't seem to have been updated in years. Does anyone know if he is okay?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2009


He's still updating his Robot Wisdom auxiliary.
posted by psyche7 at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2009


What, no water?
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:54 AM on July 6, 2009


Jorn is also on twitter:
http://twitter.com/robotwisdom
http://twitter.com/rwaux
posted by jjwiseman at 10:00 AM on July 6, 2009


A good place to get bagels online is from NewYorkBagelbox.Com.

Trackback
Blogroll
Myspace Page





HIT COUNTER
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any paper on the origins of blogging that leaves out Justin Hall's links.net is deficient.
posted by jayder at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2009


"the type of writing they abhorred is what the blogosphere actually did become"

"once bloggers all decided they were journalists"

Did you check out tumblr anytime recently? I think there's still room on the internet for both the linkers and the diarists.
posted by roofus at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I attended the talk - while it did not feature dancing girls, it was quite interesting and ended with a good discussion between the author and Mark Bernstein.
posted by bouvin at 10:40 AM on July 6, 2009


12 years later and Jorn Barger is still an inspiration for me. He's an odd duck, with more than a few flaws, but Robot Wisdom and the Auxiliary are still vital for me.
posted by Nelson at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


the gaming news site Shacknews and Blue's News both started in 1995

And a lot of what they started with was posting the .plan files for id software employees. So maybe those really were the first blogs?
posted by smackfu at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Must be blog history week:
How blogs changed everything | Salon Books
posted by psyche7 at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2009


Nothing makes me feel more GOML than the "credit borrowed links" rule. I still do it as a matter of course and I still get irritated when someone reposts something of mine without credit. Lately, though, the few times I've mentioned that doing so is polite to folks who don't do it--well, let's say they've been less than polite back.

Suddenly, I'm Great Aunt Lucille, who's pissed you didn't send a thank you note for the birthday gift I sent.

Ironically, I'm horrible about sending thank you notes. But I always credit link sources, so karmically I'm good.
posted by elfgirl at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What happened doesn't really seem to me to be that this "access structure" style of blogging* was somehow turned into the "writing space" style. It's not like this style of what we would now call a link blog disappeared. It just seems that the word "weblog" and its derivatives got co-opted. Also, I guess, some of the tools and styles that were created for this access structure got used for diaries. This seems like a silly thing to be bitter about.

Note: I was a web diarist back in 1997, so I may be a little biased.

*Here, I'm using blogging to refer to sites primarily featuring dated entries with the most recent being the most prominent.
posted by ErWenn at 11:57 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


btw: i opened culturekitchen in 2000 as a static writing-log. i set up the blog literally at the end of December 2001 and by 2002 was blogging. i never know if am in the last batch of the first wave or the first batch of the second wave of bloggers :D

I started a weblog in 2002 as well, and always thought I was part of the third wave - with the exception of Scripting News, I didn't know about any of the first wave weblogs until folk started writing about the history of weblogs, and was directly inspired by the second wave, including MetaFilter, and the weblogs of various early MetaFilter members. Come to think of it, the combination of mathowie closing MetaFilter to new members for what seemed like a fucking eternity and mathowie, pb & co.'s efforts at Pyra to make weblogging easy to do both prompted and enabled me to start a weblog in the first place - thanks for that!

A side-note to 'access structure' types vs. diarists/pseudo-journalists/&c.: weblogging fashions were in flux for a really long time, and still are, and it seems to me that both sides won and lost their silly battle. I'm sure I'm not alone in starting out all 'access structure', drifting into writing longer pieces (Movable Type's design prompted this shift for lots of webloggers, it made your permalinks feel a lot more perma), then adding a linklog in a sidebar to get back some of the immediacy of the old quick and dirty days, then spinning that linklog off (in 2005, which makes me first wave at something, at last!) into a separate tumblelog which was, effectively, exactly the same as my weblog was at the beginning. Now, most weblogs I see combine longer entries with curated linking/embedding, and the folk who still separate their weblogs/linklogs/tumblelogs/whatever tend to aggregate all their online activity into an 'action stream', which really is a web log.
posted by jack_mo at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I bounced off this article. It made me miss Suck.

Not because it was mentioned, though it probably should have been, but because this barrel of fish needs shooting.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did you check out tumblr anytime recently?

Heh. My tumblr site was banned a few months ago for being "too much of an aggregator"...
posted by Jimbob at 2:37 PM on July 6, 2009


ErWenn said: "What happened doesn't really seem to me to be that this "access structure" style of blogging* was somehow turned into the "writing space" style. It's not like this style of what we would now call a link blog disappeared. It just seems that the word "weblog" and its derivatives got co-opted. Also, I guess, some of the tools and styles that were created for this access structure got used for diaries. This seems like a silly thing to be bitter about."

I don't know if you were addressing me, but that's not what I'm bitter about. I think it's sad that the web log writers were as divisive and insular as they were, then; and that there apparently still isn't room to acknowledge that any other group's contribution to the evolution of today's online self-publishing is worth examining, now.

jack_mo said: "A side-note to 'access structure' types vs. diarists/pseudo-journalists/&c.: weblogging fashions were in flux for a really long time, and still are, and it seems to me that both sides won and lost their silly battle...."

Agreed, with your whole statement, because of course the whole SMART PEOPLE WRITE ONLINE LIKE THIS AND DUMB PEOPLE WRITE ONLINE LIKE THAT mentality was wrong from the beginning. There is room to link/annotate/curate, and there is room to opine/observe/emote. It's just that Jorn Barger and his ilk absolutely refused to ever consider that "big tent." One curated a link repository, or one was a dilettante that couldn't possibly matter in the grand scheme of the evolution of the medium.

What we call blogs today are denoted singularly by structure, with recent material first and an hour/date stamp, and yet that container most often holds the "original thoughts" that Barger sneered at. The present-day standard is a hybrid of the two publishing styles, with neither triumphing over the other.
posted by pineapple at 3:49 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What we call blogs today are denoted singularly by structure, with recent material first and an hour/date stamp, and yet that container most often holds the "original thoughts" that Barger sneered at.

And the reason the "debate" is so intractable, and so completely silly, is that weblogs are nothing more than the idea of an automated system that puts the most recent material first on a web page. There are so many things you can do with that, yet all those different things started being referred to as "weblogs", and people felt their territory was being stolen out from under them.

The idea of posting news at the top of the page is pretty bloody obvious, really. It was an idea that was bound to emerge as soon as enough people got their hands on web hosting space that could run scripts and access a database.

I actually invented weblogs, independently. In late 1999, I was working as system admin / web developer / customer service / technical assistance / cleaner for a very, very small ISP. I ran the office 2 days a week, another guy ran it 3 days a week, and the owner bought and maintained the actual hardware. The owner, one day, asked me to improve the ISP's web site - he wanted to be able to log into it and type news that would appear on the front page, rather than having to mess with static HTML.

So I cobbled something together with ASP and an Access database - he could log in, post news, and that news article would appear at the top of the main page, and the other older news would slowly be pushed off the bottom below it. As I was putting the finishing touches on this, I somehow came across the early Rebecca Blood article mentioned in the post, where she described weblogs, and gave example of a few. It occurred to me that I had just created weblog software. I copied my shitty ASP/Access weblog software over to my own personal webspace and started using it, mainly as a bookmarking system that I could access from anywhere. There were a group of other Australians doing a similar thing (shout outs to Virulent Memes, Burgatron, The Null Device, Hear Ye!) who I visited daily for new and interesting links, and during this time I came across Metafilter.

But, over the years, I started to notice the term "blogger" shift to mean "amateur pundit" - being a blogger mean posting annoying opinion pieces, and arguing with your ideological enemies in the comments section. My own blog died once other tools, like delicious, came along to make bookmarking even more convenient.

I've got no real reason to be angry - after all, cool links are even easier to find than ever. Before blogs, the net seemed a fairly dark place, difficult to navigate. You could search for things, if you knew what you wanted to search for. But it was difficult to find stuff that was fresh, new and interesting. Early weblogs acted as guides to the internet - every day, you would visit a site that would point you towards other sites with brilliant stuff on them, that you would never have found on your own. Metafilter still serves this purpose, as to a multitude of other sites. I guess I'm just a little frustrated that a term that originally described this innocent, fun, social service is now applied to [insert your favourite blowhard internet pundit here].

But, I have to finally accept that the term "weblog", with it's dual content/structure meaning, should really now only apply to structure. It's really a very simple, obvious idea that was bound to surface sooner or later. The debate is like taking something like books, and having two groups of people argue about whether they should contain fiction or non-fiction content, while a third group of people just use them to scribble doodles in.
posted by Jimbob at 4:52 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It made me miss Suck.

Jeez, they didn't even mention Suck? That's insane. If you're writing about the early history of blogging and you completely fail to mention Suck.com, you have done. it. wrong.

That said,

"if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility"

makes perfect sense to me.
posted by mediareport at 6:32 PM on July 6, 2009


Essential history of Suck.com, for those who've never heard of it. Seriously, it was almost certainly one of the top 3 most influential commentary sites of the first internet boom:

With today’s eyes, it’s difficult to see what made Suck such a revelation when it first appeared. At the time, the typical website had some sort of entry page, like HotWired’s registration screen, or more commonly, a title page or cover, with links to individual internal pages—or to a separate table of contents, leaving the real content of the site twice removed from the point of entry. Many sites took their cue from HotWired, employing garish color schemes and dizzy background images. Suck placed its content right on the front page, black text on white, in a single, snaking column...

In the absence of HotWired strictures, they turned "tertiary links" into signature stylistic components. "It’s important to understand that up until then, to the best of my knowledge, people had just used hyperlinks in a strictly informational sense, simply as online footnotes," says Mark Dery, author of Escape Velocity. "With Suck, you wouldn’t get the joke until you punched through on the link. Then you found out that it set the keyword to which this new source was linked in an ironic light." Writing for Suck, Steadman and Anuff were free to link "suffocating infants" to Dave Winer’s column... "Whereas every other Web site conceived hypertext as a way of augmenting the reading experience," wrote Steven Johnson in Interface Culture, "Suck saw it as an opportunity to withhold information, to keep the reader at bay."


More:

"Everybody wanted to be the genius who understood it all and got there first and become a pundit," says Anuff. "It just seemed so asinine. These people were so under-qualified to be laying down the law on what you could and couldn’t do, and it was so early for that, that it just seemed really important for us not to put our names on anything. Half of the other pages didn’t have anything but their names."

What was not apparent from one viewing, and what was more shocking than the format or the byline, was Suck’s intention to publish a new column every day. Wired was then struggling with their publishing schedule. "We didn’t know how often we were going to have to update HotWired," says Kevin Kelly. "The idea was, the content on HotWired might be updated maybe monthly...We were not thinking that people needed to come back to a website every day."

"As soon as Louis saw Suck, he knew that what had to happen was that HotWired would have to update daily," says Steve Silberman, a writer for Wired.


Etc. It's essential stuff for anyone interested in the early history of blogging. Way before the "first wave of bloggers" hit.
posted by mediareport at 6:51 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pineapple: No, I wasn't referring to you. Mostly to the author of the article and some of the subjects of the article. It's bizarre to me to even read about all this divisiveness and rivalry. It certainly wasn't ubiquitous. I wasn't aware of it until I read this article just now, and I've been doing blog-like stuff off and on since 1997 (though I didn't have any software that automated the process back them). The internet's a big place, and there's room for all kinds.
posted by ErWenn at 7:24 PM on July 6, 2009


Just now I searched the article for Suck, Steadman, & Anuff, & came up empty.

I should search Suck for the people mentioned in the article.
posted by Pronoiac at 7:35 PM on July 6, 2009


"It’s important to understand that up until then, to the best of my knowledge, people had just used hyperlinks in a strictly informational sense, simply as online footnotes," says Mark Dery, author of Escape Velocity. "With Suck, you wouldn’t get the joke until you punched through on the link. Then you found out that it set the keyword to which this new source was linked in an ironic light."

Uh, Suck didn't invent this. Not if my 1994-era website has anything to say about it (and I know I saw the joke on someone else's site so I know it wasn't me what came up with it, either.)

What Suck did was do it well.
posted by Spatch at 5:24 AM on July 7, 2009


What Suck did was do it well.

Hilariously, ego-puncturingly well. Every weekday. No other site from that time could even come *close* to what Suck was doing.
posted by mediareport at 5:44 AM on July 7, 2009


Hey you bastards. I invented blogging too! It must have been like 1998 or something. I had a lot of extra computers in the DMZ at work, so I set one up as a web server and used it to post dribbling rants about things I hated. It was even called "hate." For psychological reason, I invented a character called Donkeymon to do the hating for me, and shield me from the judgmental nature of people who don't hate the same things I do. I started off in the linky end of the pool, linking to all sorts of stuff I hated and the expunging and exfoliating about why and how much I hated it. Eventually I stopped linking so much and started writing about random things around me that I hated, like people who don't use enough commas and this guy Dave Espinosa who had a haircut like Art Garfunkel. Got loved by Dave Winer in February 2000, and it was all shit sandwiches after that.
posted by donkeymon at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2009


the gaming news site Shacknews and Blue's News both started in 1995
And a lot of what they started with was posting the .plan files for id software employees. So maybe those really were the first blogs?

And you tell that to kids these days and they won't believe you.

Blogs. Eh. It wasn't just about the blogs as we see them now. It was seen to be about the future of conversations.

There was a concern over many conversations being controlled/owned by a single host. A grassroots approach by the tool makers using their own tools suggested a new way forward.

Instead of posting a comment on the metafilter host you should reply on your own blog and link to original post/posts and subscribe to the feed which syndicates the thread content. Then databases can slice and dice the conversation by manipulating the link webs. Of course this is a crazy dream of how "a future technologically advanced culture" might do things in the Semantic Web of the futurenet.

Meanwhile a bunch or riff raff found some left over code and frameworks and got to work on making a place where you can post and rate things like lolcats and pictures of fail.
posted by vicx at 7:01 AM on July 7, 2009



So I guess there's some cold satisfaction in seeing them finally admit that the type of writing they abhorred is what the blogosphere actually did become... but it's weak that the weblog pioneers still will only gaze at their own navels for the history of the blogosphere.


Hee, what pineapple said. I'm one of those old journallers who has been around forever and spent years denying calling my site a blog. Now, I don't really care even though I still hate the way the word blog sounds.
posted by SuzySmith at 1:57 AM on July 8, 2009


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