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Blogs and Blogging - Past, Present and Future

Thursday, 11 September 2008

There are millions of blogs sprawling across the deepest reaches of the Internet today. So much so that a new blog is created every 7.4 seconds but how have blogs changed over the years, what is their history and where are they going in the future?

The history of the blog is an interesting one. Although blogging is a fairly recent invention since the late 1990s, its concept is in fact not new at all, as electronic communities long existed before the Internet. The AP wire was very similar to a large chat room where there were 'wire fights' and electronic conversations. Similarly, another pre-digital electronic community, the amateur (“ham”) radio, allowed individuals who set up their own broadcast equipment to communicate with others directly.  Interestingly, ham radio also had logs called “glogs” that were personal diaries made using wearable computers in the early 1980s.

The term actual term 'weblog' was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997 but the term 'blog' was coined by Peter Merholz who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase 'we blog' in the sidebar of his blog in April or May of 1999.

Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used "blog" as both a noun and verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog") leading to the popularization of the terms.

The dawn of the blog began in 1999 with just a handful of sites. Jesse James Garrett (not a cowboy!) was an information architect who began gathering a list of sites. In November 1998, he sent that list to Cameron Barrett who later published the list on Camworld. Others similar sites began sending their blog links to him for inclusion on the list. With this tiny group of 'bloggers', Jesse James Garrett's Page of only Weblogs was able to list the twenty-three known to be in existence at the beginning of 1999.

Garrett's webpage deliberately stopped its updates as of 12th October 2000. His reasoning was that he had chosen to leave it up as it has become a subject of historical interest. Did he foresee the popularity of blogs. Indeed, shortly after 2000 as you can see from the timeline below, blogs grew at an astronomical rate.  At the end of 1999, the total number of blogs was estimated to be around fifty; five years later, the estimates range from 2.4 million to 4.1 million.

Timeline of Blogs

Dawn of Internet Time:  Tim Berners-Lee at CERN begins keeping a list of all new sites as they come online.

June 1993:
NCSA's oldest archived What's New list of sites.

June 1993: Netscape begins running it's What's New! list of sites.

Jan 1994: Justin Hall launches Justin's Home Page which would become Links from the Underground.

April 1997: Dave Winer launches Scripting News. His company, Userland, will release Frontier, Manila and Radio Userland, all website and blog content software.

Sept 1997: Slashdot launches their news for nerds.

Dec 1997: Jorn Barger coins the term web log.

November 1998: Cameron Barrett publishes the first list of blog sites on Camworld.

Early 1999: Peter Merholz coins the term blog after announcing he was going to pronouce web blogs as "wee-blog". This was then shortened to blog.

Early 1999: Brigitte Eaton starts the first portal devoted to blogs with about 50 listings.

July 1999: Metafilter's earliest archives.

July 1999: Pitas launches the first free build your own blog web tool.

August 1999: Pyra releases Blogger which becomes the most popular web based blogging tool to date, and popularizes blogging with mainstream internet users.

January 2000: Boing Boing is born.

July 2000: launches.

February 2002: Heather Armstrong is fired for discussing her job on her blog, Dooce. “Dooced” becomes a verb 'Fired for blogging'

August 2002: Nick Denton launches Gizmodo, the first in what will become a blog empire. Blogads launches, the first broker of blog advertising.

December 2002: Talking Points Memo highlights Trent Lott’s racially charged comments; thirteen days later, Lott resigns from his post as Senate majority leader.

December 2002:
Gawker launches, igniting the gossip-blog boom.

March 2003: “Salam Pax,” an anonymous Iraqi blogger, gains worldwide audience during the Iraq war.

June 2003: Google launches AdSense, matching ads to blog content.

August 2003: The first avalanche of ads on political blogs.

September 2003: Jason Calacanis founds Weblogs, Inc., which eventually grows into a portfolio of 85 blogs.

January 2004: Denton launches Wonkette.

March 2004: Calacanis poaches Gizmodo writer Peter Rojas from Denton. Denton proclaims himself “royally shafted” on his personal blog.

December 2004: Merriam-Webster declares “blog” the “Word of the Year.”

January 2005: Study finds that 32 million Americans read blogs.

May 2005: The Huffington Post launches.

October 2005: Calacanis sells his blogs to AOL for $25 million.

December 2005: An estimated $100 million worth of blog ads are sold this year.

January 2006: Time leases Andrew Sullivan’s blog, adding it to its Website.

February 2006: The Huffington Post surges to become fourth most-linked-to blog.

September 2008: Today, there are upwards of 27 million blogs in the world. The Guardian recently revealed the top 50 most powerful blogs in the World. Below are the top 10 biggest and most powerful blogs in the world.

Top 10 Most Powerful Blogs

1. The Huffington Post
Famed national syndicated columnist, former California gubernatorial candidate, and former conservative Arianna Huffington gets on the blog bandwagon with a posse of famous friends in tow.
Least likely to post: 'I'm so over this story - check out the New York Times'

2. Boing Boing
A herald from the expanding fringe of Net culture: nerdy and fun.
Least likely to post: 'Has anyone got a stamp?'

3. Tech Crunch
With a horde of hungry geeks and big money investors online, Techcrunch is the largest of a wave of technology-focused blog publishers to tap into the market - GigaOm, PaidContent and Mashable among them
Least likely to post: 'YouTube? It'll never catch on'

4. Kottke
Kottke remains one of the purest old-skool bloggers on the block - it's a selection of links to websites and articles rather than a repository for detailed personal opinion - and although it remains fairly esoteric, his favourite topics include film, science, graphic design and sport.
Least likely to post: 'Look at this cool video of a dog on a skateboard'

5. Dooce
One of the best-known personal bloggers, Heather Armstrong has been writing online since 2001 wh owrites about work, family life, postnatal depression, motherhood, puppies and her Mormon upbringing with the same candid and engaging voice.
Least likely to post: 'I like babies but I couldn't eat a whole one'

6. Perezhilton
Once dubbed 'Hollywood's most hated website', Perezhilton is the gossip site celebrities fear most.
Least likely to post: 'Log on tomorrow for Gordon Browns live webchat'

7. Talking points memo
Another political blog by Joshua Marshall has forged a reputation and now makes enough money to run a small team of reporters who have made an impact by sniffing out political scandal and conspiracy.
Least likely to post: 'Barack is so, like, gnarly to the max'

8. Icanhascheezburger
Millions of visitors visit to see, create, submit and vote on Lolcats (captioned photos of characterful cats in different settings).
The 'language' used in the captions, which this blog has helped to spread globally, is known as Lolspeak, aka Kitty Pidgin. I n Lolspeak, human becomes 'hooman', Sunday 'bunday', exactly 'xackly' and asthma 'azma'.  There is now an effort to develop a LOLCode computer-programming language and another to translate the Bible into Lolspeak.
Least likely to post: 'Actually, dogs are much more interesting..."

9. Beppe Grillo
Among the most visited blogs in the world is that of Beppe Grillo, a popular Italian comedian and political commentator, long persona non grata on state TV, who is infuriated daily - especially by corruption and financial scandal in his country.
Least likely to post: 'Sign up to our campaign to grant Silvo Berlusconi immunity'

10. Gawker
A New York blog of 'snarky' gossip and commentary about the media industry, Gawker was founded in 2002 by journalist Nick Denton.
Least likely to post: 'We can only wish Rupert Murdoch well with his new venture'

Blogs - What's Changed?

Lets look a few examples of three of the most popular blogs and how their fundamental designs and functionality have changed over the years. We start with Tech Crunch and how it looked in 2006 compared with how it looks today.

The obvious difference between the 2006 and 2008 version is advertising. In 2006, there is no advertising to be found on the blog. However, in 2008, there are eight adverts found above the centrefold. The fundamental designs have not changed much with both having title, right hand navigation and links and main body in the centre of the page. Colours used in both designs are clean pastel. The content on both blogs is engaging to the reader and both have RSS feeds so readers can subscribe.

2006 Tech Crunch Screenshot

2008 Tech Crunch Screenshot

The Huffington Post
If we look at The Huffington Post, the most powerful blog in the World according to the Guardian, this follows the same pattern with a similar design between 2005 and 2008 but advertising playing a major role in the design in 2008.   

2005 - The Huffington Post Screenshot 

2008 - The Huffington Post Screenshot 


Finally we look at Boing Boing, the second most powerful blog in the world. This blog has seen major design improvements such as new logo but again the fundamentals have not changed when it comes to the general layout. As for guessed it!  The 2008 version sees an abundance of advertising although they were ahead of the game in 2005 with an EToys advertising banner being prominent.

1995 - Boing Boing Screenshot


2008 - Boing Boing Screenshot



In summary, blogs have not changed a great deal in their relatively short lives. What has changed is the advertising potential that many blogs command. Blog owners can charge literally thousands of pounds per month for such advertising space on powerful blogs such as those listed above. Therefore the design of such blogs must cater for this growing need and demand for advertising. Google Adsense and affiliate deals are also ways that bloggers can generate revenue from their blogs.

What is the future of blogging?
The growth rate of blogs is impressive. Technorati, a search engine that monitors blogs, tracked more than 8 million online diaries as of March 21, up from 100,000 just two years ago. A new blog is created every 7.4 seconds. That adds up to 12,000 new blogs a day, 275,000 posts a day and 10,800 updates an hour.

At its most basic level, blogging is a technology that is lowering the cost of publishing and turning out to be the next extension of the Web with blogging is still in its early days. What is clear is that opportunities for blogging abound. Companies can use bloggers to put a more human face on interactions between employees and customers; marketers can create buzz through blogs; and bloggers can act as fact checkers for the mainstream media.

Blogs are also just one tier in the frenzied social media industry that encompasses Facebook and others. It will be interesting to see how the interaction between blogs and social networks will evolve over the coming years because blogs are closely linking to sites like Facebook as blogs are more telling of a person's personality. Blogging platforms such as Blogpsot, Typepad and WordPress may well become a more popular social-network platform allowing people to post things like widgets of their Facebook profile on a blog or vice versa. This is happening now along with the following: 

  • Adding authors - group blogs are becoming more and more popular.
  • Clustering blogs around verticals - bloggers extending their blogs by adding sibling blogs on related topics.
  • Networking - 2006 was really the year of the blog network but it continues to happen in both loose and formal ways. Many of the blog networks didn’t really survive but there are quite a few that continue to bubble away and sustain themselves.
  • Adding services and features - whether it be video, podcasts, forums, job boards, classifieds, chat features, voting tools… many bloggers are beginning to add interesting features to their blogs that attempt to 'add value' to blogs. I think what we’re seeing is bloggers more willing to see the limitations of blogs and wanting to blur the edges of what is and isn’t a blog.

At Guava I am not convinced that any of the above is what’s ‘next’ for blogs because it’s all happening here and now. One thing is for sure, the future of blogging is massive. It is still today in its infancy with but what it will grow to in the years ahead is anybodies guess.



I'd say its worth mentioning Friendfeed in this mix, since there is a bit of debate at the moment on whether microblogging services are causing regular blogs to not be updated so often, since the "diary" need is satisfied in other services such as twitter.

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just wanted to mention that i was fired for discussing my job on my weblog in june 1999. i just opted for the "don't mention it and try not to get sued route."

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