Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The emergence of the blog

(the following is strictly from memory without referring to any sources; structured thinking out loud)

Blogs, short for web logs, did not appear overnight. Instead, they evolved from other forms of online publishing and communication. They began, according to Rebecca Blood, in the late 1990s with sites such as Robot Wisdom run by John Barger. These sites were simply logs of links that the author found interesting. Other sites began adding commentary to the links, a practice that has as its predecessor Slashdot and other news sites. Most of these sites were maintained manually using straight html coding. New content appeared at the top of the site, bumping older content to the bottom of the page. Posts were time-date stamped and archives of posts were often created by week or month. This practice of reverse chronological posting is still a key practice in current blogging and is one element that separated the web log from static web pages that had been profilerating since the advent of the web. Unlike static pages, web logs drew more of an audience, since visitors returned to find new information. Though static pages were updated occasionally, there was no regularity to the updating. They also often posted no date, so it was difficult to know how current the information on the site was. Blogs also differ from static sites in their ability to allow feedback from readers. In this regard, they take a page from early forms of online communication such as newsgroups, email lists, bulletin boards, and forums, all of which are heavily interactive.

At the same time that blogs were evolving from static web sites and online communication, online journalling was gaining a foothold. Unlike blogs, journals were personal diaries or reflections and usually do not involve links of any kind. In 1996, Xanga, a web-based interface for creating online journals began. A few years later, other blog and online journal tools began to appear. In 1999, both LiveJournal and Blogger launched. Both tools made it easy for people to start and maintain what was now simply becoming called a blog, regardless of its specific format.
The technology behind these blog tools is important for several reasons. One, it allowed people without html skills to publish on the web. Two, most blog tools generated RSS feeds, a technology that allowed blog posts to be picked up by readers or included in other web sites, facilitating quick distrubtion of blog content. Third, these tools, especially LiveJournal and Xanga, allowed communities to be created by allowing bloggers to list links to friends' journals and blogs. All this combined to created highly networked content.

Currently, there are about 14 million blogs. The number increases exponentially almost every month. Blogging has taken on many forms. There are still those that are simply recommended links, but many are of the link plus commentary variety. And online journals are also still popular. Blogging communities now have a tendancy to revolve around topics and interests rather than type of blog, much like forums and newsgroups of the early internet. There are political blogs, knitting blogs, academic blogs (sometimes further divided by discipline), and pet blogs. For whatever topic one might have an interest in, there is almost certainly a collection of bloggers writing about it. Blog search engines have been developed to track and help people find blogs of interest. Technorati and Google's Blogsearch are popular sites for people to turn to. Thus blogs have become a rich content stream to tap into and since they are also often connected to each other, one is not limited to a small set of blogs. Further, sites like Technorati and Blogpulse can help track conversation about a specific article or web site so that one can see all the commentary about a particular item.

More blog tools have emerged, most popular among them MySpaces, a product launched by Microsoft and whose primary users are teenagers and college-aged students. A recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that more than half of all teenagers create content online, often through a blog. Though many of the blogs written by teenagers are diary entries rather than analysis of other articles or blog posts, they are sometimes spaces for reflection and thought as well as a way to keep in touch with far flung friends or connect with teens who share their interests.

[There is much more, of course, but I think I will stop here for now]

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Lilian said...

Wow, Laura, this is fascinating. I just now found out about your dissertation blog and that you're dissertating about blogs... I had to come to the beginning of the diss. blog to take a look.

Fascinating. Now I understand why/how you came to do that neat "visual representation" of blog networks that Mary at Academic Coach was so interested in (not to write fascinated for the nth time)...

anyway, I'm been reading your blog on and off. I'm a dissertating/ ABD mommy blogger who happens to live in Philly right now...

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