I just received an email from a reader of the column who asked:
Ever since the term “Weblog” or “Blog” got coined I have been trying to understand why all the buzz exists. From what I can tell it is simply a web page, made up of one or more authors, discussing a topic in a manner similar to what I find in Usenet discussions.
What is the big deal? Why is this so revolutionary?
Any insight would be appreciated because I just don’t get it.
It’s not the first time someone’s asked this, but as ever it’s a fair question. I guess my answer would be this, but I’d be very interested in other contributions and corrections:
Blogs took off for a couple of reasons. Firstly, blogs are a little different to Usenet discussions. Blogs are ‘owned’ by an individual (or occasionally a company, or a group of people, or an institution) which gives them a stake in maintaining, designing and promoting the website. Comments are welcome but secondary to this process of keeping a ‘log’. Although there’s nothing revolutionary about this, it does involve a slight shift in what people thought of as a website — more of a bricks and mortar thing, a static flag in the turf of the Web landscape — and discussion sites, which were more like ad hoc discussions that grew up spontaneously and lasted for a while before expiring. Blogs updated themselves more than ordinary websites or homepages — indeed a definition of a blog would include the stipulation, I suppose, that entries are dated, and are the main feature of a website.
These kind of ‘logs’ or online diaries had existed before, but what gave them critical mass was probably the fact that, in the late 1990s, a bunch of people who kept them started sharing lists of them, and began calling them the same thing: Weblogs, then wee-blogs, and then blogs. A movement is never a movement until it has a name. By the beginning of 1999, according to Rebecca Blood’s history of blogging, there were 23.
What tipped blogging into the mainstream was the arrival of free software, in mid 1999, which made it easy for non-techies to build and maintain them. Suddenly it became very easy to make a nice looking blog. An adjunct to this has been the development of websites dedicated to listing, categorizing and sorting blogs, although this, I think, has been less important to the spread of blogging than the inclusion of lists of other blogs in blogs themselves. Such lists give a fan of one blog immediate access to similar blogs.
What used to be a defining feature of blogs is no longer: The focus on linking to other websites and commentary about those websites. In the early days postings would largely be about other items, and include some analysis, context or comment on the linked material. That’s still true of hundreds of sites (indeed, the most popular, I guess) but, as Rebecca points out, there is also another genre of blog that is pure diary or journal. While I don’t know of any figures for this, my guess is that these form the bulk of those millions of blogs that don’t last very long. Possibly part of the reason for this is the very absence of linking: Links provide the traffic, both in and out, that is the lifeblood of a blog. If you don’t link to anyone else, then it follows that few if anyone is linking to you, and the blog will end up unread and isolated. But then again, perhaps some blogs are just so darn well-written and interesting, this does not always apply.
That’s a long answer to a valid question. And probably I’ve left important stuff out. Anyone else want a stab?