A Short History of Blogging

The History of (We)blogging

Blogging has come a long way since its humble beginnings. What is a part of our mainstream culture today, was once considered a personal diary and an outlet for early adopters of the web.

Nowadays, blogs are more than personal diaries published online. Sometimes it seems like everyone has a blog. They help us build a personal brand, attract potential clients, bring our business closer to our customers, and provide us with news, gossip, and interesting facts — all at the same time.

But how did blogs become so popular? That’s what we’re going to explore today.

The Early Years

Blogging dates all the way back to 1994 when a college undergrad named Justin Hall created his site Links.net. According to Hall, he created the site so he could get his writing online. The site was very simple and contained a collection of links Justin found interesting while browsing the web, along with a couple of photos. Thanks to his site, however, he was dubbed the “founding father of personal bloggers.”

Following his example, many others started sharing their personal lives online. Those early publishing attempts were called “online diaries” or “personal pages.” It wasn’t until 1997 that the term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger to describe a log of his internet activity. Just like the blogs we know today, the most recent links Barger collected appeared at the top of the page, pushing the older entries further down the page.

Just one year later, a first blog was published on an established news site, when the reporter Jonathan Dube chronicled Hurricane Bonnie for The Charlotte Observer.

The Rise of The First Blogging Platforms

The following few years saw an emergence of the first blogging platforms, the most notable one being Open Diary which launched in 1998 and had a membership model allowing members of the community to leave comments on other people’s posts.

Open Diary circa 1999

After that, another important event occurred in the history of blogging: Peter Merholz shortened the term “weblog” into “blog.” What’s more, three new blogging platforms came to life: Xanga, LiveJournal, and Blogger.

LiveJournal was founded by Brad Fitzpatrick as a way of keeping in touch with his high school friends. Blogger was originally founded by Pyra Labs as a commercial platform and later acquired by Google, who made it free and available to everyone — a move largely responsible for bringing blogging into the mainstream.

This was also the year that the first version of RSS was released for use on My.Netscape.Com and renamed into Rich Site Summary from its previous name RDF Site Summary. RSS was (and still is) crucial for blogging as it allows publishers to syndicate data automatically and allows people to stay up to date with their favorite bloggers or news sites.

As far as Xanga goes, it was originally intended to be a social networking site similar to MySpace. It went on to add blogging and commenting features as well as the ability to like user’s posts in 2000.

The emergence of blogging platforms made it easier for more people to create their blogs. It also made it so blogging started to become taken more seriously.

The Growing Period

The beginning of the new millennium brought about another blogging platform in 2001. The platform in question was Moveable Type which was released as a self-hosted platform for bloggers and later introduced the Trackback feature (the ability to alert blogs that you have linked to a specific post on their blog) which is now widely adopted across all blogging platforms.

2002: An Eventful Year For Blogging

2002 marked the launch of Technorati, the first blog search engine. But what really marked the year is the fact that a blogger, Heather B Armstrong, was fired for writing about her coworkers on her personal blog, dooce.com. That event sparked a lot of controversy and raised questions about online privacy. The term “dooced” is now considered synonymous with “being fired because of your blog/online presence.” Nowadays, Armstrong runs dooce.com as her full-time job while also being a full-time mom.

While Armstrong dealt with the consequences of writing about her professional life on a personal website, Melinda Roberts founded the first “mommy blog” on the domain name TheMommyBlog.com. Her blog paved the way for a niche that continues to remain popular, with over 3.9 million mommy blogs in North America alone.

During the same year, Blogads, the first ad network that aims to connect advertisers and publishers, launched as well.

Aside from personal blogs, a number of political blogs started cropping up as well as blogs featuring in-depth tutorials and guides on blogging which are often called “meta blogs.” Blogs like Gizmodo, Gawker, and Boing Boing–which have huge followings nowadays — were also created during the early 2000s.

2003: The Birth of WordPress and TypePad

Work on WordPress dates back to 2001 when Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little decided to make a fork of Michel Valdrighi’s b2/cafelog, the then-popular platform that discontinued its services. However, WordPress officially launched on May 27, 2003 and had a small selection of templates and a brand new admin interface. The plugins architecture was introduced a year later which allowed developers to extend its functionality.

wordpress.org screenshot from 2004

WordPress.org – circa 2004

The same year, the software company Six Apart launched TypePad which nowadays hosts blogs for some famous news companies such as ABC, BBC, and MSNBC.

The last notable event of 2003 was Google’s acquisition of Blogger and the launch of the AdSense advertising platform.

With a decent selection of available blogging platforms as well as the ability to earn income from their blogs by placing third-party ads, many people started dipping their toes into blogging as a career. It was also around that time that meta blogs skyrocketed in popularity and blogs like ProBlogger.net and JohnChow.com started pulling in significant income teaching others how to turn blogging into a career.

2004-2006: The Rise of The Video

Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to imagine a blog without accompanying visual content. But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the first blogs primarily consisted of text and an occasional image.

In 2004, however, everything changed when Steve Garfield decided to hook up his digital camera to his laptop and upload “short clips of protest rallies, traffic short-cuts and even news events onto his personal Internet site.” He dubbed it the year of the video blog. The following year marked the launch of YouTube which started out as a dating site before focusing on general video uploads. It was later acquired by Google in 2006.

March 2005 was another turning point in the blogging era when Garrett Graff became the first blogger to be granted a press pass for the White House.

Along with the launch of Huffington Post only two months later, the lines between blogging and traditional news reporting began to blur as more and more “cyber journalists” emerged and started covering current news, culture, and sporting events.

 

The MicroBlogging Era and Blogger’s Code of Conduct

As the blogosphere continued to grow, a different form of blogging appeared, called microblogging. The beginning of microblogging was marked by the launch of Twitter in 2006, first as an internal messaging service for Odeo employees and made public in July of the same year. Dorsey and other members of Odeo formed Obvious Corporation and acquired Odeo and Twitter.

A year later, Twitter spun off into its own company and grew quickly in popularity. Today, the platform boasts around 6000 tweets being sent out every second. But Twitter was only the beginning.

In 2007, Tumblr was launched as the first official microblogging platform that encouraged users to post brief content as a way of allowing those who don’t have time to publish long-form content to still have their voices heard.

With the rise of microblogging platforms and the maturing of established blogging software, communication became easier than ever, and people started feeling more confident about expressing themselves online.

Considering the fact it was easy to hide behind an online moniker, some people abused the power of online publishing by sending out spiteful tweets as well as harmful comments. This largely indicated a need for boundaries.

Buzzfeed circa 2007

A Need for Rules

In 2007, prominent blogger Kathy Sierra, who is also a programming instructor and game developer, received several death threats which caused her to cancel her public appearance at the O’Reilly ETech conference in San Diego.

The event sparked a debate in the blogosphere. Sierra is quoted in the BBC article indicating that some kind of general code of conduct is needed to define acceptable behavior online. As a result, Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales came up with a preliminary draft of the Blogger’s Code of Conduct.

Well-intentioned as it was, many bloggers felt the proposed rules infringed upon freedom of speech and numerous controversial debates emerged yet again.

Around the same time, and on a lighter note, Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami launched I Can Has Cheezburger? — one of the most popular blogs ever — which shares funny photos and regularly receives more than 1.5 million hits per day.

The Slow Years

After 2007, things slowed down in the world of blogging — largely because blogs had become so common and accepted. One notable event that was indicative of this was the launch of the White House Blog in 2009. Additionally, the movie Julie & Julia was very popular. The movie was based on Julie Powell first book about becoming a successful food blogger.

In 2008, a new blogging platform emerged called Posterous which allowed users to post short content via email or an online client. It was a project started by Y Combinator and designed in response to the rise of mobile devices. However, the service was short-lived and shutdown in 2013.

Another significant event during the slow years of blogging is the Google’s Panda update in 2011, the purpose of which was to weed out sites with low-quality content and rank them lower in the SERPs (search engine results pages). This resulted in many blogs falling off the search results due to their excessive use of keywords and lack of substantial content. Blogs that focused on providing high-quality, informative posts started ranking higher, however.

Modern-Day Blogging and The Future

The blogging scene remained relatively unchanged until 2012 when a co-founder of Pyra Labs, Evan Williams, launched a new blogging platform, Medium. Medium claims to be the platform where leaders, artists, thinkers, and everyday people can turn to publish their stories, ideas, and perspectives on current events.

The same year marked the launch of LinkedIn’s Influencers program, which was reserved for notable business figures at first. These folks were invited to share their opinions on LinkedIn’s publishing platform Pulse. Two years later, Pulse became available to all members of LinkedIn.

While neither LinkedIn Pulse nor Medium have a way of allowing users to use their own domain name in the same fashion as WordPress, Tumblr, or Typepad, the rise of those platforms do provide content creators and bloggers the opportunity to share their original posts with a larger audience. This is especially helpful if their own blogs don’t receive much traffic.

Another notable event was the launch of the .blog domain name in 2016, a new top-level domain rolled out by Automattic, the company behind WordPress itself.

Conclusion

A lot has changed in the 20+ years since the first blog was ever published. Some of the first blogging platforms are no longer available while others, like WordPress and Joomla continue to thrive. From their humble beginnings as personal diaries, blogs have become a way to conduct business as well as share alternative views and commentary on current political events.

The lines between personal and professional blogging are further blurred by bloggers monetizing their publishing efforts either through ads or by selling their services. And with the ever-growing popularity of video, the rise of platforms like Periscope in 2015, and video blogging (vlogging), one thing remains certain — the blogging scene has a bright future ahead. The medium might change, but people will always find a way to share content with millions of visitors.

Image cropped from Blogging by Free Blog Photos. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Brenda Barron is a writer from southern California. When not writing about blogging and business, she’s spending time with her family and knitting.