[Here's a post I originally published in 2009 giving an introduction to the world of blogging ... interesting how some things have changed and some stayed the same]
In the early days of the internet we (yes, I was watching and participating at the time) marveled at the growth of ‘pages’ on the world wide web. The network expanded and people tried to keep up with changes and developments. It seemed a viable aim. The web in the early 1990s wasn’t that big. In 1992, the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, created the first What’s New page to chart the changes through links to new developments. These were pioneering days and the early programmers were keen to keep each other up-to-date. One of these programmers was David Winer.
Winer is credited (along with John Barger ) as being a key figure in the development of blogs. As head of the innovative software company UserLand, Winer spent much of the early 1990s publishing an e-newsletter, DaveNet, to the technology community. When the advent of unsolicited email (spam) began to disrupt the effectiveness of email distribution, Winer developed a personal, episodic website to deliver his news and views. Scripting News began in 1997 and used reverse chronological order to publish Winer’s articles. Thus began a model of personal publishing to the web that became standard for the web log or blog, terms popularised in that same year. Through linking pages and people together the emerging blogs also created communities of like-minded (though predominantly ‘geeky’) people.
In 1999 blogs entered more mainstream channels not only because access to the web was now growing enormously, but principally because websites such as Blogger and Pitas began to offer a simpler way to create a weblog. These companies allowed anybody with an internet connection and a browser to create a blog without having any technical, programming knowledge. The interface for creating posts was modeled on popular word processing software and the blog itself was hosted (kept) on the company’s server. Importantly, such services were and many continue to be, free. Personal web publishing is now a taken-for-granted aspect of the web and as easy to achieve as writing an email.
Bobby Hobgood provides a useful outline of the types of blog that are now in use. It’s not exclusive and blogs are continuing to develop as we speak. However, it’s a useful starting point:
Blogs as Journals. Public, invitation-only, or private blogs are platforms for thoughts and ideas of thousands of people.
Blogs as Diaries. Who hasn’t thought at one point in their lives of keeping a diary? There seems to be an innate desire to write about ‘me’ and blogs on the web have expanded the opportunities for the Samuel Pepys in all of us to maintain a digital diary. This kind of blog is sometimes referred to as ‘vanity publishing’.
Blogs as Publishing tools. With no editorial control, no overhead costs and a potential audience of millions it’s little wonder that blogs have begun to be used by journalists, teachers, politicians, government departments, and companies to communicate their ideas and latest research.
Blogs as research sources. Because blogs can be conversations (through comments and links to similar posts) in particular digital communities they can be used as sources of research data. Academics and journalists use blogs in this way as do many PR companies.
One of the aspects of blogging that has contributed to its success is the general standardisation of features found on a typical blog. A genre has been created which allies itself to certain structural expectations as well as a certain linguistic style. We will examine these in detail later but here let’s look at the main structural features of a blog.
- Title: Each post is given a title. It’s important to give a meaningful title.
- Time stamp: The time the post is uploaded to the blog. The time stamp often is a link to a permanent page just for this post. This allows other bloggers to link to a post.
- Links: Essential to include hyperlinks to anything you refer to on the web.
- Post: A word, sentence, paragraph or essay, with links and names, news and views.
- Categories: Individual posts are often labeled as part of a category.
- Tags: Individual posts are often labeled with different tags to enable readers to find related information on the site or other sites on the web.
- Comments: A feature that allows readers to leave their own comments and reactions to the author’s post.
- TrackBack: You may see this feature on blogs. It is a way for one blog post to link to the post of another blog. Those blogs then link together forming a community.
- Blogroll: You may also see this feature which lists blogs that the author reads.
There are many reasons why reading blogs can be valuable. Blogs can give views on current events that are not reported in the mainstream press. They can be the first source of breaking news. Because many blogs are filters for massive amounts of information they can offer valuable digests of news or new developments in particular fields. Communities build up around blogs. Those communities can often be the best places to source expertise.
A word of warning: be careful when reading blogs. As with all web pages you must evaluate the credibility of the blog you are reading. Most blogs include an ‘About’ page (or ‘Author’). This can be useful to position the blogger in a particular community. But of course these can be fraudulent. In 2000, Kaycee’s Weblog, a poignant blog about a young woman dying of cancer, became very popular. But it turned out to be a hoax.
Recommended book: Jill Walker Rettberg (2008) Blogging Cambridge, Polity Press
More detailed discussions of the nature and importance of blogging to communication:
BLOGUMENTARY playfully explores the many ways blogs are influencing our media, our politics, and our relationships. Personal political writing is the foundation of our democracy, but mass media has reduced us to passive consumers instead of active citizens. Blogs return us to our roots and re-engage us in democracy. Shot in candid first-person style by director Chuck Olsen.