Joho the Blog » What blogging was

What blogging was

At a recent Fellows Hour at the Berkman Center the topic was something like “Whatever happened to blogging?,” with the aim of thinking about how Berkman can take better advantage of blogging as a platform for public discussion. (Fellow Hours are private. No, this is not ironic.) They asked me to begin with some reflections on what blogging once was, because I am old. Rather than repeating what I said, here are some thoughts heavily influenced by the discussion.

And an important preface: What follows is much more of a memoir than a history. I understand that I’m reporting on how blogging looked to someone in a highly privileged position. For example, the blogosphere (remember when that was word?) as I knew it didn’t count LiveJournal as a blogging service, I think because it wasn’t “writerly” enough, and because of demographic differences that themselves reflect several other biases.

 


I apparently began blogging in 1999, which makes me early to the form. But, I didn’t take to it, and it was only on Nov. 15, 2001 that I began in earnest (blogging every day for twelve years counts as earnest, right?), which puts me on the late edge of the first wave, I believe. Blogging at that point was generating some interest among the technorati, but was still far from mainstream notice. Or, to give another measure, for the first year or so, I was a top 100 blogger. (The key to success: If you can’t compete on quality, redefine your market down.)

Blogging mattered to us more deeply than you might today imagine. I’d point to three overall reasons, although I find it not just hard but even painful to try to analyze that period.

1. Presence. I remember strolling through the vendor exhibits at an Internet conference in the mid 1990s. It seemed to be a solid wall of companies large and small each with the same pitch: “Step into our booth and we’ll show you how to make a home page in just 3 minutes.” Everyone was going to have a home page. I wish that had worked out. But even those of us who did have one generally found them a pain in the neck to update; FTPing was even less fun then than it is now.

When blogs came along, they became the way we could have a Web presence that enabled us to react, respond, and provoke. A home page was a painting, a statue. My blog was me. My blog was the Web equivalent of my body. Being-on-the-Web was turning out to be even more important and more fun than we’d thought it would be.

2. Community. Some of us had been arguing from the beginning of the Web that the Web was more a social space than a publishing, informational or commercial space — “more” in the sense of what was driving adoption and what was making the Web the dominant shaping force of our culture. At the turn of the millennium there was no MySpace (2003) and no Facebook (2004). But there was a blogging. If blogging enabled us to create a Web presence for ourselves, blogging was also self-consciously about connecting those presences into a community. (Note that such generalizations betray that I am speaking blindly from personal experience.)

That’s why blogrolls were important. Your blogroll was a list of links to the bloggers you read and engaged with. It was a way of sending people away from your site into the care of someone else who would offer up her own blogroll. Blogrolls were an early social network.

At least among my set of bloggers, we tried to engage with one another and to do so in ways that would build community. We’d “retweet” and comment on other people’s posts, trying to add value to the discussion. Of course not everyone played by those rules, but some of us had hope.

And it worked. I made friendships through blogging that maintain to this day, sometimes without ever having been in the same physical space.

(It says something about the strength of our community that it was only in 2005 that I wrote a post titled No, I’m not keeping up with your blog. Until that point, keeping up was sort of possible.)

3. Disruption. We were aware that the practice of blogging upset many assumptions about who gets to speak, how we speak, and who is an authority. Although blogging is now taken for granted at best and can seem quaint at worst, we thought we were participating in a revolution. And we were somewhat right. The invisibility of the effects of blogging — what we take for granted — is a sign of the revolution’s success. The changes are real but not as widespread or deep as we’d hoped.

Of course, blogging was just one of mechanisms for delivering the promise of the Net that had us so excited in the first place. The revolution is incomplete. It is yet deeper than we usually acknowledge.


To recapture some of the fervor, it might be helpful to consider what blogging was understood in contrast to. Here are some of the distinctions discussed at the time.

Experts vs. Bloggers. Experts earned the right to be heard. Bloggers signed up for a free account somewhere. Bloggers therefore add more noise than signal to the discussion. (Except: Much expertise has migrated to blogs, blogs have uncovered many experts, and the networking of bloggy knowledge makes a real difference.)

Professionals vs. Amateurs. Amateurs could not produce material as good as professionals because professionals have gone through some controlled process to gain that status. See “Experts vs. Bloggers.”

Newsletters vs. Posts. Newsletters and ‘zines (remember when that was a word?) lowered the barrier to individuals posting their ideas in a way that built a form of Web presence. Blogs intersected uncomfortably with many online newsletters (including mine). Because it was assumed that a successful blog needed new posts every day or so, content for blogs tended to be shorter and more tentative than content in newsletters.

Paid vs. Free. Many professionals simply couldn’t understand how or why bloggers would work for free. It was a brand new ecosystem. (I remember during an interview on the local Boston PBS channel having to insist repeatedly that, no, I really really wasn’t making any money blogging.)

Good vs. Fast. If you’re writing a couple of posts a day, you don’t have time to do a lot of revising. On the other hand, this made blogging more conversational and more human (where “human” = fallible, imperfect, in need of a spelpchecker).

One-way vs. Engaged. Writers rarely got to see the reaction of their readers, and even more rarely were able to engage with readers. But blogs were designed to mix it up with readers and other bloggers: permalinks were invented for this very purpose, as were comment sections, RSS feeds, etc.

Owned vs. Shared. I don’t mean this to refer to copyright, although that often was an important distinction between old media and blogs. Rather, in seeing how your words got taken up by other bloggers, you got to see just how little ownership writers have ever had over their ideas. If seeing your work get appropriated by your readers made you uncomfortable, you either didn’t blog or you stopped up your ears and covered your eyes so you could simulate the experience of a mainstream columnist.

Reputation vs. Presence. Old-style writing could make your reputation. Blogging gave you an actual presence. It was you on the Web.

Writing vs. Conversation. Some bloggers posted without engaging, but the prototypical blogger treated a post as one statement in a continuing conversation. That often made the tone more conversational and lowered the demand that one present the final word on some topic.

Journalists vs. Bloggers. This was a big topic of discussion. Journalists worried that they were going to be replaced by incompetent amateurs. I was at an early full-day discussion at the Berkman Center between Big Time Journalists and Big Time Bloggers at which one of the bloggers was convinced that foreign correspondents would be replaced by bloggers crowd-sourcing the news (except this was before Jeff Howe [twitter: crowdsourcing] had coined the term “crowd-sourcing”). It was very unclear what the relationship between journalism and blogging would be. At this meeting, the journalists felt threatened and the bloggers suffered a bad case of Premature Triumphalism.

Objectivity vs.Transparency Journalists were also quite concerned about the fact that bloggers wrote in their own voice and made their personal points of view known. Many journalists — probably most of them — still believe that letting readers know about their own political stances, etc., would damage their credibility. I still disagree.

I was among the 30 bloggers given press credentials at the 20042005 Democratic National Convention — which was seen as a milestone in the course of blogging’s short history — and attended the press conference for bloggers put on by the DNC. Among the people they brought forward (including not-yet-Senator Obama) was Walter Mears, a veteran and Pulitzer-winning journalist, who had just started a political blog for the Associated Press. I asked who he was going to vote for, but he demurred because then how could we trust his writing? I replied something like, “Then how will we trust your blog?” Transparency is the new objectivity, or so I’ve been told.

It is still the case that for the prototypical blog, it’d be weird not to know where the blogger stands on the issues she’s writing about. On the other hand, in this era of paid content, I personally think it’s especially incumbent on bloggers to be highly explicit not only about where they are starting from, but who (if anyone) is paying the bills. (Here’s my disclosure statement.)

 


For me, it was Clay Shirky’s Power Law post that rang the tocsin. His analysis showed that the blogosphere wasn’t a smooth ball where everyone had an equal voice. Rather, it was dominated by a handful of sites that pulled enormous numbers, followed by a loooooooooong tail of sites with a few followers. The old pernicious topology had reasserted itself. We should have known that it would, and it took a while for the miserable fact to sink in.

Yet there was hope in that long tail. As Chris Anderson pointed out in a book and article, the area under the long tail is bigger than the area under the short head. For vendors, that means there’s lots of money in the long tail. For bloggers that means there are lots of readers and conversationalists under the long tail. More important, the long tail of blogs was never homogenous; the small clusters that formed around particular interests can have tremendous value that the short head can never deliver.

So, were we fools living in a dream world during the early days of blogging? I’d be happy to say yes and be done with it. But it’s not that simple. The expectations around engagement, transparency, and immediacy for mainstream writing have changed in part because of blogs. We have changed where we turn for analysis, if not for news. We expect the Web to be easy to post to. We expect conversation. We are more comfortable with informal, personal writing. We get more pissed off when people write in corporate or safely political voices. We want everyone to be human and to be willing to talk with us in public.

So, from my point of view, it’s not simply that the blogosphere got so big that it burst. First, the overall media landscape does look more like the old landscape than the early blogosphere did, but at the more local level – where local refers to interests – the shape and values of the old blogosphere are often maintained. Second, the characteristics and values of the blogosphere have spread beyond bloggers, shaping our expectations of the online world and even some of the offline world.

Blogs live.

 


[The next day:] Suw Charman-Anderson’s comment (below) expresses beautifully much of what this post struggles to say. And it’s wonderful to hear from my bloggy friends.

58 Responses to “What blogging was”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since I haven’t been blogging much (and I scorn Facebook, even though I continue to use it). Questions such as “Is blogging a genre?” “What is a blog?” “Is it ethical to have advertisements on your blog?” “Is it ethical not to have comments on your blog?” — they all seem quaint now, but we argued them with intense passion.

    And yes, I think Clay’s Power Law post was the gloomy warning of what lay ahead of us (and it has been brilliantly vindicated, as far as I can tell).

    I hope a culture of blogging revives as an alternative to the imperial culture of Facebook. I oughta try harder myself.

  2. Thanks for this rather clear and concise, given the sprawling nature of the landscape, post David!

    I think where I am today is not all that far from the “then” that you’re describing. And I do agree with AKMA. I see blogging as an alternative to Facebook. And, to be sure, Facebook is winning. Well, except the kids only care about SnapChat of course. Facebook may not be winning them, I’m not sure. Ironically, I think SnapChat / Ephemeral Messaging is kind of the rebirth of the oldschool “phone call” circa back when the phone was connected by a long coil cord to mom’s kitchen.

    Anyway, it does seem for those of us who don’t bask in the attention of the “short head,” it is a real question whether you’re “proving anything” by not just spending your time on Facebook.

    Some of the reasons I still blog:
    1. A platform like WordPress is open source, Facebook is not. Even though Christophe Bruno’s “Google Adwords Happening” sort of proved that vis-a-vis the general public, Richard Stallman’s Free Speech vs Free Beer was the opposite of what the public really wanted (“give us the free beer, we don’t give a crap about free speech) Nonetheless, I’m convinced that Free, as in Speech, still matters.

    2. Facebook really is the new town square. Everyone connects to everyone there. You can’t deny that. But they mostly drink beer and talk about the weather there. It’s a pretty low-brow town square. A great place to distribute your pamphlets, but not really a great place to collaboratively write them.

    3. More readers and more comments are better than fewer. Or none. But even if your traffic is minimal, blogging is still among the most powerful ways I know of to refine and articulate your own thinking. Even if no one reads your blog, you’ll still have a lot more powerful ideas to share at the next Town Square Meeting or Conference or Party, be it physical or virtual, if you’ve worked out your ideas on that blog.

    4. I do think everyone should have a home page. Not just a Facebook or LinkedIn page. How does everyone not? What memo didn’t they get? A website / blog is a repository / resume of your work. You already know people are going to Google you; shouldn’t you have some input on what they’re going to find?

  3. AKMA, you were very much in my mind when I wrote that post.

    Vanessa: Yes!

  4. Jon Husband pointed to this post from Facebook with a hat tip to Rob Paterson who–I guess–turned him on to it. I’m glad for this Facebook connection because I don’t visit JOHO the blog as much as I did back in the meta-blogging daze. I would have missed this post without the pointer.

    I started blogging in 2000, but since I was the only one who read that blog (besides a few clients who wouldn’t bite on the idea of group interaction via Ev’s free software) I’m not sure those posts met anyone’s definition of blogging. So, in the following year, as a group of hemi-semi-demi-techies and bold marketeers formed a circle committed to being nice to each other, I was glad to be included. Thanks again! Today, I think blogging is as alive as ever, but we meta-bloggers, we people who somehow felt it was important to write about blogging are less “gathered.” Two blog posts that I read today from a mated pair in Australia bear this out. These people are better writers than me and they write about stuff that many of us find interesting. Here are couple of links for old-times sake: http://badhostess.com/paglia-the-pugilist/ and http://samquigley.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/intersectionality/

  5. […] live writes David Weinberger (@dweinberger), whose work at Harvard and as an a author focuses on how the […]

  6. I often wonder if we were particularly lucky to be part of that small group of early bloggers, and certainly love the friendships we were able to establish (we had Halley Suitt Tucker stay with us recently and had a blast). But I recently took part in a local radio show about blogging with a local lady who has only been blogging four months. She was raving about how it was helping her make connections all around the world and how it was allowing her, as a writer, to have much more influence. I reckon there is still magic in blogging for all the reasons you give David.

  7. David – Great essay with one correction that it should be the 2004 DNC, not 2005.

  8. I owe my current career to blogging. Without it, I would never have developed an interest in how people connect through technology, and never would have met all the people who helped me turn that interest into a job. It is not an overstatement to say that without blogging — and without #joiito on Freenode — I would not have founded ORG, would not have met my husband, would not have started Ada Lovelace Day, and so on. I am incredibly grateful to blogging for all that.

    What was awesome was how permeable the blogging community was back then. I was just some nobody with no reputation, no real contacts, no network, but yet, everyone treated me as an equal, they respected me based on what I wrote. We really did live by the word. I never felt that I was judged on where I came from or what university I’d gone to or what I looked like. (I don’t think many people even knew what I looked like!)

    For the first time in my life, I felt like I had finally found my peer group. I stopped feeling isolated, as I had for years previously. My peers turned out to be scattered around the world, and to come from very different backgrounds to me, yet they took me in and made me feel welcome. They – you! – gave me confidence, a community, and a career.

    So it was with some considerable sadness that I began to note the decline in blogging a few years back. When I first started Ada Lovelace Day in 2009, we had something like 1,000 blog posts added to our collection. Last year, 2013, we had about 100.

    Personally, I’ve found it hard to carve out the time to write, and I miss it. In fact, one of my New Years Resolutions this year is to blog at least once a week. I used to blog daily. I used to keep two blogs going full steam without even thinking about it. Maybe it was because I was underemployed at the time…

    I wonder too if my lack of blog writing is related to a lack of blog reading. My RSS reader became so clogged that I feared it, wouldn’t open it, and ultimately, abandoned it. And then Twitter and now Zite arrived to provide me with random rewards for clicking and swiping, showing me stuff that I had no idea I wanted to read. Instead of following the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends, I read random crap off the internet that some algorithm thinks I might be interested in, or that is recommended by the people I follow on Twitter.

    That may or may not be a good thing. We were all aware of the problems of homophily, and the random clickage does help combat that. But the problem with not following people’s blogs closely is that there’s no conversation anymore. My blogs used to host great conversations, and I would happily engage in fascinating discussions on other people’s sites. You can’t do that so easily with Twitter, and Facebook. Indeed, most of my interactions on Facebook, which are scarce as I loathe it, end up being pointless arguments with friends-of-friends who turn out to be idiots.

    I’d love to see a resurgence in blogging. I think, personally, I need to delete Zite from my ipad and find a good RSS reader so I can follow the blogs of those people that I really care about. Not the worthy blogs I ought to read, but the works of people who matter to me. And then I need to get back to commenting, like this, because there’s nothing more encouraging than finding out that people care about what you write, that people appreciate it. And David, I really do appreciate your writing – you’re as inspiring and fascinating now as you were back in 2001!

    Finally, I do still think that blogging is important. For me, it’s becoming even more important as I try to ramp up my book writing/editing, but as I wrote recently, trying to find the time to blog is so difficult in the face of the sheer volume of work that I have now that I perhaps didn’t have back in 2001 when I started blogging! Somehow, though, I need to find a way to prioritise it. Please keep your fingers crossed for me, and let’s all keep on blogging!

  9. […] enjoyed reading this post “what blogging was” by David Weinberger that was a personal “memoir” of his blogging […]

  10. Suw, you put so well what my post was groping at. For example, the permeability of blogging was distinctive and felt like a moral responsibility: we bloggers were going to accept everyone who wanted to contribute, and not be saddled with the Friedman’s foisted upon us. Your comment is essential reading.

    And thank you for your years of friendship born of blogging.

  11. Good post, David, and good comments everyone.

    I’ve been blogging about as long as David and remember when the format was new. I wonder at how long it has lasted, in spite of its defects. I suppose in some way it’s a follow on to the zine culture of the 90s, except that you didn’t have to have a xerox machine or any cash for postage.

  12. Blogging still is. Period.

    I’ve read this blog so long I cannot remember when I started, and honestly had forgotten (sorry) Suw’s writing, which was incredibly influential when I began.

    We use that word as if it was a singular entity. I used to pose a question- is it a blog or a noun? (“yes”) Is it publishing online in a blogging software? (Maybe). Is it personal reflection in a public space? (works for me) Is it the idea of narrating the work we do (yep, idea from Jon Udell). . Is it publishing online in a digital space we manage ourselves? (very important; in my online classes we have students get their own domain as a space they own).

    It’s a dessert AND a floor wax.

    My favorite tagline for it was/is Cory Doctorow’s “My blog, my outboard brain” — a place to process ideas, work, code, stories about dogs,, mixed with outlandish unsubstantiated partly baked opinions rife with typos? Yup. That’s it. For me.

    I’ve had some good things come my way, indirectly via blogging. Maybe a job. Maybe a loss of a job. Trips to Iceland, Australia.

    But the most important things are the peers I met and got to know, not just in blogs, but the web space itself, and all of my important friends now, many whom I have eventually visited in person, stayed in their homes… one I have yet to meet, a teacher in Buenos Aires, commented, referencing a Spanish poem, and Claudio described the Internet (like dreams in the original poem) is the place we are with friends we have not yet met.

    For every time someone wrote about blogs being dead or blogs coming back… I’ve been blogging, happily down in the long tail of obscurity, the most humble place to be.

    Good ideas never die.

    (sorry for a long blog length comment, it just happens)

  13. […] Of course, blogging was just one of mechanisms for delivering the promise of the Net that had us so excited in the first place. The revolution is incomplete. It is yet deeper than we usually acknowledge. –Joho the Blog » What blogging was. […]

  14. Today every decent website *is* a blog, with easy-to-publish discretely addressed commentable entries arranged in chronological order: blogging has won but as a consequence, “blog” is no longer a meaningful category.

    When it was the only game in town, it was immensely fun. It still is, but I’m glad that today we have more options.

  15. […] hyperorg.com – Tagged: Oxpeckers View on Counterparties.com […]

  16. Hi David, blogging was a great phase and gave people a chance, including me, to see how things really could be different.

    One of the highlights for me was your own talk at Reboot 7 in Denmark in 2005 – do you remember?

    It seems to me that blogging culture has since just extended to the rest of the world.

    Which is quite something eh?

  17. […] ever thought – full David Weinberger has written a great post on the power of blogging and why it is still vital and important. A great piece of writing that asks us to think about the […]

  18. […] hyperorg.com – Tagged: Oxpeckers View on Counterparties.com […]

  19. […] Weinberger ha scritto un bel post ieri su cosa è stato il fenomeno dei blog agli inizi. David individua tre motivi per cui era […]

  20. I remember the enthusiasm at Bloggercon in 2005, great times.

    I think in times of buzz feeds and like hypes, where fast food clicks dominate a more centralized web structure, independent blogs on their own servers are closer to the decentralized web once imagined, maybe we need a new approach to blogging, similar to the idea of diaspora as a social network.

    I agree David, the revolution is incomplete.

  21. […] read David Weinberger’s recent article about What Blogging Was with great interest, mostly because I have been blogging about as long as David has. I started this […]

  22. […] Joho the Blog » What blogging was – *sniff* […]

  23. Blogging revealed my network, which was hitherto invisible to silly me.

  24. […] via Joho the Blog » What blogging was. […]

  25. Thanks, David and commenters, for articulating why blogging was — and IS — so important. I can thank my blog for my last two jobs, for two romantic relationships, for finding me my book publisher, and for insights and invitations that have completely transformed my worldview and hence who I am and what I do. My blog has become, since it began in early 2003, a part of my long-term memory. I’d be lost without it.

    Yet I can also appreciate that, with so much being written out there by so many in so many places, and so little time for reading it all, the opportunity to have one’s blog be a place for important conversations has diminished. But I think blogs are still the premier means and place for documenting ‘unedited’ substantive original thought — new ideas, analysis, synthesis, models, and new perspectives.

    It’s sad that much of this important thinking is now lost in the deluge of glib quotes and trivia and news of the moment, and not read because of our frantic pace of life and our endemic attention deficit disorder. But it will still be there when it’s ready to be discovered. And as you say in the meantime it will continue to help us formulate and learn and articulate our knowledge and beliefs and ideas, and so equip us to be of more use to the world.

  26. I really enjoyed this post and comments, reminding me of the good old days of blogging. Like many others, I realise that I’m reading fewer blogs and writing fewer posts these days. There does seem to be less interaction on blogs and I think a lot has beed displaced onto twitter, facebook etc. Perhaps not totally lost, but redirected.

    I often wonder if after 10 years, I have probably got a lot off my chest. I sometimes trawl back through old posts and think they are pretty good, do I need to add much to that.

    I also think we are, as therapists endlessly say (well to me, at least) in transition. Who knows what might come next?

  27. Great point above, Johnnie. Like you, I was once a heavy blogger, and now, that energy is redirected elsewhere. I have plenty of early posts that I’m proud of, and the things I noted have remained relevant, so does one need to revisit them?

    What has been interesting is seeing what defines professional, as David noted. The classic definition has not changed: it is someone who professes oneself to a discipline. We have seen professionals emerge from the blogosphere. The trick is to ensure that we are valuing the really good ones, while discarding the bad—one complaint at New York Fashion Week, for example, is that “the bloggers” were getting good seats. That’s led to a promise to simplify for the fall 2014 shows. The mistake committed, at least from outside the organization: some lousy bloggers benefited from the halo effect of a few good ones, paid their registration fee, and got in.

    Sometimes, the wisdom of the masses do not uncover the true professionals: people can gravitate to some blogs due to hype. The same can be said of any medium (Twitter may well be the most obvious), but it is interesting to see that the blogosphere is not as meritorious as we might think.

    This conflict, true professionalism versus false hype, remains the one thing that needs to be resolved for any medium, present or future, for it to be of great value.

    Where are we today? What fascinates me is how media change: for instance, I treat print magazines as more akin to softcover coffee-table books. I don’t need them for news because I already get that online. The blogosphere continues to evolve, and for now it does seem to be a great medium for unedited mental snapshots, especially with the likes of Tumblr and Weibo. That may be where “the action” is today (even though both websites have been around for years). It’s where there’s a huge community, where few apparent “leaders” have emerged. The old-style blogs, one with longer-form writing (like this one, and like mine), might become the province of the professional, where you need to employ greater thought than a simple reblog or forward.

  28. […] What blogging was […]

  29. Do we stop using wrenches because we don’t use them the same way, or for the same things anymore?

    Is there a “what a wrench was”?

    Nope.

    There is no “what blogging was”… a blog is a tool made possible by the Web. It is a way to publish and distribute media. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Blogging is what we make of it. It IS, not WAS… and will always be a tool for the toolbox. Humans like stories, and as long as we continue to tell stories, blogs will always have a place.

    Did we use that tool in a different way “back then”? Perhaps, but if we examined the “blog” time period between 1997 – 2003 in depth, and stripped away the hype… we would find we were just humans using a new tool in the toolbox to tell stories.

  30. Great post, great comments, to which I’ll add my own few cents…

    My blog, which Dave Winer pushed me into starting in late 1999 (and for which I will always be grateful), peaked at about 20,000 regular readers back in the pre-tweetbook era. Now my twitter stream has peaked at about the same number while my blog’s numbers are… well, I don’t even want to look.

    I suppose tweeting is a good-enough thing, but it ain’t the same, because I write and publish my blog, while I only write — and don’t publish — my tweets.

    Yes, they do complement each other, but tweeting siphons off good energy (for me at least) that used to go into blogging. That’s not all-bad, but I also can’t think of an upside other than participation in The World As It Now Is.

    But I take a long view. (The older I get, the longer it is.) Blogging was, and always will be, personal writing and publishing. It’s here to stay. And I’ll bet it’ll be around longer than Twitter, Facebook or any other company you can name. (Not that I’ll be around to collect on it.)

    I’ve got more to say, of course. Watch for it on my blog. And yes, I’ll tweet it too. :-)

  31. I dropped in via BoingBoing expecting to see some familiar names from Back In The Day, and I was not disappointed. Hi there, old fellow travellers!

    For my part, I spend less time writing these days than I do designing and building and maintaining places for other people to write, but I do miss the wild west sometimes, and the sense of optimism and community and all that good stuff. I suppose if I twittered or facebooked, I might feel less of a sense that we’ve lost something, but, and not to put too fine a point on it: f*ck that.

  32. David, what a joy to read you — your voice is as authentic in text as it is in person.

    I continue to wonder about the historical sine-wave of communities online, and the nature(s) of scale: when you began blogging, the universe of potential readers (and other bloggers) was orders-of-magnitude smaller than what it became.

    We now have well over a billion Facebook accounts (providing the personal “home page” of interests, friends, and secondhand statements), and a scale of the Internet that precludes a “community of bloggers” of any kind whatsoever.

    However, I wonder about that historical sine wave (of centralization/decentralization, personal/public, local community/tribal community, etc.) and how that might change: how we may see a new renaissance of blogging, once someone devises a means of providing bloggers with their ideal audience.

    That is, some intermediary (commercial or nonprofit) can develop the “community of me” algorithms, that allow us to share (not unlike the “blogrolls” of yore) the overlaps of the tribe to which we belong, with those to whose tribes we belong.

    That is, you and I share some number of engaged interests, with a chain of digital footprints to that effect. Any blogger wants to be read/heard by an audience, and ideally heard by an audience who is interested (“who are like me”) — and if that audience exists, we’ll be happy to write for it.

    So how does my shared interests with yours, somehow enable me to be enriched by your connections to others (bloggers and the like) that I’d likely be interested in?

    This strikes me as a likely opportunity for entrepreneurial spirit: an assistive tool that mines the connections (both thematically and interpersonally) in order to encourage a means of collecting blogs… again.

    We all have done this, by hand, by RSS, by choice, in order to select some elements of what is on offer.

    What I’d like to see is a Google News-like interface that lets me listen in on the smart musings of my tribe of smart, engaged people in my largest worldwide tribe, that lets me be able to add my .02 to those musings (or even my .20).

    That shift could bring the historical sinewave back to encouraging the transparency, specificity, and authenticity that are the hallmarks of good (blogging) writing, within the community that wants to produce it and consume it. A broad blossoming of topic-specific and tribe-specific discussions might ensue.

    If so, the blogging would, indeed, live again — of small solar systems within the largest galaxies of the Web.

  33. I will weigh in here and offer the opinion that blogging is a disaster for public discussion. Real discussion needs much more structure than blogs usually supply, for the ability of responders to splnoff new topics not controlled by the thread owner, secondly, the means to reply in context to a particular other reply, not just to the main thread. This also means context quoting from other replies.

    I know this sound like e-mail or listserve or USENET, but that is exactly we need to rescue discussion from web site owners who set the agenda. That is directed at political special interests and marketers thwarting debate. The use of blogs are a direct threat of democratic institutions and I think social media companies and their business partners know that, they want an impulsive-net not an internet and not real discussions that solve pressing problem, and all for a fast buck.

  34. I’ve thought about this subject over the years, and have come to a vastly different conclusion. The early days of blogging was one big circle jerk. Sure, we called it an “echo chamber” to be less crude, but they’re the same thing. Popular bloggers talked about blogging. The authors of Cluetrain, the early inhabitants of #joiito, Doc, all talking about blogging. We built a community by building a new medium.

    Once blogging had established itself and we started to see blogs on a variety of subjects overtake in popularity the blogs talking about blogging. In effect, our community no longer had its singular focus and the “blogging community” collapsed. That’s not to say that friendships weren’t maintained, but the community changed and many drifted away to chase other prusuits.

    As blogging moved mainstream, and with the rise of social media, the role of blogs has completely changed. Blogs are more apt to be just another arm of mainstream media instead of a collection of independent voices. Our voices have once again become confined to our friends and “followers.” And for the most part people are happy to be able to express their views with those limits. The great dream of a meritocratius marketplace of ideas has been dashed. We’ve been given a poor substitute that most people find grand.

  35. […] mentioned how Weinberger spoke at a recent Fellows Hour where the topic was, “What Blogging Once Was.” I read the article and then I decided to hop on over to Weinberger’s blog, since […]

  36. I remember reading many of you in 2001-2002 before I started my own effort (one of the earliest and longest-lasting efforts to use the tools and tropes of blogging to discuss matters sexual and pornographic).

    One often-overlooked fact about the social-media playgrounds where so many erstwhile bloggers now cavort instead: they aren’t as open as blogging. The range of acceptable discussions is lower.

    Twitter is pretty much open to all comers, but FaceBook and G+ want your real name and won’t allow you to post on certain topics, incuding (but not limited to!) the adult visual arts. Pinterest, Instagram, you name it — 98% of the post-blogging social-media platforms have content-restricting ToS that make them hostile to and unusable by various communities that once thrived (and still persist, perhaps with less vigor) on self-hosted blogs. The raw communitarian *energy* that’s now in social media but used to be in all our blogrolls? You don’t (for the most part) get access to that now, not if you’re pseudonymous or interested in talking about transgressive things. The pleasures of self-harm, the illustrated techniques of breast-feeding, the habits of the extremely thin, unpopular religious beliefs, the sharing of files between peers, sufficiently unconventional marriage practices — all these topics and dozens more like them are unwelcome to one or another degree on platforms where some corporate host wants to sell your user data or put ads next to “your” content.

    This is just one more of the reasons that people still have blogs. Social media platforms are awesome but people eschew or are excluded from them for all sorts of content-based reasons. It turns out there’s a certain purity to the freedom of speech bloggers enjoy that’s hard to attain in more popular social media.

  37. Great memoir of the blogosphere, now in remission. I guess that like many other media, e.g. radio, it’ll rise up from the dust and specialise. Radio is in exceedingly good health, which I love.

    One thing we learnt from some early research was that people even in 2008 (in the ur-MOOC, CCKO8) were doing bloggish things on many other platforms, and vice versa.

    My own blogs are a little dormant (though I too feel a little guilty about that) but lots of what I blogged about got elaborated, stored, and (lightly) structured on wikis instead (http://learning-affordances.wikispaces.com/ – for example). And I am now engaged in a project to try to map out how people live (and learn) in social media, in what is more recognisable as a wiki (https://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/) – and presence, one of the powerful practices of blogs, is one of the key factors we are (still) working on.

  38. […] without irony). Meantime a deeply nostalgic, old school blogger concludes the opposite – that blogging is alive and well. Ah well – if blogging fails us, there is always Cannibus University, where we can ‘turn […]

  39. […] What blogging was – Interesting thoughts about what blog became. […]

  40. I am such a fan and I wrote about you and this column this week.

    I started by first blog way back on AOL Journals and this is how blogging has changed my life:

    I learned how to migrate from a free platform to a paid platform and manage a website.
    I learned html & php
    I learned how to optimize images and use Photoshop
    I got my first digital camera and began posting my own photographs.
    I wrote about my father’s death and how, after 20 years it still affected. The blogging about it healed me.
    I became a better writer.
    Blogging changed my career from mortgage banking to web development and content management.
    My last 4 (and current) jobs came from blogging and companies loving my blogs.
    Blogging connected me with people from around the world that I am now friends with on Facebook that I have never met. I consider them some of my dearest friends.
    Blogging brought me dates :)
    Blogging helped me understand the Internet.
    Blogging gave me a voice and a platform.
    And blogging has carried me through some of the roughest patches of my adult life.

    I am sure there is more, but you get the idea. I am so grateful that blogging was invented and people like you leading the way.

    I guess in a way, you changed my life.

    Catherine

  41. Dave “Connect and Empower” Rogers here. I have been feeling quite nostalgic recently about those halcyon days of blogging. You hit the nail on the head by saying that blogrolls were an early social network. I hasten to add that blogging with you, AKMA, Tom and others was BETTER than a social network. While there were the lurkers and occasional trolls, the quality of discourse, the ideas tossed back and forth and, above all, the trust, respect and even love between the blogrolls is what is most sorely missing from today’s social networks. Yes, I love being in touch with my friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al — but these are mere bulletins compared to the rich conversations we enjoyed back in the early days of blogging. I still dig up the archives I saved from those days when I want to make a point about authenticity, voice, transparency and those critical notions that seem so overlooked today. Finally, being able to so converse with my Web heroes like you was a priceless gift that I still treasure. Thanks.

  42. D. R. precisely, there is a kind of intimacy in (some) blog-nets (blog networks?) – writing in small spaces?

    A blog post, and the comments are (like this box) intimate spaces, they are phatic (haptic, keeping-in-touch) media, but so much more so. Twitter is great, but it’s ‘cocktail-party’ phatic, hello-and (not even)-goodbye, rather than ‘hello, and what do you think?’.

    I’ve recently come to love twitter as a ‘tracer’ medium – here’s a trace of my thoughts, take it for what you will.

  43. D. R. precisely, there is a kind of intimacy in (some) blog-nets (blog networks?) – writing in small spaces?
    A blog post, and the comments are (like this box) intimate spaces, they are phatic (haptic, keeping-in-touch) media, but so much more so. Twitter is great, but it’s ‘cocktail-party’ phatic, hello-and (not even)-goodbye, rather than ‘hello, and what do you think?’.
    I’ve recently come to love twitter as a ‘tracer’ medium – here’s a trace of my thoughts, take it for what you will.

  44. […] What it was was blogging… […]

  45. […] (blogging).  As author and senior researcher at Harvard’s BerkmanCenter, David Weinberger, explained last week, referencing the origins of […]

  46. […] via Joho the Blog » What blogging was. […]

  47. ZB

  48. Loved this David. I’ve been blogging since 1999 and also owe so much to my blogging.

  49. I have not read everything here so I apologize for any repetition. Blogs will not disappear but will be diminished in years to come by podcasts. Podcasts are easier to create and one only has to speak, that is, run on with the mouth. Ease of use matters. Before blogs, I used BBS which was replaced by newsgroups, which has been replaced by blogs. Each progression was easier than its predecessor and allowed for a wider less skilled user. The nature of blogs has widened. Consider that Tumblr and Pinterest are now considered blogs.

  50. […] which is reply to David Weinberger’s (yes one of the writers of the Cluetrain) blog titled slightly sad elegy for blogging. Suw was one of the early bloggers in London. Chocolate & Vodka was famous in a small early […]

  51. […] “What blogging was” http://hyperorg.com/blogger/… […]

  52. […] What blogging was […]

  53. […] where a long-time blogger surveyed the form’s progression over the years. You can find it here, and the whole thing and its comments are well worth a full […]

  54. […] author and senior researcher at Harvard’s BerkmanCenter, David Weinberger (@dweinberger), explained last week, referencing the origins of […]

  55. a commnet from Riyadh-Saudi Arabia:

    Blogs Live – ???? ???????

    Regards
    Ali

  56. I used to host a baseball fan site wayyyy back in like 99/2000. I’m not sure if I even understood blogging as a concept back then. However, your comment on the social aspect of the web hit home because that’s what I used it most for back then. I was an avid member of a few message forums, where the community was very strong. I also played text based role playing games like Gemstone III (extra points if you’ve heard of that!). Anyway, thanks for the article. It was a fun look back at our internet habits back in the early pioneer days of the web.

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  58. […] usare il resto – Facebook, Twitter, Google e tutti gli altri – a tuo esclusivo vantaggio, come una cassa di risonanza per le cose che pensi, scrivi e pubblichi – ma poi tutto deve ritornare indietro, nello spazio […]

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