Maybe you’ve heard of blogs, and maybe you haven’t yet—but you will. I discovered blogging through a web site called Blogger when it launched in 1999, and I have been hooked ever since. I fell in love with this automated method of independent publishing the day I created my first blog. Now, more than two years later, I am still blogging away like a maniac.

Today, blogs are taking over the web at warp speed. Where did they come from? Why are they here? Are blogs merely a means to some devious alien end for humanity? Perhaps. In this chapter, we’ll dig into the history and chronology of the blogging revolution, discuss what a blog actually is, tour some good examples of blogs, and find out why they’re so popular.

A Guy Named Tim-The Invention of the WWW

Tim Berners-Lee graduated from the Queen’s College at Oxford University, England in 1976. He built his first computer with a soldering iron and an old television. Then Tim spent two years with an equipment manufacturer, working on bar code technology. In 1978, Tim wrote some typesetting software.

Basic Blogging

After a few years as an independent consultant, Tim went to work as an engineer at a particle physics laboratory in Switzerland. While there, Tim proposed a global hypertext project. It was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a “web” of hypertext documents. This work was started in October 1990, and the program “World Wide Web” was first made available on the “Internet” in the summer of 1991. I was mowing lawns that summer.

What was this Tim guy up to? That’s right, you guessed it: Tim invented the web. Let’s all give him a big round of applause. Good job, Tim! We always knew you could do it. And your mother wanted you to be a doctor? Good thing you didn’t listen to her.

My mom keeps telling me I should work at the supermarket so I can get 20% off groceries. How will I invent things if I’m too tired from bagging groceries? I’m not doing it. She can’t make me. Figure 1.1 shows a glimpse of what the web looked like in 1992.

Through 1991 and 1993, Tim continued working on the design of the web, coordinating feedback from users across the Internet. I continued mowing lawns. Another thing Tim starting doing—and this is of particular interest to you—was link to new sites as they came online. What was Tim doing? Anyone? Anyone? He was blogging!

This was the first blog. So you see, the blog has been around since the beginning of the web; that is how basic the concept is. Today’s blogs, and the activity of blogging, have taken on more meaning, but the concept of it all is still very simple and rooted in the beginning and intentions of the web itself.

The Home Page Explosion

In 1996, GeoCities opened up web publishing to the masses (see Figure 1.2). Anyone who wanted to dabble with HTML or play around with an early What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) web editor could do so without the barrier of acquiring and maintaining a dedicated web server.

People began pioneering the web in the mid ’90s as personal home pages were created in droves with thoughts, opinions, and life experiences. They were learning how to build their own sites, experimenting with design, and sharing their voices with the world. It was good stuff. But there was a problem. After the initial creative burst and FTP upload, most home pages just sat out there like a big, lumpy matzo ball getting dry in the wind. The page would just languish, never to be updated again.

Nobody would visit it because they had already seen it-it wasn’t changing, so why visit again?

The web became littered with freshman attempts at web design and the occasionally funny, but still hideous,

“Welcome to my homepage, I KISS YOU!” genre of site. Tim’s invention was growing, but it seemed to be growing out instead of up.

Kind of like my friend Marc in fifth grade. But Marc is now very tall and fit, so I can say that without upsetting him. Right, Marc? Marc?

Then there was the whole dot-commerce scramble. Tim’s invention became swollen with e-stores, bloated with search engines, and puffed up with megaportals offering streams of relentless, commercialized content, and “free services.” People were trying to pave the web and build a mall. Ultimately, that bubble burst and reality came down hard all around us. But not before some talented people developed some real products and services that were actually good ideas.

Early Blogging before Blogger

One of the innovations to survive and actually flourish was the concept of a blog as offered to the public in August of 1999 by a small web company called Pyra Labs with a product called Blogger. But before we get to that, let’s begin at the beginning

Legend has it that the term weblog was coined by a guy named Jorn Barger in December of 1997. In 1998, there were only a few blogs like those that are flourishing today. So how did it all get started? Well, Jesse James Garret, a blog author, started a list of people maintaining blog sites like his and later sent that list to another blogger, Cameron Barret.

Cameron posted that list on his site and continued to cultivate it. Cultivate is a good word here because this little garden started to grow. I started experimenting with blogs at the end of 1999, when there were already multitudes of bloggers. But before that, in November of 1998, it was easy to keep track of all the blogs in existence and even read most them on a daily basis.

Blogging became a small-but-popular publishing format among a certain web crowd. Another early blogger, Peter Merholz, came up with the term wee-blog, and it was contracted a little later to weblog and then to just plain blog.

The word blog got more publicity and became the preferred term.  More and more people starting launching their own blogs, and the numbers started racking up. The lists of blogs grew longer every day. Early in 1999, Brigette Eaton published Eaton Web Portal, an exhaustive list of bloggers along with a clear and simple definition of a blog: “a site with dated entries.” Her definition was accepted, and even more people started creating blogs.

The original bloggers were HTML-savvy people who probably worked days in some web-related capacity and would spend their evenings surfing the web and working on their sites. Their blogs were closer to the media-filter variety. That is, they were a combination of annotated links to news articles and interesting sites with the occasional personal thought or maybe an essay.

This was to be a model for future bloggers, or at least a jumping-off point. The typical blogger at this point served as a guide to the Internet, bringing his or her readers to unexplored sites on the web or news articles on a subject of particular interest. The links would, of course, include commentary.

Early bloggers often had an area of expertise and would follow a topic or several topics with their blog, making the blog a valuable resource to anyone else in that field. A blog became an easy way to make a name for yourself on the web, not just because you could build a web page, but because you tracked down information of particular interest to you and your audience.

These early bloggers were good at what they did, and this helped to promote the concept of blogs even more. Blogs were practically designed for short, pithy commentary and links, so it was important to be succinct when posting. This had two beneficial results: good, clean writing and great web reading.

At this point, blogs were popular only with a certain crowd—they were not yet a phenomenon. But that was soon to change.

After Blogger’—Blogging for the Masses

On August 23, 1999 a site called Pitas launched. It was a very easy-to-use online tool for building your own blog. Now it was much easier to create a blog, and hundreds of more sites appeared very quickly. In August of the same year, both Blogger and GrokSoup, two more build-your-own blog providers, launched and the popularity of the blog format soared.

I started my blog with Blogger around this time. Soon after, software industry veteran Dave Winer and crew announced Edit This Page, yet another personal publishing system, and blogs starting popping up everywhere. They were growing off the charts.

Although all these services helped to promote and grow blogging as a medium, it was Blogger that really propelled the popularity of blogs. Ironically, Evan Williams and his team at Pyra Labs never intended Blogger to be a big product. It was just a side project.

“We started a company with some notions about better ways to manage information, both for personal and team-based project work. We were developing, basically, Web-based groupware. That morphed into groupware specifically designed for Web teams, for which we thought Blogger would be one simple piece.

Of course, it was the simple thing that proceeded to envelop everything else. After a while, we realized that the blog thing was interesting enough to pursue in itself.” -Evan Williams, CEO and co-founder of Blogger.com

The introduction of Blogger had a huge impact. Its simple interface and big empty box for entering a post made creating and posting to a blog so easy that the format of the blog began to take on a more free-form style. People began blogging random thoughts, musings, and things that happened on the subway several times a day.

Bloggers took to linking to each other rather than remote corners of the web or news articles, and a strong community began to develop There were still a number of serious media-filter type of blogs, but now there was also a growing crowd of diarists filling up the web and strengthening the community.

Around this time, Blogger and blogs in general started to get some press. This only made the format more popular. New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times, Wired Magazine, and other traditional print media covered the blog explosion

In February of 2001, Blogger had a very public break up. Everyone except Evan Williams, the CEO, had to leave the company. Rather than crumble, this garnered even more media attention and new signups continued to flow in.