2004 wasn’t a vintage year for my blog, as I was doing my finals at university, moved to London and started my first graduate job, and found that my time was spent more on real life rather than updating my blog.
So for me, I thought maybe I could take it a bit further back, and think about blogging like it was 2000, when I first started blogging, over 10 years ago – I’m not sure if the 2000-era style of weblogging quite fits Ben’s idea ‘proper blogging’, but it was definitely my most prolific year, and thinking about this brought on a wave of nostalgia, thinking about how much the world of blogging has changed since then.
I started blogging in May 2000, mainly because my good friend Tom Coates said he was fed up with me emailing him links to post on his weblog, and why didn’t I just start my own? I’d published my first website on (the now defunct) Geocities back in 1997, but I bought my first domain in honour of my foray into this weblogging thing.
Hosted WYSIWIG services like Blogspot, Typepad, WordPress.com or Tumblr didn’t exist. Neither did Moveable Type or WordPress.org. Pitas had launched in ’99 and was used by a few, Groksoup came along (and went) whilst Dave Winer launched Edit This Page. But most of us used Blogger – the old Blogger, the version that was discontinued in May 2010 – hosting our blogs on our own servers, and publishing via FTP.
We didn’t have permalinks or comments. So the way you commented on a blog post was either to email them, or to write a response on your own blog (the trackback wasn’t yet a Blogger feature, so you had to have tracking embedded in your code so you could check your server logs to see who was linking to you, to see such responses. Or of course, you’d see it anyway, because we all read each others’ blogs).
It really was a small, and pretty tight-knit community. A new UK blog being created was big news, and as RSS readers weren’t yet commonplace (if they’d even been invented?), we kept tabs on who’d joined our blogging fraternity when they were updated through the Updated UK weblogs list. And in fact if you wanted, you could find a list of pretty much every weblog published by going to the Eatonweb portal, published by Brigitte Eaton: in ’99 she compiled a list of every weblog she knew about and created the Eatonweb Portal. It’s still going and now it’s a massive directory, but back then it was a personal and hand-curated list of pretty much all the weblogs out there on t’interwebs, all listed in one place. It was awesome.
Technorati didn’t exist yet, but we fed our obsession with rankings by feverishly checking our position on the Beebo Metalog, which listed the most popular weblogs (back when these were blogs lovingly created by inviduals, not huge media enterprises like the Gizmodos and HuffPos of the world).
To avoid slipping down the Metalog, if you went on holiday, you’d get someone in to guestblog for you, giving them blogger access to post while you were away. Coates and I had a lot of fun guestblogging at Riothero.com – not just blogging, but redesigning the whole site, and as I recall, plastering the naked torso of a hot young stud as the background.
This resdesign and general mischief-making then became a front page post at Metafilter. We had a blast tinkering around and having fun with this new form of publishing, and took it as high praise indeed when we were described like a stream of bat’s piss:
Now, I came around when Tom and Katy were Accidentally Rio Theros, because Goddamn those two are witty, smutty and vile. I love them. Like a stream of bat’s piss, they shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark
I’m so tempted to put that on a business card or as a LinkedIn reference.
But more than accolades about streams of bat’s piss, I’ve made some fantastic friends through blogging. I met Dan Hon, Meg Pickard and Jen Bolton at the first ever UK blogmeet in June 2000. And lovely folks like Matt Webb, Tom Armitage, Bobbie Johnson, Simon Pearson, Phil Gyford and Mo Morgan, were befriended at subsequent blogmeets, amongst many others. International friends too. When I went to San Francisco in 2001, I had dinner with Heather Champ and Derek Powazek, and chatted with other bloggers like Ev Williams (yes, that Ev, he of Twitter fame) at Derek’s Fray Day. When Caroline van Oosten de Boer came over to the UK, drinks were organised. When Jason Kottke was in London, we had a transatlantic geekout mooching round Borough market and eating cake at Maison Bertaux. Not all of these people are still blogging (though most are, albeit most of us on different domains), but they’re still friends.
And amongst these friends, there were blog marriages too. Meg Pickard and Paul Tweedy, Heather Champ and Derek Powazek, Sasha Frieze and Darren Shrubsole, Meg Hourihan and Jason Kottke, all met through blogging and subsequently got hitched. Though there are tonnes of stats about how many people have met their partner online nowadays (not least due to the advent of online dating) this was pretty unusual back then – Meg and Jason’s romance through blogging was even featured in the New Yorker – first in 2000, then in a follow-up piece in 2006.
But at the time, the whole thing was still very much outside the mainstream. I was interviewed for an Evening Standard article in Aug 2000 about this strange new phenomenon called weblogging (complete with screen capture of my eye-bleedingly awful site design at the time & snapshot from my webcam feed, because a cam feed was de rigeur at the time (see below), and then again 2 months later for an article in the Guardian. The world was small, so my little UK blog made it into an article about this new blogging thing in the US mag CMJ Music Monthly.
Our writing tended towards shorter, more frequent updates with a mixture of personal diary entries and random links we’d spotted – and because there were many fewer places to discover links, there was a good chance you could actually be the first to blog a particularly interesting link, and could derive a smug sense of pleasure for successfully claiming first-to-blog.
The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays. Weblogs could only be created by people who already knew how to make a website. A weblog editor had either taught herself to code HTML for fun, or, after working all day creating commercial websites, spent several off-work hours every day surfing the web and posting to her site. These were web enthusiasts.
Many current weblogs follow this original style. Their editors present links both to little-known corners of the web and to current news articles they feel are worthy of note. Such links are nearly always accompanied by the editor’s commentary. An editor with some expertise in a field might demonstrate the accuracy or inaccuracy of a highlighted article or certain facts therein; provide additional facts he feels are pertinent to the issue at hand; or simply add an opinion or differing viewpoint from the one in the piece he has linked. Typically this commentary is characterized by an irreverent, sometimes sarcastic tone. More skillful editors manage to convey all of these things in the sentence or two with which they introduce the link (making them, as Halcyon pointed out to me, pioneers in the art and craft of microcontent). Indeed, the format of the typical weblog, providing only a very short space in which to write an entry, encourages pithiness on the part of the writer; longer commentary is often given its own space as a separate essay.
Whilst the world may be a very different place, in some ways, our blogging style of shorter, more frequent & often link-based entries isn’t hugely dissimilar to the way we use Twitter or Tumblr – it’s just that we spread our microcontent over different platforms – so perhaps we’ve come full circle…