An Introduction to Weblogs/History
Historical development of weblogs
A weblog can be loosely defined as a journal or diary which is published on the World Wide Web. The process of updating and maintaining a weblog is known as blogging and the author is known as a blogger. Weblogs are usually updated at regular intervals using user-friendly software that requires little or no technical background.
The rate of growth of blogging has been astounding. According to Technorati there are now over 26 million weblogs in existence. They reckon that:
- The blogosphere (that is, the weblog universe) doubles in size about every 5.5 months.
- A new weblog is created roughly every second and there are over 80,000 weblogs created daily.
- About 55% of all weblogs are active.
- About 13% of all weblogs are updated at least weekly.
Technorati carries out a major survey of weblog activities every six months. Check their website for the current values.
It is difficult to come up with a definition that fits all weblogs, or even most weblogs. In essence, weblogs are web pages that have several posts or distinct items of information per page. They are normally in reverse chronological order, with the most recent post at the top of the page and the oldest at the bottom.
Weblogs often contain links to other Web sites or weblogs. Many of the earliest weblogs relied heavily on links, and consisted mainly of short pieces of text, mixed with news items or useful links the author had found that day. Modern weblogs may link to external sites, but they may also have more of an inward focus, acting as a personal journal or diary for the author. Weblogs are often created and maintained by an individual, but they may also be produced by small groups of people, or involve large communities in a single weblog.
Most weblogs are non-commercial in nature, but they are increasingly being added to commercial sites and being used as a new form of business communication. A weblog can be a small part of a larger site, a small portion of a single page or an entire Web site. Weblogs are usually updated more frequently than traditional Web sites, due largely to the smaller changes and lower amount of effort required to add a new weblog post as compared to adding an entire Web page full of content.
Weblogs are based on discrete posts, sometimes known as articles or entries. Each page is usually a collection of posts over a period of time, sometimes several years. Tools are available to automate the creation of new posts, leaving the details of creating archive pages, uploading amended files to a server and applying HTML templates to automated scripts. Bloggers can add new posts using a simplified interface that operates like a word processing application.
Weblogs are a rapidly-developing area, so it is likely that the information given below will become outdated very quickly. The following links are good sources of current information: http://weblogs.about.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog
Follow some of the links given above and read what they have to say about weblogs.
History of Blogs
It is difficult to specify exactly when the first weblogs appeared because no single person was responsible for their invention and several weblogs appeared spontaneously on several sites about the same time. The earliest weblogs were simply lists of links and personal filters of billions of pages that were swamping the World Wide Web, but they’ve since become personal journals or diaries, with much more opinion and editorial content.
Pages going back to the earliest days of the Web share many characteristics of weblogs and can be regarded as their predecessors or forerunners. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, used his own website on the first-ever Web server to keep his colleagues at CERN, the European Nuclear Research Centre, informed about other Web pages and servers within the organisation. The diary and journal formats which appeared soon after the Web's expansion outwith the research community bore some resemblance to the weblog format. They were updated at regular intervals and shared tales from the author's life.
One of the earliest forerunners the weblog was Justin Hall's Links from the Underground website which the author used to share links to interesting sites and tell stories of his life and travels, beginning in 1994. The site continued to be updated until mid-2005, when the author decided to take a well-earned rest. Another weblog predecessor was Michael Sippey’s website The Filter, a section of a larger site, which shared links about technology news. The Filter was updated daily as early as 1996 and was used to publish essays and articles complementing the main part of the site.
The What's New page, seen on thousands of Web sites, has much in common with the weblog format. One of the earliest What's New pages appeared in 1993 at the National Center for Supercomputing (NCSA), producers of the first graphical Web browser, Mosaic. The NCSA/Mosaic What's New page served as a central point for information about new servers, sites and pages coming online.
Around 1997, a few web authors began publishing short bits of text each day without giving this activity a name. For example, Dave Winer of UserLand Software, started publishing essays on technology issues on his website in 1994. In April 1997 he started a new site which kept track of Web sites devoted to programming and scripting and gave daily updates about his company's software. The site was still being maintained in late 2005, but now he adds a personal commentary to each day's postings.
Also in 1997, Jorn Barger began compiling a list of links with short descriptions on a regular basis. His site initially consisted of a list of 20 to 30 links, with single sentence descriptions, added at a rate of 5 to 10 a day. He later started writing an online diary to complement the links. Barger coined the term weblog to describe his site, and over the next year or two, the term was adopted by other authors.
Jesse James Garrett, editor of Infosift began compiling a list of similar sites as he encountered them his travels around the Web. In November 1997, he sent that list to Cameron Barrett, who published it on list on CamWorld, and others maintaining similar sites began sending him their details for inclusion on the list. Garrett’s "page of only weblogs" listed the 23 weblogs known to exist at the start of 1999.
All the earliest weblogs followed a similar format, giving short pieces of text on a single, rapidly changing page which provided links to interesting sites the author had found. The notion of creating a website purely to direct visitors to other Web sites was a novel idea at the time, as the prevailing wisdom was that commercial Web sites had to be "sticky" in order to keep visitors within the site for as long as possible. In contrast, the early weblogs were eager to provide visitors with links to other sites, rather than confining them to a single site.
It was easy to read all of the weblogs on Garrett’s list, and many people did. However, as more and more people began publishing their own weblogs it became difficult to read every weblog every day, or even to keep track of all the new ones that were appearing. In early 1999, Brigitte Eaton compiled a list of every weblog she knew about and created the Eatonweb Portal. She evaluated all submissions by a simple criterion: the site consist of dated entries. This rapidly became part of the definition of weblogs.
1999 also marked the beginning of the “weblog explosion” when tools to enable anyone to create a weblog were initially released. Prior to this, weblog creators had to write their own software and code each day's postings by hand, using HyperText Markup Language (HTML), so people producing weblogs up until 1999 were generally Internet technology professionals or programmers.
July 1999, saw the release of Pitas , the first tool designed for creating, managing and maintaining weblogs. Pitas, which is still in operation today, enables users to sign up for an account and create a weblog, which is hosted for free with an address of the form: http://username.pitas.com. A Pitas weblog has several automated components, including features to let users customise their sites. There is a user-friendly posting page where users can add the title, URL and description of each post.
Pitas weblog authors don’t need to know HTML because the software automates the creation of links. However, templates allow knowledgeable users to change the HTML behind the visual design of their site without affecting the automatic elements of each post. Automatic archiving is an important feature of Pitas. As users post regular updates to their sites the software automatically moves older entries to the archive pages.
In August 1999, Pyra Labs released the first version of Blogger, which is also still online at http://www.blogger.com, although it is now owned by Google. Blogger provides similar features to Pitas, but with a number of important differences. Blogger initially required users to have their own Web site. It could take user posts, create static files and transmit the amended files to the users’ server when they updated.
The tasks of programming, maintaining and archiving information were handled by Blogger on a central server accessible from anywhere, leaving users to host output on their own sites. Blogger also offered the ability to maintain more than one weblog from a single account and provided additional ways to customise sites, e.g.: templates could be customised by using a series of special tags, and an archive template allowed users to specify how older posts should appear.
1999 also saw the release of LiveJournal, which actually came out a few months before Pitas and Blogger, but wasn't regarded as a weblog tool until much later. The tools available through Pitas and Blogger led to a massive explosion in the number of people maintaining weblogs. The number of weblog authors grew from dozens to hundreds and then thousands within months of these tools being released. Weblogs were filled with original writing, journals of author's lives and links to interesting sites, including other weblogs.
Additional tools followed, e.g.: UserLand Software released Manila, a content management system which incorporated weblogs and an integrated discussion system. A public server at http://www.editthispage.com allowed prospective users to try out the software without buying the server. Other tools released that year included Velocinews and Groksoup which also automated weblog posting and offered free hosting for weblogs. All of these services were free and all of them were designed to enable individuals to publish their own weblogs quickly and easily.
The original weblogs were link-driven sites containing a mixture of links, commentary and personal opinions. Their editors presented links to obscure websites and to current news articles they felt were worthy of note. These links were usually accompanied by an editorial commentary, often with an irreverent or sarcastic tone. The format of the typical weblog, providing only a very short space in which to write an entry, encourages brevity on the part of the writer. Longer commentary is often published elsewhere. These weblogs provided a valuable filtering function for their readers by pre-surfing the web for them.
In 2000, second-generation weblog tools began to appear. Greymatter a weblog management system designed to be installed on your own server, provided dozens of features which were not available in existing weblog tools. Since the software was installed on your own server, there were none of the traffic problems a large, central service such as Blogger sometimes suffered from.
Since 2001, the explosion in weblog growth and popularity has continued. Stories about weblogs have featured in national magazines, and weblogs have supplemented traditional media coverage in some cases. Notable examples include the South Asian Tsunami, the invasion of Iraq and the US Presidential Election.
Weblog tools have continued to develop with the release of packages such as MovableType and Radio, as well as dozens of more specialised tools. Articles about weblogs continue to appear in the mainstream press, and the registered users at popular services, such as Blogger and LiveJournal, are now numbered in millions. Weblogs are appearing on business and media sites, and they are being used increasingly by grassroots organisations as a way of bringing their causes to the attention of the public.
Follow some of the links given above and read what they have to say about weblogs.
According to  Wikipedia:
“Social software is a broad term used to describe software-based tools that facilitate interaction and collaboration. Social software connects people together intellectually and makes it possible to share and evolve ideas. Social software is not bound just by what features the tool provides, but also by social conventions and etiquette on how to use it appropriately. Such software includes email, Usenet, IRC, instant messaging, blogs, wikis, NNTP, folksonomy, and virtual online communities.”
Useful summaries of the different kinds of social software can be found at:
Wikipedia also notes that “Blogs mean many things to different people: ranging from “online journal” to “easily updated personal website”. While these definitions are not wrong, they fail to capture the power of blogs as social software. Beyond being a simple homepage, or an online diary, some blogs also allow comments on the entries thereby a discussion forum, have blogrolls, i.e.: links to other blogs which the owner reads, and/or have trackback which allows one blog to notify another blog, creating an inter-blog conversation. You can find more information about trackback at http://www.movabletype.org/trackback/beginners/.
One of the most critical features of blogs is that they allow communication on a many-to-many basis, rather than simply one-to-one or one-to-many, as permitted by other types of software. Blogs engage readers and build a virtual community around a particular person or interest, e.g.: Slashdot (http://slashdot.org/) LiveJournal (http://www.livejournal.com/) and BlogSpot (http://www.blogspot.com).
Social software is fundamental to some of the latest developments on the World Wide Web, sometimes referred to collectively as Web 2.0 (see http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html).
Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) is a good starting point for obtaining further information about social software. Some of the main types of social software are listed below.
E-mail will already be familiar to most people. However it can be regarded as one of the earliest forms of social software, particularly with regard to some of its one-to-many communication features, such as the use of the cc: field and mailing lists, as well as the use of contact lists or address books.
Instant Messaging (IM) allows individuals to communicate privately with one another over a public network. Popular clients include MSN Messenger (http://messenger.msn.com/Xp/Default.aspx) and Yahoo Messenger (http://messenger.yahoo.com/) IM communications were initially text based but they have now been expanded to include audio and video and clients can also exchange files.
Chat is an abbreviated name for Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which lets users join chat rooms and communicate with many people simultaneously. Users can join an existing chat room or create one of their own, on any topic of interest to them. Once in a chat room they can post comments and respond to the comments of others and invite other users to participate in private chats. You can find out anything you want to know about IRC at http://www.irchelp.org/. Popular suppliers include Yahoo. (http://chat.yahoo.com/)
Newsgroups or forums are the Internet version of electronic bulletin boards, popular among computer users long before Internet. A user can post comments on a topic and other users can respond. Messages are visible to all members of the group and some services provide extensions such as file storage and calendaring. The original newsgroup service, Usenet, is now available via Google Groups (http://groups.google.co.uk/). Other services include Smartgroups (http://www.smartgroups.com/) and Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/).
A Wiki is a group of Web pages that allows users to add their own content and permits others to edit the content. It provides a simple method of producing HML content and is an effective medium for collaboration. The term is also used to describe the collaborative software, sometimes known as a wiki engine, used to create such a website. Examples include: Wikipedia (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki), Wikibooks (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page), Wikinews (http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Main_Page) and WikiWikiWeb (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki).
Social network services allow people to meet on-line around shared interests or causes. In some cases it is only possible to join a social network by being recommended by an existing member. Examples include Orkut (http://www.orkut.com), MeetUp (http://www.meetup.com), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) and Tribe Networks (http://www.tribe.net). An offshoot of this area is social network search engines, which allow people to find each other according to their XFN social relationships, e.g.: XHTML Friends Network (http://gmpg.org/xfn/).
Social guides recommend places to visit in the real world such as coffee shops, restaurants and WiFi hotspots, etc. Popular applications include CafeSpot (http://cafespot.net), Tagzania (http://www.tagzania.com/) and Wikivoyage (http://en.wikivoyage.org/).
Social bookmarking sites allow users to post their list of bookmarks or favourite websites for others to search and view. The object is for people to meet others with whom they share a common interest. Examples include Del.icio.us, Furl (http://www.furl.net/) and Connectedy (http://www.connectedy.com/).
Social Shopping applications allow group members to make recommendations and give product reviews, e.g.: SwagRoll (http://swagroll.com/).
Virtual Worlds and Massively-Multiplayer On-line Games (MMOGs) are places where it is possible to interact with other people in a virtual world. Popular commercial worlds include Second Life (http://secondlife.com/), ActiveWorlds (http://www.activeworlds.com/), There (http://www.there.com/index.html), and The Sims Online (http://www.ea.com/official/thesims/thesimsonline/us/nai/index.jsp).
Non-commercial projects include Planeshift (http://www.planeshift.it/) and Solipsis (http://solipsis.netofpeers.net/wiki2/index.php/Main_Page).
Folksonomy is the name given to the informal classifications (sometimes called tags or keywords) that Internet users invent to categorise the objects with which they interact on-line. Social software makes these classifications available to other Internet users, so folksonomy can be viewed as a distributed classification system. Examples of folksonomy-enabled social software include Furl , Flickr and Del.icio.us.
Choose two types of social software which sound particularly interesting to you and follow the links given above to find out more about them, or sign up for them.
Social conventions and etiquette
Social conventions and etiquette play an important role in weblogs, as in other forms of online communication. The following observations are summarised from a number of online sources:
- Avoid hotlinking: Hotlinking is the practice of linking directly to an image on someone else’s website or blog. Most website owners disapprove of this practice – they would much rather see a link to their homepage.
- Always credit your sources: if you quote or refer to an article or website, credit the original author appropriately.
- Always check the validity of your information: just because information appears on a website doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. You should always check your facts against several authoritative sources, especially if they are likely to be contentious.
- Correct your mistakes and post updates: you’ll inevitably make mistakes at some point when posting to your weblog. The best practice is to own up to these and correct them.
- Never leave spam comments: if you are commenting on someone else’s weblog, make sure that your comments are meaningful and relevant. A simple statement like “visit my weblog” without any additional relevant content may be regarded as spam by some people. You should also ensure that you delete any spam comments made on your own weblog.
- Remember your audience: anything you post potentially has a worldwide audience and could be there for a long time. Even if you delete something there are always archives and caches, so make sure you really want to say something before going public with it.
- Use good English: you don’t need to write perfect prose, but you should write clear and simple grammatically-correct English and avoid the use of non-standard abbreviations. Remember that WRITING IN CAPITALS is regarded by many as the online equivalent of shouting.
- Always respect copyright: Never quote large extracts from any source without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. Quoting of small excerpts for the purposes of review or criticism is normally acceptable, but the sources should always be acknowledged, as noted earlier.
- Identify yourself: if you leave comments on someone else's weblog, you should identify yourself properly, giving your email address whenever possible. If you don’t want to have a comment attributed to you, you should think again about whether you really want to make it.
- Allow your readers to contact you: it is good practice to provide a way fro your readers to contact you, e.g.: via email or by leaving comments.
Rebecca Blood devotes a whole chapter to etiquette and ethics in The Weblog Handbook: Practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog. (Perseus Publishing, 2002). These can be summarised as follows:
- Personal attacks: never attack another blogger online. This will only reduce your own credibility, and can lead to problems which will never be resolved.
- Responding to attacks: if someone makes an attack on you, you should simply ignore it. Any time you spend on defending yourself reduces the time you have available for writing new material.
- Asking for a link: don't ask other bloggers to link to your site. If they want to want to direct their readers to your weblog, they’ll do so without being asked.
- Complaining about traffic: don't complain about how few (or how many) hits your weblog is receiving. The more you complain, the less appealing you will appear to your readers.
- Crediting links: always give proper credit when linking to others' websites or weblogs or when passing on links found on someone else's website.
- Announcing your schedule: if you won’t be able to update your weblog for some time, let your readers know when you plan to make the next update so they don't waste their time checking it when nothing is happening.
- Giving warnings: always warn readers clearly if the content of a link might be something they might not approve of or may not want to see.
- Answering e-mails: answer as many e-mails from your readers as you can, but don't let the time spent doing this affect the development of your weblog.
- Publishing facts: only claim that something is a fact if you know it to be true and can prove that this is the case.
- Linking to sources: if you quote material from online sources, give links to the original sources.
- Correcting mistakes: if you feel that you need to correct mistakes in an entry, let your readers know. If possible, leave the original entry intact and make corrections by adding additional information. Try to avoid rewriting or deleting posts, since others may rely on them via links. If this is to operate successfully your original material must remain unchanged.
- Disclosing conflicts of interest: if you have any conflicts of interest, e.g.: if you’re likely to benefit financially or in some other way from information you are posting, then be open about this.
- Questionable sources: if you think a source is questionable or obviously biased, let your readers know before giving them a link to it, so they will be prepared to interpret it cautiously.
Links between blogs
Links are an important element of blogs and they play a major role in the development of virtual communities. Links can direct the reader to another weblog or web site. Many weblogs include an “interesting links” section, usually giving links which relate to the theme of the weblog. Others provide lists of “friends’ weblogs”. These can be a useful way of discovering new sites which might be of interest to you.
If you read an interesting post in another weblog and you decide to discuss the same topic in your own weblog, it’s a good idea to add a link to the original post that inspired you. When the administrator of the original weblog checks her access statistics she will find out how many visitors have reached her site through the link you’ve provided, and she’ll probably want to take a look at your weblog. If she likes it, she’ll probably put a link into her weblog, encouraging her readers to visit your site. Another way of encouraging visitors to your weblog is to put your URL in any comments that you write in other weblogs, although a comment consisting only of your URL is unlikely to be welcomed.
These kinds of links create informal communities. Some of these last for a long time while others disappear rapidly, just as in real life. Links are covered in greater detail elsewhere in this wikibook.