In 1997, writer Jorn Barger (of the website Robot Wisdom) coined a new word that he thought best described what it is he did online. Back before Google ever existed, Barger would surf various websites and log his experiences onto his Robot Wisdom website.
It made perfect sense to him to call the fruits of his labor a weblog.
By 1999, weblog was shortened, to blog, and the world has never been the same (and by 2004, Merriam-Webster declared blog the word of the year).
However, Barger’s clever naming skill doesn’t mark the true origin of the blog. For that, we have to travel a few years further into the past.
You might not have ever heard of Justin Hall, but his influence on your life is rather profound. Back in 1994, when the World Wide Web was barely a toddler, Justin Hall created Links.net, while he was a student at Swarthmore College.
Hall referred to Links.net as his personal homepage, but if you take a look at the site today, you’ll see that its layout is similar to what we now refer to as a blog. It’s a scrolling screen of various entries, starting with Hall’s birth announcement (December 16, 1974) and working all the way down to present day.
Hall’s original site (he has several, including, impressively enough, Justin.org) is pretty barebones when you compare it to the blogs of today. However, back in the 90s, if you wanted to blog, you needed to have some type of programming background to create your own custom platform.
That’s when services like LiveJournal came to light. These sites aimed to make it easy for people of all backgrounds and experiences to write about their experiences, voice their opinions, or contribute to a larger conversation.
In 1999, when the term blog entered our lexicon, Blogger was created by Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan at Pyra Labs. Today, Blogger may not be that popular, but in 1999 and at the turn of the century, it’s considered the tool that allowed blogging to enter the mainstream.
Want proof? Some lists suggest that as of 1999, there were only 23 blogs on the Internet. By the middle of 2006, that number escalated to 50 million blogs, according to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere report.
During the early blogging years, political content seemed to pick up the most traction. Howard Dean and Wesley Clark were among the pioneers of political blogging. But perhaps the one incident that helped show the world how influential blogging could be came at the hands of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
In 2002, Lott made a passing comment that the country would have been better off if U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond were elected President in 1948. It just so happened that during the 1948 election, Thurmond supported racial segregation.
The mainstream media didn’t pick up on Lott’s comments – bloggers did. These bloggers helped bring to light the implications of Lott’s comments and also demonstrated the power of the typed word. No longer was “the scoop” reserved for journalists. Anyone with a computer and an interest in blogging could have an impact.
Realizing that people were actually reading blogs, innovators got to work seeing how they could tap into all this potential.
Some of the most read blogs today got their start in the early 2000s. Boing Boing, Dooce, Gizmodo, Gawker, and Huffington Post all launched within years of one another. Weblogs, Inc. was started by Jason Calacanis in 2003, and sold to AOL for $25 million shortly after.
Blogs had arrived.
Because of the popularity of blogging, meta bloggings (blogs about blogging) became the norm, as people sought to find ways to earn money through their keyboard. Microblogs appeared, such as Tumblr. Major news sites started warming up to the notion of sharing information online for free, in order to compete with bloggers who were writing at a furious clip.
Today, blogs have evolved into even new formats. Surely you’ve listened to a podcast or watched a YouTube video, and while they’re not built on the written word, they’re built on the same premise as the original blog: anyone can share information online that’s potentially consumed by the masses.
What began as a simple one-page scrolling screen more than 20 years ago by a college student, has evolved into a multi-billion dollar business and the main channel for folks to digest and share news.
What will the future of blogging look like? The beauty is there are no limitations. As new technologies arrive (virtual reality, for example), innovators will find a way to use these tools to tell their story.