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Circa 2004: What’s This Blogging Thing?

November 27, 2015

Dr Knutson, you need to add blogging to your CS404 class.

What is it? 

Well, it’s kind of like an online journal, but it can really be about any topic. 

Why would people want to go read those?

I don’t reallly understand that part.

The year was 2004, I had left Microsoft and decided to go back to school at BYU. In addition to a bunch of Computer Science classes, I was the TA for CS 404, strangely named “Computer Ethics.” It was really a class about computers in society. There were chapters on ethics, on history, on business applications for the different operating systems. The class was all lecture and written assignements. Most CS majors tolerated it. I loved it. Coming from a career in the software industry, CS404 was an opportunity to sit around and talk about the things that I’d lived through. 

Being a TA was a bonus. I didn’t do it for the money. In fact, most weeks I forgot to turn in my timecard. But, the discussions were fascinating. And, strange as it seems 10 years later, blogging really was a strange concept. 

In 2004, much of the content was still driven by the major news outlets. If you wanted to know the news of the day you went to cnn.com, or aol,com or the big dog of the content world, yahoo.com. Many of the traditional news sources, ABC, NBC, NY Times, were experimenting with paywalls. The sites that were the quickest to monitize the online ad revenue streams flourished. 

If you had a technical question, you went to the manufacture’s website. Microsoft.com had the most up to date inforation. Apple.com existed to prove that Macs really do have issues at times. There were some speciality sites that were aggregating content, but anything that was not directly from the source was a little bit suspect.  The online search engines were there, but still finding their way. Microsoft was still pushing MSN, Google was cutting into Yahoo’s marketshare. 

And then there were these strange things calls blogs. The word itself, like most computer terms was a shortened version of a longer term: weblog. One of the first sites that catered to blogs was blogger.com. People were starting blogs with random topics. In 2003, Google had launched AdSense, giving bloggers a way to monitize their content. 

But, who would want to get their information from a random writer online instead of a traditional news source? A lot of people, as it turns out. Blogs started in 1994, with a guy named Justin Hall. He created Links.net. It’s credited with being the first blog ever. It wasn’t called that at the time, of course. It would be another 4 years before Jorn Barger coined the term Weblog to mean “logging the web.” It was in 1999 that Peter Merholz shorted Weblog to blog. And there were some successful blogs AndrewSullivan.com was one of the first to gain widespread success. Gizmodo in 2002 would eventually expand into a huge blog presence. 

And people started noticing. A couple of stories from 2002 highlighted the new power of blogs. Heather Armstrong had a blog called Dooce. She was fired for discussing her job on her blog. And in August 2002, a blog called TalkingPointsMemo broke a story about Senator Trent Lott making some racially charged comments. This was a story that would have normally been broken by a large news outlet. The story caught fire and two weeks later Senator Lott resigned as the Senate Majority Leader. 

By December 2004, Merriam-Webster declared Blog as its Word of the Year. Six months later HuffingPost launched. It would grow to become one of the largest sites on the internet. 

Today, there are somewhere between 150 million and 180 million blogs. It’s hard to pin down the exact count since anyone can start a blog and once you start it, the internet is forever. Worldometers calculates that there are 1.5 million blog entries written today. 

The introduction of advertising and the failure of the mainstream media sources to capitalize on the new media of the internet positioned blogs as an entry point for people who want to influence the world. The barrier to entry is literally a keyboard and an email address. This blog, while the address is http://www.rodneymbliss.com is hosted on WordPress. 

How often people blog is also a matter of some debate. Professional bloggers might post 4-5 times per day. Social bloggers might post once per week or whenever the inspiration strikes them. One estimate is that for the years 2012, bloggers on WordPress posted on average 3 blog posts in a year. Clearly there are a lot of “dead” blogs out there. This blog updates every M-F. 

Today, we take blogs for granted. We use Google or Bing to search for a topic and are as likely to believe a well written blog as an article on a news site. While there are cases like Huffington Post where a blog sells for millions ($315M is the estimate) there are also plenty of people making a comfortable living by writing stuff on the internet. I’m sure that the CS 404 class taught at BYU today has a well developed section of blogging. 

The beauty of the internet is that there will be a next thing. It may be a technology that is in its infancy today that will change the world 10 years in the future. 

Stay tuned. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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