By now, youve probably been at least peripherally exposed to one of the latest developments on the Net culture scene, known as blogging. But a standard definition of blogging is almost as fluid as blogs themselves.
At first glance, the current constellation of blogs appears to be little more than updated versions of personal sites that populated the Web circa 1995, with the requisite wacky personal pictures and desultory musings. On closer inspection, though, blogs are far more diverse in terms of content and style than those early stabs at personal digital expression.
The term "blog," a contraction of "Web logs," was coined in 1999 by Peter Merholz, an inveterate blogger and formerly a creative director at Epinions. But what is a blog? Some, such as Stating the Obvious, take the form of opinionated media digests. These typically provide links to other sites or to specific stories about current political, business or cultural events, along with a dash of commentary. Others, such as the famed Megnut.com, property of Pyra Labs co-founder Meg Hourihan, are more like an online version of a personal journal, complete with photos, diary entries, essays and, in the case of Megnut, Webcam shots. Still others, such as Jish.nu, take the journal-entry approach to navel-gazing extremes, with entries on such minutiae as daily hygiene rituals.
But regardless of the focus — be it show tunes, Star Wars or what someone ate for dinner last night — the unifying theme behind the blogging phenomenon is an unfettered desire to let it all hang out.
"Web logs are definitely an evolution of personal vanity sites as opposed to something completely new, but theyre much more dynamic, much more of a communications outlet," says Jen Kitchen, contract Web designer at AT&T by day, and the proprietress of several blogs, including Whim & Vinegar, and Eat, Link, and Be Merry by Night.
Kitchen notes that despite a recent flurry of interest, blogging has been around for several years. Rebecca Blood, who has written an extensive history of blogging, says the movement first began to take hold in late 1998. But the very first blogs are even older: Justin Hall, now director of innovation at Gamers.com, built his original blog — though he didnt call it that at the time — more than six years ago. Halls Links from the Underground site lives on today, and he continues to code each and every entry by hand.
"Back in those days, you had to dig pretty deep to find really cool stuff, so I wanted to archive and share all the weird places I had found," Hall says. "But most people dont have the patience for banging out code in a Unix browser."
And thats precisely where the new wave of user-friendly Web publishing tools comes in. Starting in early 1999, several free Web-logging applications began popping up — most notably Pyras Blogger, which is generally accepted to be the best in the space. Other free blogging software is available from GrokSoup, Pitas.com and VelociNews. As the tools have made it easier to create and maintain blogs, the predictable result has been an increasing number of people jumping on the blogwagon.
The bloggers we spoke with were more than happy to welcome more to the fold. Hall, for one, seems genuinely excited about more people becoming involved in a new kind of media. Merholz looks forward to the day when anyone will be able to blog from anywhere at any time — forming, perhaps, a digital stream-of-consciousness.
"As we get more mobile, it will be easier and easier to put spontaneous thoughts out there," Merholz says. "The increasing omnipresence of the Internet will allow for the publishing of thought pretty much as it occurs."
Pyra is already experimenting with a wireless version of its software for on-the-go blogging. And there may even be business uses for blogs: Pyra is currently working with Cisco Systems on a corporate blogging application to let employees collaborate with each other.
But, regardless of whether they manifest themselves in the corporate world, blogs in their purest forms will remain throwbacks to the early days of the Web, when the rallying cry was the democratization of information and individual empowerment — not initial public offerings. The point isnt to generate a massive number of page views. Its simply to share your views.