7.The blogosphere: you can be a journalist, too!

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History

Chronicle, diary, journal, magazine

From the earliest days of mankind, people have written chronicles. Early chronicles include the Mesopotamian Nabonidus Chronicle, two chronicle books are even included in the Old Testament. A number of chronicles have survived from the Middle Ages - Estonians know of the chronicles written by Hendrick the Lett and Balthazar Russow.

In the 15th century England, paper becoming cheaper gave birth to a new phenomenon called commonplace books. They were basically large scrapbooks filled with all kinds of notes - thoughts, words of wisdom, recipes, proverbs... While mostly perosonal and written by a single person, there may have been exceptions to that rule. These books were effectively the precursors of modern blogging.

Another venerable parent of blogs is diary. Among the oldest known diaries are the travelling notes of a Chinese envoy Li Ao. Since then, there have been many well-known people who have written a diary (see the Wikipedia list of diarists).


The earliest days

Before the blogs and the Web, there were mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups, Fidonet had its network of bulletin board systems (BBS). But even before that, there was the Community Memory - a terminal-based system running on an XDS-940 computer located in San Francisco (active 1972-74). The first and most famous terminal was located in a record store in Berkeley, used an ASR-33 teletype as terminal and was connected to the computer via a 110-baud (10 characters per second) line. The system allowed to leave messages, attach keywords to them and search the messages by keýwords. In essence, this was a very primitive group blog - and it even gave birth to one of the earliest Net personalities called Benway. The project was run by four early computing pioneers: Ken Colstad, Mark Szpakowski, Lee Felsenstein and Efrem Lipkin.

BBS

It all started with a snowstorm that brought unseen amounts of snow down on Chicago in January 1978. Locked in, Ward Christensen started to work on a new computer program called the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS). Initially using a 110-baud line and a single modem, this was the first of its kind to allow users to dial in and leave or browse messages.

Later, modems went up to 300 baud, then 1200 in early eighties - BBS-s became more popular. The users of the first-generation IBM PC compatible computers started a new computing subculture - PC-based home users whose main information channel was the network of BBS-s, especially Fidonet. New BBS-s sported multiple phone lines (finally going up to 33,6 and 56,6 Kbps), allowing for simultaneous use for several people or continued use during the Zone Mail Hour during which one line was to be kept free for inter-BBS messaging (in a manner similar to the Usenet principle of transfer between news servers). Main services were messaging (NetMail) and file transfer (as a message could contain a single file as an attachment). Some BBS-s were also connected to the Internet.

It is also noteworthy that the concept of shareware - the "try before you buy" software - was also first popularised in Fidonet (first famous packages included archivers like PKARC and later PKZIP).

A BBS was similar to today's social software in the sense that due to minimal protection, the system allowed almost no privacy - all information was visible to everyone (gentleman's agreements existed not to read messages addressed to someone else).


Early Web: Tim Berners-Lee and online diaries

The first person to build a web page was also the first to blog (with some reservations) - the founder of the World Wide Web wrote a special page where he echoed the ongoing development and spread of his creation. Still, he remained relatively alone until the mid-90s.

In 1994, Claudio Pinhanez started his "Open Diary" in MIT and continued it for two years. Later in the same year, another early writer started his more than a decade-long online career. Justin Hall was a student at the Swarthmore College, when he started his website titled Justin's Links from the Underground which was both a web guide and a very personal diary. He also held a Web Ethics course at Swarthmore which can be considered one of the first academic courses on what we nowadays call new media.

A 1996 book titled 24 Hours in Cyberspace is considered a major milestone in popularising online writing, another is the launch of Diarist.net and Xanga in 1998. Early bloggers often called themselves ecribitionists - from "exhibitionism" merged with Spanish escribir 'to write'.

After 1997: from weblogs to blogs

In December 1997, American thinker and computer enthusiast Jorn Barger used the term 'weblog' for the first time on his website called Robot Wisdom, to mean his notes made along with surfing the Web. In spring of 1999, Peter Merholz jokingly splits the word "weblog" into "we blog" on his peterme.com website - the "blog" quickly becomes popular both as a noun (one's blog) and a verb (one is blogging). Permalinks (links which remain unchanged even if the original posting moves into an archive) appeared in 2000, trackbacks (inter-blog links which allowed to let a blog owner know of someone referring to his/her blog) were added in 2002.

Gradually, blogs entered the territory of mainstream media - by discussing a wide range of social phenomena and increasingly reflecting daily events with speed unavailable to traditional channels (e.g. one can "blog the President's speech", i.e. react on his sentences immediately, publishing the reaction in one's blog).

The number of software meant for blogging started to rise rapidly in the first years of the 21st century. Parallelly to dedicated diary and blog sites like LiveJournal appeared free and open-source software suites (WordPress, TextPattern and many others; technically a specialised branch of content management systems) which added another functionality layer to the already popular LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl or Python) server stack. Setting up a personal blog server only took a broadband connection and an old PC running LAMP.

Finally, an important factor in the 'blog explosion' was the development of RSS (Rich Site Summary, later Real Simple Syndication) syndicating technology which was founded on the work of Netscape during the 90s but emerged as a generic XML-based syndicating standard at the turn of the century. Using RSS-based newsfeed made it possible to monitor dozens of blogs without having to surf on their websites.


Types of blog

  • By media - ordinary blogs mostly consist of text and images, with some links thrown in. But there are also linklogs for web links (today, this area seems to be covered better by social bookmarking), photoblogs for photographs, and videologs (or vlogs) for video materials. Sometimes moblogs (mobile blogs) are viewed as a separate category, although they may technically fall into one or more categories described above.
  • By genre - a blog may be a personal journal, literature review, or a dedicated political magazine. Here we find a wide spectrum of topics, editing (a single or many persons) and feedback (comments on/off) variables.
  • By status - a blog may belong to a private person, but also to a governmental agency, or a company. A company's internal blog probably discusses various problems much more openly than the official PR-oriented blog of the same company.

An interesting notion is the hybrid of a blog and a wiki - this is known as bliki (also WikiLog, Wog, WikiWeblog, Wikiblog, or Bloki). It is typically a group blog with wiki capabilities (usually a 'half-open' wiki with only a limited userbase allowed to edit). Editing the wiki part here works as commenting on traditional blogs. Like a blog, RSS (or other syndicating protocols) are used to signal changes.

Blogs vs traditional media

Many traditional journalists have mixed feelings towards blogs. On one hand, it allows one to bypass censorship and bureaucracy of some journals, so a number of well-known journalists also blog. On the other hand, some fear competition or think that bloggers disrespect copyrights and other important concepts.


Blogs and legal problems

Links