The history of blogging founding-myths — based solely on what I can remember off the top of my head

(Illustration: Little known fact — The Ten Commandments were first called “The Ten Posts,” however due to some server problems, the first version crashed and Moses renamed it when he blogged them the second time.)

I could not agree more with the Mike Arrington, who wrote today, Will Someone Who Actually Cares About Blogging Please Write the History Of it? An article in the Wall Street Journal Weekend — a nice piece that shines a glow of credibility on blogging — became the target of a some ever-looping “history of blogging” meme. As the publisher of a magazine that has a significant editorial emphasis on history, I can tell you that one thing is certain: there is no one history of anything. Every participant in any event has their own point-of-view of the event — and all are probably correct — at least somewhat — from their personal perspective.

I’m especially finding it humorous that part of today’s debate is pointing to the Wikipedia version of the history of blogging, as if it is the definitive source on that topic. Frankly, it is just such a topic: one related to a tech-oriented topic on which lots of geeks have agendas to advance or grudges to pay-back, where Wikipedia is at its worst. When the topic is politics or technology or religion, please, don’t even refer to Wikipedia, much less cite it in an attempt to win an argument. Also, and this is what makes it so ironic to cite Wikipedia on a topic like this: The founders of Wikipedia can’t even agree on the history of Wikipedia, or, for that matter, even agree on who the founders include. So, that such a broad movement as “blogging” would have dozens of founding-myths should not surprise anyone.

I do believe that the founding fathers and mothers — and both genders are represented — of what we today call weblogs should each write their interpretation of how blogging got started. They should care that their facet of the story is at least recorded. Perhaps someone should create a wiki where all of these personal-histories can be collected to be used by researchers and historians.

In addition to “the first blogger,” it would be interesting to then note the first bloggers who did specific things (blog from a warzone, political convention, outer-space) — that could open up years of debates.

Come to think of it, I think everyone should write their own version of the history of blogging. Or, how they remember it. Maybe just the history of their own blog — or maybe the history of how they think blogging started. Or the history of how they first read a blog.

Here’s my personal version of the history of blogging. I say “personal version” because, like with any history, it’s all about point-of-view. Everyone sees history from a different vantage point. There is no ONE history. So, here’s mine. It is based on absolutely no research — except I did Google a date or two.

1. As I recall, there were things like blogs before there were blogs. People had websites on which they regularly posted new entries with links to new things on the Internet back in 1993. Even before that, there were things like blogs dating back to pre-historic times. Add an RSS feed to caveman drawings and you have Flickr.

2. In 1994, the Drudge Report started as an email newsletter and later became a website that looked exactly like it still does. It was like a blog as it, well, had links to stories appearing on newspaper websites and a long list of links that is sort of what we’d now call a blogroll. Matt Drudge has steadfastly refused to call the Drudge Report a blog, and, frankly, he shouldn’t, because it’s not. In the history of the beginning of blogging, this makes Matt Drudge unique, as everyone else who was doing anything like a blog in the middle 1990s, today wants to say it was the first weblog. Matt Drudge, who could lay claim to the title of first blogger with some fairly convincing arguments — at least better than others — is still insulted when his site is referred to as such. Go figure.

3. In 1995, a website called Suck.com came along that was maintained by Joey Anuff and Carl Steadman. It may not have been called a blog, but it is — again, this is my version of the history of blogging — the DNA of hyperlinked snark. The inside-web-irony, link-as-punchline, mini-celebrity-obsession was all there. I know bloggers who are still trying to mimic it.

4. As this is my version of blogging history, I’ll throw in this tidbit: in April and May of 1996, Will Weaver (the now famous e-mail marketing entrepreneur) and I maintained a website called “The Unofficial Vote Yes Website.” For 40 days, each day I posted new information about a referendum in Nashville that was a part of the funding package for a new stadium. The referendum became, in effect, a referendum on whether or not the city should provide a piece of the financing puzzle necessary to move an NFL team to the city. Each day, there was a new post, and it was in reverse chronology order — the most recent post appeared at the top of the page. I think it is backed up on a disk somewhere, but it is long-gone from the web. I am certain it is the first Nashville-related political-campaign website. And, since only Will Weaver and I can probably remember the details of the site, we can claim it was very much a blog.

5. Did I say there have been things like blogs before there were blogs. I can’t tell you how many blog-like things I used to subscribe to in the early 1990s. I say “subscribe to” because almost all of them were posted on the Internet and also distributed via listservs or usenet forums. Are we all suffering from amnesia? Before we had browsers, we used software called “newsreaders” to access usenet forums. On those forums, very blog-like things took place.

6. One of those things like blogging that occurred was a really out-going and Truman-esque (the Jim Carey movie character, not the President) guy named Justin Hall started and maintained an online daily diary for 11 years. He didn’t call it a weblog. However, it had daily postings. Have you ever met or heard Justin speak? I did last year at SxSW. He’s one of the most dynamic and entertaining — and funny — people I’ve encountered in the tech-world. Just based on his likability, I think he deserves a really big star on the blogging walk of fame.

7. About that time, there were lots of diaries inspired by Justin, even parody sites. (Have I mentioned how great Justin is?) I remember one that was written in the persona of a redneck ignoramus that hurt my ribs from laughing whenever I read it. I think the guy lived in a trailer with his deranged grandfather. Anyone remember that? Is it archived somewhere? I think the guy who wrote it later became Fake Steve Jobs.

8. Now, somewhere around 1997, there’s this fuzzy part of the history of blogging where several things happened and, depending on who is the one telling the story, something actually called blogging began. For some reason, different factions have coalesced around different versions of this story.

9. If I were in charge of the story telling, at this point — around 1997 — I would say several things happened that turned all of that website posting and linking and Justin Hall-wannabe diarists and link-rollers into what we now know as a weblog. You know how there was video on the web before there was YouTube, but YouTube made posting and viewing video easy for everyone. In a similar way, there was diary-keeping and daily-postings and linkings before weblogs, but when they all came together, that’s when what we know today as a weblog, began. Those things include the inclusion of several features and conventions as:

a. A content management backend that makes posting to a website as easy as sneezing.

b. A web-application that allows anyone, after a few clicks, to set up a weblog and start publishing.

c. Reverse-chronology postings — the most recent news is displayed at the top of the page

d. Permalinks that allow someone else to link to a specific post, not just to a webpage

e. Syndication: The ability to distribute posts to anyone who subscribes to an XML feed (RSS or Atom)
of each post to the blog.

f. Comments: the ability to allow readers to add comments to a specific post

10. A big part of what makes weblogs weblogs is a thing called a ping server — a notification service whereby weblogs alert a system when they change. As this service is what enabled such services as Technorati to exist and still, today, serve as a central clearing house for services that aggregate web posts, it plays a central part in the history of blogging. I have no idea when (but the people who did it may read this), but somewhere back around 1997 or 1998, such ping servers were set up and that enabled bloggers to start tracking one-another and linking to one-another and debating one-another and echo-chambering one-another…all the things that make blogging different than what was before.

11. One of these ping services was set up by Dave Winer at the URL “weblogs.com.” Also at that URL was a blog-hosting service called Userland and a blog publishing web application called Manila. By the way, on the Wikipedia entry about the history of blogging, none of that is mentioned as those who camp out on that entry seem compelled to pretend Dave had nothing to do with the history of blogging’s founding.

12. On April 1, 1997, Dave Winer cranked up Scripting.com, a website where he started using all those conventions we now think should be a part of a weblog. Dave also helped to create, pioneer or evangelize the following: RSS, RSS of posts, RSS newsreaders, RSS file attachments that enable podcasting, podcasting itself and many of the types of conventions and features we now think of as “a blog.” He also cajoled Doc Searls into blogging and that’s who inspired me to blog — which has nothing to do with the big history of blogging, but, hey, this is my version, alright.

13. In December of 1997, Jorn Barger started a website called Robot Wisdom and he called it a “weblog.” He is credited with coining the term by the Oxford Dictionary.

14. The word “weblog” — as in “web log” got shortened later by Peter Merholz.

15. After that, lots of stuff happened, like, for example Evan Williams created Blogger, the service that Google now owns and the service that everyone’s “first blog” is created on. And then, everything just languished until my friend Nick Bradbury created the RSS newsreader, FeedDemon. (Remember, this is my history of the beginning of blogs, so I decided to include my friend, Nick.)

16. And that, friends, is the definitive version of the history of weblogs based on no research except what I think I remember reading one time.