Artwork, web projects, and updates to LiamDaly.com

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A short history of blogging

Usually when people ask, I tell them I've been blogging for five or six years. And I have, in various guises, having started with Noah Grey's Greymatter. Often I regret my earlier attempts at using blogs for creative purposes rather than simply just blogging.

In fact you could argue it's much longer. In the late eighties I used scissors and glue to compile a regular printed production that I would pin up on the partition behind me in my workspace. Raiding local and international publications, and adding content of my own, together with altering photographs in the old-fashioned manual way before the verb to photoshop   existed, I would then arrange everything on a single large sheet with the titles and dates cut and pasted to credit all original sources, to create something I've now forgotten the name of.

What was that but blogging? In fact with my added verbal commentary ready for your visit, you might even say that I was podcasting. It wasn't a news aggregator, nor was it what clipmarking or social bookmarking became, but whatever it was it was certainly sad enough to illustrate that when somebody created the technology to do what was pinned up behind me, using a computer like one I was facing, I would indulge in it. I worked on a machine using strange collections of characters in green. Fonts did not exist. That was technology then. It was an exclusive world.

In the beginning it seemed like every blog I read was a version of what Boing Boing became. I visited the Eatonweb Portal. Nowadays some people refer to early blogs as if they were all personal diaries, either tortured or witty, but that was a later development as I recall.

Initially it was links. Commentary, yes, but links driven. It was a community within a community, exploring the larger one and enthusiastically sharing it. While commerce was building the web up to its ultimate bubble and bust, the evangelists for technology were using that technology to spead the word about its capabilities, and just enjoying the ability to, well, enjoy the web itself.

I think it was Pyra's release of Blogger that launched millions of diaries that were getting less and less link-driven. Like anything that's new, blogging was exciting, and like anything that's hugely successful, you lose it. When it goes mainstream you hand it over to the greater public. It is the same for every local band that goes national, or every sports team that wins for the first time - the original fans have to share, and their sense of community is destroyed by the sheer scale of success.

Not all community around blogging is dead; much of it is simply redefined. I do see it in Ireland - of which Damien is a great champion, probably because of the relatively low number of blogs, and I suspect this is the same for many countries. And in the US it has largely fragmented just like print and television media before it. I see it in the webmastering world, and the SEO world, and in their own sub worlds.

But even on a national, indeed international, scale I do see many of the most popular blogs still behaving like true believers in this medium, conducting their business - if that is why they blog - as evangelists for blogging and its associated technologies.

It's refreshing but I wonder if it's not pointless. Scoble, Michael Arrington, Zeldman, Kottke, Seth Godin, Rubel, Battelle, Om Malik, Paul Graham, Danny Sullivan, Hugh MacLeod, Matt Cutts, etc., are all so good at caring, at sharing, at indulging in a personal medium openly and honestly.

And because of their popularity they even have extra layers of hassle and therefore extra blog etiquette considerations. Is there anyone more decent that Darren Rowse? Is there a better blog story of anyone more dignified than how Frank Warren has behaved with his enormous success thrust upon him over the last year or so?

Meanwhile spam grows. Comments, capchas, trackbacks, pings, referals, Blogspot, WordPress, blogrolls, aggregators, readers, feeds, all dominated by spam. Spam 2.0 is coming. To date, marketing and technology have been comfortably together, trumpeted by evangelists for the technology of the trumpet. But a new world of cynics are melting the trumpets and selling them, and they're doing it on eBay instead of Edgeio.

What's my point? Blogging is unremarkable; Blogs are remarkable. Much like all previous media, the tool itself is so common it is not something worth championing. If everybody now blogs, or splogs, or even podcasts (or spodcasts), but don't know the rules, the unwritten understandings, what we call manners, why do those of us who grew from a community carry on as if still in a little community?

So, if I want to give something away for free - and I do - paintings - why stick with bloggers? Why not to everybody, or at least everybody who can visit a website? Some blogs are special, but it doesn't follow that bloggers are. Any ideas? You know I have great regard for your opinions, and for you.

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