“It’s been 10 years since the blog was born,” said a Wall Street Journal headline on Saturday. The article that followed declared, “We are approaching a decade since the first blogger — regarded by many to be Jorn Barger — began his business of hunting and gathering links…”
The article admits that “The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises” — but it barely lifts a finger to try to sort out the truth. Writer Tunku Varadarajan really wouldn’t have had to look very far: Declan McCullagh’s CNET piece earlier this year was not perfect, but it got a lot more of the story right than Varadarajan did.
Who be these “many” who regard Barger as the first blogger? Can Varadarajan name a single one? Barger’s Robot Wisdom was indeed the first site to call itself a “Weblog.” (“Blog” came later, via Peter Merholz.) But Barger was nowhere near the first person to create a Web page with frequent updates sorted in reverse chronological order — if you wish to define “blog” on the basis of that key design feature. Dave Winer’s Scripting News was going full bore well before Barger’s site started up; Winer, in turn was preceded by semi-bloggish sites like Ric Ford’s Macintouch.
Others choose to define blogging more in terms of content. (None of them names Barger as the first blogger, either.) The problem is that, from this angle, too, there are multiple roots: blogs are commonly vehicles for self-revelation — so maybe Justin Hall, the inspiring pioneer of link-filled Web diaries, was the ur-blogger. But others see the heart of blogging as being the assembly of a list of annotated links — in which case the first blog might well be, as Dave Winer has said, Tim Berners-Lee’s very first web page at CERN. (Similarly, Marc Andreessen jokes that the original NCSA “What’s New” page from 1993 was his first blog.) Then there are those who see blogs primarily as fast-moving sources for news and rumors; these people (I tend to disagree with them, but they’re out there) will typically point to Matt Drudge as a blogging progenitor.
Still, I think there’s a lot of needless effort being dedicated toward a pointless goal — the identification of a “first” that is really only of use to old-fashioned editors eager to fill slow-news days with anniversary features.
The hunt for “the first blog” or “the day blogging started” will be in vain. Like many significant phenomena in our world, blogging does not have a single point of origin. Blogging as we know it today slowly accreted from multiple input streams. It’s a set of practices built around a set of tools, and the practices and tools co-evolved. There are a handful of central figures in the story. They’re all important. Why argue about “firsts” when the thing whose first instance you are hunting down is impossible to strictly define?
The Journal piece, which included brief essays by a dozen celebrities and high-profile bloggers, tilts heavily toward the political wing of the blogosphere, which is only one galaxy in this continuously expanding multiple universe. That distortion is perhaps understandable from a newspaper that lies at the nexus of conservative American power and money. But, sheesh, ye Journal-ites, you ought to get your facts right.
Ironically, the Journal’s biggest-name essayist, Tom Wolfe, arrogantly dismisses the blogosphere for its “narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information.'” His chief complaint, oddly, is aimed not at blogs at all but at Wikipedia, which apparently contains an anecdote about him that he says is false (I should say “contained” — the page has of course been updated based on his complaint).
Blogs, Wikipedia, what’s the difference? To Tom, it’s all that crazy stuff on the Internet, and to hell with it. Plainly, we should forget about what we read online and trust titans like the Journal — they’re so rock-solid reliable on the facts!
[tags]blogs, blogging, web history[/tags]
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