The Complete Evolution Of Blogging - Everything You Need To Know
Over just a few decades, the internet went from being a research project run by the United States government and participating university professors to being perhaps the most important piece of technology we have in modern society.
Many things contributed to the meteoric rise of the internet in today's world, such as the creation of the world wide web and the first web browser, but also improved infrastructure, falling prices (in the beginning), better connection speeds, and the invention of more devices able to access the web.
However, while all of these things were certainly important to the growth of the internet, this dramatic change in the way society operates would not have taken place if people didn't find a purpose for the internet and want to use it more in their lives.
You see, the internet began as a way for academics to connect their computers and share their research more easily. This means it didn't have much practical use for most people. But a lot of this changed with the birth of blogging.
Blogging made the internet relevant to the average person.
As a content consumer, blogging gives you the chance to read something you couldn't find elsewhere - back then, TV and newspapers still covered all the news. As a content creator, a blog gives you the chance to publish your writing and share it with pretty much whoever you want.
This democratized the publication of content and helped give rise to a new facet of the public sphere, one not regulated by cultural gatekeepers such as publishing houses, news organizations, universities, governments, etc.
The freedom afforded by blogging helped give rise not only to the growth in blogging but the internet as a whole, and it's a big reason why we have things today such as social media, company blogs, and a vibrant freelancer economy.
But blogging has also opened up a debate about some key societal issues, such as freedom of speech, and these conversations will have a major impact on the future of blogging. Yet to be able to think about where blogging might go next, it's important to take a moment to understand how it got to where it is today.
Here is everything you need to know about the evolution of blogging.
Blogging in 2020
Here are some stats about blogging that should help show you how much of a cultural phenomenon it has become:
The Evolution of Blogging
Unlike other examples of evolution (which have taken place over millions of years), the evolution of blogging has taken place in the equivalent of a blink of an eye - the first blog hit screens back in 1994.
But a lot has happened in the past few decades, and almost all of it has had a tremendous impact on the world in which we live today.
The First Blogs of the Internet
With so many blogs now out there, you'd think the process of determining the first blog ever would be wrought with controversy. You'd expect there to be lots of people claiming to be the first-ever blogger.
But somewhat surprisingly, there is a general consensus that the first blog was links.net, founded by Justin Hall in 1994.
The blog, as the URL suggests, was a collection of links from around the internet that Hall posted on his site. To make it more informational, Hall included commentary next to each link so that he could talk about why he liked it, why you should check it out, and any other tidbits that made the link more interesting.
According to Hall, it was also an opportunity for him to get some of his writing "out there," but his link collecting helped to establish a trend in the early years of blogging about what a blog would be - a way for internet users to find links to interesting content.
Knowing this, it's easy to see why blogs immediately became important. They emerged before both social media and search engines, meaning for many people, finding interesting stories, alternative news, funny photos, and more meant finding a good blogger who could point you in the direction of the web's most interesting content.
This immediately gave blogs a place in digital society, and this allowed them not only to survive but to thrive throughout the 1990s as the internet became more mainstream and eventually became what it is today.
The Term Blog
The word "blog," so common in today's language, wasn't a word until the late 1990s. Credit for coining the term has gone to John Barger, who ran a popular blog called The Robot Wisdom Weblog that he launched in 1997.
His idea was to create a log of all the sites on the web he found interesting, and like all the bloggers before him, offer commentary about the links he posted to generate discussion and get people more engaged.
The term weblog became more mainstream, and as it did, people began to drop the "we" from the front, choosing instead to say just "blog."
This caught on, and now the English language has a new word.
Blogging Takes Off
The popularity of early blogs such as Barger's showed there was a place in our digital society for the voice of regular people. However, one early challenge in blogging was that you needed to know how to code HTML to be able to post content.
Most people didn't have the technical know-how to be able to do this, meaning blogging remained something not everyone could do.
This changed in 1998 as blogging platforms designed to make it super easy for regular people to post content were released to the public.
The first of these platforms was Open Diary. To start a blog on this platform, all you had to do was make an account. Open Diary helped push blogging forward as it allowed members to comment on other people's posts, helping to create a more interactive blogging experience.
This added feature helped bloggers better connect, and it also contributed to the growth of a vibrant blogging community, which helped the movement grow even more and become what it is today.
LiveJournal was another important platform that came around at the time, but perhaps the most influential was Blogger, which was launched in 1999.
At first, Blogger worked much in the same way as Open Diary, but after it was acquired by Google in 2003, they made it free. This opened up blogging to many more people and helped turn it into a cultural phenomenon.
The Introduction of WordPress
Early on, after the launch of Blogger, most people blogging at the time were using one of these platforms. However, at the same time, a new platform was being developed that would take over the blog world and carry us through to today: WordPress.
Like Blogger, WordPress was launched to help make it easier to start and run a blog. However, WordPress changed things because it's open-sourced software. This means no one "owns" it. The code is written by developers who simply want to make it easier for people to run a blog. It's updated frequently by these same "volunteers" and it has always been free.
WordPress also changed things because it allowed webmasters to do more. Plugins, which are additional pieces of software that allow a blogger to do more things, such as display content in new ways or make content more interactive, have been an important part of the WordPress experience since the beginning, and it remains that way today.
Furthermore, WordPress is more than just a blog platform. It's a Content Management System (CMS), which means it can handle lots of different types of content, such as images, videos, and more.
All of these new features helped transform the blog into what it is today, and while Blogger was the top choice for internet writers in the beginning, WordPress has firmly supplanted it. To give you an idea, consider how the CMS market looks today; WordPress dominates and Blogger is nowhere to be found.
A New Type of Blog
These new platforms, which made it easier for more people to start and run a blog, also helped bring about a change in the substance of blogs from simple lists about links with commentary to long-form, introspective journal entries.
Blogs became a way for regular people to express themselves more deeply and more openly than they had before, and this helped make the blog into what it is today. People began writing about almost anything, and while it was no guarantee you would find readers, even some of the most specific/obscure blogs managed to find an audience.
As a result, blogs became far more versatile and trusted. People began turning to blogs for tips and advice, news, information, education, tutorials, and much more.
This diversity helped give rise to more bloggers, who made the blogosphere (the term used to describe the wide world of blogs) include even more writers and readers, helping the community grow even more.
The early days of blogging helped lay the foundation for what we have today. It established the platforms and turned people on to the idea of posting their own content to the web. However, the blogging that goes on today is much different than the first examples of blogging from the 1990s.
But the differences between the original blogs and the blogs we have today demonstrate the staying power of the blog.
Of course, it will continue to evolve as we move forward, but it will most certainly take on new, more exciting forms. To show you what we mean, consider some of the variations of blogging that are around today.
While there has never been a minimum word count to consider a blog a blog, it has been the trend from the beginning that a blog is long-form prose.
However, for many people interested in keeping a blog, this made things difficult because our busy schedules often keep us from sitting down to write regularly. Only the most dedicated of individuals managed to carve time out to keep a blog.
Enter microblogging. It is essentially the same thing as blogging in that it allows people to share their thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. with the online community, and receive response and commentary to it, but it's different in that it focuses on shorter content.
The two sites most known for this are Twitter and Tumblr. Twitter, launched in 2006, was unique in that it limited people to 140 characters, meaning they had to be as concise as possible when sharing something on the web. Now, the limit is 280 characters, but the core purpose remains the same.
Some people might argue that Twitter is not a blogging site but rather social media however as we'll discuss later, these two are very similar concepts, and it's hard to imagine either succeeding without the other.
It's true microblogging blurs the line between the two, but this just shows even more how much blogging has evolved over the years.
The Video Blog
Another variation of the blog that came out in the early 2000s and has taken off is the video blog. These blogs are very similar to traditional blogs, but, as the name suggests, posts are videos instead of blocks of texts.
This obviously allows the blogger to do much more, and to create more visual and engaging content.
The first known example of a video blog appeared in 2004 when bloggers started posting video content to their sites. However, video blogging really took off in 2005/2006 when YouTube was launched.
This made it super easy for people to upload and share their video blogs. This transformed the blog, and the success of videoblogging helped turn YouTube into one of the most visited websites in the entire world.
Business Blogs and the Blogosphere
Unsurprisingly, the popularity of blogging and social media, in general, has caught the attention of the business world. Many businesses now use a blog as a means of communicating with customers, assisting them with frequent issues they might have with the company's product or service, and also building a brand.
Blogs are useful to companies because the business who runs it has complete ownership over the content that's produced. This allows companies to take better control over their image and spread the right messages about their brand.
Blogging and the News
Over the years, blogs have also become more and more trusted, with some of them even turning into full-fledged news organizations. A great example of this is the Huffington Post, which started as a blog and has turned into a nationally recognized news source.
Nowadays, many blogs function as an alternative to the mainstream media, covering stories and issues that often get ignored by the big news outlets. Of course, because anyone who wants to write a blog can do so, immediately assuming what you read on a blog is true is a dangerous game.
However, when blogging first started, the general rule was to assume everything was false. But now, blogs hold a higher place in society, and more and more people turn to them to either get the news of the day or a fresh take on current events.
How Blogging Has Changed Our World
Clearly, blogging has changed quite a bit over the years. However, the changes in format and style haven't really changed the core function of a blog. Blogs remain a place for people to create and post the content they want, and they continue to be a source of entertainment for internet users all around the world.
That blogs have become so popular in a relatively short period and survived so many changes speaks to the durability of the platform. Blogs help satisfy the fundamental human need to connect with other human beings, and they have also helped contribute to the growth of the online world.
Here are some examples of how blogging, and its evolution, have changed our world forever.
New Jobs: Full-Time Bloggers and Freelancers
Bloggers found out they could make money from their blogs early on in the development of the internet. Dedicated and successful bloggers began earning money by promoting products, selling advertisements, writing books based on blogs, and more. This helped make "blogger" a legitimate profession, and countless individuals have been, and still are, able to earn a living off running a blog.
However, as more and more blogs have appeared on the internet, it has become increasingly difficult for bloggers to earn a living on their own, especially upstart bloggers who need to find an entire audience.
But existing blogs, or those associated with companies, need people to update them and continue making new content. This has opened up more opportunities for people interested in blogging to make money doing just that. Yet blogging gives more than just writers the chance to make money. Blogs need graphic designers, web developers, editors, and much more to operate, and this has created jobs that didn't exist just twenty years ago.
One of the big draws to working in the blogosphere is that you can do it from anywhere, and you can do it for multiple clients. This allows people more freedom and flexibility than perhaps any other job, and this has proven to be a major draw for people from all over.
This type of work, known as freelancing, is becoming more and more popular, and blogging has played an important role in this trend. Here is a look at the growth of freelancing over the years, and as the world continues to go digital, we can likely expect this to continue.
Blogs and Social Media
There is no way to accurately describe the enormity of the impact social media has had on our world.
Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and more, we are more connected than we ever have been before. Social media has also helped bring people closer together, and it has given businesses both big and small the chance to reach new audiences and grow.
However, we can easily make the argument that blogging was the first social media. It helped the internet transition from a closed community made up of mostly academics to one of regular people sharing themselves with the world.
Without blogging, it's hard to imagine a world in which it is normal to update all your friends and family with photos of your vacation, or where you can rant about the politics of the day to complete strangers.
Whether or not this is a good thing is for you to decide. But it's hard to ignore the impact blogging has had on our lives and the world as a whole.
Freedom of Speech
In addition to changing how we communicate and connect, blogging has also helped advance the discussion about freedom of speech.
Blogs allow people to publish whatever they want. They don't need to wait for someone else to publish their work. Free speech advocates use this as an example of how the internet makes us freer, and it's why they fight any internet regulations that limit people's ability to express themselves.
However, as we have seen in recent years with the fake news phenomenon as well as cyberbullying, this freedom can cause great harm. Some argue this means there needs to be more of a filter online, with major organizations such as Facebook responding by saying it would remove some content from news feeds.
In a way, this points to the fact that modern debates about civil liberties are taking place online, which means those fighting to keep these rights alive will need to pay close attention to what goes on in the blogosphere and the rest of the digital world.
The Future of Blogging
There is no way to tell where the blogosphere will go from here. In just the past 25 years, blogs have gone from being small lists of links with commentaries to full-fledged businesses and so much more.
However, the core function of a blog has remained the same: it's a platform for people to express themselves.
It's quite unlikely people will stop wanting to express themselves, and this means we can expect the blog to remain in our lives for the foreseeable future. But considering how much things have changed since the early days of the internet, the sky is the limit for the future of blogging.