History of Blogs and Blogging,Long Journey For Modern World

Leave a Comment

Blogs have become an integral part of online culture. Practically everyone reads blogs now, whether they’re “official” news blogs associated with traditional news media, topic-based blogs related to one’s work or hobbies, or blogs purely for entertainment, just about anyone you ask has at least one favorite blog. Online diarists started blogs long before the word entered the American lexicon, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise origins of blogging as a practice. However, from those early days of unattractive formatting and clunky navigation, blogging has evolved and progressed as more voices join the chorus.

The Image is updated on 11/11/2011

The First Bloggers

Some say Swarthmore College student Justin Hall published the first blog. He taught himself HTML and launched Links.net, a personal diary consisting of links to other pages Hall found illuminating as well as observations on his daily life. But it wasn’t always so. Blogs have a relatively short history, even when compared with the history of the Internet itself.

And it’s only in the past five to ten years that they’ve really taken off and become an important part of the online landscape.


It’s generally recognized that the first blog was Links.net, created by Justin Hall, while he was a Swarthmore College student in 1994. Of course, at that time they weren’t called blogs, and he just referred to it as his personal homepage.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the term “weblog” was coined. The word’s creation has been attributed to Jorn Barger, of the influential early blog Robot Wisdom. The term was created to reflect the process of “logging the web” as he browsed. 1998 marks the first known instance of a blog on a traditional news site, when Jonathan Dube blogged Hurricane Bonnie for The Charlotte Observer.

“Weblog” was shortened to “blog” in 1999 by programmer Peter Merholz. It’s not until five years later that Merriam-Webster declares the word their word of the year.

The original blogs were updated manually, often linked from a central home page or archive. This wasn’t very efficient, but unless you were a programmer who could create your own custom blogging platform, there weren’t any other options to begin with.

During these early years, a few different “blogging” platforms cropped up. LiveJournal is probably the most recognizable of the early sites.

And then, in 1999, the platform that would later become Blogger was started by Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan at Pyra Labs. Blogger is largely responsible for bringing blogging to the mainstream.


The early 2000s were a period of growth for blogs. In 1999, according to a list compiled by Jesse James Garrett, there were 23 blogs on the internet. By the middle of 2006, there were 50 million blogs according to Technorati‘s State of the Blogosphere report. To say that blogs experienced exponential growth is a bit of an understatement.

Political blogs were some of the most popular early blogs. Some political candidates started using blogs during this time period, including Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.

One important event in the rise of blogging was when bloggers focused on the comments U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said regarding U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 2002. Lott, while praising Thurmond, stated that the U.S. would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected President in 1948. During that race, Thurmond was a strong supporter of racial segregation (though his position changed later in his political career). The mainstream media didn’t pick up on the comments and their potential implications until after bloggers broke the story.

In-depth topic blogs were also becoming more popular during this time. They often delved much deeper into current news and pop culture than mainstream media sources, in addition to commenting directly on what traditional media was reporting.

By 2001, there was enough interest in blogging that some how-to articles and guides started cropping up. Now, “meta blogs” (blogs about blogging) make up a sizable portion of the most popular and successful blogs out there.

A number of popular blogs got their start in the early 2000s, including Boing Boing, Dooce, Gizmodo, Gawker (the first major gossip blog to launch), Wonkette, and the Huffington Post. Weblogs, Inc. was started by Jason Calacanis in 2003, and was then sold to AOL for $25 million. It was that sale that helped to cement blogs as a force to be reckoned with rather than just a passing fad.

A couple of major blogging platforms got their start in the early 2000s. Version 1.0 of Movable Type was released in September of 2001.

WordPress was started in 2003, though parts of its development date back to 2001. TypePad was also released in 2003, based on Movable Type.

Some peripheral services to the blogosphere also started in the early 2000s. Technorati, the first major blog search engine, was launched in 2002. Audioblogger, the first major podcasting service, was founded in 2003. The first video blogs started in 2004, more than a year before YouTube was founded.

Also launched in 2003 was the AdSense advertising platform, which was the first ad network to match ads to the content on a blog. AdSense also made it possible for bloggers without huge platforms to start making money from when they first started blogging (though payments to low-traffic blogs weren’t very large).

Once bloggers started making money from their blogs, the number of meta blogs skyrocketed. Bloggers like Darren Rowse (of Problogger.net and Digital-Photography-School.net) and John Chow made sizable amounts of money telling other bloggers how they could turn blogging into a full-time career.

One early event that highlighted the rising importance of blogs was the firing of Heather Armstrong, the blogger behind Dooce, for comments posted on her blog regarding her employer. This event happened in 2002, and sparked a debate over privacy issues, that still hasn’t been sufficiently put to rest by 2011.

“Dooced” became a slang term to describe being fired from one’s job for something you’ve written on your blog, and has made appearances in Urban Dictionary, and even on Jeopardy!


By the mid-2000s, blogs were reaching the mainstream. In January of 2005, a study was released saying that 32 million Americans read blogs. At the time, it’s more than ten percent of the entire population. The same year, Garrett M. Graff was granted White House press credentials, the first blogger ever to do so.

A number of mainstream media sites started their own blogs during the mid to late 2000s, or teamed up with existing blogs to provide additional coverage and commentary. By 2004, political consultants, candidates, and mainstream news organizations all began using blogs more prominently. They provided the perfect vehicle for broadcasting editorial opinion and reaching out to readers and viewers.

Mainstream media sources are also teaming up with existing blogs and bloggers, rather than just setting out on their own. Take, for example, the regular posts on CNN.com from Mashable editors and writers. Another good example is the purchase of TechCrunch and associated blogs by AOL, which, while not a traditional media source, is one of the oldest internet companies still in existence.

During this time, the number of blogs grew even more, with more than 152 million blogs active by the end of 2010. Virtually every mainstream news source now has at least one blog, as do many corporations and individuals.


A lot of people only think of Twitter when they think of microblogging, but there are other microblog (also called tumblog) platforms that allow for a more traditional type of blogging experience, while also allowing for the social networking features of Twitter (like following other bloggers).

Tumblr was the first major site to offer this kind of service, starting in 2007. They allow for a variety of different post types, unlike traditional blogging services, which have a one-size-fits-all post format (that allows users to format their posts however they want, including adding multimedia objects).

It also makes it easier for users to reblog the content of others, or to like individual posts (sort of like Facebook’s “like” feature).

Posterous is another, similar service. Launched in 2008, Posterous allows bloggers to set up a simple blog via email, and then submit content either via their online editor or by email.

Posterous is sometimes considered more of a lifestreaming app than a blogging platform, thought it’s technically both.


Eight to ten years ago, blogs were becoming the primary point of communication for individuals online. But with the advent of social media and social networking in the past five years, blogs have become only one portion of an individual’s online persona.

Vlogs and podcasts have also taken on a bigger role in the blogosphere, with a lot of bloggers opting to use primarily multimedia content. Services that cater to these kinds of posts (like Tumblr and Posterous) are likely to keep growing in popularity.

With new services like Quora coming onto the market, there’s the possibility that the blogosphere will shrink, and more people will turn to sites like these to get information. But services like Quora also provide valuable tools for bloggers, as they give insight into what people really want to know about a topic.

Blogs are unlikely to go anywhere in the foreseeable future. But there’s a lot of room for growth and innovation in method in which their content is found, delivered, and accessed.

Others credit the blog’s genesis to self-described computer geek Jorn Barger. After years of contributing to the Usenet network, he launched a website called Robot Wisdom in 1997 and coined the term weblog (or “web logging”), which originally morphed into the more shortened term “blog.”

Defining The Blog

A weblog or blog is defined as “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites,” according to Dictionary.com. It’s usually published in reverse-chronological order, which means the latest posts appear first.

Initially, bloggers published text-heavy posts about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Most blogs featured one writer (the original author) and focused on personal observations.

Blogging Software

The first blogs were hand-coded by their authors. However, the advent of blogging software took most of the heavy work away from bloggers and allowed them to focus on content creation.

In 1999, Pyra Labs launched a free blog-creation service called Blogger. The web-based software allowed anyone with an Internet connection to create and populate a blog on their own terms.

Other platforms followed, such as WordPress and Typepad. Some, like WordPress, allowed users to download the software and upload it onto their own servers for use on a separate domain.

Redefining The Blog

The evolution from the first blogs to the current ones is as dramatic as the evolution of the typewriter to the modern tablet. As time passed, blogs transitioned once again into tools for businesses and professionals. They provided corporations with the opportunity to connect with their audiences and attract more traffic. They also served as promotional tools for creative professionals.

Blogging platforms introduced the option for multi-author blogs. In other words, several people could post to a single blog using different usernames, passwords, biographies, and photos.

Monetizing Blogs

Though bloggers used their blogs as promotional tools for years, the advent of automated monetization transformed the blogging landscape yet again. Google Adsense launched in March 2003, matching advertisers with bloggers and other content creators.

Bloggers turned to other methods of monetization, as well, such as creating affiliate relationships with businesses and writing sponsored posts. Blogs became a staple of most websites – sometimes serving as the whole site, but more often as a component of a larger publication.

Big Names in Blogs

Over the years, several big-named bloggers have established loyal followings, generated significant income, and established conventions of the genre. Heather Armstrong, for example, got fired from her job because of anecdotes she posted on her highly popular blog, Dooce. The subsequent furor over her firing led to the word “Dooced” becoming synonymous with “fired for blogging.”

Gawker and other gossip-heavy blogs enjoy immense popularity, as do blogs dedicated to social and political commentary, such as those found on Huffington Post and the Drudge Report.

The history of blogging is littered with abandoned publications and cautionary tales, but it also presents a unique and fascinating world for eager content creators. 

Read More

Blogging Technology Effects on Common people in 2004

Leave a Comment
Weblogs (“blogs”), frequently modified webpages containing individual entries displayed in reverse chronological sequence, are the latest mode of computer-mediated communication (CMC) to attain widespread popularity. As with other new CMC technologies, blogs have been hailed as democratizing—any literate person can self-publish content in a blog, and reach an audience of potentially millions, for little or no cost. Moreover, the success of individual blogs in attracting readers and influencing opinion depends less on their formal credentials than on the quality of their ideas and their writing (what Winer, 2003, calls their "voice"). Certainly blog authors are numerous: In the five years since the introduction of the first free web-based blogging tools (Pitas and Blogger; Blood, 2002b), the number of people creating and maintaining blogs has grown exponentially, from fewer than 100 to over four million (Henning, 2003).

Blogging Technology Effects on Common people in 2004 

Anecdotal accounts also suggest that they are diverse: the mainstream media have reported on popular blogs authored by individuals as varied as university adjuncts, dark horse candidates for political office, and a gay Iraqi dissident (McCarthy, 2003). As yet, however, there has been little empirical examination of the claim that blogs are “democratic,” or those blog authors represent diverse demographic groups.

Fifteen years ago, a similar claim was advanced with respect to Internet discussion forums and chat rooms. Text-based CMC was purported to be inherently democratizing, enabling anyone with access to participate, liberated from traditional biases associated with gender, age, race, social class, (dis)ability, and physical attractiveness (Graddol & Swann, 1989). Subsequent research revealed, however, that the demographics of actual forum participants were strongly skewed towards adult, white, English-speaking, technically-savvy males (Herring, 1992, 1993; Kramarae & Taylor, 1993). As recently as 1992, Lee Sproull (quoted in Kramarae & Taylor, 1993) estimated that only 5% of participants in Usenet newsgroups were female. It was not until the rise in popularity of Internet service providers and the introduction of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s that Internet access became available to a broader demographic spectrum, and that women started going online in numbers similar to men (Herring, 2003a). The history of online discussion forums thus shows that a “democratizing” technology does not automatically result in social equality, and points to the importance of social and cultural factors surrounding technology adoption and use.

What, then, of weblogs? An initial consideration of the demographics of blog authors reveals an apparent paradox. Quantitative studies report as many (or more, depending on what one counts as a blog) female as male blog authors, and as many (or more) young people as adults (Henning, 2003; Orlowski, 2003), suggesting a diverse population of bloggers as regards gender and age representation. At the same time, as will be shown, contemporary discourses about weblogs, such as those propagated through the mainstream media, in scholarly communication, and in weblogs themselves, tend to disproportionately feature adult, male bloggers. This inconsistency led us to ask: what are the actual demographics of blog authors, determined according to what criteria? If significant numbers of female and teen bloggers exist, how can their relative absence from public discourses about weblogs be explained?

In this essay, we draw on methods of content analysis to establish both sides of the paradox, and advance an explanation for it. Specifically, we propose that the apparent gender and age bias in contemporary discourses about weblogs arises in part as a result of focus on a particular blog type, the so-called “filter” blog, which is produced mostly by adult males. We argue that by privileging filter blogs and thereby implicitly evaluating the activities of adult males as more interesting, important and/or newsworthy than those of other blog authors, public discourses about weblogs marginalize the activities of women and teen bloggers, thereby indirectly reproducing societal sexism and ageism, and misrepresenting the fundamental nature of the weblog phenomenon. We conclude by advocating a broader characterization of weblogs that takes into account the activities of a majority of blog authors, and more research on weblogs produced by women and teens.

The remainder of the essay is organized as follows. The next section presents quantitative evidence concerning the gender and age breakdown of contemporary blog authors. Based on this evidence, an interpretive argument is advanced and illustrated with observations from public discourses about blogs in multiple domains. Weblogs produced by women and teens are then considered in their own terms, followed by a discussion and conclusions that explore the implications of the observations presented.
Gender and Age of Blog Authors

Guernsey (2002) claims, on the basis of informal observation, that 40-50% of bloggers are women. At least one report (Orlowski, 2003) goes further, asserting that a majority of bloggers are teenage girls. What percentage of blog authors are females and teens? To address this question, we conducted a gender- and age-focused content analysis of a random sample of 357 blogs collected from the largest available blog tracking site, blo.gs. The site tracks blogs hourly from four sources: antville.org, blogger.com, pitas.com, and weblogs.com (the last of which itself draws from multiple sources). We collected blogs twice, six months apart, as part of a larger ongoing longitudinal analysis of the weblog genre. At the times of our data collection, in March 2003 and in September 2003, the blo.gs site was tracking a total of roughly 350,00 and 700,000 blogs, respectively. We used the site's “random” selection feature to collect two samples from these totals: the first containing 203 blogs, and the second containing 154 blogs.

Our goal in selecting these 357 blogs was to represent clear exemplars of the weblog genre. First, we did not sample from hosting sites such as LiveJournal or DiaryLand, in as much as they self-identified at the time more as journals or diaries than as weblogs.We also excluded blogs with no text in the first entry, blogs that had not been updated within two weeks, and blog software used for non-blog purposes, since relatively few such blogs were identified by the blo.gs random selection feature, and could be assumed to be less prototypical. This resulted in a sample comprised exclusively of active, text-based weblogs.

Gender of blog authors was determined by names, graphical representations (if present), and the content of the blog entries (e.g., reference to “my husband” resulted in a “female” gender classification, assuming other indicators were consistent). Age of blog authors was determined by information explicitly provided by the authors (e.g., in profiles) or inferred from the content of the blog entries (e.g., reference to attending high school resulted in a “teen” age classification).[3] The gender of the blog author was evident in 94%, and the age of the author in 90%, of the blogs in the combined samples.

The results of the analysis of gender and age indicators reveal that the numbers of males and females, and of adults and teens, are roughly equal, especially in the later sub-sample. This is summarized in Table 1 (for gender) and Table 2 (for age).[4]

March 2003
September 2003
100 (54%)
64 (48%)
164 (52%)
84 (46%)
68 (52%)
152 (48%)
184 (100%)
132 (100%)
316 (100%)
Table 1. Gender of Blog Authors

Age was coded into two categories for the earlier sample (adult and teen, operationalized as less than 20 years of age). For the later sample, we added an “emerging adult” category for authors between the ages of 20 and 25 (cf. Arnett, 2000), based on our impression after coding the first sample that many “adult” blog authors were in their early 20's.

March 2003
September 2003
111 (60%)
49 (37%)
160 (51%)[5]
33 (25%)
33 (10%)
73 (40%)
50 (38%)
123 (39%)
184 (100%)
132 (100%)
316 (100%)
Table 2. Age of Blog Authors

Males and females are distributed unequally across the age categories, as shown in Figure 1 (for the earlier sample) and Figure 2 (for the later sample). That is, there are more female than male “teens,” and more male than female “adults.” Participation by gender is equal only in the “emerging adult” category in the later sample.

Figure 1. Gender and Age of Blog Authors in March Sample (single-authored blogs)

Figure 2. Gender and Age of Blog Authors in September Sample (single-authored blogs)

There is also a skewed distribution of the gender and age of blog authors in relation to blog type. In a recent study, Herring, Scheidt, Bonus and Wright (2004) found evidence of three basic types of weblogs: the content of filters is external to the blogger (links to world events, online happenings, etc.), while the content of personal journals is internal (the blogger's thoughts and internal workings), and k(nowledge)-logs are repositories of information and observations with a typically technological focus. In the present study, we coded each blog in the sample as journal, filter, k-log, or mixed (a combination of two or all of the first three types).[6] The results for the two sub-samples combined, broken down by age and gender of blog author, are presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Blog Type by Gender and Age of Authors (single-authored blogs)

Figure 3 shows that gender and age vary in the sample according to blog type. The journal type is dominated by teen females (and is favored by females in general), whereas adult males predominate in the creation of filter-type (e.g., news and politics-oriented) blogs and k-logs, as well as in the “mixed” category, which necessarily includes either filter or k-log content. At the same time, Figure 3 reveals an overwhelmingly greater frequency of personal journal-type blogs than of any other blog type. At 71% of the total number of blogs in the sample, the personal journal is the most popular type in every demographic category.

The preponderance of personal journals, and the large number of blogs maintained by teenage girls, in particular, are striking given that our sample did not include popular online journal hosting sites such as LiveJournal. Including such sites more than doubles the number of “blogs” available, and increases the number of female and young bloggers. A study released in October 2003 by the Perseus Development Corporation of blogs created on the services Blog-City, BlogSpot, Diaryland, LiveJournal, Pitas, TypePad, Weblogger and Xanga estimated that of 4.12 million hosted blogs, 56% were created by females and 52.8% by people under the age of 20, with an additional 39.6% being created by young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 (Henning, 2003). These data provide further evidence of a correlation between female gender, youth, and the personal journal blog type.
The Discursive Construction of Weblogs

There is thus a relationship between blog type and author demographics. We propose that this relationship sheds light on how weblogs have been discursively constructed--that is, how meanings and values have been assigned to the emergent weblog phenomenon through its invocation in public discourses--and why such constructions favor men. A selective focus on filter-style blogs, and to a lesser extent, k-logs, characterizes mass media reports, scholarship about weblogs, definitions and historical accounts of the weblog phenomenon produced by blog authors (including by women), and patterns of linking and referring within the blogosphere itself, as described below. Since men are more likely to create filter blogs than are women or teens, this selective focus effectively privileges adult male bloggers. In each case, this outcome is mediated by other motivations that are arguably not sexist or ageist in and of themselves, but that reproduce societal sexism and ageism around weblogs as a cultural artifact.

Mass Media Reports
Media reportage about weblogs, even when ostensibly concerned with the phenomenon of blogging in general, tends to focus on adult male weblog authors. To quantify this impression, we conducted an informal content analysis of 16 articles about blogs from mainstream news sources that happened to come across our desks between November 2002 and July 2003. These articles had been collected by or forwarded to the us by colleagues as being of general interest about the weblog phenomenon, before we decided to study gender and age of bloggers, and thus would not be expected to contain any particular gender or age bias. (A list of the articles is included in the Appendix.) The results reveal that:
more males (88%) are mentioned in the articles than females (12%);
males are mentioned multiple times in the same article more often than females;
males are mentioned earlier in the articles than females;
males are more likely to be mentioned by name than females; and
all 94 males mentioned are adults, except for one adolescent male blogger.

The preference to mention adult males is consistent across the articles, regardless of their topical focus. The one exception is an article focused on female weblog authors (Guernsey, 2002), published in the New York Times, which mentions 7 females and 6 males, although all of the bloggers named are adults. With the exception of the New York Times article, none of the articles in the sample mentions the gender or age of the blog authors—rather, adult male bloggers are presented as if they are “typical.” While this sample is admittedly small, informal observation suggests that articles such as these were common around the time we conducted our random blog analysis.

Although they constitute a minority (13%) of blogs, as noted above, filters and k-logs receive the majority of media attention in this sample. Two phenomena that figure repeatedly in the 16 articles are political filters that comment on U.S. aggression in Iraq (so-called “warblogs,” e.g., Ostrom, 2003; Webb, 2003; cf. Cavanaugh, 2002), and Dave Winer's efforts to establish k-logs at Harvard University (e.g., Festa, 2003; Hastings, 2003). It may be that journalists deem filters and k-logs more “newsworthy” in that their content is information in the external world (events, technology developments, etc.; i.e., “hard news”), rather than internal to the blogger (cf. human interest stories and “soft news”; ben-Aaron, 2003).[8] An unintended effect of this practice, however, is to define blogging in terms of the behavior of a minority elite (educated, adult males), while overlooking the reality of the majority of blogs, and in the process, marginalizing the contributions of women and young people—and many men—to the weblog phenomenon.

Weblog Scholarship
Scholarship on weblogs is still in its infancy, so there is little published literature as yet. However, some scholarly activities associated with weblogs already show evidence of an adult male bias. Conferences to discuss weblogs have thus far tended to attract more male than female participants. A seminar on blogs organized in the spring of 2003 by Dave Winer at the Harvard Berkman Center was heavily male dominated, judging by photos of the event posted on Dave Winer's blog. At the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) conference held in Toronto in October, 2003, twelve out of sixteen papers (75%) presented in the four sessions dedicated to weblogs were authored by men, and males made up roughly 70% of the audience who attended those sessions as well, at a conference that was otherwise more than 50% female. Tellingly, two papers by female scholars analyzing LiveJournal communication (Kendall, 2003; Raynes-Goldie, 2003) were relegated to a separate session, the name of which did not include the word “(web)log.”

The papers about blogs presented at the AoIR conference that are based on empirical observation have tended to focus uncritically on what are, in effect, filter-style blogs. Krishnamurthy (2002) studied discussion on the popular “community blog,” Metafilter, of the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, as an example of online democracy. Delwiche (2003) tracked news stories linked to by blog authors in support of the claim that the blogging “community” is interested in political issues. Park (2003) focused on the four most popular blog authors, assessed by the number of incoming links their blogs receive from other bloggers, whom he characterized as “public intellectuals”; these included Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit fame along with other authors of political filter-type blogs. Similarly, the 25 “scholars who blog” described by Glenn (2003)—many of them aspiring public intellectuals (and all but two of them men)—produce filter blogs focused on political issues outside and inside academe.

In choosing to focus on filter blogs, Internet scholars are not necessarily intending to privilege adult male blog authors. Rather, such blogs are deemed interesting for their “democratizing,” “socially transformative” potential as alternative news sources (Delwiche, 2003; Krishnamurthy, 2002; cf. Lasica, 2001), whereby individuals with something to say can attract and potentially influence a mass audience. Sometimes, as in the case of the blogs studied by Park (2003), their sheer popularity makes them interesting. In this sense, scholars, like journalists, are mirroring what they observe within the blogosphere itself.

Blog Authors
Blog authors themselves contribute unwittingly to creating a hierarchy within the blogosphere with adult males at the top. They do this by linking to “A-list” blogs, which tend overwhelmingly to be filter-type blogs created by men, thereby contributing to these blogs’ perceived popularity and status. The “A-list” blogs, in turn, link mostly to other men’s blogs: in a count of links from the blogrolls of the top ten blogs (as determined by number of incoming links), Ratliff (2003) found that only 16% led to sites of female bloggers. As we have seen, men are more likely than women or teens to comment in their own blogs on political issues. They are also more likely to post entries to public-access group sites such as Metafilter (cf. Krishnamurthy, 2002). Thus male blogs are more likely to be very popular (where popularity is defined in terms of number of incoming links), and males are more likely to frequent popular blogs. To the extent that those who write about blogs focus on those that are most popular or otherwise have the highest public profile, the tendency for men to be featured is partially explained.

Some blog authors also write about blogs, defining and narrating the history of the weblog genre. Defining and historicizing are powerful discursive means of constructing reality, and of de facto exclusion. The filter type plays a central role in definitions and historical accounts of weblogs produced by influential blog authors. Notable among these is Dave Winer, a software developer often credited with creating the first weblog circa 1996: a newspage containing links to information related to his software products. Winer (2002) himself credits Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee with having the first functional weblog—a regularly-updated list of links to new sites on the Web—thereby effectively defining the weblog as link-centered (the definition of the modern filter) from before the time the weblog as such was known. No females are mentioned in Winer's (2002) account of the history of blogging. Rebecca Blood (2002a), a blogger since 1999 and a published authority on weblogs, largely echoes Winer's history, adding an observation about the rise of journal-style blogs, which she suggests were already more numerous than filters by late 1999. However, Blood's account focuses on filter blogs, as more representative of the genre as a whole: “I would go so far as to say that if you are not linking to your primary material when you refer to it—especially when in disagreement—no matter what the format or update frequency of your website, you are not keeping a weblog.” According to this definition, personal journal blogs, many of which contain no links (Herring et al., 2004), are not “weblogs”!

Bloggers such as Winer and Blood (who is female) are presumably not intending to exclude women and youth from the definition of blogging. Rather, they are defining the weblog based on their own activities and those of the people they know, and extrapolating back in time to the antecedents of those activities. In so doing, however, they overlook an important phenomenon that predates Winer's first filter, and in which women and teens play a central role: the online journal.
Online Journals

Online journals, known as such since 1995, are the precursor of the personal journal blog (Herring, 2003b) as well as of journal hosting sites such as LiveJournal. Like journal blogs, they contain self-revealing content, are updated frequently, and tend to present messages in reverse chronological sequence. A number of people who maintained online journals in the mid-1990s have since switched to using blog software, further blurring the distinction between the two. From the outset, online journals, like the tradition of hand-written diaries they draw from, have been associated with women (McNeil, 2003). Flynn (2003) describes the rise of online communities of women journaling about weight loss, illness, pregnancy, child rearing, and other topics of special concern. Women (and men) also journal about events in their everyday lives. This is illustrated for three different journal formats in Figures 4-6.

Figure 4 is a screen shot of the home page of an early online journal created by a female science fiction writer. The first entry introduces the journal, then describes the author's recent activities (which include giving her boss a hat for her baby for Christmas, selling a novella to a publisher, and visiting her parents), followed by a poem “to an old lover.”

Figure 4. An early online journal

Figure 5 shows a journal-style blog from our random blog corpus created by a young married woman. With the exception of the modern two-column format and blog-specific features such as archives and a blogroll on the left, it is functionally and stylistically similar to the early online journal example: the author relates, in chronological order, events from her personal life, including getting her hair cut short, shopping, and socializing with her husband and father-in-law.

Figure 5. A personal journal blog

Figure 6 is the home page of a LiveJournal created and maintained by a teenage girl. It contains features characteristic of the LiveJournal format—a mood indicator, an indicator of the music the author is currently listening to, and a profile of the author with her username (“flickering star”) and an image (in this case, of a night scene). As in the other examples, however, the content is current events in the author's personal life—learning how to play bridge, socializing with friends, plans for future entertainment, and complaints about schoolwork.

Figure 6. A LiveJournal

These three examples, although illustrating different time periods and formats of online journals, are similar in their content; women and girls have led in the creation and use of all three formats. A historical account of weblogs that accorded a central place to personal journals—as their prevalence merits—would thus identify females as the creators, early adopters, and most characteristic current users of weblogs.

While it is beyond the scope of this essay to compare the content and style of journal blogs created by females with those created by males, it is our impression that many similarities exist. Male journalers, who comprise about 40% of journal writers, also write about their personal lives, friends, family, and school or work activities, often in self-revealing ways. In an interview with New York Times reporter Emily Nussbaum (2004), one 15-year-old boy described his online journal as "better than therapy," a way to get out the emotions he thought might get him in trouble if he expressed them in school or at home. This constitutes another reason why a comprehensive analysis of blogging should take online journaling into account. Excluding personal journals—defining them as less important or “not weblogs”—not only minimizes women’s and teens’ contributions to the evolution of blogging, but overlooks broader human motivations underlying the weblog phenomenon.

Women and young people are key actors in the history and present use of weblogs, yet that reality is masked by public discourses about blogging that privilege the activities of a subset of adult male bloggers. In engaging in the practices described in this essay, participants in such discourses do not appear to be seeking consciously to marginalize females and youth. Rather, journalists are following “newsworthy” events, scholars are orienting to the practices of the communities under investigation, bloggers are linking to popular sites, and blog historians are recounting what they know from first-hand experience. At the same time, by privileging filter blogs, public discourses about blogs implicitly evaluate the activities of adult males as more interesting, important and/or newsworthy than those of other blog authors.

Many of these participants (including most of the journalists) are themselves female. Nonetheless, it is hardly a coincidence that all of these practices reinscribe a public valuing of behaviors associated with educated adult (white) males, and render less visible behaviors associated with members of other demographic groups. This outcome is consistent with cultural associations between men and technology, on the one hand (Wajcman, 1991), and between what men do and what is valued by society (the “Androcentric Rule”; Coates, 1993). As Wajcman (p.11) notes, “qualities associated with manliness are almost everywhere more highly regarded than those thought of as womanly.” In this case, discourse practices that construct weblogs as externally-focused, substantive, intellectual, authoritative, and potent (in the sense of both “influential” and “socially transformative”) map readily on to Western cultural notions of white collar masculinity (Connell, 1995), in contrast to the personal, trivial, emotional, and ultimately less important communicative activities associated with women (cf. “gossip”). Such practices work to relegate the participation of women and other groups to a lower status in the technologically-mediated communication environment that is the blogosphere, and more generally, to reinforce the societal status quo.

It remains to explain why weblogs, but not other forms of CMC, have been discursively constructed so as to exclude women and young people from the realm of active participants. In the early days of the Internet, participation by diverse groups was exaggerated, if anything, to show the “democratic” nature of the medium (cf. Herring, 1993). With weblogs, the opposite is the case; actual diversity (and hence evidence of the democratic nature of weblogs) is discursively minimized. Two reasons for this suggest themselves. The first is that the larger context has changed; gender dynamics online now broadly reproduce the offline status quo (Herring, 2003a), making gender equity less of an issue in discourse about the Internet. This may explain why participation in blogging by females and members of other demographic groups merits relatively little comment. The second is that unlike in more interactive forms of CMC, the individual author is central in weblogs, as in traditional forms of print authorship.[9] In keeping with the Androcentric Rule, male authors historically have been more highly valued than female authors (Spender, 1989). Moreover, personal journal-writing, traditionally associated with women, is generally not considered “serious” writing (Culley, 1985; McNeill, 2003). This may explain why weblogs are being discursively constructed so as to exclude women and young people (also assumed to be incapable of “serious” writing), and why journal-style blogs receive little attention despite being the most popular form of blogging for all demographic groups.

We began this essay with an apparent paradox: Why, given that there are many female and teen bloggers, do public discourses about weblogs focus predominantly on adult males? The observation that men are more likely than women and teens to create filter blogs provides a key: It is filter blogs that are privileged, consistent with the notion that the activities of educated, adult males are viewed by society as more interesting and important than those of other demographic groups. However, the blogs featured in contemporary public discourses about blogging are the exception, rather than the rule: all the available evidence suggests that blogs are more commonly a vehicle of personal expression than a means of filtering content on the Web, for all demographic groups including adult males. It follows that more attention needs to be paid to “typical” blogs and the people who create them in order to understand the real motivations, gratifications, and societal effects of this growing practice. This would require advancing a broader conception of weblogs that takes into account the activities of diverse blog authors, considering personal journaling as a human, rather than exclusively a gendered or age-related activity, and conducting research on weblogs produced by women and teens, both for their inherent interest and to determine what differences, if any, exist among groups of bloggers.

Are weblogs inherently “democratizing,” in the sense of giving voice to diverse populations of users? The empirical findings reported for gender and age at the beginning of this essay suggest that they are. Yet public commentators on weblogs, including many bloggers themselves, collude in reproducing gender and age-based hierarchy in the blogosphere, demonstrating once again that even an open access technology—and high hopes for its use—cannot guarantee socially equitable outcomes in a society that continues to embrace hierarchical values.

Special thanks to all these: Susan C. Herring, Inna Kouper, Lois Ann Scheidt, and Elijah L. Wright and Indiana University at Bloomington

Read More
Next PostNewer Posts Home