The Evolution of Blogging: A Brief History


Most customers expect brands to maintain a presence online. For many people and businesses, that means blogging.

Businesses often leap into blogging because they’ve heard it’s the thing to do. When it’s time to grow up, they get married, have kids, raise some farm animals, and start a blog.

Most marketers agree that blogging is an effective marketing strategy. It’s great both for attracting new clients and nurturing the loyalty of existing ones. But have you ever wondered about the history of blogging? Perhaps knowing its roots could help you design a content marketing strategy that is contextually grounded in a firm understanding of why we blog. And more broadly – perhaps looking at blogging’s past can help us prepare for its future.

So…

In the beginning, there was a cosmic blogless soup. 

But then…

evolution-of-blogging

…came the blog.

It’s personal: The birth of the blog

The consensus is that student Justin Hall* was the first person to create a blog. In 1994, he posted links on his website — links.net — and commented on them. Some were external. Some were his own work.

New York Times Magazine dubbed him the “founding father of personal bloggers.” 

The founding mother, therefore, was an Apple Powerbook 180 w/ 8 RAM and a 120 HD. It’s confirmed.

Like most early blogs, it was personal. People frequently referred to them as “online diaries” or “personal web pages.”

Links.net is a very good example of the early days of blogging, when bloggers apologized for talking about themselves and found it incredible that anyone could be interested in what they — an unknown individual — had to say to the (potential) masses. 

Justin describes his monthly listing as “useless” and “navel gazing.”

But something about blogging compelled him to continue. At the time of writing, the most recent entry on his site is from January 2021.

Many felt the same drive; part freedom of speech, part the thrill of being able to connect with anyone in the world with an internet connection.

Modern bloggers feel a similar sense of reach, although today we know more about just how far our words can go. 

In 1994, it’s not like there were 6 people online and they were all in the same room. But the figures were significantly lower. In the mid-90s, there were around 16 million internet users, about 0.4% of the global population at the time.

According to estimates, there may have been around two million computers connected to the internet in 1994, served by only 10,000 websites. With enough dedication, you really could have reached the end of the internet.

blog-at-the-end-of-the-internet

If there’s a restaurant at the end of the universe, is there a cafe at the end of the internet?

Today, there are over 45 billion web pages at the disposal of 5.3 billion web users.

About 65.7% of the global population is online – more than 5 billion people with a smartphone subscription, an internet connection, and at least one social media profile. 

That’s a huge potential audience for individual and business content, and it’s growing by about 2 percent per year.

*If Justin wasn’t the first to create a blog — if it was you and you’re reading this in a bar somewhere — don’t get mad. Leave a comment.

Why is it called “blogging?”

The term blog is derived from weblog, which was coined by Jorn Barger on his Robot Wisdom weblog.*

A weblog was typically a log of activity that was stored on the web. The term was mostly used by programmers. It tended to concern recording changes and was often highly technical.

Robot Wisdom, started in 1995, featured a daily log of Barger’s reading and interests. 

In 1999, the weblog became the blog, coined by “Web design guy” Peter Merholz.

Of the word blog, Peter said

“I didn’t think much of it. I was just being silly, shifting the syllabic break one letter to the left. I started using the word in my posts, and some folks, when emailing me, would use it, too. I enjoyed it’s [sic] crudeness, it’s [sic] dissonance… As I wrote Keith Dawson after he added “blog” to Jargon Scout

I like that it’s roughly onomatopoeic of vomiting. These sites (mine included!) tend to be a kind of information upchucking.”

As you will see, the term blog was adopted in all the right places to make it stick. 

*If Jorn Barger didn’t coin the word blog — if it was you — please leave a comment.

Blogging training wheels

Open Diary was pivotal to the success of blogging as a medium. Created in 1998, it allowed comments from members, making blog communication less like a soapbox and more like a dialogue.

beginnings-of-blogs-communication

Dear Buffy81, there are 10 reasons you’re wrong about Spock, and they are as follows.

The site also simplified the blogging process, which pushed blogging to the mainstream. It was no longer necessary to know how to make a website — 90s style, no less — to have your say on a blog. People started talking about the Blogosphere

In particular, three sites that may sound familiar, moved things forward at this time.

  • Blogger – Purchased by Google in 2003, Blogger – a free blog creation and publishing service – became an even bigger hit than ever, going worldwide.
  • Xanga – Similar to MySpace, it had 300,000 users at its peak.
  • LiveJournal – Brad Fitzpatrick created it to keep in touch with his friends from high school. Wildly popular because it was customizable, it eventually attracted masses of Russian bloggers seeking freedom of speech.

At first, people didn’t give blogging implications much thought.

But it was time to think about the consequences of blogs. Privacy is a massive issue. 

Monetization and Business Blogs

Tracking down the first business that blogged is more tricky than tracking down the first personal websites; but, as the the 90s gave way to the 2000s, there was a dramatic increase in chatter about how to make money from blogs and how they can promote businesses.

Bloggers and blogging became increasingly serious business.

Today, firms that blog attract 55% more web visitors. Furthermore, those visitors are more targeted (i.e. better aimed at the right audience), leading to more conversions

monetization-of-blogging

It pays to blog.

Blogging helps businesses:

In addition to generating organic traffic by having high-quality, useful content, businesses can also earn from running paid ads. Thanks to modern tech, they are far less annoying than they used to be. Increasingly relevant and targeted ads can create win-win situations for bloggers and audiences.

Blogads, created in 2002,  was the forerunner of self-service advertising the likes of which we now see on Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Blogads and, later, Google AdSense allowed bloggers to monetize their work in a way that aligned with their values and their readers’ needs.

This is when blogging went from a hobby to a source of income for many.

Technorati, the first search engine dedicated to searching blogs, confirmed that there was a significant amount of money to be earned by bloggers. 

Typepad and WordPress

These names from the early 2000s were significant because they were among the first to harness the power of blogging to the extent that blogs were their primary business model. 

TypePad hosts blogs for businesses like the BBC and MSNBC. They facilitated the customization, flexibility, and financial viability via ads that have allowed blogging to become what it is today.

WordPress’s open-source code allowed developers to create their own themes, which in turn helped bloggers express their individuality and creativity. 

In 2017, WordPress rolled out their .blog domain. You don’t need to use WordPress to have a .blog site, but it can help with branding and letting customers know what to expect from a site before it’s even loaded.

It’s political: Blogging meets journalism

The evolution of blogging has also impacted politics. In return, the involvement of blogs in political matters has given blogging a level of credibility it didn’t have in the early years.

The initial years of Huffington Post (from 2005), however, gave weight to blogging. People increasingly believed that blogs had insights to offer and that the opinions of bloggers could be those of specialists and were no less worthy than those of other journalists.

Soon enough, the two disciplines joined forces, as the rapid character of blogging gave the impression that journalists using it had their finger on the pulse.

In 1998, Digital media executive Jonathan Dube helped write a Weblog for the Charlotte Observer covering Hurricane Bonnie, which was the first time a news site covered breaking news via blog. 

He has since been the Vice President in charge of ABCNews.com and President of the international Online News Association. The New York Times notes that he was among the first journalists to blog professionally.

In 2003, the Guardian used live blogging to cover the UK Prime Minister’s Question Time

And in 2005, Garrett Graff received a press pass for the White House, which was unheard of for a blogger. 

Blogging was growing up.

SEO, then and now

There is a massive difference between what gave a site a boost in the 90s (being uploaded) and what works now (a suite of SEO tactics carried out by entire teams of specialists).

SEO-experts-working-on-SERPS

There’s an SEO guy for indentations alone.

In the past, featuring on the first search results page was not a question of quality. The keyword count was far more significant than it is now.

SEO itself, however, has been optimized over the years. Analysts now look at every aspect of site design and content creation to leverage every advantage and avoid pitfalls.

Tacky tactics that earn hard stares from internet users included the very murky practice of keyword stuffing – using selected keywords repeatedly, often with no regard to usefulness, sense, or even readability. 

Listing keywords in meta tags to describe page content was once standard practice and some webmasters still do this, but overusing keywords here became considered spamdexing, since Google prioritizes quality content that users can see over dodgy, “invisible” SEO techniques and shortcuts that aim to affect search results without providing value. Google algorithm updates that try to reward good content have made keyword stuffing a negative ranking factor.

Today, SEO is more sophisticated.

When this post is updated, this comment will seem laughable to the writer. 

2023 SEO — sophisticated? 

The point is that technology and how we use it change fast.

What hasn’t changed, however, since the 90s, is that quality matters. An engaging, useful, informative, and entertaining website is still an engaging, useful, informative, and entertaining website. 

The buttons and levers of SEO might change, but quality content has always attracted people and has helped individuals and businesses connect.

Google and blogging

The rise and rise of Google has had a massive impact on blogging and other forms of online content. 

To deliver the best search results to its users, Google introduced content creation guidelines and multiple algorithm updates that affect how sites rank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

In the early years, Google released occasional algorithmic updates. Now, there are many updates every day, and several core updates per year. 

The result is that many businesses and individuals write to please Google. 

Google, however, wants people to focus on writing for people. Its algorithms are honed to reward authentic, quality, people-first content

It effectively penalizes content that is ad heavy, low quality, and inaccurate, because it avoids displaying those to users.

Food bloggers across the web have demonstrated the impact of Google algorithm updates on content creators. To satisfy an increasing demand for longer, more in-depth content, many food bloggers augment simple recipes with storytelling tactics.

The result is an increasing necessity to wade through stories about backpacking through Europe, primary school bullies, or fruit trees planted by distant relatives to find out how to make a simple lemon cake.

Google was also integral to getting bloggers and other content creators to adopt responsive design, encouraging bloggers and other content publishers to respond to the turning point of PC traffic vs. mobile traffic. In 2018, more than half of internet traffic was mobile.

mobile-optimization-for-websites

No one at work has to know you’re not at your laptop.

Interestingly, the surge in mobile traffic changed the way that writers considered their content. It became less something that people read with their morning coffee or when they got home from work.

Rather, blogging became unashamedly and firmly something people read at any time of the day or night. People could receive notifications and read new content right away, wherever they were, which was a consideration for content creators everywhere. 

The importance of what time you blog and how frequently you post have become more significant and more complex. Understanding these factors can help your content reach more readers.

Medium

Medium was a blogging game-changer. 

Like Substack, which followed, its subscription model helped independent creators and businesses build their audiences. It became a popular platform used by thought leaders to reach their peers, fans, and critics.

Medium’s success was also in part due to the fact that users could repost work in full that was published elsewhere in order to gain traction and build a following from Medium’s built-in audience of readers and contributors. 

Blogging and Social Media

While blogging was once considered enough on its own, it walks alongside social media today. It’s a symbiotic relationship that can work very effectively.

Regularly updated blogs give businesses something to shout about. You can use the buzz created by a new blog post to engage people via social media and bring traffic back to the primary blog, improving conversions.

Vlogging

Adam Kontras* created the first vlog in 1999, an example of how technology and imagination can give us a new twist and a whole new industry. 

The rise of vlogging is a signpost of a major shift in internet use. Increasingly, people were switching to video for information and entertainment. This was not least of all because connection speeds and stability had improved massively since the 90s.

Pioneering video blogger Steve Garfield described 2004 as “the year of the video blog.” Not long after, the King of the vlog revealed itself. YouTube.

Don’t tell anyone, but YouTube actually began as a dating site. The idea was that you would create a profile and leave a video introduction and messages so people could get to see and hear you.

The voracious appetite for video, however, evidently encouraged the creators of YouTube to pivot and focus on general video.

Recognizing a good thing, Google bought YouTube in 2006 and vlogging is now a multi-million dollar industry.

*You know the drill — leave a comment.

Quality counts

There are fascinating developments revealed by the history of blogging. At its core, however, it’s simple. Quality content counts. 

how-google-algorithm-updates-work

Google works in mysterious ways – but it certainly tries to reward good behavi-writing.

Sites that are authentic, useful, informative, and entertaining rise to the top. Sites that exist to make a fast buck using whatever techniques necessary, fall out of favor or, more recently, are penalized by Google.

For brands, adapting to change is a key part of blogging success. According to Hubspot, about 8 out of 10 marketers surveyed agreed that their industry had changed more in the last three years than it had in the last 50 years.

Marketing techniques and trends evolve rapidly, as has blogging. Blogging platforms have changed dramatically. The content has matured over time, but it remains a meritocracy of quality content. 

While content demands have changed rapidly, note that there has never been a trend for low-quality, forgettable content. 

Google is yet to release a “Help Me Fall Asleep” repetitive content algorithm that rewards lazy content. 

A chef relies on expertise, experience, and quality ingredients. Now is not the time to stint on any of those.

Whether your business relies on writing a blog, a niche email newsletter, or a 140-character Twitter post, quality of content is key. It pays to invest in content that will last and continue to deliver over time, whatever the venue and however delivery systems evolve.

 

Written by Dean Edwards

Dean lives in Southern France but was born in the UK, where he studied business and IT, and earned a degree in Writing. When he’s not creating content, he’s writing fiction, making music, and practicing martial arts. This is part bio and part affirmation.


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