First-person direct (Part 2): Internet history crashed course

Tuesday 26 March 2013, 7.23pm HKT


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Updated 02 Apr 2013 (more tag added)

videotape says-it_com

A very personal crash course in Internet history

(for those born after the 1980s who can’t tell dick from dock)

haha crashed course 2013 0324

“[…] we are getting a first hand EXPERIENCE of what they are […].
No amount of ‘a priori’ theorizing of their nature
has as much explanatory power as personal experience.”
— Human-Nets Mailing List, 3 June 1981,
Jorge Phillips, Subject: administrivia
(via Ronda Hauben, Columbia University)

SWEAR HOWEVER YOU WILL but the word ‘blog’ was practically unknown or unused until the late 1990s.

If we regard any kind of time-stamped text entries in electronic space also as a form of blogging, then the history of blogging probably goes a longer way back than conventional wisdom suggests.

I wouldn’t consider myself a fanboy of tech, but I’m no technophobe either — I did get involved in computing (through work) well before many of my contemporaries. I enrolled on a City & Guilds vocational short course in computing in London around 1980, but got bored stiff with it and I left after just one term because the class was all-male.

ibm 5155 portable pc vintage-computer_com

(via vintage-computer.com)

Then around 1985 when the IBM XT personal computer first came out, I blew a whopping US$2,000 on a secondhand IBM 5155 XT Portable Computer (with TWO floppy drives and the CP/M operating system) that weighed a punishing 22 lbs (10 kg), the techiest of tech at the time. (Photo)

(Five years before, Dad had leased an IBM Selectric Composer, a souped-up typewriter featuring metal fount golfballs with exchangeable typefaces. It was bloody brilliant.)

ibm selectric composer 1960s

IBM Selectric Composer, 1966–75
(via IBM Selectric Composer Got Balls)

What STILL surprises me sometimes is the stuff about computers and the Internet I know or heard that my more tech-savvy friends or the techy twentysomethings have not.

*

Before time began

all my friends are dead wikipedia

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, time-stamped text entries on networked systems actually existed before World War Two.

It’s called the telex — invented in 1926–28 by the Germans — and an outgrowth of which was the Teletype (‘TTY’) printer. (Not the teleprompter as used by TV anchors and mummers.)

The German Army used encrypted telexes to issue orders and coordinate troops movements. The Allies spent a obscene amount of time, effort and money building analogue computers to break the encryption.

The boffins at the British General Post Office Research Laboratory were mainly responsible for designing and building those contraptions. Perversely, they got all those really tall, good-looking English chicks with oddly French-sounding names from their secretary pools to operate them.

Even more perversely, the U.S. and British governments kept details of those wartime computers as official secrets, punishable as treason if publicised, right up till the 1970s.

Other than that, it’s a bit of a stretch to consider the telex as a form of blogging.

*

Swingin’ Sixties and Shagadelic Seventies

I REMEMBER READING (forgot where) that the word “luser” first appeared semi-accidentally in the 1960s or ’70s.

The tale was that a UNIX sysadmin at some university or research facility in the USA saw all these ‘users’ logged in and, feeling a bit cutesy, sent out a systemwide message “To: All lusers.” It was just sitting there for the lulz to be made. Rather like WordPress into “worpdress.”

[WordPress, please don’t sue me. WordPress rocks, as do worpdress.]

‘The electronic frontier’

The Sixties and Seventies were the good ole’ days of computing yore. No Internet yet, but there WAS “internetworking.”

vietnam frontier

The other frontier for the 99%

The first communities in “the electronic frontier” appeared in the 1960s, mostly among the university research types in the USA using the U.S. Department of Defense’s ARPANET (1968–85/90), the dedicated encrypted telecom network for the U.S. National Insecurity Security Agency (and ancestor of our Intarwebz).

A lot of urban myths surround the ARPANET, but Ian Peter (“The beginnings of the Internet“) gives us the lowdown on what ARPANET was REALLY intended to be. The actual pioneers who have had an instrumental hand in creating the earliest form of the Internet retold their tales in “Brief History of the Internet.”

The bulletin-board system (BBS) was THE electronic frontier during the 1970s. The BBSes weren’t exactly networked — they’re just a bunch of crap standalone computers that stored crap files on them run by a crappy bunch of hobbyists in the USA. The actual ‘network’ was the existing POTS lines (‘plain old telephone system’). Users with too much time on their hands rang into the crap BBSes (usually in the middle of the night) using a terminal program (or “tty“) and dead-slow dial-up modems, fetched files, or left crap messages for other crap users. In a sense, the BBSes were the first-ever form of online social network.

Smokey_And_The_Bandit_PosterIn many ways, it was the Citizens’ Band (CB) radio that was the real social network (at least for most people in the USA). CB radio fad really hit the gas pedal and went on the up-and-up after the 1973 oil crisis, especially after C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” song (1975) and the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” (1979) starring Burt Lancaster and Sally Field.

In 1979 the Usenet (“Lusenet” or “Lusernet”) was born — the world’s biggest and most efficient flame-war/trolling network. It was fast, it was cheap — Usenet was still propagated over POTS, with users using tty (later email systems) to connect — and allowed the user to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare against other users. The trolling and insults were stupendously hurtful — farkin’ great entertainment, evah!

But not my game yet

I knew less than jack about computers then. I was non-existent or in an embryonic state, or just a skinny, scrawny kid. I had better things on my mind then — like the girls round the block or the damn earthquake in 1971 near Los Angeles that nearly got my neighbour killed.

*

Egregious Eighties

19_singleIN THE 1980s, I was already sensing something important was going on in the world of technology.

Mike Oldfield’s album ‘Tubular Bells’ (1974) had already made a big impact on me, as did the krautrock/spacerock stuff from Ash Ra Temple and the entire Disco Era groove.

German techno band Kraftwerk (‘power station’) was now sweeping UK, and punk and New Wave bands — plus Paul Hardcastle’s “19” and “Rain Forest” — were going great guns to create music with gizmos, making traditional orchestras and session musicians real nervy about their careers.

The must-see Top of the Pops (hosted by ‘Kid’ Jensen) came on every Thursday at 7.30pm on BBC 1, contributing to Britchicks learning how to crank up ‘drama’ by reason of missing it in the same way Americ*nt chicks been racking up drama for years for everything else. And lovely Annie Nightingale hosted the super iconic The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC 2 around midnight.

For much of the 1980s, the Usenet was the basic medium of digital communities, supplemented by the BBSes among the hardcore techno-wonks.

“Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea. Massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it.”Gene Spafford, 1992

But Usenet had NO impact on me. I hadn’t even heard of it yet. That’s because there was this thing called phreaking.

Phreaking

Phreaking was spilling over from the States into the UK, that subculture of technophiliacs who went about hacking into phone systems.

capn crunch whistle

The cereal-box bo’sun’s whistle that made free phone calls, but attracted British hedgehogs (via Telephone Tribute)

From some mailed-out newsletters that my friends got, I learnt a little bit about the blue box and beige box.

Some of my more technical friends used these ‘boxes’ for making long-distance phone calls on the free.

Myself, I got a whistle in a box of cornflakes that could make certain tones for making free calls — but I didn’t use it because it also attracted the bloody hedgehogs and caused them to piss puddles on the front porch.

Reality is, the real ‘blogs’ and ‘social media’ didn’t happen with the Internet — they all started much earlier, on the phone lines since the 1950s:—

steve wozniak blue box ca 1972

“The first real ‘blogs’/’podcasts’ took place on hacked corporate voice mail systems called ‘codelines,’ where phone phreaks would hack into unused mailboxes and set up shop until they were discovered and kicked out. You’d call a corporate 1-800 number, enter an extension and hear recorded audio broadcasts packed with social greetings and useful phone phreaking content: hacked calling card codes to make free calls, ‘bridges’ (audio conference call lines), and plugs for other codelines. You could leave your comments and information as a voice mail, and the phreak would likely respond to you in his next update.”

— Brett Borders, “A Brief History of Social Media” (Copy Brighter Marketing, 9 June 2009)

(Photo: Steve Wozniak’s Blue Box, ca. 1972, via computerhistory.org)

I can vouch for that. As early as the 1970s when my family were living in San Francisco or Los Angeles, some of the older boys from school were messing around with the phone system and I personally heard these ‘podcasts.’ I got to hear more with my UK pals in the 1980s.

You can still find text files well nigh 30 or 40 years old on how to hack voicemail and hear some dumped audio samples. The people who made them are all probably dead or gone insane by now.

BBC Micro, BASIC

The BBC and London Weekend Television (remember that, anyone?) started doing programmes about computer technology. The BBC Micro Computer with its crap Chiclets keyboard and cassette-tape BASIC was just hitting the store shelves. Acne-ridden prats (bozos) with no girlfriends but only milk bottles took to them like a duck to water.

bbc micro at leeds university

BBC Micros at the University of Leeds, 1980s
(via Computer Conservation Society)

Teletext on TV

At home, I didn’t know when or how but we suddenly got CEEFAX (1974–2012: a play on “see facts”) on our TV set. I noticed this a few days after New Year’s Day 1981 when button-surfing the telly with the newfangled remote control.

I remembered dodgy-looking CEEFAX because I had to go to the TV rental company (Visionhire, 87 Golders Green Road, London NW11) to check if we got sucked into some extra payable service. No extra charge, fine. Hardly ever used it. Some of my friends had Prestel (1974/79–94) from the General Post Office, running on their own consoles.

ceefax

CEEFAX: mostly used for horserace betting (the Tote service)
(via Pokerknave)

“Ceefrazz” and piss-pauvre “Pisstel” were nothing compared with some French schoolmates of mine whose families back in France had Minitel (1982–2012), which was farkin’ fantastic to use because it was just like the Internet today — BEFORE the Internet! Mon Dieu! C’est magnifique!

So the French had the wine, the cheeses, the great countryside, the shapely and friendly chicks — and bloody Minitel as well.

Minitel

The Real French Connection
Le Minitel — France’s preferred ‘Internet’ even in 2011

France Telecom gave away 7 million terminals for free since 1982
Had more than 2 million active users even by 2012 when Minitel was discontinued
(via FYI France)

Domain names, ISPs, going online

Round about 1982, I went to a technology exposition in Earl’s Court, West End London. There, some Italian quango had put up a big booth with two workstations. I typed in some search keywords. Words spewed out in Italian. I lost interest right away.

schoolgirl with gum 123rf

She’s not the receptionist, but will connect with her backbone all the same, thank you

Much more interesting, though, was that Italian receptionist chick, with her own two big workstations (geddit?) who wore seemingly modern-day square-shaped glasses — definitely out of the ordinary in those days (the glasses, I mean, not the ‘workstations’).

On the other hand, I was wearing round-shaped, metal-rimmed National Health Service X-ray spex, so must’ve looked like a right prat to her.

(NHS spex weren’t nearly as bad as the U.S. military’s “birth control glasses,” so American servicemen have my sympathy.)

By the mid- to late 1980s, commercial ISPs had started to appear. They cost a bomb but did help customers connect to the Information Superhighway, a.k.a. Infobahn a.k.a. The Interminable Wait.

There weren’t any websites yet, but domain name registration had already started in the mid-’80 (for free!). Only the very techy among us knew about this. The rest of us regular folk got on with CEEFAX, Prestel, Minitel (if we have friends to visit in France), Star Wars, Terminator, gigs at The Marquee Club, Michael Jackson’s music, and IRA bombing runs practically every effing Thursday.

Around 1986, Usenet suddenly exploded in popularity worldwide. That’s when I first became aware of Usenet. I must’ve been one of the earliest people to use email because by 1988 I was already subscribed to some newsgroups and connected to Usenet via an email/Usenet program at work on a dedicated data line supplied by a company called Datacomm.

infobahn azrail

How the Information Superhighway felt in the early days

I have since learnt why Usenet suddenly became popular from around 1986.

The unofficial (but I think ‘real’) reason is that, on Usenet, anybody could troll the effing crap out of anyone without fear of being positively identified and zero likelihood of getting a physical punch in the face. And if the individual ever were identified, he can still just thumb his brazen nose and taunt “Come at me, bro.”

The boring official reason is that, prior to 1986, the Usenet and email exchange were fully accessible only by ARPANET users, and basically only in the USA. Until UUNET (an ISP) came along, access by non-ARPANET sites was only via computer networks running the protocol “UUCP” over POTS landlines. Then things changed when ARPANET switched over to “NNTP” to match the “TCP/IP” protocol that was entering into widespread usage on Ethernet LANs. (I told you it was boring.)

Meanwhile, I heard of a thing called Gopher that looked suspiciously like CEEFAX for retrieving documents over the Infobahn. I never got into that stuff because of my motorbikes and chicks.

Today, Gopher is experiencing a certain renaissance (especially in Eastern Europe and Africa) because of its speed and lower use of resources. Cameron Kaiser from the Overbite Project wrote an article “Why is Gopher Still Relevant?“.

*

Naughty Nineties

haha im using the internet

The World Wide Web was born in the early 1990s, thanks in large part to “the inventor of the Internet” British physicist John ‘Tim’ Berners Lee.

Then everything else started manifesting at high speed since.

The Internet is born

The world’s first-ever website (http://info.cern.ch) went live on 6 Aug 1991 at the European nuclear research facility CERN — which meant that CERN also had the world’s first webserver (which ran on a NeXT computer there).

Because the software and the first web browser were both called “WorldWideWeb,” that’s how the term “World Wide Web” began.

NextEditorBW

WorldWideWeb by Tim Berners-Lee
  World’s first web browser running on a NeXT computer at CERN, ca. 1990
(via © CERN, 2008)

I once had a passing acquaintance in London in the early 1980s named David Nathan, who worked at CERN as a control engineer. I knew of CERN through that tenuous connection.

By end-1993, there were 623 websites in the world, exploding fourfold to 2,738 websites in just six months by June 1994 (Matthew Gray, “Web Growth Summary,” MIT, 1996).

Blogging, bloggers, blogosphere

Almost the moment the first websites appeared, so came the online diary.

The modern blog evolved from the online diary. When the first ones arrived on the scene around at least 1994, they were simply manually updated parts of regular static websites. (I had one just like that too.)

Interestingly enough, the advent of the blog in the early 1990s coincided with the advent of the online calendar planner. (Or perhaps it was the other way round.)

Webtools such as Yahoo Calendar, Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook and various others were meant to help people with heavy appointment schedules and allow access to their ‘appointment books’ from anywhere in the world. Funny thing was, people who are in the habit of chronicling things were adding stories to their appointments and making their online calendar public. In effect, some of these people had repurposed the webtool to publicise their personal activities and thoughts.

The early online diarists (known sometimes as “journalers”) often concentrated on day-to-day experiences, poems or deep thoughts or fantasies — or just tame stuff about their hobbies. Once the content management software and blogging services on the Web got better, things really got moving and blogging came to the fore. Content became more varied and diverse.

Claudio Pinhanez reputedly had the first webpage in an online diary format (“Open Diary,” MIT Media Lab, 14 Nov 1994 to 1996).

Other early adopters who started their online diaries between 1994 and 1997 include Justin Hall (1994), Jerry Pournelle (1994), Carolyn Burke (1995), Byron Sutherland (1995) and David Siegel (1995).

Meanwhile, the gloggers chose to have their say in the form of audiovisual content (see below).

True weblogs of the kind we can recognise today began to appear by around 1997. Dave Winer’s “Scripting News” is usually credited as the world’s first weblog, created in April 1997.

The running updates combined with weblinks inspired Jorn Barger to coin the term “web log” on 17 Dec 1997, which was eventually shortened to “blog” by Peter Merholz in April/May 1999. People rapidly adopted ‘blog’ as a noun and verb. Brad Graham invented “blogosphere” on 10 Sept 1999 as a joke, and William Quick re-coined it in 2002. Quick’s usage of those terms in his conservative blog “Daily Pundit” started their general popularity. Everyone else was irritated with the various terms associated with blogging:—

“You make up irritating jargon for the sake of it.”

— James A.C. Joyce, sci-fi author and blogger (“Why your Movable Type blog must die,” Kuro5hin.org, 03 Feb 2004)

make my own front page epealayBy the late 1990s, the publishing process had become feasible for the wider, less tech-minded, population. Computer hardware and software was now good enough and cheap enough to handle posting articles in reverse time-stamped order and integrating comments into threads. Dedicated blogging services also began to appear on the Web.

By the late ’90s too, the aura and direction of blogging was changing. Not to put too fine a point on things, down came the general quality of content and general niceties. Up went the bitching, the mercenary advocacy, the defamatory statements, the indiscriminate character assassinations — in a word, disinformationdisguised (rather thinly) as social, political, cultural or artistic commentary or ‘insights.’

‘Gloggers’: the Terminator fetishists

Even earlier than the above bloggers were the gloggers.

gif putting teeth to flesh jhva1x1In 1994, the Wearable Wireless Webcam bunch of nutcases had started online diaries (called “cyborg logs” a.k.a. “glogs“) that contained live audiovisual feeds made from a wearable computer and a head-up display/webcam (such as the EyeTap device).

The aim was to document a person’s everyday life round-the-clock. Or round the bend.

Gloggers called that kind of semi-automated blogging with live AV feeds as “lifecasting” or “lifelogging” — as a form of reverse or ‘inverse’ surveillance (“sousveillance” in glogger parlance).

Steve Mann was the first person to do lifelogging, starting with his experiments in the early 1980s. In 1994 he transmitted live non-stop feeds of his own life on his website, which eventually led to Wearable Wireless Webcam.

To the rest of us sane people, lifelogging is just a video piss-stream of somebody’s entire life. These people clearly either have a long-running fetish for “Terminator” (1984) or were somehow inspired by “An American Family,” a pioneering TV documentary that aired in 1973 about rock performer and magazine writer A.R. ‘Lance’ Loud.

Webmail … ‘waitmail’

Like many others, I got my Hotmail account the moment it launched in 1996 because I wanted to free myself of using Outlook, then my regular way of fetching email from my ISP. Shortly afterwards, I also got Yahoo! Mail in case my Hotmail ever got pistol-whipped and ass-wiped.

Homepages: carving out our own online real estate

Also like many others sometime in 1995, I toyed with the idea of creating my own virtual space (remember that phrase?) on the Infobahn. My ISP (ibm.net) already offered free homepage space for customers.

I created mine in 1996 … http://ibm.net/~rlee024/home.htm.

You guys are in luck. It took me a whole year to look for that screencap of my first-ever homepage. Here it is, converted to .JPG from the original .BMP:—

roberts homepage 20 jan 1996

My first homepage, 20 Jan 1996 (all 17 years ago)

Is that a blog? Can it be called one?

Notice the text is in the style of Heywood R. Floyd’s
report on the Discovery’s mission to Jupiter in
“2001: A Space Odessey” and “2010: The Year We Made Contact”

The Netscape Navigator 3.0 browser made it reasonably straightforward to create static pages, and I still miss that functionality in browsers.

Notice that I was already associating my online presence with the word ‘naked’ then.

Also notice the naff “Welcome!” that nearly all homepages typically have at that time.

It’s dynamite to create and maintain just a single static webpage with the occasional change, but it’s a helluva chore to regularly update, upload, replace and delete pages by FTP. Even bigger aggro was to update and upload pictures.

Because of my limited knowledge and experience in web authoring (still limited today), my idea was to keep no more than three or four entries on the page (to keep stuff within one screenful). Another reason was that I hadn’t figured out know how to expand the page dimensions. So my idea was to edit the page template on my local system, delete the outdated page online, upload the new page, and take screenshots of every update.

WHAT A BLOODY CHORE THAT WAS!

company homepage 2003 0331 redacted

My company’s homepage at GeoCities, 31 March 2003

It was relief when Yahoo launched GeoCities in 1999. Its online makeup tool cut out the middleman, so to speak.

I started giving the title “The Naked Listener” to certain entries on my GeoCities sometime in 2nd half 1999. By 2001 or thereabouts, The Naked Listener’s Weblog was fully online at GeoCities.

But I wished I heard of Pyra Labs in 1999. It created Pyra, originally a web application that combined a project manager, contact manager and to-do list, but later repurposed into a web tool that allowed multiple users to blog with time-stamped entries. In August 1999, Pyra was launched as Blogger, the world’s first free self-publishing service for people to create and manage blogs online. Google acquired Blogger and Pyra Labs in 2003.

*

Awful Aughts of the 2000s

It just never occurred to me to use Blogger for The Naked Listener’s Weblog, until it was much too late. I was wobbling along in blissful ignorance on GeoCities until I migrated to Microshaft’s Windows Live Spaces in 2005.

Here I am on WordPress.com, since 2008, because Microsoft announced it was pulling out of the blogging business by 2011 and recommended WordPress as switchover carrier.

Blogging as political activism/manipulation

Mainly because of Blogger, blogging grew rapidly. By 2001 political blogs began to show up in the USA, some established by private individuals (insane) and some by politicians or political parties (dishonest, reactionary, insane and STUPID).

pistol 1348946809094Even by the early 2000s, blogging was being used to draw attention to obscure or ‘alternative’ news sources (or to invent ‘news’ altogether) and to provide instant commentary (and defamation) on events and personalities.

Also during this time Scott Rosenberg had coined the term ‘web journalist’ (to describe some bloggers) and mentioned it for the first time in articles at Salon.com about the rise of blogging.

Journalism schools worldwide began researching about blogging vis à vis traditional journalism — which is perhaps a nicer way of saying bloggers had started to outgun journalists in their own game in quality and timely reporting, mercenary agenda whoring, deliberate pernicious libel and influence-peddling — the very things this award-winning The Naked Listener’s Weblog is globally famous for. You betcha!

Live news, instantly

From the mid-2000s, some blogs had started utilising instant text messaging to provide real-time reporting, such as from tsunami-slapped areas in South Asia in December 2004 — thereby upping the ante on ‘live’ news for the traditional news providers.

The first ‘proto-tweet’ in fact happened 13 years ago:—

first tweet by palmand may 2000

Political action inspires first direct phone-to-web ‘tweet,’ May 2000

“Cell phone to web online diaries is [sic] now called things like Twitters and Moblogs. I had micro-blogging running on my website from May 2000, which seems to be the first known in the world :). Later, at January 2001, Stuart Woodward posted from a cell phone to his LiveJournal on the web, and others started slowly to use the same principle during 2002.”

— Tom Vilmer Paamand, Danish journalist (“World’s First Twitter,” updated 2009)

(Photo via Tom Vilmer Paamand)

Since then, microblogging services like Twitter have added to the mass popularity of blogging. Indeed, it is precisely because of microblogging that some high-profile bloggers with raucous lifestyles and sensationalistic tweets have managed to cross over to mainstream media.

dont always feel my phone vibrate 1104307216

Creating polarisation, making waves

Also by around 2004, news services and political whores consultants started taking to using blogs as tools for forming public opinion and outreach (and character assassination). By now, the blog had become just another ‘Weapon of Mass Distraction’ to create political or cultural pressure in addition to being news and opinion sources.

Education, edjumacation

Blogging was now also incorporating education into social networking/media:—

“In fact, at many science conferences blogging is what we are asked to do by our editors throughout the five or six days of the event that we attend. These are not personal blog posts, but posts on blogs which are officially part of the publication. We are expected to write in a more relaxed style for the blog and look for stories which are lighter than what we usually report on in science.”

— Marianne de Nazareth (“Conversations about Science: The Role of Blogs and Social Media,” Guest Blog, Scientific American, 3 Aug 2012)

i dont remember asking anything wrs88ko

Advocacy behind a façade of flexible roles

Tones of advocacy are hard to miss when we see blogging is now married into education, social media, political activism, etc.

gundam small

How destructive do you want your guardian to be?

One, by-now-hackneyed, view is that blogging is ‘open-source journalism.’ The underlying advocacy here treats blogging as a counterbalance or even competition to mainstream media — a check on Big Media.

Broadly speaking, the high end of this view treats blogging as performing a fact-checking service to the big commercial media, or even a place where stories get ‘grown’ before they hit the grand parade — a kind of not-so-dark knight, a kind of not-so-silent guardian.

At the low end, it gives a voice to consumers to share opinions and experiences about products, companies and personalities. If you’re an American especially, blogs are a vehicle for political and social activism — the pure embodiment of the First Amendment. It’s information decentralisation with the free-market dynamic thrown in. In short, everyone can do what they want, and let the market decide where to go, for better or worse, because no one holds all the cards.

Another equally hackneyed view contends that blogs open up interesting avenues for discussion, especially between experts and laypeople, between institutions and the public. The advocacy line here is that blogs help create communities of interest that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

“Blogs open interesting avenues for discussions between other scientists, students, thinkers and the public. Blogs are open to immediate responses, where people can comment on a writer’s piece. This is what most writers look for — constructive criticism of their work. In the regular print medium, most often, we science journalists never get any responses to our published work, as the letters to the editor focus mainly on responses to political stories or front page news.” — Marianne de Nazareth (ibid.)

Those two views are often repeated in academic and non-academic circles. The views might be so for the big blogs, with huge readership, with some kind of functioning commercial coverage plan or purposely designed sociopolitical agenda. Otherwise, they are just vacuous, feel-good, countervailing political correctness. ‘Trickle-down PC’ if we had to write it on a shirt cuff.

The vast majority of blogs, I think, serve a different purpose altogether.

xray_visionThe short answer is blogs play no special role. They’re a form of communication, an accessible and not geographically constrained way to share and discuss all kinds of information. After that, they vary massively.

The long answer is, I think, it’s a little too soon — or a little ‘too constructive’ — to talk about what roles blog are having at the present time. Roles vary between different individuals or groups for anyone foolish enough to narrow it down to just one or two. Blogs CAN play many roles, but that depends chiefly on who the writer isas much as who the reader is. The teen blogger views the phenomenon differently from the journalist blogger, who views it differently from the sex blogger, who views it yet differently from the hobbyist blogger or the shock-value blogger.

What has been forgotten by all is that everybody adopts contextualised standards for using the medium. Political, journalistic, commercial, personal — where does one end and the other begin?

Art or sanitary pads? We use the easiest thing closest at hand, don't we?

Art or sanitary pads? We use the easiest thing closest at hand, don’t we?

Let’s be frank here for a moment.

Blogging — and the blog — is like a tampon. One half of the world uses it. Half of that half uses it to mop up the mess spilled out. The other half of that half uses it to prevent the mess from spilling over.

The other half don’t use it at all, but keeps it handy for a rainy day in case something else needed a plug.

Right now, it’s just still much easier for non-technical people to add content to a blog than to build self-hosted websites. We could say blogging is just self-expression. We could as well say it gives a voice to those who would have none otherwise — a way to increase access to minority points of view.

The truth, as always, lies ‘somewhere in the middle.’ The vast majority of blogs are just folks who like to share specific things (like recipes, book reviews, arts and crafts) or vent in public about something — the recreation of the backyard fence, the hobby of the office watercooler, the aesthetics of the warehouse loft living room. Blogs are mostly created for niche interests for self-amusement or likeminded communities.

First advantage about blogs is that they allow for greater documentation and (for some blogs) more careful presentation of ideas. First downside is that they create echo chambers. On a blog, a person often discusses the same topics he or she discusses offline. On a blog, a person may provide citations and generate uninterrupted discussion on those topics. In comments, no one can interrupt you.

In the online world, no one can hear you scream unless they’re interested in your screaming.

sad key l9itolo

Sad key is terribly sad at the lulz all around him

*

COMING UP TOMORROW

(or some other day)

Part 3: The first blogs on the planet (or so they fib)

_____

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© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13097)

Updated 27 Mar 2013 (typo fixes)
Updated 28 Mar 2013 (headline amendment to regularise with other instalments)
Updated 30 Mar 2013 (added navigation links)
Updated 02 Apr 2013 (more tag added)

IMAGES (all others already indicated in the main text): VHS tape image © thenakedlistener 2013 created via says-it.com | All My Friends Are Dead via Wikipedia | Ha Ha Guy image © thenakedlistener 2013 created via Meme Generator | The Other Frontier via Read Me Deadly | Smokey and the Bandit poster via Wikipedia | Paul Hardcastle’s “19” via Wikipedia | Steve Wozniak’s Blue Box ca. 1972 via computerhistory.org | Schoolgirl with Gum by Jason Stitt via 123rf.com | Ha Ha I’m Using the Internet via m4f | “I’ll Make My Own Front Page” via m4f | Teeth to Flesh animated GIF via apina | Robert’s Homepage © thenakedlistener 1996 | My company’s homepage © thenakedlistener 2003 | Pistol via m4f | I Don’t Always Feel My Phone Vibrate via m4f | I Don’t Remember Asking You via c4c | Gundam via m4f | X-Ray Vision via c4c | Two-Year-Old Cousin’s Sanitary Pad Artwork via c4c | Sad Key via c4c.

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