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Back to the future with blogs
"Blogging" is a return to the kind of gleeful anarchy that made the Internet so much fun

By Mathew Ingram,
March 2, 2002


At one point when the Internet was still a largely unknown quantity - it seems like decades ago, but it was only the early 1990s - there was no corporate presence on the Web. No sites devoted to particular brands of shampoo or detergent, no irritating pop-up ads, no massive corporate entities such as Microsoft's MSN. Yahoo was just some links that Jerry Yang and his roommate put together while surfing (with Netscape).

At that point, the Internet consisted largely of personal Web pages set up by geeks and losers of various kinds, most of them college students with a lot of time on their hands. They delved into the mysteries of HTML coding so that they could put up Web sites devoted to the original Catwoman (Yvonne Craig, who has her own site now) or so that they could chronicle the adventures of their own comic superhero, Too Much Coffeeman.

Evolution of the Web

  • Point and think
  • Back to the future with blogs
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  • Obviously, many of these people should probably have been outside getting some fresh air or looking for gainful employment, but their goofy and often bizarre Web creations made for fascinating reading - like the guy who catalogued every piece of accordion music he found in a TV show or movie, including where in the film it appeared, presumably so that other obsessive fans could track it down too. And occasionally, something would come along that was so well-put or creative that it took your breath away.

    In many ways, the popularity of "blogs" or Web logs is a return to the old days - although it's a lot more organized than it used to be, of course, with different directories that list the top blogs, and others such as BlogSpot that track the popularity of various blogs among other bloggers. But the talent pool (if you want to call it that) is much broader than it used to be, for a couple of reasons: not only is the Internet now a part of life in a way it wasn't before, but you don't need to know anything about HTML either, since sites like will do it all for you.

    That means everyone from your aunt Mabel to the technophobic artist who lives in her basement apartment can produce a site that talks about them and their interests (or obsessions, as the case may be). It could be needlepoint, it could be Greek architecture, it could be the films of Ed Wood or the works of underground artist Robert Crumb. It might also be their perspective as a right-wing gay man, if they are Andrew Sullivan of The National Republic, or a would-be White House insider like Matt Drudge.

    Flute-playing former rock star Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull has one he writes from the road, and longtime computer columnist and author Jerry Pournelle has one that he writes from the home he calls Chaos Manor. Others are written by people who have little public profile, but are well known within a small circle of cognoscenti - such as Virgina Postrel, editor of a libertarian magazine called Reason. Glenn Reynolds of and Mickey Kaus have a profile only newspaper columnists used to have.

    Blogs range across a wide spectrum, from intensely personal diaries, such as those written by people dying of cancer, to those devoted to intellectual or artistic pursuits. Some are closer to being magazines, including the highly-regarded Arts and Letters Daily, while others are like the homemade, hand-stapled newsletters known as "zines." Some are just links, while others include witty commentary on news items, such as Jim Romanesko's Obscure Store. Some even make money, via electronic "tip jars" run by Amazon or PayPal - Andrew Sullivan says he made $27,000 in 2001.

    One of the main criticisms of the blog phenomenon is that it is inherently narcissistic in nature, since it consists of people talking about themselves, in some cases to other people who are also talking about themselves. At its worst, as some have pointed out, blogs involve references to how they were mentioned in someone else's blog, or arguments with other bloggers about what they said in their blog, or a discussion of how far up the ranking their blog got the other day on BlogSpot.

    That's a little like complaining that TV shows are always full of irritating commercials, and all there is to watch are game shows and soap operas. That's true too. But at the same time, every once in a while you come across a great documentary that explores some subject you didn't even realize existed, or a late-night movie with knowledgeable commentary - not to mention all those great A&E biographies of people you don't know much about but always wanted to. And of course, re-runs of Scooby-Doo.

    No one (well, hardly anyone) would want to spend their time trolling through blogs in search of the odd jewel, just as few people want to read 'zines all day. Sometimes it's nice to have things all organized for you, the way they do in The Atlantic or the New Yorker or even But now and then it's great to wander through the vast therapy session/garage sale/late-night bar conversation that blogs represent. Some will be too personal, some will just be lame, some too indulgent or snotty, and others aimed at a clique you have no interest in. But now and then...

    Email Mathew Ingram

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